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Kolpack: Hoping to get a handle on Bison QB position at ‘Spring Game?’ Guess again

North Dakota State quarterback Zeb Noland runs a drill during practice this month at the Dacotah Field Bubble. Noland is one of four players vying for the starting position. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 2
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance scores a touchdown against South Dakota last season in Vermillion, S.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 2 / 2

FARGO - North Dakota State head football coach Matt Entz is 14 practices into his first season as the leader of the program, which is 14 organized workouts closer to the season opener. It’s going to be a Bison party in Minneapolis on Aug. 31 when Target Field hosts NDSU and Butler.

It won’t be the Bison vs. Gophers of 2006, 2007 and 2011, but the green and gold folks will have to take what they can get in the big city. What will they see in their team? If spring football in the modern era has taught us one thing, it is this: Other than the coaches evaluating film and the players making plays, nobody else really knows.

They look big. They look strong. They look fast. But so do other college football teams this time of year. There was a time when former head coach Craig Bohl would release a depth chart the Monday after the Saturday Green vs. Gold game. Not only is the spring game long gone, replaced by a scripted scrimmage at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, so are the days of the post-spring updated depth chart.

It’s not the way of the world anymore.

The personnel question of note in Bison camp this spring is, of course, quarterback. Who’s it going to be? Junior Zeb Noland, sophomores Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders and freshman Trey Lance started with an open competition. They were all expected to get equal reps during practice and all were expected to get a fair shake.

NDSU coaches went out of their way to emphasize that point.

Who’s it going to be?

“The quarterback position is a long way from having anything in stone,” Entz said.

The guess here is a starter will be named on Aug. 26. That would be Entz’s Monday press conference the week of the Butler game. Even if Entz, offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl and quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg have it in their mind who their guy is right now, there’s no reason for them to give Butler defensive coordinator Joe Cheshire all summer to game plan against the NDSU starter.

NDSU would rather give Cheshire four guys to study rather than one.

Entz is picking up where former head coach Chris Klieman left off in the Modern Theory of the Spring Game. It’s not a game anymore. It’s a practice meant mostly for the younger players to try to move up the depth chart. Even though the Bison lost 24 seniors from a year ago, and return only seven full-time starters, most starting spots appear to have a current resident.

The risk of injury is too great. It’s outweighed the risk of the coaching staff not knowing how a player handles game situations over the course of four quarters in live action.

“I think that’s always the balance you try to find out,” Entz said. “You try to put them in enough adverse situations and the way we practice I think alleviates some of that just because there’s pressure to get lined up and go and go and go. So I think we prevent some of those star-struck big eyes that you see on game day because of how we practice.”

On Friday, Lance will throw a few passes. He may run on a couple of occasions, but two-hand touch will result in a referee whistle to stop play. Noland will throw a few passes, run a couple of plays and not get tackled. Hotchkiss and Sanders will throw a few passes and run a few plays.

“I think we’ve seen some good things out of all the quarterbacks,” Entz said. “Each of them had moments that were really good but I’m still looking for someone who is more consistent all the time. And we can’t have the ups and downs and ebbs and flows that we’ve had in practice. I think they’re all getting more comfortable under center or in the (shotgun) but I think we’re a ways away from making a decision yet.”