Marcus Traxler: Transfer QB Chris Oladokun keeps South Dakota State among national title contenders

·4 min read

Oct. 7—There was one primary question facing the South Dakota State University football team entering this fall.

Would the Jackrabbits be good enough at quarterback to contend again for a national championship?

Chris Oladokun is answering that with a resounding yes.

The 6-foot-2 graduate transfer from Samford via South Florida has stepped in and kept the Jacks running at a high speed, helping SDSU to its first 4-0 start to a season in the Division I era and to the fringe of the Jackrabbits holding the No. 1 ranking in the country.

He's filling the gap left by Mark Gronowski's knee injury in the 23-21 national championship loss from May, providing a one-year stopgap and potentially allowing a healthy Gronowski to take back the starting job in 2022.

Oladokun has provided the cool confidence and command that the Jackrabbits expect at the position, with a presence in the pocket and a strong arm. He brings a running element as a quarterback, a piece that has become standard in the SDSU offense.

SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said this week that Oladokun has been a great leader, despite knowing next to nothing about the community or the state he was heading to when he committed to the Jacks this summer.

"Chris has been a great leader. For a guy that didn't get here until June, I think that's remarkable," Stiegelmeier said. "This is about a champion. He doesn't waste a second. (He) always focuses on the practice field and in the weight room, with his approach to his position, he draws guys to a higher level."

Oladokun is among the national leaders in quarterbacking stats through the first five weeks of the college football season. His stats include completing 50 of 81 passes for 721 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has receiving and rushing touchdowns, leading the conference in points accounted for, as well. He enters this week with the second-highest quarterback efficiency rating in the FCS at 195.3.

He's also the Missouri Valley Football Conference leader in passing yards per completion (14.42) and yards per attempt (8.9), and second in passing touchdowns.

Oladokun has been sacked just once, a product of being behind an offensive line that has more than 130 combined career starts to its name. It's part of playing on a loaded offense, with skilled running backs, hard-to-cover tight ends, and a diverse receiving group.

On Opening Day at Colorado State, he was the fourth different starting quarterback for the Jackrabbits in the last four seasons, from the end of the Taryn Christion era in 2018 to J'Bore Gibbs in 2019, to Gronowski in 2020-21 to the present with Oladokun.

Stiegelmeier said he knows that programs without a skilled quarterback are set up for struggles. But despite the turnover at quarterback, SDSU has been as strong as ever in that time, with 30 wins in 40 games, a conference title and a national runner-up finish.

"I learned a long time ago that if you don't have a good quarterback, it's going to be a long season," he said.

For perspective, Stiegelmeier said the team's quarterback coach Zach Lujan, who was involved in recruiting Oladokun to Brookings and started 15 games for SDSU in the mid-2010s, called the transfer the "best quarterback he's seen on the field" for the program.

"That doesn't take anything away from the Austin Sumners or the Taryn Christions for the Zach Lujans or Keaton Heides or J'Bore Gibbs but it says that Chris Oladokun is a special, special player," Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU is about to be much more challenged in the coming weeks, starting with hosting No. 8 Southern Illinois, who the Jackrabbits will play for the third time since mid-March. Also on the home schedule is No. 16 Northern Iowa (Oct. 23), No. 5 North Dakota State (Nov. 6) and No. 13 North Dakota (Nov. 20), plus a road trip to rival South Dakota (Nov. 13). Coincidentally, UNI and NDSU both have transfer quarterbacks with FBS-level experience starting this season as well.

If the Jackrabbits planned to make a title run once again, they needed an elite-level quarterback.

So far, Oladokun is showing he is the guy.

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