Kaiden Bennett could very well be the only player attending the Big Sky Conference’s Media Day on July 20 who does know whether he will be a starter in 2024. Rarely do second-stringers appear at such events, but the Sacramento State quarterback could turn out to be the exception.

Bennett will be joined by Jackson Slater in Spokane, Wash. Slater was an easy choice because the senior guard is a three-year starter and a two-time selection to the All-Big Sky team. Bennett started for the first time as a junior in 2023 and did not merit All-Big Sky consideration.

Carson Camp started the 2023 opener at Nicholls after transferring to Sacramento State from South Dakota. Bennett started the next eight games, including the 30-23 victory at Stanford, but he split time with true freshman Carson Conklin in the 34-7 loss at Montana on Nov. 4.

Carson Conklin (left) and Kaiden Bennett

Conklin completed just seven of 22 passes for 67 yards, while Bennett was 8-of-17 for 52 yards. Conklin apparently did enough to sway the coaches to start him against Cal Poly on Nov. 11. There was little risk in starting Conklin because the Hornets have had their way with the Mustangs in recent seasons.

Three touchdown passes by Conklin in the first half were not enough to put Cal Poly away, however. The Mustangs lost 41-30 for their closest margin of defeat in finishing 1-7 in the Big Sky last season. Conklin averaged 18.4 yards per completion in going 17-of-26 for 313 yards.

Starting Conklin in the Causeway Classic at UC Davis was asking too much of a quarterback lacking the capacity to handle such immense pressure. Sacramento State managed just 23 yards on its first four possessions and did not cross into UC Davis territory until the fifth.

That possession ended with Conklin’s incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal at the UC Davis 4. Sacramento State reached the UC Davis 38 on its ensuring possession, but the Hornets’ last chance to avoid being shut out in the first half ended when Conklin threw an interception.

Bennett made the game interesting with three touchdown passes in the second half. The second left the Hornets trailing 24-14 with 5:45 to play. They got desperate on their next possession by going for it on fourth-and-12 at their 18 only to have Bennett’s pass fall incomplete.

Lan Larison then scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a 12-yard run to seal the Aggies’ 31-21 win, their first against the Hornets since 2018. Larison had 121 yards rushing and 54 receiving. The junior rushed for 1,101 yards in 2023 despite missing three games with a knee injury.

UC Davis will be sending Larison and safety Rex Connors to the Big Sky Media Day. Connors was a second-team selection in All-Big Sky voting last year. Most of the players going to Spokane will have won awards and been named to all-conference teams. And then there is Bennett.

All he would like is to be named the starter before the Hornets kick off the 2024 season at San Jose State on Aug. 29. Conklin has time on his side with four years of eligibility remaining because he played in just four games last season as a redshirt.