In the FCS Huddle: Seniors rule FCS QB class

2:44 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - So many of us watched March turn mad with a lot of college basketball players who we didn't know well.

"The Fab Five" and "one-and-done" are terms that are synonymous with the way freshmen have come to rule the hardwoods.

That scenario, of course, is not a staple across college football, where many freshmen step into a program and basically are redshirted upon arrival.

Championship teams are often loaded with upperclassmen, and it's tough to beat having an experienced senior starting at quarterback.

The class at football's most important position is dominated on the FCS level this season by seniors.

Here are the best going into the season:

Dual Threats

DeNarius McGhee, Montana State. Yes, he's still around. The thick built fourth-year starter has gained more yards (10,017 - 9,116 passing and 901 rushing) than any other returning quarterback in the FCS. Behind his lead, the Bobcats have won a share of three straight Big Sky titles. The three-time Walter Payton Award finalist should be dominant as a senior.

Appalachian State's 6-foot-3 Jamal Jackson stands tall in the pocket and likes to throw down the field to his terrific receivers. But, make no mistake, he can take off with the ball and make things happen. He has thrown for 36 touchdowns and rushed for another 13 the last two seasons. With the Mountaineers prepping to leave the FCS for the FBS next year, they aren't eligible for the Southern Conference title or a playoff berth.

One of the surprises last season was how easily Central Arkansas' Wynrick Smothers replaced two-year starter Nathan Dick and guided the Bears to an even higher level of play. He passed for 3,103 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for another 449 yards for the Southland Conference co-champs.

Wind 'Em Up

Cornell's Jeff Mathews actually had a down season from his sophomore campaign yet still ranked second in the FCS in passing yards per game (355.1). With 8,331 career passing yards, the Californian ranks second in Ivy League history, and this season he will soar past record-holder James Perry, who had 9,294 yards for Brown from 1997-99.

Speaking of down seasons, Youngstown State's Kurt Hess had one last season. But he's a talented fourth-year starter who will pass the ball more than ever this year while the Penguins try to make the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2006. He's thrown for 6,698 yards and 53 touchdowns in his career.

Stephen F. Austin's Brady Attaway has followed a Walter Payton Award winner - Jeremy Moses in 2010 - and accounted for himself quite well with one key exception: he must cut down on interceptions. That goes with the territory in SFA's passing offense, but he has 45 career picks along with his gaudy 7,165 yards and 57 touchdowns through the air.

Eastern Illinois changed to a Stephen F. Austin-type offense last season and Jimmy Garoppolo broke out on a national level. He began the season by throwing for five touchdowns in three of the Panthers' first five games and averaged 45 pass attempts per game. A quiet leader, he threw for 3,823 yards and 31 touchdowns, giving him 8,106 and 65, respectively, in his career. He helped wide receiver Erik Lora set the FCS single-season record for receptions (136) last season.

Catch' Em If You Can

If Georgia Southern had won in the FCS semifinals and reached the national championship game last season, Jerick McKinnon might have reached 2,000 rushing yards for the season. He ran the Eagles' triple option to perfection, gaining 316, 171 and 168 yards on the ground in three playoff games. For the season, he rushed for 1,817 yards on 269 carries (6.8 yards per carry) with 20 touchdowns. This season, like rival Appalachian State, FBS-bound Georgia Southern is ineligible for the SoCon title or a playoff bid.

Colgate's Gavin McCarney finished fifth in the Walter Payton Award balloting last season, and rightfully so after he dominated the Patriot League and led the Raiders into the FCS playoffs. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry while rushing for 1,406 yards on 193 carries. He was twice the national co-offensive player of the year in a three-week span.

The Citadel's Ben Dupree shares time under center, but he's played in every game the last three seasons and is the difference maker in the Bulldogs' triple option. He has rushed for 1,671 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career, including 839 and nine, respectively, as a junior.

Don't Sleep On Them

It's possible to overlook what's right before your eyes. North Dakota State's Brock Jensen has appeared in more games (39) with more postseason starts (11) than any other FCS quarterback, and matured into the efficient leader of the two-time defending national champions. NDSU likes to run the ball, but Jensen is big (6-3, 224 pounds), a threat on QB keepers (25 career touchdown runs) and a big-game performer.

When a quarterback completes 70 percent of his passes over a full season, you have to stop and take notice. San Diego's Mason Mills completed 252-of-360 pass attempts last year (for 3,111 yards) and helped the Toreros rally to a share of the Pioneer Football League title. Entering his fourth season as the starter, he has thrown for 7,641 yards and 60 touchdowns in his career, completing 66.6 percent of his passes.

As good as Mills was last season, Butler's Matt Lancaster was named the PFL offensive player of the year in his first season after transferring in from Illinois State. In replacing a three-year starter, Lancaster was second in the league in total offense (3,111 yards) and threw for 21 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He also rushed for eight touchdowns for the PFL tri- champions.

Also from the PFL, Davidson fourth-year starter Jonathan Carkhuff has thrown the most pass attempts (1,390) and completions (855) among the FCS' returning signal-callers. He has 11 career games with at least 50 pass attempts, including six during his sophomore season in 2011. He has 8,479 passing yards in his career, but with an ugly 46-to-41 touchdown-to-interception line as well.

In a 13-team Big Sky Conference, it was probably easy to miss what Seth Lobato did at Northern Colorado last season. The Bears were coming off a winless season in 2011. But the continued maturation of Lobato made all the difference as his team posted a 5-6 record, including a three-game season-ending win streak which led to a 4-4 finish in conference play. In that stretch, Lobato threw for 944 yards and totaled 10 touchdowns (eight passing, two rushing). Over his career, he has passed for 5,283 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Other Key Seniors

Benjamin Anderson, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Brian Bell, Sam Houston State; Dray Joseph, Southern; Andy Summerlin, Samford; Marcus Wasilewski, Maine.

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