Schnepf: Wentz or Stick? It's a problem many coaches would love to have

FRISCO, Texas -- Carson Wentz, a potential NFL quarterback who may or may not play in his final college football game Saturday, had what his coach called a real bad head cold Thursday. It was bad enough that Wentz opted to skip North Dakota State...

North Dakota State players including, from left, Nate Moody, Brian Schaetz, Carson Wentz, Jordan Champion, Darius Anderson and Zach Vraa pose during the team photo session Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (David Samson / The Forum)
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FRISCO, Texas - Carson Wentz, a potential NFL quarterback who may or may not play in his final college football game Saturday, had what his coach called a real bad head cold Thursday. It was bad enough that Wentz opted to skip North Dakota State's media-day interviews.

But there he was, sitting in the front row for the team photo between defensive lineman Brian Schaetz and cornerback Jordan Champion. And in the 60-degree Texas sunshine, Wentz was walking out to NDSU's final major practice before Saturday's FCS national championship game against Jacksonville State (Ala.).

This head cold just added another wrinkle to the ongoing debate: Who does NDSU start at quarterback Saturday--Wentz, the two-year starter from Bismarck who has missed the last eight games with an injury to his throwing wrist? Or Easton Stick, the redshirt freshman from Omaha, Neb., who has admirably guided the Bison into their fifth straight national championship game?

Bison head coach Chris Klieman said Wentz's sickness won't affect what appears to be a tough decision to make. Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins certainly thinks it would be a tough call.

"The guy that got hurt, he will probably be a top draft pick," Jenkins said of Wentz, who has been projected to be picked as early as the late first round in the upcoming NFL Draft. "For him to come back, it would really help their team. But this guy that is playing, (Stick), he won eight straight. You can't beat that. Definitely, it would be a tough decision. Both of those guys are great quarterbacks."


So like Jenkins, I've been going back and forth on this issue--one that has probably created more analysis from the media and Bison fans than the Bison coaching staff.

Stick with Stick. He's got the Bison on a roll. Wentz, who hasn't played since Oct. 17, could be rusty. I can buy into that. Bison fan Kari Christenson of Plaza, N.D., certainly does.

"I like them both, but Easton is on a roll and the team has been with him," she said. "I think we got to go with Easton. I hope Carson gets in for some plays because he's a senior. I really do."

But if you listen to Jacksonville State head coach John Grass, then you become convinced that Wentz should be the starting quarterback.

"If I've got a top-5 NFL quarterback that may go in the first round, by all means I would let him play," Grass said. "We never have a guy lose a position off an injury. If that guy comes back and he's ready to play, we let him play.

"Your heart goes out to a kid who gets hurt like that in his senior year. He does some special things on the field. I wish I had a top-5 draft choice quarterback. It would be a pretty easy decision."

Then again, not many coaches in the country have a backup like Stick--who may not throw as well as Wentz but certainly can run as effectively. During Thursday's media day, Stick reiterated that he is ready for whatever decision is made.

"If he has the opportunity to play, I think he would do a fantastic job," Stick said. "And I know I am prepared and excited for the opportunity as well. Honestly, it hasn't affected us too much. We have both been going about our business. We are both preparing to play."


It is certainly a unique dilemma that is facing the Bison coaching staff.

You have to delve into a little NFL history to find a similar situation. It was 2001 when New England Patriots' starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe got hurt. In steps Tom Brady--who leads the Patriots to the playoffs but gets hurt during the AFC championship game. In steps Bledsoe to lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl. But it was Brady who started in the Super Bowl that the Patriots won.

"I think where it's really unique for us is that we have two really talented quarterbacks," NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said. "But to have two with this amount of success in the same season ... I think it's a little bit a rarity. There are a lot of coaches around the country that would love to have this problem right now. You are splitting hairs between two really, really good quarterbacks. I would argue, you put either one in there and you put both of them in there and we are going to be pretty good."

Good enough for a fifth straight national title? If it is, you can bet Wentz and Stick will be celebrating together on Toyota Field.

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