FCS Roundtable: Impact Freshmen Make Their Mark

facebooktwitterreddit

The 2011 season commemorates the inaugural presentation of the Jerry Rice Award. The new national honor will be given to the top freshman in the Championship Subdivision. The FCS Roundtable provides a breakdown of which freshmen are this season’s best, and which to follow throughout their collegiate careers.

Be sure to visit the panelists’ home sites for great FCS coverage throughout the week as the road to the playoffs narrows.

Ben Moore, PantherTalk.com & SBNation Atlanta

My favorite for the Jerry Rice award is:

Towson RB Terrance West. The Baltimore, Maryland native has rushed 141 times for 929 yards and an amazing 21 TDs on the ground. He is a huge reason why the Tigers are atop the CAA standings and he’s been nothing short of amazing this season.

Runner Up would be:

QB Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion – The former Collins Hill (Atlanta, GA) native was thrown into the mix immediately after Senior Thomas DeMarco went down with a knee injury. He’s been spectacular: 158 efficiency rating, 135/194 (69%) for 1497 yards, 15 TDs and only 1 INT. Taylor is also a threat on the ground rushing 46 times for 205 yards and 2 TDs. The Monarchs are in good hands with Heinicke.

Top Games of Week 10:

  • Georgetown at Lehigh: Hands raised if you thought these two teams would have 8 wins right now? Yep. My hand is down. Should be a great Patriot League battle.
  • Tennessee Tech at Eastern Kentucky: Critical OVC battle and one that should be fun to watch.
  • Georgia Southern at Wofford: FCS’ version of Oregon-Stanford. The #4 team in the country travels to #9. This game is not only critical for the Eagles as far as the SoCon division title is concerned but they head to Tuscaloosa the following Saturday for their pay game vs. Alabama.

Joe Suhoski, VBR Productions

There are two obvious and one less-obvious freshmen in the CAA who will be forces the next three years. Towson running back Terrance West has rushed for 929 yards at an average of 6.6 (!) yards/attempt. He is also among the national leaders with 21 rushing touchdowns through only nine games. West and the Tigers’ offensive line are the biggest reason they’ve gone from one win last season to seven this year with two games remaining. West’s running ability is perfect for the cold weather with the playoffs approaching.

Old Dominion’s season looked to be in jeopardy when starting quarterback Thomas DeMarco suffered an ankle injury against UMass. But freshman Taylor Heinicke stepped in at halftime and the Monarchs’ offense hasn’t missed a beat. Playing against better competition than DeMarco faced out of conference, Heinicke is averaging close to 300 yards passing per game with 15 touchdowns against one interception. His lone loss in five starts came against West’s CAA-leading Tigers, 39-35. The Atlanta native will compete for CAA honors the next three years in ODU’s pass-oriented offense.

One stellar freshman who is overlooked because of his team’s performance is Dillon Lucas. Villanova’s season has been challenging for Coach Andy Talley after losing most of his starters on both sides of the ball, but there’s a great foundation for the defense with Lucas. The linebacker is 13th in the conference with an average of almost nine tackles per game; no other freshman is in the top 40. Lucas has two sacks and leads the Wildcats in total tackles through nine games.

There are three games of interest this weekend, three of which have conference and playoff implications. New Hampshire travels to Towson in a battle between two teams tied for first atop the CAA. Both teams have seven D1 wins and are good bets to make the playoffs no matter the outcome, but the CAA champion might get a seed in the tournament.

In the second game, Norfolk State has guaranteed itself at least a tie of the MEAC championship, and can win the conference outright with a win at Morgan State . There are too many variables that would decide the MEAC to discuss at this point should the Spartans lose, but they can put all that to rest by beating the 5-4 Bears.

Lastly, Illinois State also ends its regular season Saturday with a home game against Northern Iowa . Only one of the Redbirds’ wins has come against teams with winning records ( South Dakota State , which is 5-4). A win over Northern Iowa would be its eighth, and since Illinois State cannot win the MVFC, it needs to pad its resume with a win over another winning team.

Russell Varner, SoutherPigskin.com

Here are a few SoCon freshman that have already left their mark and have some bright futures ahead of them.

  • Terrell Robinson, UTC – I’d be a failure of a SoCon writer if I did not mention Robinson on this list. He deserves to be on for almost single-handedly beating Georgia Southern in Statesboro earlier this year. The dual-threat quarterback is already a stud for the Mocs.
  • Deion Stanley, GSU – Speaking of the Eagles, this safety has done a fantastic job for Coach Monken’s defense. He is among the conference leaders in tackles and passes defended and has had 10+ tackles against Samford and the Citadel this year.
  • Doug Middleton, ASU – A lot has been asked of the freshman defensive back, particularly after the loss of Ed Gainey, and Middleton has not disappointed. He is third on the team in picks and had one of App’s most exciting plays of the year with his 97-yard pick six against North Carolina A&T.
  • Davis Tull, UTC – The redshirt freshman D-lineman has been on fire the past four weeks, getting a sack in each and totaling eight tackles against the Furman Paladins two weeks ago. He is ninth in the conference in sacks and fumbles recovered and 19th in tackles for loss.

As a big fan of the SoCon, my eyes are squarely focused on Spartanburg, SC this weekend for the SoCon championship game between Georgia Southern and Wofford. With a win, the Terriers would clinch at least a share of the conference title. A Georgia Southern victory would mean the Eagles would win the conference title. Eagles coach Jeff Monken compared the game to LSU-Alabama or Clemson-Georgia Tech, in that they are not traditional rivals, but the stakes always seem to be high when the two squads meet. Last year, the teams met twice with the road team winning both times. Wofford escaped Statesboro with a narrow 33-31 victory, but it was the Eagles who had the last laugh when they went to Spartanburg in the playoff quarterfinals and won 23-20. This could very well top Georgia Southern-Appalachian State, which was a great game in its own right.

Kyle Roth, Bison Illustrated & Bison Sports Blog

One freshman I’ve been very impressed with is NDSU defensive end Kyle Emanuel. Emanuel came in as a linebacker and was tasked with switching to defensive end, and in his redshirt freshman year has had a few big plays including a fumble recovery that led to a backbreaking touchdown versus Northern Iowa. Pound for pound, he’s the strongest guy on the football team and carries a mentality that you don’t often see from a freshman. Elsewhere in the midwest, I’ve been impressed with the play of North Dakota’s Jake Miller, who, like me, is a product of Bismarck, N.D. Miller has had a few big games at running back, including a 145-yard, 3-TD performance against WAC opponent Fresno State. The schedule has been awfully soft with three sub-Division-I schools on the docket, but entering a finesse league like the Big Sky should allow Miller to make his mark at UND.

A few big games with bubble implications going on in the FCS world this weekend, in particular I’m looking at:

  • Georgetown @ Lehigh – two 8-win teams that meet to decide the Patriot League’s automatic bid into the playoffs. If Georgetown wins, Lehigh has a legitimate bid for an at-large spot that could steal one away from a power-four conference.
  • Elon @ Furman – Furman did the improbable last week in taking down SoCon contender Appalachian State to keep their playoff hopes alive – a win over Elon would be their 7th and with victories over App. State and Wofford, the Paladins have a favorable shot at the postseason if they can win on Saturday before heading to a likely execution by way of the Florida Gators in the final week of the regular season.
  • New Hampshire @ Towson – two CAA bigs duking it out for a shot at the conference crown. Both have just a single loss in CAA play, and both are likely playoff teams as is.