NOTE: This is the ninth (and final) installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.
The Big Sky Conference is a league of quarterbacks. And one man stands above the rest: Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams. Adams (who they call "Big Play V.A.") was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award last year, and is probably the favorite to win it in 2014.
As coach Beau Baldwin said about Adams last season, "This guy’s got the guts to go win games.” How far will Adams take the No. 1-ranked Eagles this season? Maybe all the way. But there are a bunch of other top QBs in the conference (there's nine others listed below) who may have something to say about it. Check out our final Top 10 list, and enjoy the season.
TOP 10 QUARTERBACKS
1. VERNON ADAMS, JR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2013: 65.6%, 4,994 yds, 55 TD, 15 INT, 183.1 efficiency; 605 rush yds, 4 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Adams had the greatest statistical season of any quarterback in Big Sky history. The only thing missing was a national title (the Eagles lost to Towson in the semis). Adams won't necessarily be counted on to match last year's totals -- they're too mind-boggling. But he will be expected to make the same big plays, score lots of points and, if he can, lead EWU to Frisco and the national championship game. Expectations have never been higher. With Adams pulling the strings, you have to love their chances.
2. JORDAN JOHNSON, SR., MONTANA 2013: 56.7%, 3,387 yds, 32 TD, 5 INT, 154.7 efficiency; 148 rush yds. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: This will be Johnson's third season as the Grizzlies' starter, and his second year in their pro-style, play-action offense. Johnson adjusted beautifully last season, going from Robin Pflugrad's up-tempo spread offense to Mick Delaney's grind-it-out style. Johnson is an effective pocket passer, and he might be the toughest son-of-a-gun playing quarterback in the Big Sky. Expect another big year from Johnson. But what Griz fans want is a deep playoff run. If Johnson performs like last season it could go a long way toward that end.
3. GARRETT SAFRON, SR., SACRAMENTO STATE 2013: 63.9%, 3,289 yds, 27 TD, 13 INT, 137.7 efficiency; 492 rush yds, 7 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: All Safron did last year was put together the best season for a quarterback in Sac State history. He had four 300-yard passing games -- including 554 yards at Portland State and 412 versus Montana -- and also led the Hornets in both rushing yards and touchdowns. Despite this, Sac State was again mediocre, going 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the league. In fact, the Hornets haven't won more than five league games since joining the Big Sky in 1996. But with Safron they have a chance to win every week.
4. JUSTIN ARIAS, SR., IDAHO STATE 2013: 56.1%, 3,547 yds, 24 TD, 14 INT, 116.9 efficiency; 2 rush TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: It's taking some time for Mike Kramer to rebuild Idaho State, but the Bengals at least have a star at quarterback in Arias, who threw for the third-most yards in school history last season. ISU's offense, per coordinator Don Bailey's preference, is built around the passing game, and Arias chucked the ball 574 times in 2013, the most in Big Sky history. One thing to look for this year is an increase in Arias' completion percentage and a decrease in his interceptions. If those things happen, the Bengals will be in a lot better shape.
5. KIERAN MCDONAGH, JR., PORTLAND STATE 2013: 54.4%, 1,936 yds, 15 TD, 11 INT, 142.8 efficiency; 369 rush yds, 4 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: McDonagh, at 6-2 and 230, is a load for defenses to handle, especially out of Portland State's Pistol offense. McDonagh had a shoulder injury toward the end of last season, which contributed to him losing the starting job. But he was the front-runner to reclaim that role this summer (though being challenged by Paris Penn). McDonagh has put up seven games of at least 300 offensive yards, but if the Vikings are to improve they must cut down on turnovers: PSU was minus-8 last season with 29 giveaways.
6. DAKOTA PRUKOP, SO., MONTANA STATE 2013: No statistics. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Prukop battled hard and won MSU's starting quarterback job earlier this week. There's a lot of excitement surrounding Prukop, but the jury's out in the court of public perception until we see him play. Prukop is purportedly the kind of dual-threat QB highly capable of manning the Bobcats' modified spread offense, which will feature more zone-read elements, etc. We know he can run, but how well can he throw it? Prukop is replacing a legend in four-year starter DeNarius McGhee, and that carries a lot of weight. But if he does his part to get MSU back in the playoffs, he'll be celebrated.
7. TURNER BATY, JR., UC DAVIS 2013: (at CCSF) 51.8%, 3,120 yds, 30 TD, 14 INT, 130.1 efficiency; 3 rush TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Baty is the darkhorse of Big Sky quarterbacks. Baty came to the Aggies after throwing for 6,220 yards and 55 touchdowns in two seasons at City College of San Francisco. In between stints at CCSF, Baty enrolled at Kansas. That was after he led the Rams to the JUCO national title in 2011. But he left KU and returned to CCSF last year. Baty had offers to join FBS programs this fall, but he chose UC Davis where he'll rejoin former JC teammate Gabe Manzanares. He could be a hidden gem for a team desperate for a QB.
8. AMMON OLSEN, JR., SOUTHERN UTAH 2013: (at BYU) 33.3%, 4 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT, 44.5 efficiency; 4 rush yds. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Olsen, a BYU transfer, is still battling last year's starter, Aaron Cantu, for the QB nod this late in camp. Olsen began his career with the T-Birds, went to BYU for two seasons after an LDS mission and is now back after spending 2013 backing up Taysom Hill. Will Olsen unseat Cantu? Tough to say, considering Cantu guided SUU to its first ever playoff berth last year (albeit unspectacularly). But Olsen is a talent as a Utah high school star who spent time in the FBS. Is Olsen another Brad Sorensen? Those are lofty standards.
9. KYREN POE, JR., NORTHERN ARIZONA 2013: 60.4%, 1,602 yds, 6 TD, 10 INT, 110.1 efficiency; 173 rush yds, 2 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Obviously, NAU has not been much of a passing team of late. Running back Zach Bauman had four straight 1,000-yard seasons and was a three-time first-team All-Big Sky selection. But with Bauman gone the Lumberjacks may open it up a little bit more, and that will give Poe (or senior Chase Cartwright) the chance to spread his wings. Poe started the majority of the games last season, and has played with the No. 1 offense in fall camp. Can he be a productive down-field thrower? Without Bauman, he may have to be.
10. BROCK BERGLUND, JR., NORTHERN COLORADO 2013: No statistics. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Fourth time's a charm? Berglund, a former three-star recruit and the Colorado 4A player of the year in high school, has spent time at Kansas, Scottsdale Community College and North Texas. Has he finally found a home in Greeley? The Bears still haven't decided on a starter to replace the departed Seth Lobato, who is currently with the Miami Dolphins, but Berglund is certainly in the mix. There's no doubting Berglund's physical talent, but he's been dogged by off-the-field issues. If he can settle in, Berglund could be a wild card. UNC could really use it.
*** NATIONAL NO. 1: VERNON ADAMS, EASTERN WASHINGTON. You can buck the trends and pick Fordham's Michael Nebrich in this spot, but when you add it all up, Adams had arguably the best season of any quarterback in the country in 2013 (even though Jimmy Garoppolo won the Payton Award). So to project someone else as the best QB in the FCS is to push the proverbial envelope. Adams is the gold standard, and few quarterbacks are as driven to win.
LAST WEEK: 2014 running back rankings
LAST YEAR: 2013 quarterback rankings
NEXT WEEK: Football is here!