The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

August 9, 2010

College football: Quarterback is top question mark for Bucknell

LEWISBURG — In the next month, between now and the Sept. 4 opener at Duquesne, Joe Susan has a lot of decisions that will determine the fate of the Bucknell football program. None, however, will be more critical than who ends up under center.

Susan, the former Bucknell assistant who is back after two decades at Princeton and Rutgers, has several question marks to answer in his first preseason camp as the Bison head coach. While the quarterback decision is obviously important considering the more pro-style offense — a significant change from the option-based attack under the previous staff — being used this season, Susan wants to put a favorite in place as soon as possible.

The Bison opened camp Saturday night in the first of 18 preseason practices — with two scrimmages mixed in — heading into the season opener. They do so with four players in a "wide-open" battle for the spot without a true leader in the race.

"That's how we came out of the spring," said Susan. "It's going to be an interesting competition. There are two kids that have some experience and two freshmen that have a lot of talent.

"We have to narrow it down quickly because of all those repetitions. Whoever it winds up being, they need to get those repetitions because they will be critical.

The four contenders are juniors C.J. Hopson and Burke Batten, and freshmen Derek-London Dierkes and Brandon Wesley. Hopson is the most experienced, with nine starts in his first two seasons at Bucknell. His best performance came in last year's finale when he ran for 189 yards in the upset of No. 13 Holy Cross.

Hopson has played in a dozen games in two seasons, including six starts in nine games last year. Batten has appeared in one game in two seasons, completing one of two passes against Cornell last year.

While Hopson has the edge in experience, it is in a completely foreign offense. How Hopson fits into the new offense — in his first two years in Lewisburg Hopson actually has 781 yards rushing and 731 yards passing — has yet to be determined, but Susan said Hopson has the tools to succeed in the more open offense.

"C.J. has a stronger arm than I thought he did," said Susan. "He's got to understand that throwing an incompletion or taking a sack is better than throwing it to one of them. One of the biggest challenges for a kid making a change from one offense to the next is there has to be a clock in your head to let you know when time is up and run it. A kid like C.J. has that ability."

Hopson, out of Maryland, and Batten, from Georgia, took most of the reps in the spring and in the scrimmage to close out spring practice. They turned in nearly equal performances in the climactic spring scrimmage, with Hopson connecting on 10-of-22 passes for 142 yards while throwing two interceptions, and Batten hitting 11-of-22 for 149 yards, with two interceptions and the game's only TD pass.

Throw into the mix the two freshmen, who both are bigger quarterbacks than Bucknell has recently had — Wesley is 6-foot-2 and Dierkes is 6-3 — and you have a true battle that Susan says could end with more than one playing until the dust settles.

"Quarterback is a decision that is still in question and one that needs to be made," he said. "I've been in situations where we've played two quarterbacks, but I don't particularly care to do that. If it merits us playing quarterbacks, we will play two quarterbacks."

n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. E-mail comments to bbowman@dailyitem.com

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