Argos negotiation list QB Bailey Zappe sets single season NCAA FBS record for passing yards and touchdowns

Photo courtesy: WKU Athletics

College football history was made Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida and the man that rewrote the record books may just have a future in the CFL.

In a 59-38 victory over Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl, Western Kentucky University quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for a whopping 422 yards and six touchdowns. It was an individual performance for the ages, but it also capped an incredible season for the Hilltoppers’ pivot by securing him the single season FBS record for both passing yards and passing touchdowns.

In 14 games this year, Zappe threw for an incredible 5,977 yards and 62 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. That was good enough to replace former Texas Tech QB B.J. Symons (5,833 yards) and 2020 first overall NFL draft pick Joe Burrow (60 touchdowns) on top of the all-time charts in both categories.

Photo courtesy: WKU Equipment

The six-foot-one, 220-pound passer from Victoria, Texas burst onto the scene this year after spending four seasons at the helm for FCS program Houston Baptist. Zappe took advantage of the NCAA’s COVID eligibility extension to transfer up a level of competition and raise his NFL Draft stock. While he’s certainly succeeded in that aim, there will be other pro football options available to him.

In September, Zappe was one of 10 players revealed to be on the negotiation list of the Toronto Argonauts, giving the Boatmen exclusive control of his CFL rights. That would give Zappe a landing spot north of the border should his NFL options dry up, a scenario that isn’t particularly far fetched.

Despite his video game numbers, the consensus view on Zappe is that he is a mid-round NFL draft pick due to his lack of elite arm strength or athletic traits. If he fails to catch on long-term as an NFL backup, the CFL is the natural next stop. That’s been the case in the past for prolific passers like Colt Brennan and Graham Harrell, whose names fall just below Zappe’s in the college football record books.

The Argos have earned a reputation for acquiring marquee names in recent years, with big-time former NFL prospects like Shane Ray and Kony Ealy making the 2021 roster. However, they have yet to hook a big fish at the most important position.

The team failed in its efforts to recruit former Raiders’ fourth round pick Connor Cook last year, but brought in former Clemson starter Kelly Bryant for training camp and succeeded in signing prolific Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald for the end of the 2021 campaign, a player whose name appeared next to Zappe’s on their annual neg list reveal.

With a chance to impress NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl ahead of him, it will likely be several years before Zappe considers making a trek to Toronto, but the Argos will be keeping a close watch on his career trajectory.

If he fails to catch on early in the NFL, they’ll be there waiting with open arms.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.