The Sun Belt is graduating seven starting quarterbacks this year, a possible record. In the 10 seasons that cfbstats.com has existed, a quarterback exodus of this scale hasn’t happened in the Sun Belt. Below is the list of quarterbacks that started most, if not all, of their games for their respective teams in 2017.
- Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
- Tyler Keane, Coastal Carolina
- Conner Manning, Georgia State
- Matt Linehan, Idaho
- Tyler Rogers, New Mexico State
- Damian Williams, Texas State
- Brandon Silvers, Troy
Of the seven, some are among the conference’s most prolific quarterbacks of all time. Four of them- Lamb, Linehan, Rogers, Silvers- are amid the top 10 in the Sun Belt in all-time completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. These four gunslingers have been the core of the Sun Belt for the past four years, combining for 92 wins as starters. Lamb and Silvers account for 70.7 percent of those wins as both quarterbacks have lead their teams to an 11-win season in their careers.
The conference’s recent history revolves around this group and it should be regarded as the top group of field generals the Sun Belt has ever seen at one time. Lamb and his Mountaineers have been the face of the Sun Belt behind his 9,632 career passing yards and 113 total touchdowns. As a freshman, Lamb lead App State to six straight wins after starting the season 1-5. Then as a sophomore in 2015, he lead the Mountaineers to their first 11-win season in FBS history. Lamb then won 18 games over his last two seasons and capped his career with a 34-0 win over Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl.
In Troy, Silvers was the face of a masterful rebuild engineered by head coach Neal Brown. As a four-year starter, Silvers led the Trojans from a 3-9 2014 campaign that featured a loss to Abilene Christian to the first 11-win season in Troy’s FBS history in 2017. Silvers saw steady improvement in his numbers throughout his career, increasing his passing yards total in each season. He finished second in Sun Belt history with 968 completions. His predecessor, Corey Robinson, holds the record with 1,179 completed passes. Silvers is also top five in Sun Belt history in completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Tyler Rogers started and won the two biggest victories in New Mexico State football history in 2017 to cap off his career in Las Cruces. Rogers began his sophomore season as the starter and, after a 2-0 start to the 2014 season, he and the Aggies embarked on a 14-game losing streak. During his junior season, Rogers watched his team snap that streak from the sideline as a broken thumb kept him out for eight games.
It was during his first senior season that his legendary tale began to take shape. The Aggies were a lowly 3-9 but two of those wins came in conference play and the third was over rival New Mexico. It all finally came together during senior season number two. Rogers came out of the gates swinging, completing 106 passes for 1,130 yards in just the first THREE games. Rogers would go over the 300 yard mark eight times in 2017, none bigger than the season finale. He completed 65.6 percent of his 61 pass attempts for 451 yards in a 22-17 win over South Alabama that sent NMSU into the postseason for the first time since 1960. Rogers then guided the Aggies to a hard-fought 26-20 win over Utah State in the Arizona Bowl.
In 2014, freshman Matt Linehan took over starting quarterback duties for the Idaho Vandals, a team known for having one of the worst football programs in FBS history. Linehan went through the usual growing pains as a freshman, tossing 18 interceptions next to just 11 touchdowns. His 18 picks were second most in the country only to the aforementioned Rogers, who had 23 that year. Idaho was a meager 1-11 that year but as Linehan developed so did the Vandals. Idaho improved to 4-8 in 2015 before turning in a storybook 2016 season. Linehan guided a 4-4 Idaho team to five straight wins to close out the year, including an electric 61-50 win over Colorado State in the Potato Bowl. Idaho could not close out its time at the FBS level with another good season and Linehan went down late in a loss to Troy and remained sideline for the rest of the year.
Over half of the Sun Belt will be looking for a new starter for the 2018 season, leaving much to debate on who the stars of the future within the conference are going to be. Already in place are quarterbacks Justice Hansen of Arkansas State and breakout Louisiana-Monroe star Caleb Evans. The two are expected to light up the Sun Belt’s new West division and lead their teams down a tight race for a spot in the inaugural Sun Belt Championship game. Outside of these two, who’s next?
There will be a multitude of quarterback battles in the spring with the three most intriguing all coming out of the East division. Troy, Georgia State and Appalachian State will all need a quarterback to step up and fill the big shoes left behind.
From year one, Neal Brown hasn’t shied away from using multiple quarterbacks. In Brown’s first year at the helm, quarterbacks Dallas Tidwell and Dontreall Pruitt combined for 85 pass attempts while Pruitt had 97 rushing yards and a touchdown. In year two, freshmen Sawyer Smith and Kaleb Barker saw plenty of game action. Smith threw the ball 25 times while Barker tallied up 101 rushing yards.
This past season, Barker’s workload increased while Smith never saw the field. Barker was 8/13 for 143 yards and a touchdown in 2017 and added 181 rushing yards alongside two rushing touchdowns. Going into the spring, Barker will be the front-runner but expect Smith to be on his heels.
Barker is a dual threat quarterback and can give Troy a good option look. He fits well with running back Jamarius Henderson and the return of speed back Jabir Frye could give the Trojans a dangerous option game. It’s not unlikely that both quarterbacks will see significant playing time, however. With a talented receiving corps led by Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis, Smith can find a spot as the team’s go-to passing quarterback.
The two-quarterback system is a unique and delicate operation but isn’t an impossible one. Oklahoma State rode the system to a 10-3 season in 2015 behind the passing prowess of Mason Rudolph and hard running of J.W. Walsh. The Trojan quarterbacks are surrounded by talent, giving Brown plenty of options in regards to which direction he is going to take the offense in 2018.
Shawn Elliott’s first year as the head man in Atlanta was a success. Georgia State capped its first winning season in school history with its first bowl win, a 27-17 victory over Western Kentucky. In order to keep the momentum going, Elliot and offensive coordinator Travis Trickett will need to find a new signal caller.
The Panthers will likely see a three player battle for the opening left by Manning. Junior dual threat Aaron Winchester, redshirt freshman Jack Walker and recent commit Dan Ellington will be the candidates that Elliott chooses from. Winchester is a dual threat quarterback and the only one of the bunch with any FBS experience. He has acted primarily as a runner, compiling 283 rushing yards over the last two seasons. He has shown the ability to throw the ball but doesn’t have a very high ceiling as a passer.
Walker was a part of Elliott’s highly touted 2017 class and ran the scout team during his redshirt season in 2017. He was originally a Florida Atlantic commit but flipped when Trickett left FAU for Georgia State. The 6’3 quarterback is a pro-style passer and has a chance to grow significantly in the Panthers pass-first pass-second offense. His lack of collegiate experience could set him back for now, however.
The quarterback who will likely take the first snap of 2018 is the JUCO transfer Ellington. A dual threat quarterback, Ellington has some experience after eclipsing the 3,000 yard mark last season at Itawanmba CC. Ellington is similar to Winchester with one exception: Ellington can throw the ball. He displayed an uncanny ability to put the ball in a tight window last season and can push the football downfield with a strong arm. His passing coupled with his playmaking ability could give the Panthers some instant offense next season.
Ellington will come in as a junior and, if he wins the job, Walker will get another two seasons of developing in the system. Four years of electric quarterback play out of Georgia State could be in store for the rest of the Sun Belt.
The Mountaineers and Scott Satterfield are tasked with finding someone to fill in for the finally-graduated Taylor Lamb. Those shoes won’t be easy to fill but the Mountaineers have options. There are two quarterbacks who will start the spring virtually neck-and-neck with a third early entree looking to make some noise.
Sophomore’s Zac Thomas and Jacob Huesman come into the spring dead even after both played sparingly in 2017. Almost all of Thomas’ playing time came in the first two games of the season where he completed six of 10 pass attempts for 33 yards. Thomas has made plays with his feet, recording 45 rushing yards on just five carries. Huesman completed two passes last season, a five yard pass against Savannah State and a nine yard pass against Louisiana-Lafayette. He added an 11 yard run in the latter game, as well.
Neither quarterback has much experience but both benefited from playing under Lamb. The third quarterback in the mix has even less experience. Stephon Brown, a big early enrolee, will also challenge for the starting job. Brown is an impressive 6’5 220 pounds and is similar to Lamb. While not overly fast, he is an effective runner. Brown is already acquainted with running RPO’s and makes well-timed throws with ease.
Satterfield expects this position battle to last well into August. With very little experience among the group, this could come down to the last day of fall camp.
A new dawn is coming in the Sun Belt in 2018 and the conference will begin to take a new shape behind a fresh group of quarterbacks. While there are still some familiar faces in the West division, 2018 will be a very telling season in the East. Georgia Southern will officially embark on the Chad Lunsford era and Coastal Carolina will see the return of head coach Joe Moglia. Spring practice should give fans some insight as to who will be leading their teams going forward.