Jim Gazzolo column: QB crisis permeates Southland – American Press

Coming off a complete makeover, there are a lot of questions concerning the new football season in the Southland Conference.

With all the transfers and changes during the offseason, there is little known about the teams and players as camps are about to begin.

That is especially true when it comes to figuring out just who the stars at the most visible position will be in the season ahead. It’s hard to promote a league with so many new faces in so many different places.

Last fall the league was considered one of the better ones on the Football Championship Subdivision level at quarterback. There were a pair of national award winners under center, including the returning Walter Payton recipient from 2020 in Southeastern Louisiana’s Cole Kelley.

The Lions quarterback won the award as the top player in FCS football for his work in the spring of 2021 but the honor reverted to the previous fall as most of the division’s teams sat out that fall due to COVID.

So Kelley was freshly minted, as was Incarnate Word quarterback Cam Ward, who did the same thing with the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in FCS.

With all that star power at quarterback solid performers got overlooked.

Well, Kelley is in camp with the Washington Commanders and Ward has moved on to Washington State by way of the NCAA transfer portal. Ward led the Cardinals to the SLC title last season.

Ward joins the ranks of Bailey Zappe, who after one year left Houston Baptist to set all kinds of throwing marks at Western Kentucky.

Ward and Kelley are not the only replacements as there is a chance all eight SLC teams will start a new quarterback this year from the one who started last fall.

That might be why during media day last week it was hard to find quarterbacks in the room, as six of the eight head coaches said they would have open competition for the starting job in their camps.

Strangely, the two likely starters shared the same QB room last year. Lindsey Scott Jr. and Kohen Granier were teammates last season at Nicholls State.

During the Colonels’ game at McNeese State in the fall, Granier replaced Scott for good as the Nicholls starter. But when the SLC preseason team was announced it was Scott who was voted as the league’s top QB after transferring to UIW to replace Ward and Granier holding down second-team honors.

Confused yet?

McNeese has three former Football Bowl Subdivision QBs fighting to become starter, which seems a lot better than a year ago when there was only really one option, Cody Orgeron.

However, listening to the coaches talk last week all sounded about the same when asked what they were looking for from that position. They all wanted somebody who could extend plays with their feet, get the ball down the field to their playmakers and not, and I mean not, turn the ball over.

That, of course, is usually the case. Coaches want one thing but fans, they want a star. They want somebody who will make exciting plays and turn their team’s offense into a highlight show.

This year it is just going to take some time to see which quarterbacks become those guys. Somebody always does.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press.

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