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McFeely: Bison will be fine, but losing Patterson is a blow

Patterson's size and speed brought an added dimension to an offense that was already filled with dynamic players like Hunter Luepke, Kobe Johnson, Noah Gindorff and Tamerik Williams. If Patterson had returned for 2022, with the Bison's offensive line, NDSU would have been close to unstoppable against most FCS teams — even after losing Christian Watson to the NFL.

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North Dakota State quarterback Quincy Patterson takes aim against Northern Iowa at the Fargodome on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Quincy Patterson II was named North Dakota State's starting quarterback late last summer amid much hullabaloo, including a social media campaign that dubbed the school "QBU."

That's short for Quarterback University, a branding attempt that followed three straight Bison signal-callers being taken in the NFL Draft. NDSU didn't shy away from the belief it had the magic potion to develop a work-in-progress transfer like Patterson into a pro prospect after he came here from FBS Virginia Tech.

Might want to cool it with that.

It didn't take long to see that Patterson, despite being a fine Football Championship Subdivision quarterback and an impressive physical specimen, was unlikely to become the next Carson Wentz, Easton Stick or Trey Lance. At least quickly.

Patterson was a beast in the QB run game and majestic with deep passes to Christian Watson, but his short to intermediate throws were not up to snuff. Patterson provided enough "wow" moments through the season's first five games to think the best was yet to come, but struggled in the season's sixth game at Illinois State and was worse the next week against Missouri State at home.

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He left the Missouri State game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and never returned as the starter. Patterson was replaced by Cam Miller, the player Patterson beat out in August. The Bison went on to win another national championship with Miller at the helm.

Back-patting time. In an Aug. 27 column after Patterson was named the starter, I wrote the following:

"In the extremely limited window I was able to watch NDSU practice during fall camp — the Bison limit media to the final 20 minutes of practice — Patterson threw a handful of high, wild fastballs to receivers. Like, 100 miles per hour and five yards high and wide. His footwork, to these very amateur eyes, looked off-kilter on some throws.

"But the deep balls and the QB runs? Oh boy. Imagine the Block 9 building sprinting at you, full bore, and you'll know what it's like to stand in the back of the end zone when QP2 comes free up the middle."

Turned out to be pretty accurate.

And, really, nothing changed as the season played out. Quincy never quite became the passer he needed to become and the Bison offense seemed muffled as opposing defenses stacked the line of scrimmage to stop the run. It wasn't until Miller took the reins that the NDSU offense got rolling consistently.

(Little cited fact: Miller's passing efficiency was 174.0, which would've ranked second in the nation had he compiled enough pass attempts to qualify for the NCAA's FCS statistics.)

The news this week that Patterson is transferring from NDSU was a surprise, mostly because of the timing. The quarterback said consistently since the end of the season in January that he'd return for his final two seasons with the Bison and recently completed spring practice as the No. 2 QB.

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North Dakota State quarterback Quincy Patterson carries against Illinois State at Hancock Stadium in Normal, Ill., on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
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And now he's leaving?

In talking with WDAY-TV, though, Patterson said he's been thinking about leaving Fargo since the end of the season and that being a "quote-unquote wildcat quarterback" isn't enough to fulfill his football goals — which means being a starter and getting a chance at the NFL.

Patterson said he's not oblivious to the fact Miller was the starting quarterback for a team that won a national championship and it'll be tough to supplant him. Patterson said he's heard from Temple, Troy, Memphis and Hawaii among others since entering the portal.

"They all let me know that we have a situation where you can compete and that’s really all I want to do," Patterson said. "I’m not scared of competition or going to shy away from it."

Patterson is chasing a starting job and the chance to showcase his passing skills. He's free to do so. The snag might be that the same shortcomings that plagued him in Blacksburg and Fargo will follow him to his next stop. That remains to be seen.

As for the Bison, losing Patterson isn't a small item, but it's not fatal to their national championship hopes. NDSU offensive coaches installed a running package for the quarterback they unleashed during the playoffs and it was effective. He ran for 84 yards and a touchdown in the second round against Southern Illinois and 98 yards in the title game against Montana State.

Patterson's size and speed brought an added dimension to an offense that was already filled with dynamic players like Christian Watson, Hunter Luepke, Kobe Johnson and Tamerik Williams. If Patterson had returned for 2022, with the Bison's offensive line, NDSU would have been close to unstoppable against most FCS teams — even after losing Watson to the NFL.

Instead, redshirt freshman Cole Payton will move up the depth chart and become Miller's backup. Many Bison fans will cheer that, believing Payton is The Next Big Thing, but NDSU loses depth and experience without Patterson.

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Payton will likely have a package installed for him and get plenty of snaps. And if Miller were to get hurt, Payton would be the starter — as inexperienced as he is.

As a dynamic No. 2 QB, Patterson could be viewed as a luxury item. And the fact his departure is getting as much attention as it is speaks to NDSU's depth. He is, after all, a backup quarterback. Most FCS teams are trying to find one quality QB.

The Bison will be fine, especially considering the James Madison-less landscape of FCS. They just won't be quite as fine as they would've been with Patterson adding depth and his dynamic running ability.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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