by Matt Dougherty, FCS Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Since the FCS sub-division originated in 1978, a few select players have emerged that captivated the nation throughout their career.
    Steve McNair, Dave Dickenson, Adrian Peterson and Brian Westbrook all earned high accolades in the last decade and a half, and went on to successful pro careers. Jaime Martin, Tracy Ham and the legendary Jerry Rice all put their stamp on the early history of the sub-classification.
    After three seasons, Ricky Santos is already in select company because of his individual and team accomplishments with the New Hampshire Wildcats. And he has a chance to eclipse all of the legends by winning a second Walter Payton Award.
    Santos narrowly missed that achievement already, finishing just five points behind Payton Award winner Erik Meyer in 2005. Santos became the fourth junior or sophomore to win the Payton since the award originated in 1987, and has the chance to become the first player to win two Payton Awards if he continues on the path that began as a backup quarterback navigating a victory at defending champion Delaware in 2004.
    As always, Santos will face stiff competition in his quest to lead the Wildcats to a fourth consecutive playoff berth and earn the honor as the most outstanding player in the FCS. And he'll likely receive a good deal of the competition for the Payton from the quarterback position, where established players like San Diego’s Josh Johnson and Northern Iowa’s Eric Sanders, youngsters such as Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards and Sam Houston State newcomer Rhett Bomar lead a group of quality players that can earn their own place in the history books.
    All of the top quarterbacks in the FCS have an impressive list of accomplishments, but they'll be chasing Santos for individual honors and a place in history.
    Below is a ranking of the top returning quarterbacks in the FCS, along with a breakdown of new signal-callers for 2006 playoff teams and the best tandems in the nation.

Top 15 Quarterbacks

1. Ricky Santos, New Hampshire (Sr., 6-2, 215) - If he decided to ride off into the sunset and call it a career before his senior season begins, Ricky Santos would still hold some lofty positions in the FCS record book. But since the reigning Walter Payton Award winner will go out for a swan song in Durham, a few of the biggest FCS passing marks could be challenged. Santos has excelled since coming off the bench in the season opener as a freshman to engineer a victory at defending national champion Delaware in 2004. He enters the 2007 campaign with 10,240 passing yards and 99 touchdowns through the air in his career. Santos already ranks seventh in career touchdown tosses, and is poised to challenge Bruce Eugene’s (Grambling State, 2001-05) record of 140. The New Hampshire signal-caller is in the top 20 in career passing yardage, and with another 3,000-yard campaign he would move into the No. 2 or No. 3 position all- time. He is on pace to finish in the top 10 in career passing efficiency, where marks like a 67 percent completion ratio and only 26 career interceptions go a long way. Santos’ career mark as a starter sits at 29-9, which doesn't include the heroics in his first-ever game at Delaware.
    There are plenty of moments to go along with the historic numbers. Sanots has a pair of victories over FBS programs, including a five-touchdown (two passing, three rushing) performance in a 34-17 victory at Northwestern. He has led the Wildcats to the quarterfinals in each of his three seasons, and thrown for 300+ yards on 16 occasions. Santos has stepped up in the big moments, and has 12 touchdown passes with only three interceptions in the last two postseasons. He will try to become the first two-time winner of the Payton Award, a feat he almost accomplished already after placing second to Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer in the closest voting ever in 2005. Yet with all of that remarkable history, Santos begins his senior season with more questions than any year since his freshman campaign. He will have to adjust to life without record-setting wide receiver David Ball, and won't be able to rely on departed offensive coordinator Chip Kelly (who left for Oregon), who was considered by many as the top offensive mind in the FCS. But a challenge and a few doubters will be nothing new for Santos. He’s answered every obstacle so far, and he could add a second Walter Payton Award and etch his name in the FCS record books if he does it again in 2007.

2. Josh Johnson, San Diego (Sr., 6-3, 195) - The word from the grapevine from NFL draft analysts places Josh Johnson at the top of the FCS quarterback list heading into the 2007 season. With his combination of size and speed and an ability to take over games as a rusher or passer, it’s easy to see why. Johnson has lived in anonymity while playing for a non-scholarship program that rarely competes against the top teams in the FCS, but his performances in the last two seasons opened eyes and earned him third-team All-America honors and a sixth- place finish in the Payton Award voting in 2006. Johnson has directed the Toreros to a 22-2 record in the past two campaigns, including two Pioneer Football League championships and two Mid-Major titles. He led the FCS in passing efficiency in 2006 by completing 246-371 passes for 3,320 yards with 34 touchdowns and five interceptions. He added 720 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to those totals for an extraordinary individual season where the Toreros earned national acclaim with a national ranking and an undefeated record until a late November loss at UC Davis. Johnson’s 2005 season was just as impressive, as he threw for 3,256 yards with 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Johnson enters the 2007 season with 70 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions in his career, and should post some of the most impressive numbers the FCS division has ever seen. While he enters the season as a strong contender for the Payton Award, Johnson will have to do something spectacular to overcome the disadvantage of playing against a weak schedule. Even if he doesn't take home the hardware, Johnson should lead the Toreros to another big season and possibly prepare himself for a chance at the next level.

3. Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State
(So, 6-0, 185) - After his breakout 2006 season, what’s left for Armanti Edwards? He became only the fifth Division I player, and second from the FCS, to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, posted a perfect 13-0 record as a starter, and led the Mountaineers to their second consecutive national championship. And he did it all as a freshman. No, make that a TRUE freshman. Edwards took over the starting quarterback spot in the third game of the season, and he made head coach Jerry Moore look good right away. After a start against Mars Hill, Edwards posted his first of six 100-yard rushing games in a victory against Gardner-Webb. He had a 311-yard day through the air in an easy win against Chattanooga, and came up big with 350 yards of total offense (210 passing, 140 rushing) in a double overtime victory at Georgia Southern. Edwards was very good while leading the Mountaineers to nine regular-season wins, but he kept getting better in the postseason. His first postseason performance was a memorable one, with 226 yards passing, 172 yards rushing and five total touchdowns in a 45-28 beating of Coastal Carolina. Edwards’ passing numbers weren't as sparkling throughout the rest of the postseason as the Mountaineers excelled on the ground, but he notched 100-yard rushing efforts in victories against Montana State and Youngstown State and ran for 81 yards and helped produce four touchdowns in a 28-17 victory over Massachusetts in the national championship game. With a historic season and a national championship already to his name, Edwards still has three years to haunt opposing defenses. And the really frightening thing is that he has time to get better.

4. Eric Sanders, UNI
(Sr., 6-1, 200) - Sanders had a better season in 2005 than he did in 2006, but most quarterbacks would take the 7-4 record, 68 percent completion ratio, 1,934 yards and 15 touchdowns that he produced a year ago. While that season was solid, Sanders earns this lofty position in large part because of his success, in both numbers and big moments, in leading the Panthers to the national championship game in 2005. His only loss against an FCS team that season (in a game he completed) came against Appalachian State in the national title game, and he was the main reason the Panthers got that far. Sanders had 330 yards and two touchdowns to outduel Payton Award winner Erik Meyer and Eastern Washington, engineered a victory at No. 1 New Hampshire, and made big plays down the stretch in a 417-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 40-37 victory against Texas State in the national semifinals. Sanders made a nice impression as a freshman with 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 2004, and he enters his senior season with 6,170 passing yards, 53 touchdown passes and only 17 interceptions. UNI should be on the short list of national title contenders this year. Sanders might not have the most impressive stat line because of a strong Panther running game, but he has a great chance to once again show the poise under pressure to lead UNI on a playoff run.

5. Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State
(Jr., 6-2, 215) - Is fifth place a bit high for a player that has never set foot on an FCS field? Maybe, but most college football fans and even NFL analysts could tell you the name Rhett Bomar before anyone else in the division. Bomar earned his fame, both positive and negative, in his freshman season as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma in 2005. Bomar threw for 2,018 yards and 10 touchdowns for the season and led the Sooners to a Holiday Bowl victory over Oregon. Bomar was dismissed from the Sooner program after receiving improper compensation and had to sit out the 2006 season, but he will have almost a full year’s worth of practices with the Bearkats going into the 2007 season. Bomar should like the situation in Huntsville, where a program known for its ability to throw the ball has the ingredients for a big season on offense. After getting inconsistent production out of the quarterback position last year, the Bearkats could be primed for a couple of big seasons if Bomar duplicates his success at Oklahoma for the next two years.

6. Liam Coen, Massachusetts (Jr., 6-2, 205) - With the attention focused on All-American running back Steve Baylark, Liam Coen sometimes moved to the background of media talk during the Minutemen’s run to the national championship game a year ago. But while Baylark earned the accolades, Coen’s stellar sophomore season shows that the team will be in good hands even with the star running back gone. Coen sat among the top FCS quarterbacks in passing efficiency throughout the season, and finished his sophomore campaign with 3,016 yards and 26 touchdown passes while completing 65 percent of his passes. Coen had at least one touchdown passes in 13 of his 15 games, and threw only four interceptions in the regular season to help Massachusetts to a perfect conference record. He cooled a bit down the stretch, with four interceptions and only one touchdown pass in the final two games, but Coen has an exceptional track record through two seasons. He could be called upon to do even more with Baylark gone, and appears to be up to the challenge to keep Massachusetts in the playoff and national title picture.

7. Steve Walker, North Dakota State
(Sr., 6-1, 210) - Walker’s case shows why numbers and statistics don't always tell the whole story. Sure, he has a lot to be proud of in that regard. Walker threw for 2,220 yards with 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 2006, and completed 64 percent of his passes. While North Dakota State is not included in season-ending NCAA statistics during its transition, Walker’s passing efficiency rating of 144.5 would have rated 16th in the nation. But with a team that dominated with strong running game and defense for the past two seasons, Walker’s statistics are often an afterthought. His clutch performances are not, and Walker has come up big when he needs to throughout his career. In rare instances when the Bison were challenged in last year’s 10-1 campaign, Walker threw for 451 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-24 win at FBS Ball State and tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass with four seconds to play as the Bison rallied from 24 points down at halftime to win at UC Davis, 28-24. Walker has 4,001 yards with 30 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in his career, and he will be counted on to expand on those numbers as the Bison compensate for the loss of running back Kyle Steffes.

8. Sean Schaefer, Towson (Jr., 6-1, 215) - With a team that ranked 110 out of 116 in rushing offense and often struggled on defense, Schaefer was the main ingredient that kept Towson in the playoff race until the final week of the season. After a great freshman season where he threw for 2,772 yards, 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, Schaefer came back even stronger as a sophomore in 2006 with 3,033 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in only 10 starts. Schaefer picked up some early momentum with 43-of-60 passing for 458 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-30 victory at Hofstra. After losses to Maine and Massachusetts (a game Schaefer missed), the sophomore signal-caller had outstanding games against Villanova (35-of-45, 324 yards, 2 TD) and Delaware (27-of-37, 435 yards, 5 TD) to help the Tigers stay in the thick of the playoff race. Schaefer already has 5,805 yards and 39 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and he should be ready to step up again for a Tiger team that has its high hopes for the postseason for the first time in a while.

9. Luke Drone, Illinois State
(Sr., 6-2, 210) - FCS fans can rattle off significant names from the Redbird program over the years. Cameron Siskowic, Brent Hawkins and Laurent Robinson stand out at their positions, and the Redbirds always seem to have at least one player in the FCS Awards mix. After two seasons as the starter, Drone appears ready to take the position as the Illinois State star in 2007. Drone has been among the best quarterbacks in the FCS over the past two years, with 5,901 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and 25 interceptions over his career. He posted nearly identical numbers in both seasons, throwing for more than 2,900 yards with over 20 touchdowns both times. With the ability to put up big numbers, Drone would be even higher on this list if he wasn't prone to interceptions in big spots. He had four interceptions in a key loss to Youngstown State in 2005, and struggled down the stretch a year ago with 10 interceptions in the final three games, including four in each playoff contest. Drone had 18 touchdown passes and three interceptions going into that stretch, and can rise even higher in the FCS quarterback class if he can maintain that type of pace for the entire season.

10. Joe Flacco, Delaware (Sr., 6-6, 230) - Delaware’s 52-49 loss to New Hampshire went down as one of the most exciting FCS games of the 2006 season largely because of Ricky Santos’ brilliance, but Flacco was right there to match every big play by the Walter Payton Award winner. Flacco threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in that loss, and his first campaign in the FCS after transferring from Pittsburgh was an encouraging one for the Blue Hen faithful. Flacco completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,783 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and excelled down the stretch for a team that struggled on the defensive side of the ball. Three of Flacco’s four 300-yard games came in the final five weeks of the season, and he threw for more than 290 yards in the other two contests during that stretch. He completed 31-of-45 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Richmond, and threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns the next week in a loss to Towson. The Blue Hens return 10 starters on offense, and figure to get a healthier season out of running back Omar Cuff. With that much talent returning, Flacco should continue to build on his success at the end of last season and lead an explosive Delaware offense in 2007.

11. Sedale Threatt, Lehigh (Sr., 6-3, 210) - When starter Mark Borda went down with a season-ending injury in the middle of the 2005 season, Sedale Threatt stepped in to lead a come-from-behind, 28-21, victory over Yale. And Threatt hasn't looked back since. The senior-to-be started the final five games of the 2005 campaign and finished with 1,015 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions, while also rushing for 371 yards and two scores. Threatt did the same type of damage over the course of a full season a year ago, when he completed the season with 2,008 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions to go with 310 rushing yards and eight scores. Career totals of 3,023 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, nine interceptions, 696 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns are impressive, and Threatt’s 10-6 record as a starter includes five losses by seven points or less. While Threatt enters his senior season with momentum, he will have pressure to lead Lehigh back to the playoffs and beat Lafayette after two empty years in both matters.

12. Tom Zetts, Youngstown State (Sr., 6-1, 215) - The spotlight for Youngstown State’s offense went to Marcus Mason and the running game last year, but Zetts showed he has the ability to come through when it counts. In the Penguins’ first round victory against James Madison, Zetts led a comeback from a 31-20 deficit with a 24-of-40 effort for 314 yards and a touchdown for a 35-31 victory. Zetts has led the renaissance of the Youngstown State program through solid if not spectacular play for the past three seasons. He has career totals of 5,883 yards, 44 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, and has displayed the consistency necessary in an offense that features the run by finishing 17 of his 35 career starts without an interception. Zetts could be called on more often without Mason in 2007, and he should keep the Penguin offense in good hands.

13. Dominic Randolph, Holy Cross (Jr., 6-3, 205) - The Crusaders began the 2006 season with a complete makeover at the skill positions on offense, but they turned that question mark into their best season since 2000 in large part because of the play of Randolph, who excelled in nine games as a sophomore. Randolph finished the year with 2,237 yards passing, 19 touchdown passes and only six interceptions while completing nearly 62 percent of his passes. He had early breakout performances with 263 yards and three touchdowns in a win against Fordham and 329 yards and four touchdown passes on 30-of-39 passing in a 35-30 victory against Brown. Randolph had his real explosion on the scene in a victory at Lafayette, when he completed 34-of-46 passes for 352 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-28 win. Randolph had 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his first six outings before slowing down the stretch, and helped Holy Cross stay in the playoff race until a heartbreaking loss to Colgate in the final game of the season. If Randolph picks up where he left off, the Crusaders have a chance to add their name to a wide-open Patriot League race.

14. Danny Southall, Stephen F. Austin
(Sr., 6-3, 215) - Southall had to deal with a brutal schedule early on, but he came on at the end of the 2006 season to lead the Lumberjacks to a winning Southland Conference record and establish his case as one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the FCS. Southall finished the year with 1,877 passing yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions through the air, and ran for 418 yards and six touchdowns. He had 90 rushing yards and 191 passing yards with two total touchdowns in a victory at Texas State. Southall led the Lumberjacks to wins in three of the last four games, and the team’s only conference losses came in close games against McNeese State and Sam Houston State. The Lumberjacks should be a contender for the league crown with most of their nucleus returning, and Southall will be an integral part of that run.

15. Kelcy Luke, Alabama A & M (Sr., 6-0, 200) - Luke can run it and pass it, and he’s done so to lead to success individually and as a team for the past two seasons. Luke has led the Bulldogs to the SWAC title game in the each of the past two campaigns, and led the team to a victory in that outing against Arkansas Pine-Bluff last year. He has solid passing numbers (4,358 yards, 36 TD, 19 INT) in his career, but really does damage on the ground with 1,238 career rushing yards and 17 total rushing touchdowns. Luke is rarely asked to win a game with his arm, but he’s developed into one of the best returning field generals in the FCS.

Next Five:

16. Nick Hill, Southern Illinois - Hill won't have star running back Arkee Whitlock to rely on in 2007, but his strong 2006 numbers (1,721 passing yards, 15 TD, 4 INT, 62 percent of passes completed) indicate that he’s ready to take on a bigger role in the offense.

17. Antonio Heffner, Tennessee State - Hefner had more interceptions than touchdowns in his first season with the Tigers, but he also turned the team into a winner and showed flashes of big potential.

18. Duran Lawson, The Citadel - Lawson’s statistics may continue to suffer because of a tough schedule, but he’s one of the major reasons that the Bulldogs have high hopes for a move into the top half of the Southern Conference in 2007.

19. Albert Chester II, Florida A & M - Chester threw 10 touchdowns without an interception to lead the Rattlers to three wins in their final four games, and went out in style with 339 yards and five touchdown strikes in a win over rival Bethune-Cookman.

20. Bradley George, Texas State - George played sparingly in the first two games and sat out the last two in his freshman season with the Bobcats, but he managed 1,676 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in between, with six of seven games over 200 yards passing.

Breaking in a New Starter - Playoff teams that are going to have a new man under center this year.

Montana - The Grizzlies are in great shape at just about every other position, but they may go as far as a new signal-caller can take them. Junior Cole Bergquist has experience and probably the early edge, but will be pushed by three candidates, including redshirt freshman Andrew Selle.

James Madison - Junior Brandon Landers should be ready to take over for three- year starter and national championship winner Justin Rascati. Redshirt freshman Drew Dudzik is waiting in the wings.

Lafayette - The Leopards won three consecutive Patriot League titles and made three consecutive playoff trips behind the steady play of Brad Maurer, but they'll have to settle a jumble at the quarterback spot to go for a fourth in both categories. Senior Mike DiPaola is penciled in at the moment, but he'll face competition from sophomores Rob Curley and Josh Jones.

Coastal Carolina - The Chants lost the only quarterback they've ever know in NFL draftee Tyler Thigpen, and will likely try to replace the production by turning to Will Richardson.

Hampton - Quarterback is just one of many positions the Pirates have to fill after an exodus of quality players, but they could be in good hands with TJ Mitchell, who has experience after filling in while Princeton Shepherd was injured a year ago.

Best QB Tandems

Appalachian State - Edwards has the potential to be a memorable player in FCS history with three years left, but the Mountaineers wouldn't lose much if they have to go to senior backup Trey Elder, who would probably start for a majority of teams around the nation.

Sam Houston State - The Bearkats played musical quarterbacks last year with varied success, but they now possess a trio of quarterbacks with experience behind Bomar. Look for Brett Hicks, who started most of the 2006 season, to assume the No. 2 role.

Furman - Renaldo Gray and Jordan Sorrells both led the team at key moments last season, and Sorrells should be ready to step in if Gray struggles with another injury-plagued season.

Harvard - Liam O’Hagan probably showed the most during his 2005 season, but Chris Pizzotti and even Jeff Witt have a chance to push him for the job.

Montana State - Cory Carpenter and Jack Rolovich didn't combine for the most impressive numbers in 2006, but they did both play a role in a team that advanced to the quarterfinals and give the Bobcats experience under center.
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