FARGO — What once looked like a North Dakota State football career as a backup until he graduated took a major turn for Zeb Noland this week. The senior quarterback could parlay Trey Lance’s decision to enter the NFL Draft into two seasons as a starter.
Call it what you want, Noland stands the chance of being rewarded for sticking with the program after transferring from Iowa State in 2019, but getting beat out by the redshirt freshman Lance for the starting job.
Noland will most likely open the spring season practice in January as the No. 1 guy, although head coach Matt Entz said there will be competition. Junior Noah Sanders is in his fourth year in the program while redshirt freshman Logan Graetz and true freshman Cam Miller will be waiting in the wings for their shot.
“Nothing is in stone right now,” Entz said.
Noland already has an undergraduate degree, but plans on staying for the following two semesters, which most likely academically means some sort of post-graduate work.
“I think that’s big for us, having some experience,” said Bison quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg. “Zeb has been good for Trey; they both have grown as friends, teammates and quarterbacks.”
Noland came to NDSU after some success at Iowa State before being beat out by current Cyclone starting quarterback Brock Purdy. Noland redshirted at ISU in 2016 and played in four games, including one start, in 2017.
He played in five games as a sophomore the following year and was 70 for 110 for 722 yards and four touchdowns. He torched Oklahoma for 360 yards and two touchdowns. He transferred to NDSU in the 2019 spring semester and competed with Lance for the starting job in spring football.
The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Noland, from Watkinsville, Ga., was highly recruited out of Oconee County High School, where he completed 79 of 169 passes for 1,627 yards and 17 touchdowns.
With Lance, the Bison had the quintessential dual-threat quarterback with his arm and ability to run the ball. He led NDSU in rushing last Saturday with 149 yards when the Bison overcame Central Arkansas 39-28.
Lance announced on Tuesday he was declaring early for the draft. It was a decision that could have waited until January, but he took the suspense out of that telling the Bison coaching staff on Monday and the rest of the team on Tuesday.
Asked if the offense will look different with Noland under center, Entz said not a whole lot.
“Zeb has an extremely strong arm and extremely accurate,” Entz said. “He understands the offense. I think he can be involved in the quarterback run game like we utilized in the past with Trey. Some of it depends on where we’re at and what we need to do offensively.”
When the Bison begin practice in January, Noland will be going on two years of running the West Coast offense.
“You saw the fall his knowledge of the offense really start to show itself,” Entz said. “As I visited with him (Tuesday), I saw a young man who is playing confidently and showing a lot of improvement so I’m looking forward to him having the opportunity.”
NDSU opens its Missouri Valley Football Conference spring season Feb. 21 against Youngstown State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The next eight weeks are going to be spent mainly on strength and conditioning.
Once December rolls around, it won’t be long until the eight-game Valley season is in front of them.
“I think our team right now understands Zeb is the heir apparent to the quarterback position,” Entz said. “But it’s an extremely competitive room and we’re going to continue to compete at all positions and Zeb knows that. He knows he has to prove it, he has to earn it and it’s just not going to be handed to him.”