With preseason football practice starting for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the next couple of weeks, the Times Free Press is taking a daily positional look at the Mocs, beginning at quarterback:
The graduation of Nick Tiano, the former Baylor School standout who started 27 games in his three seasons with the Mocs after transferring from Mississippi State, left a major void. Tiano — who signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent in April after going undrafted but was recently released — finished his collegiate career in the top 10 in most major statistical categories for the Mocs and took all but a handful of snaps for the team last year. The lone scholarship quarterback who returns from last season is senior Drayton Arnold, who in 2019 threw 10 passes — all in a 45-0 loss at Tennessee in September — and completed five of them for 36 yards. At the moment he's the leader in the clubhouse for the starting role, with a number of people around the program impressed by the leadership abilities of the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder.
UTC had already brought in Ty Gossett, a strong-armed quarterback who threw for more than 7,000 yards in high school and scored 19 touchdowns (14 passing, five rushing) in a prep school year in 2019, to compete for the starting job. Then they added to that with the return of Cole Copeland, a six-game starter in 2017 who was an All-Southern Conference freshman team pick that year. Copeland did not play the past two seasons, but he showed some dual-threat abilities as a Bradley Central High School star.
Despite his lack of on-field college experience, Arnold has been lauded for his ability to lead on the field by both players and coaches alike. Copeland did show the ability to make plays downfield in his lone college season, although second-year head coach Rusty Wright and his staff employ a completely different system than the one used by predecessor Tom Arth. All three players are considered dual threats, which works well in offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo's system; last season, Tiano averaged 4.5 yards per carry and tied running back Ailym Ford for the team lead with nine rushing touchdowns.
The quarterback on the roster with the most college experience, Copeland, redshirted in 2018 for academic reasons and wasn't even on the team in 2019. Arnold has spent four seasons in college, but he has appeared in just five games and thrown a combined 12 passes for Old Dominion and UTC. The Mocs are in a good spot at every other position on offense, but is there someone ready to get behind center and lead them?