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Football Sunday: We’ll recognize just about every starting quarterback in 2016

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This is going to be an awesome season for quarterbacks.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Collectively, it looks like it’s going to be a competitive year with quarterbacks in the Mid-American Conference. Last year, five players became first-year starters under center, but that figure should shrink to two in 2016. The MAC will also have the privilege of having a pair of players graduate as fourth-year starters, which hasn’t happened since the 2012 season.

As I'm still gearing up for the season and have way too much time on my hands, I decided to make a couple of tables. First, I decided to look back at the starting quarterbacks over time. Of course, this became a process. If we look down at Table 1, I've noted who I considered a team's starting quarterback by year. Usually if a player won the starting job later in the year, that's who I listed.

Filling the cells in appropriately, we see a lot of experience coming back. Cooper Rush and Zach Terrell are fourth-year starters, Drew Hare and Brogan Roback enter third years, and the other eight projected starting quarterbacks all have had some playing time already.

For 2016, I've included projections, basically just off of what I think will be the case to open the season. Most of these are cut & dry, but there are a few quarterback battles that could keep things interesting. Buffalo is the most notable having to replace Joe Licata. I'm considering J.D. Sprague as the probably first-year starter for Ohio, which is funny when you remember that he's already played in 21 games.

Table 1

Note: 2016 projected starters in italics.

Akron Ball State BGSU Buffalo CMU EMU Kent State Miami NIU Ohio Toledo WMU
2016 Tommy Woodson Riley Neal James Knapke Grant Rohach Cooper Rush Brogan Roback George Bollas Billy Bahl Drew Hare JD Sprague Logan Woodside Zach Terrell
2015 Tommy Woodson Riley Neal Matt Johnson Joe Licata Cooper Rush Brogan Roback George Bollas Billy Bahl Drew Hare Derrius Vick Philip Ely Zach Terrell
2014 Kyle Pohl Ozzie Mann James Knapke Joe Licata Cooper Rush Reggie Bell Colin Reardon Andrew Hendrix Drew Hare Derrius Vick Logan Woodside Zach Terrell
2013 Kyle Pohl Keith Wenning Matt Johnson Joe Licata Cooper Rush Brogan Roback Colin Reardon Austin Boucher Jordan Lynch Tyler Tettleton Terrance Owens Zach Terrell
2012 Dalton Williams Keith Wenning Matt Schilz Alex Zordich Ryan Radcliff Tyler Benz Spencer Keith Zac Dysert Jordan Lynch Tyler Tettleton Terrance Owens Tyler Van Tubbergen
2011 Clayton Moore Keith Wenning Matt Schilz Chazz Anderson Ryan Radcliff Alex Gillett Spencer Keith Zac Dysert Chandler Harnish Tyler Tettleton Austin Dantin Alex Carder
2010 Patrick Nicely Keith Wenning Matt Schilz Jerry Davis Ryan Radcliff Alex Gillett Spencer Keith Zac Dysert Chandler Harnish Boo Jackson Austin Dantin Alex Carder
2009 Patrick Nicely Kelly Page Tyler Sheehan Zach Maynard Dan LeFevour Alex Gillett Spencer Keith Zac Dysert Chandler Harnish Theo Scott Aaron Opelt Tim Hiller
2008 Chris Jacquemain Nate Davis Tyler Sheehan Drew Willey Dan LeFevour Andy Schmitt Julian Edleman Daniel Radabaugh Chandler Harnish Boo Jackson Aaron Opelt Tim Hiller

Zach Terrell and Cooper Rush are most experienced quarterbacks in the MAC

There have only been four fourth-year starters this decade in the MAC, and this year Cooper Rush and Zach Terrell are set to be the fifth and sixth.

P.J. Fleck and his Broncos were 0-6 before he made a switch. Having a struggling senior at quarterback, the impressing freshman got his chance to start, and hasn’t let go.

The freshman made his first start against Buffalo, and even though the Broncos couldn’t win muster up any more than just one win that season, the in-game reps have served as beneficiaries to Terrell’s success. 8-win seasons in back-to-back fashion and even winning a bowl game for the first time in school history. Terrell has steadily played at All-MAC caliber with two of the nation’s best receivers to work with: Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman.

Terrell is known for his high-efficiency rating and always hitting his spots. He’s been a consistent threat to to keep the offense rolling on a game-by-game basis (see Table 2). As a junior, Terrell threw for 3,526 yards, led the MAC with 9.0 yards per attempt and had 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

Just make sure October 1 circled on your calendar because Central Michigan also has a fourth-year starter under center.

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Central Michigan vs Minnesota Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Cooper Rush is Mel Kiper’s favorite quarterback out of the MAC, so the side-discussions talking about Rush’s draft stock is going to be worth tracking. He was approaching 500 attempts last year and completed 66.3 percent of his throws for 3,848 yards — not too bad of a year without having Titus Davis to throw to.

This prospect started just about every game of his college career, including a less-than impressive freshman season where he had just as many touchdowns as he did picks (15). Like Terrell, he followed that up with leading his team to a pair of bowl games.

Table 2

Games w/ at least 70.0% completion rate (min. 20 PA)
2015 2014 2013 2012 Total
Woodson (Akron) 0 0 - - 0
Neal (Ball St) 1 - - - 1
Johnson (BGSU) 6 0 4 0 10
Knapke (BGSU) 0 1 0 - 1
Licata (Buffalo) 2 4 0 0 6
Rush (CMU) 4 2 1 - 7
Roback (EMU) 2 0 0 - 2
Bell (EMU) 0 0 - - 0
Bollas (Kent St) 1 - - - 1
Reardon (Kent St) 0 1 2 - 3
Bahl (Miami) 0 - - - 0
Hare (NIU) 3 0 0 - 3
Vick (Ohio) 0 1 0 1 2
Sprague (Ohio) 0 0 0 - 0
Ely (Toledo) 2 1 - - 3
Woodside (Toledo) - 1 0 - 1
Terrell (WMU) 5 4 0 - 9

Note: Those who are no longer with their teams are in italics.

Drew Hare’s senior season ought to be his best

By my count, the Northern Illinois quarterback is the lone third-year starter in the MAC. Drew Hare went down with an injury at Toledo last year and didn’t participate in spring practices, but head coach Rod Carey doesn’t question the status of him being the starter this year; "Don’t get anything mixed up here."

As we all know NIU quarterbacks to participate, Hare can be an efficient passer while being one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the MAC (900 yards in 2014).

Hare won the starting job after the second game of the post-Jordan Lynch era, helping the Huskies reach a fifth-straight 11-win season.

Entering his final season, Hare has familiar faces to throw to. Sure, Juwan Brescacin, Tommylee Lewis, and Desroy Maxwell are gone, but he still gets the team’s best threat from last season in 6-foot-4 Kenny Golladay, senior Aregeros Turner and Chad Beebe. If the Huskies do make it back to Detroit for the seventh year in a row, Hare’s going to have to be a big reason for that.

These three didn’t start last year, but it’s not like they haven’t started before

NCAA Football: Toledo at Iowa State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Bowling Green, Ohio and Toledo are all without their 2015 starting quarterbacks, but they still have returning faces at the position.

Of course Falcon fans will miss Matt Johnson, rightfully so. The guy broke two single-season passing records, as if replacing a starting running back, three receivers, most of the offensive line all under new management wasn’t difficult enough. All things considered, James Knapke didn’t have a bad 2014.

The Falcons couldn’t close the deal, but Knapke helped lead the team back to Detroit, finishing the season with over 3,000 yards through the air at a 58 percent completion rate. Until August and September roll around, it’s too hard to tell who he’s going going to throw to or who’ll be protecting him.

Speaking of protection, Toledo’s offensive line was a complete mystery heading into 2015. With an entirely new offensive line, (left to right) Storm Norton, Paul Perschon, Ruben Carter, Mike Ebert and Elijah Nkansah were the season-long starters for Philip Ely who was coming back from a knee injury. These five didn’t block for Logan Woodside in 2014, but four of them will this season.

Not participating last year preserved Woodside's junior status. With a more experienced Corey Jones and Cody Thompson at receiver, Michael Roberts entering his senior season at tight end and a loaded backfield highlighted by NFL prospect Kareem Hunt, it’d actually be harder for Woodside to not have success with this offense.

J.D. Sprague, by my assessment, is considered a first-year starter in Table 1. Which is almost unfair, since he’s going to have that sort of tag having 21 games played (eight starts) as he enters his redshirt-senior season. A good portion of his playing time had come from taking over for an injured Derrius Vick.

Over his career, the Cincinnati native has thrown for 2,210 yards with a very-average 6.86 Y/A. Recently, he has been competing for playing time against Greg Windham and Joey Duckworth, and those three will probably continue to battle for playing time through the preseason and the rest of the year. Maybe it’s more of a quarterback battle than I’m willing to give it credit for, but Sprague’s experience starting five games in 2014 and the final three of 2015 are hard to ignore.

Whoever’s taking snaps is going to have fun throwing to Jordan Reid and Sebastian Smith.

Brogan Roback still has two years of eligibility left

There’s no Reggie Bell this year, which means the starting job is his to lose. Brogan Roback hasn’t had the performances Eastern Michigan fans had hoped for as a highly-rated prospect Toledo, but having studied with the same offensive coordinator for a third year could help turn things around for an offense that’s been less productive than most others’.

EMU doesn’t have the talent at receiver that matches up to NIU, Ohio, Toledo or WMU, but they are in a good position with their offensive line as far as experience goes. Very similarly to the Rockets, 10 of the 11 players that participated at offensive line will be returning, including all five of their regular starters (left to right): Cole Gardner, Jake Hurcombe, Matt Thornton, Darien Terrell, and Andrew Wylie.

Still, there’s going to be questions surrounding Roback’s playing time all through both the preseason and regular season. Can his receivers give Roback better opportunities to throw the ball? Will Todd Porter, whose eligibility is on pace to run up in 2017, beat him out at some point? What if his old injury creeps back up on him or even experiences a new one?

If it isn't Rohach, then will it be a redshirt-freshman?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Iowa State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Three years of Joe Licata, and now it's time to turn to somebody else.

Graduate transfers are usually the easy choice. West Virginia was leading 31-7 early in the regular season finale in 2013. Grant Rohach already responsible for the Cyclones' first score off of a 54-yard run, then proceeded to get four touchdowns through the air, twice in the fourth quarter. He finds Jason Coleman in the middle of all that traffic as he cuts across the field, ends up making a big play in the red zone with one minute left on the clock and taking it to overtime at 38-38. On the first play of the third overtime, Coleman was wide open at the goal line, Rohach slides right and delivers an easy strike, taking a team from 24 points down to a 52-44 3OT victory.

Finished 2013 with over 300 passing yards back-to-back games, but that wasn't enough for Rohach to be the starting quarterback to enter the next season, let alone see the field the year after that. Rohach could very well get an opportunity to play for Lance Leipold, which he's said is what he's really passionate for.

"I want to do it (play) now more than ever," Rohach said. "This is it for me. This is kind of the end."

Or maybe it'll be Tyree Jackson? Received a red shirt his first year on campus, and was arguably the best player from Buffalo's 2015 signing class.

Akron actually has a quarterback maybe

Tra'Von Chapman couldn't get anything going against Savannah State, but Tommy Woodson handled things just fine as a substitute. Woodson would get his first start at Louisiana-Lafayette, and throws a pair of touchdowns in a 35-14 win over the Cajuns. Completes about half of his throws, has the ability to really take over a game and his bad days haven't been disastrous.

The Zips are coming off of a memorable season where they finished the season 8-5 after winning their last five games, including their first bowl win in school history.

Woodson will wear #4 this year instead of #13. The 6-foot-1, 225 pound quarterback is just a junior, and as long as they keep winning, he'll keep his starting job.

Second-year sophomores in Oxford, Kent, and Muncie

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Three freshmen took over as starting quarterbacks for their teams early-to-midway through the season: Billy Bahl (Miami), George Bollas (Kent State), and Riley Neal (Ball State)

After Andrew Hendrix graduated, Miami didn't have a sure thing for this position. Drew Krummer and a pair of freshmen, Bahl and Gus Ragland, all had to battle it out during the games. Bahl was a 3-star prospect out of high school, and maybe has the highest ceiling of the three. He finished his freshman season with a stat line including a 44.5 percent completion percentage, more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (8), but he's shown improvement as the season went on.

Colin Reardon was a decent quarterback in his first two seasons. To play the "what if" game, Kent State could've finished with five wins had even a flukey, above-average year out of him been in the cards. Unreliable first half of the season -- three games with completion percentages in the 30s -- Bollas was the starter in the final six games. The two split time last season, and Reardon could see some playing time as a senior, but it appears as if Bollas is going to be the future for this offense.

It was very clear early in the year that Jack Milas couldn't keep the starting job that he won midway through last season. Neal might've been the best player in the 2015 signing class and Pete Lembo wasted no time getting him out on the field as soon as possible. He took over and dominated at Eastern Michigan in his second game and was their guy ever since. Neal finished the year throwing 16 touchdowns to six interceptions, 58-percent passer and totaled 2,276 yards.

Edit: Chris Merchant is no longer at Buffalo, and the sentence that mentioned him as a possibility for Buffalo has been omitted.