Spring training doesn’t have anything on FCS college football. At this time of the year, everybody’s also optimistic during spring practices.
To think otherwise would be March madness.
But an FCS team feels the competition a little more intensely when it’s replacing the starter at football’s most important position — quarterback.
Here are 10 key FCS programs which are replacing their starting quarterback this offseason:
James Madison (CAA)
Replacing: Bryan Schor, who led the Dukes to two straight unbeaten seasons in the CAA as well as the 2016 FCS national championship and a '17 national runner-up finish.
Leading Candidates: Juniors Cole Johnson and Ben DiNucci and redshirt freshman Gage Maloney form a strong trio. DiNucci started six games at Pittsburgh last season and has transferred in to most likely try to win the job from Johnson, last year’s backup.
Replacing: Kyle Lauletta, the 2017 CAA Offensive Player of the Year and the Spiders’ all-time leading passer.
Leading Candidate: Junior Kevin Johnson started three playoff games (throwing for 761 yards and three touchdowns) in 2016 when Lauletta was sidelined by an ACL tear. Johnson redshirted last season.
Sam Houston State (Southland)
Replacing: Jeremiah Briscoe, the Walter Payton Award winner in each of his final two seasons.
Leading Candidate: Mike Dare has transferred in with two seasons of eligibility remaining. He prepped for Sam Houston’s up-tempo offense at Lackawanna (Pa.) College after spending two years at Rutgers.
Central Arkansas (Southland)
Replacing: Hayden Hildebrand, the 2017 Southland player of the year who also led UCA to the conference title.
Leading Candidates: Redshirt sophomore Breylin Smith served as last year’s backup. It’s his job to lose, with the chief competition coming from redshirt junior Kolt Harfield.
Weber State (Big Sky)
Replacing: Stefan Cantwell, who had 3,575 yards of total offense (including 492 against Cal) to lead the Wildcats to a share of the Big Sky title and a school-record 11 wins.
Leading Candidates: No returnee has much playing experience and there’s no clear favorite. Redshirt sophomore Braden Miles and redshirt junior Justin Shaw are in the mix.
Southern Utah (Big Sky)
Replacing: Patrick Tyler, who in his second year as the starter led the Thunderbirds to a share of the Big Sky title.
Leading Candidate: Junior Aaron Zwahlen, last year’s backup, is the favorite to win the job. He was a four-star prospect in high school before signing at Hawaii.
South Dakota (Missouri Valley)
Replacing: Chris Streveler, the 2017 Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year who led the Coyotes to the playoffs.
Leading Candidate: When Streveler was injured last season, Austin Simmons started and won two games in conference play. He’s expected to take over as a redshirt junior.
Grambling State (SWAC)
Replacing: Devante Kincade, who won SWAC Offensive Player of the Year honors and led the Tigers to conference titles in each of his two seasons.
Leading Candidate: The Tigers' coaches are high on redshirt sophomore Geremy Hickbottom, a 6-foot-4 dual-threat.
Replacing: P.J. Blazejowski, a starter in 2014 and ’17, got the Paladins to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last year.
Leading Candidates: The Paladins held early spring practices. Fifth-year senior Harris Roberts and redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln — the top candidates — were even in the intrasquad scrimmage.
Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley)
Replacing: Tim Boyle, a UConn transfer who spent one season as the Colonels’ starter.
Leading Candidates: A redshirt freshman last year, Austin Scott always played the first offensive series of the second quarter, so he’s the most experienced QB on the roster. The coaching staff seeks a mobile dual-threat, which puts redshirt sophomore James Smith and redshirt freshman Dakota Allen in the mix.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy South Dakota Athletics)