For about 15 seconds in a 2013 North Dakota State playoff game, quarterback Brock Jensen was on the turf after a play in obvious discomfort. The crowd silenced as the two-time national champion and senior leader was slow to get up. Then, a student with enough liquid courage stood up and excitedly yelled “Wentz!”
The yell referred to the 6-foot-6-inch backup quarterback from Bismarck: Carson Wentz.
Yes, Wentz had a fan club long before his 2014 breakout season. When Jensen struggled in 2012, some fans started a #WeWantWentz hashtag. When Jensen had a stellar senior year in 2013, bringing home a third straight national championship, the same fans stayed on the Wentz bandwagon.
Everyone loves the backup quarterback. But Wentz was more than just an intriguing backup. Maybe it was his size and speed. Maybe it was his hometown. Or maybe it was the rumors from Bison practices that Wentz had the strongest arm on the team since he showed up on campus.
And when Wentz finally got his time as the starter, he didn’t disappoint those who hyped him up the previous two years. Wentz broke NDSU’s single season records for passing attempts, completions, yards and total offense per game and added a fourth FCS national championship to the trophy case. This, all with a revamped offensive line and a new offensive coordinator.
So the question is what can the quarterback do in his senior season? With an experienced offensive line, his two favorite receiving targets and a talented group of running backs at his disposal, Wentz is a dangerous man for opposing teams.
Not only that, Wentz could very well be the best player in the FCS this year. It’s just a matter of whether the national media wants to put him in the spotlight.
When Coastal Carolina visited Fargo last season in the quarterfinals, it was quarterback Alex Ross who highlighted most of the preview articles. But it was Wentz who came out on top in the 39-32 dual with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score.
When Tre Roberson scored on a 58-yard run in Frisco, Texas, with 98 seconds left to seemingly end NDSU’s run of national championships, the hype of the dual-threat quarterback looked for real. But it was Wentz who calmly sniped three completions to a true freshman before running in a 5-yard score of his own in what looked like the easiest game-winning drive of all time.
Sure, Roberson will be back. So, too, will last year’s Walter Payton Award (FCS version of the Heisman) winner John Robertson from Villanova. The two names are much sexier to national voters. NDSU names don’t do much for these voters it seems, with defensive end Kyle Emanuel the only player to win a national award in the Bison’s four title years.
The beautiful thing is NDSU doesn’t rely on individual performances to win games. Its system on both sides of the ball doesn’t allow one player to have inflated stats. The system does, however, keep a team consistent enough to maintain the same run of success. The last three Walter Payton Award winners were quarterbacks who lost in the FCS quarterfinals.
So Wentz may not throw for 300 yards and five touchdowns in a game. He may not lead an exciting, fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
But the simple question is if you had to pick one player in the FCS to lead your team into title contention or hand the reins to in the game’s final minutes, who would it be?
I’ll take Wentz. And so will his large wagon of fans.