Not counting injuries, ULM head coach Todd Berry has never had to rely on a quarterback not named Kolton Browning during his time in Monroe. No one on the current roster will be able to replicate Browning's unbelievable production, but the amount of experience returning in 2014 outside of quarterback suggests that it shouldn't be necessary.
Three of last year's top four receivers are returning, along with All-Name team candidate Centarius Donald at running back and three of five offensive linemen, with the two other likely starters having plenty of in-game experience. If the new guy is able to simply limit the turnovers while getting the ball to his playmakers, Berry has enough creativity to put him in situations to succeed. So who are the contenders?
Brayle Brown, 6-2 195lb, RS Junior
Most of Brown's meaningful game experience came last year when Browning was injured in the Warhawks' loss to Tulane. He went 10-18 for 133 yards with one TD and two interceptions in about a quarter-and-a-half of play. Brown went on to start the next two weeks against Western Kentucky and Texas State as well, going a combined 37-72 for 387, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. Not exactly lighting the world on fire.
Having the advantage of spending a full offseason preparing to be the starter for the first time, along with 3+ years in Berry's system, leaves Brown in a solid position to assume the starting role. At the same time, he doesn't offer much in the running game and has a tendency to lock on to his targets.
Pete Thomas, 6-5 235lb, RS Senior
After spending two years at Colorado State, Thomas transferred to NC State and led them to a record of 3-4 in games he played significant minutes. He has a ton of experience under his belt, with a total of 899 collegiate passes.
But Thomas left NC State after it was made pretty clear that he was not in Dave Doeren's 2014 plans. He was never able to really take control of the Wolfpack offense while splitting time with Brandon Mitchell last season. However, he does have the ability pick up a few yards on the ground when he needs to and has shown that he can get the ball out of his hands quickly, which is likely what he will be asked to do with the Warhawks.
Anthony Monken, 6-4, 200lb, Freshman
The headliner of Monroe's 2014 recruiting class, Monken has all the tools necessary to succeed at the college level. He has a big arm and can place the ball pretty effectively when he has time (to be fair, a lot of those passes are going to receivers that don't have a defender within five yards of him). He also runs a 4.7 40 according to Scout, though I'm always weary of high school prospects' reported 40 times.
Obviously, a lot depends on Monken's ability to pick up the offense and adjust to playing against bigger, faster defenders. But if Berry comes away from fall camp unimpressed by Brown and Thomas, it wouldn't shock me to see Monken get the nod. After all, when Berry took over at Monroe in 2010 he gave the reigns of his offense to an unheralded freshman, and he turned out to be the best quarterback in school history.
If I were to guess, I'd say Thomas has the edge. He has the experience and a better track record on his side compared to Brown. In the two+ games he was the starter last year Brown did not do anything to be too impressed about. Unless he took a major step forward during the offseason I don't see him as possessing more raw talent than Thomas. Monken could be the wildcard. He has to tighten up his delivery, but he could at the very least push the two veterans for some playing time later in the year if things aren't going according to plan.