June 26, 2017

(STATS) - Considering most of the subdivision's national powers welcome back their starter, the 2017 season should be one of the best in the FCS for top returning quarterbacks.

All but four of the 24 playoff teams are part of the group, and eight of the top nine quarterbacks in the 2016 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award voting return, led by winner Jeremiah Briscoe of Sam Houston State and third-place finisher Gage Gubrud of Eastern Washington.

The only top 20 team that is replacing its starter is Jacksonville State, which was No. 7 one year after losing in the national championship game. The leader of those Ohio Valley Conference-championship squads was 3 1/2-year starter Eli Jenkins.

His successor figures to be redshirt junior Bryant Horn, who was Jenkins' backup last season after playing at linebacker and making 24 tackles in 2015. He's returned from a broken arm in the playoffs and appears to have a slight edge over Kendrick Doss, also a redshirt junior.

"We've just got to build some experience. You learn from game experience," Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. "It's not going to be the same. It's going to be different; they're different guys than Eli.

"We'll be a very similar offense. There's not a lot of changes with either one of those guys, they can both run, they can both throw it, both process the offense really well, so I think we'll be OK."

Two of the other playoff qualifiers replacing their quarterback are in the Big Sky. Cal Poly junior Khaleel Jenkins has past starting experience with running the Mustangs' triple option offense, while Weber State figures to turn to senior Stefan Cantwell, who took the majority of the first-team snaps over redshirt sophomore Justin Shaw in spring practice.

Also, Northeast Conference co-champ Saint Francis is looking to turn to redshirt sophomore Andrew Koester, last year's backup.

Technically, Patriot League champ Lehigh is replacing starter Nick Shafnisky, but Brad Mayes made some starts and saw plenty of action as a junior, including in his 524-yard, six-touchdown start against Yale.

Another postseason qualifier, MEAC champ North Carolina Central, which played in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, has to replace three-year starter Malcolm Bell. Last year's backup, redshirt sophomore Naiil Ramandan, hopes to hold off sophomore Shoalin McGuire and true freshman Chauncey Caldwell for the top job.

National power Montana, which is coming off a subpar season, could go with senior Reese Phillips, who transferred in from Kentucky last offseason. He had the best spring in a competition that included Blinn College transfer Caleb Hill.

Two more programs that won conference titles need new starters. Northeast Conference co-champ Duquesne can insert Boise State graduate transfer Tom Stuart into the lineup. Ivy League co-champ Penn's starting job is uncertain as the other two returnees, senior Will Fischer-Colbrie and sophomore Tyler Herrick, have yet to appear in a game for the Quakers. Touted freshman Ryan Glover and Georgia transfer Nick Robinson factor into the picture.

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