October 07, 2016

Two years ago, Jeremiah Briscoe didn't have a choice but to leave his FBS program behind. Last year, it was the same for James Tabary.

It's working out awfully well for both of them in the FCS. They're the Southland Conference's passing leaders.

Briscoe is the real breakout star thus far, recently earning a spot on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List.

Back in 2014, he was among the most highly rated prep quarterbacks in the country and took a scholarship with UAB. He appeared in six games as a freshman, but the Houston native would never take another snap for the Blazers because the university chose to drop the football program.

That led to Briscoe's arrival at Sam Houston State. He's flourished in his second year there, and oddly enough, it might not be happening if it wasn't for the FBS. That's because he split time last season with Jared Johnson, who shuffled off to UTSA of Conference USA after being named the 2015 Southland offensive player of the year.

Left to run the offense on his own, Briscoe has dominated every opponent thrown his way in 2016. He's passed for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in all four games. His 368.3 yards per game and 16 TD passes rank second in the FCS behind Eastern Washington's Gage Gubrud, lifting the Bearkats to No. 2 in the STATS FCS Top 25 behind only reigning champion North Dakota State.

"Jeremiah has really blossomed as a quarterback and his leadership skills are special," Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said. "It's been powerful to see him take this team over. With the tempo and the confidence we play at, I think the sky is the limit for this offense."

Just as Briscoe is turning what has long been a run-first offense into a pass-heavy attack, Tabary is the reason for a similar switch at McNeese.

Tabary was under center for Arkansas State last year, starting three games and appearing in four others as a freshman. However, he was dismissed from the team for an undisclosed reason, though it's clear it was for some type of action he took after learning he wouldn't begin this season as the starter.

The Cowboys scooped him up, and Tabary won the starting job. He's shown exactly why through five games, throwing for 1,438 yards and 10 touchdowns - both second in the Southland to Briscoe. Tabary is the first McNeese quarterback to throw for at least 200 yards in the first five games of a season.

"He continues to get better and better as he's getting familiar with the offense, and he's making it his own now which is good," first-year coach Lance Guidry said. "A lot of production throughout the whole year throwing the football. James continues to get better. He's only a sophomore, so we've got him for two more years, so the future looks bright."

Tabary threw for a career-high 376 yards in last week's win over Nicholls, helping McNeese jump to No. 20 in the STATS poll. He could be in for another big game Saturday against a Southeastern Louisiana defense which has managed only one interception through four games and hasn't sacked the quarterback in three straight.

Briscoe's assignment appears even easier. He's facing Incarnate Word, which has the ninth-worst pass defense in the FCS at 318.8 yards per game and has given up 13 touchdown passes without picking one off. Briscoe helped turn Stephen F. Austin into the FCS' lowest-ranked pass defense last Saturday by torching the Lumberjacks for 438 yards and seven TDs in a 63-28 win.

"I think my offensive coordinator told me he made two mental mistakes the entire day," Keeler said. "That bodes well in our offense because we really put a lot on his shoulders to make the right decisions.

"... He's the perfect signal-caller for what we do - very smart, very accurate, great leader. The great leader part I think is the biggest part of this equation that has helped us off to a fast start."

The Bearkats may be No. 2 in the rankings, but they're second to none offensively. Their 637.8 yards per game are about 91 more than any other FCS team, and their average of 54.5 points is about a touchdown better than any other.

"It's really special what our offense can do when we play our best football," Briscoe said. "And I think we can still continue to grow on what we did (last week)."

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