One of the most quarterback-centric conferences in the FCS is limping at the position.
More than half of the teams in the 13-member Big Sky Conference have been affected by an injury at quarterback this season, some cases more serious than others.
Two All-Americans, a strong-armed signal-caller dripping with NFL potential and a dual-threat transfer who led the conference in all-purpose yards last month have been on the shelf for weeks.
Northern Arizona star Case Cookus hasn’t taken a snap since the first half of a 31-26 loss to Eastern Washington on Sept. 6. It’s still unclear if Cookus, who injured his shoulder, will return or apply for a medical redshirt.
The Lumberjacks were ranked 18th before the injury but have since dropped out of the Top 25 at 3-3.
Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud, who is 16 yards shy of 10,000 career passing yards, injured his foot late in a 34-17 win at Montana State on Sept. 27. He’s worn a protective boot on the sideline during the ninth-ranked Eagles’ (5-2, 3-1) past two games.
Like Cookus, it’s unclear when Gubrud, one of the top QBs in the country, will return – or if he’ll return.
“I hope so,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said Tuesday when asked if Gubrud would return this season.
“That’s the expectation, but then again, I just have my undergraduate degree from EWU, a B.A. in social science and a minor in P.E., so I just listen to people who tell me what can take place.
“If there’s an opportunity for anybody to make a decision, it’s going to be Gage, and not us.”
Northern Colorado’s Jake Knipp suffered a season-ending broken collarbone in the first quarter of the Bears’ Week 3 loss to Sacramento State. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior, who led the Bears to a rare winning season as a freshman in 2015, has the attention of NFL scouts, according to draft sites, likely because of his laser arm.
Northern Colorado has dropped to 0-6 in Knipp’s absence.
Southern Utah junior Chris Helbig, a transfer from junior college power Butler (Kansas) Community College, averaged a Big Sky-best 341 total yards through the first three games before going down with an undisclosed season-ending injury in the first half of a 31-23 loss at Northern Arizona.
Helbig is applying for a medical redshirt, according to SUU’s student newspaper. The Thunderbirds (1-6) are near the bottom of the Big Sky standings.
EWU senior cornerback Josh Lewis said he’s never seen this many QBs go down in a single league.
“It’s kind of crazy, and it sucks because that’s never what you want, especially with a conference like the Big Sky that has great quarterbacks, year in and year out.” Lewis said.
“As a competitor, I want to go against the best of the best.”
But wait, there’s more.
Montana State’s versatile sophomore Troy Andersen had a hand injury earlier this season, and played linebacker and running back while pass-first Tucker Rovig stepped in behind center.
Rovig, who started two games and rotated with Andersen in two others, was ruled out for the season last week with a foot injury.
The Bobcats (4-2, 2-1) are razor-thin at the position with Andersen, who was recruited as a linebacker, with the only in-game experience.
“We’ve got two true freshmen and a converted linebacker (at quarterback),” Montana State head coach Jeff Choate told the Bozeman media Monday. “I’ve probably felt better about depth at that position.”
Idaho (2-4, 1-2) has employed a two-QB system with Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson, but Richardson, who has the stronger arm of the two, sat out last week with a concussion. He also missed the Vandals’ win against Portland State after suffering a hand injury in a loss at UC Davis.
Sacramento State’s Kevin Thomson went out with an unspecified injury earlier in the first quarter last week, a 48-27 loss at Southern Utah, and didn’t return. Thomson had paced the Hornets (2-3, 0-3) with 1,253 yards and seven touchdowns before the injury.
Two of the premier Big Sky quarterbacks have remained healthy, however: UC Davis’ Jake Maier and Idaho State’s Tanner Gueller are two of the more productive commodities at the FCS level.
Maier, a Walter Payton Award candidate, has passed for 1,960 yards and 16 touchdowns for the 10th-ranked Aggies (5-1, 3-0). Gueller has 1,675 passing yards and 14 touchdowns for resurgent Idaho State (4-2, 2-1).
Eastern Washington is enjoying a bye week before entertaining Idaho in Cheney for the first time since 1994.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.