For the first time in 11 seasons, the Southern Conference sent only one team to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2014. Part of that was because of a revolving door at quarterback for some teams, due to injuries, inconsistency or overall program uncertainty.
Don't look for that to be the case this season.
Seven of the eight teams in the conference return their starting signal-callers for 2015. Included among those is 2013 and 2014 SoCon offensive player of the year Jacob Huesman of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He's one of two league representatives on the STATS preseason watch list for FCS offensive player of the year. The other is Western Carolina quarterback Troy Mitchell.
Those two and Mercer quarterback John Russ will be starting for at least a third season. It's the fourth for Huesman. In addition, Virginia Military Institute sophomore Al Cobb threw for a league-high 2,971 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014 and was the runaway pick for conference freshman of the year.
"It was great, but we didn't win many games last year," Cobb said at SoCon media day. "We've been working hard on focusing on the team effort. It's all about the team, regardless of who is getting individual honors, because if the team doesn't do well, then we're not successful. That's what VMI drills in us, and that's what we'll drill into the team as well."
Furman used three quarterbacks last season, due to an injury to starter Reese Hannon in the opener. P.J. Blazejowski and Dillon Woodruff each took snaps in the final 11 games, but the Paladins coaches have settled on Blazejowski going into the season, with Woodruff sliding over to play linebacker.
Wofford used Evan Jacks and Michael Weimer a year ago, and Jacks will be the starter going forward, proving to be effective both as a runner (450 yards, five touchdowns) and a passer (60 percent completion, 399 yards, three scores).
Samford returns Michael Eubank, who spent three seasons at Arizona State, and Mercer's Russ returns for his junior year, having been the only quarterback since the Macon program was revived before the 2013 season.
"You look and it's like 'Oh, boy, here we go,'" said Mercer defensive coordinator Mike Kolakowski, who filled in for head coach Bobby Lamb. "When you look at a Huesman, he's a tremendous quarterback, and he has another year in the system. All of these quarterbacks coming back have another year in their systems and understand what it takes and can manage their offenses.
"It's going to be a heck of a challenge for our guys on defense."
The only SoCon team with a QB question mark is The Citadel. The Bulldogs must replace Aaron Miller, whose total of 1,080 rushing yards was second in the conference to Mercer freshman Alex Lakes' 1,107. Coach Mike Houston said last week that the leaders going into camp are Cam Jackson — who had over 600 yards of total offense in a slotback role last year — and Dominique Allen, who played sparingly as a reserve.
"We have a lot of people coming back besides the quarterback position," Houston said. "Whoever is the starter will have a lot more stability than what Aaron had this time last year."
After a two-year span in which the league lost Appalachian State, Elon and Davidson and welcomed Mercer and VMI — along with East Tennessee State, which will begin SoCon competition in 2016 — "stability" is a welcome word to the Southern Conference.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.