At the start of the FCS playoffs, North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman seemed to shut the door on the return of star senior quarterback Carson Wentz. At his weekly press conference on Nov. 23, Klieman said he didn't see the likelihood of Wentz making a return.
At the start of the FCS playoffs, North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman seemed to shut the door on the return of star senior quarterback Carson Wentz. At his weekly press conference on Nov. 23, Klieman said he didn’t see the likelihood of Wentz making a return.
But then Klieman threw his old friend Mark Farley at Northern Iowa a curveball the Monday before the quarterfinal matchup that Wentz is back practicing. As expected, Klieman was vanilla with the follow-up questions, saying they’ll progress Wentz to see if he’s ready to play.
Wentz didn’t dress against UNI, nor did he dress against Richmond in the semifinals a week later.
The general consensus was if Wentz was to play again at full health, it likely would be Jan. 9 in the national title game.
Doubts were there when Wentz broke a bone in his throwing wrist on Oct. 17 in a shocking loss to South Dakota.
The announcement said Wentz will miss 6-8 weeks, making it one of the lowest weeks in four years for the football program. At 4-2, the starting job was given to redshirt freshman Easton Stick.
With his first game action since high school, no one knew what to expect with Stick. Many hoped he could make it through the final five games, three on the road, with just one loss to get the Bison into the playoffs.
Instead, Stick rattled off five straight wins to end the regular season at 9-2. The stage of the playoffs was not too big for the 20-year-old as he guided the Bison to three home playoff wins.
The Bison will now try for a fifth straight national title on Jan. 9, 12 weeks after Wentz’s injury.
So the question is obvious, even more obvious than the previous two games: Who will start at quarterback?
Players spoke to the Fargo media Tuesday for the first time since their semifinal win against Richmond. Klieman won’t address the media until Monday.
From the looks of it, the players offered zero information on who’s taking the snaps or who will be taking the snaps.
There’s a great chance Klieman will do the same. And there’s also a great chance that NDSU fans, JSU fans, JSU players and JSU coaches won’t know until Jan. 9 at 11 a.m.
And really, no one outside the NDSU football program needs to know.
How much extra work does it cost the JSU coaching staff not knowing who the starting quarterback will be? Maybe not a terrible amount, but it’s one more thing to prep for. It’s the same strategy as a field goal unit showing the swinging gate, only to shift back for the PAT.
The Bison close their football practices to the public and the media. In doing so, everyone is left guessing and assuming. And that’s probably fine with them.
The popular question at the store, bar or high school sporting event is Stick or Wentz?
The answers range from go with the guy who will be picked early in the NFL Draft or the guy who got you there.
In this writer’s opinion, I think it’s obvious. You go with the experienced, national-championship winning senior quarterback if he’s close to 100 percent healthy.
But there’s a big “if” in my opinion. I think Wentz has to be close to full health for him to give the Bison the best chance to win.
Not 75 percent.
Not 85 percent.
Wentz has a 19-3 record as a starting quarterback. He broke several NDSU passing records as a junior. His clutch performances won the Bison two playoff games last season in last-minute drives, including the FCS title game.
But all three losses Wentz has endured saw him less than full strength. UNI in 2014 he had a hurt ankle. The season-opening loss this year at Montana saw the offense go cold after Wentz twisted his ankle. And Wentz played through his wrist injury against USD where the entire Bison team laid a dud after jumping out to a 14-0 lead.
Sure there were other factors that went into those losses. But you can’t ignore the offensive struggles when Wentz isn’t 100 percent.
The Bison became a better rushing team once Wentz was sidelined. The running backs and offensive line stepped up. NDSU went back to its traditional power rushing attack without the luxury of having a future NFL player to toss the ball down the field.
Stick has been efficient, completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,144 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions along with an 8-0 record. Wentz threw for 1,454 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in the first six games.
The last we heard, Wentz hasn’t even been cleared by a doctor to play. Maybe Monday we’ll find out if he’s at least cleared. But until then, no one really knows if he’s throwing 7-0, 7-7 or 11-11 with full pads.
The NDSU coaching staff will play the quarterback who gives the Bison the best chance to win. I believe it can go either way.
But I am not a believer in the dual-quarterback system. I think the rhythm of an offense is affected. If Wentz looks close to full-go, you start him. It’d be a magical finish for NDSU if the Bismarck native returned to win the title.
But if Wentz isn’t quite there yet, Stick gives the Bison a better shot at a 5-peat.
As an NDSU graduate who covered Bison sports the last three years for the campus newspaper, Sam will provide insight on the football team’s quest for a fifth straight national championship.