Consider that a year ago Montana State quarterback DeNarius McGhee had to beat out a returning senior quarterback for the starting job.
Or that Delaware had two returning running backs who could have blocked the path of running back Andrew Pierce.
Or that Arkansas Pine-Bluff linebacker Jer-ryan Harris had yet to make a single tackle when he entered preseason camp.
Yet all three players dominated at their respective schools.
McGhee won the starting job as a redshirt freshman and became the Big Sky Conference's newcomer of the year and co-offensive player of the year. Pierce, a grayshirt freshman, ran away with the rushing title in CAA Football while Delaware went to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game. Harris, as a redshirt frosh, took charge of the UAPB defense and became the Southwestern Athletic Conference's leading tackler.
Coaches just never know what to expect from freshmen - either true, redshirt or grayshirt. They usually seek consistency above all else.
This year, a national freshman of the year award will recognize the achievements of first-year players. The Sports Network is presenting and Fathead.com sponsoring the inaugural Jerry Rice Award.
A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will select the first Jerry Rice Award winner after the regular season. The legendary wide receiver, who played in the FCS (then Division I-AA) at Mississippi Valley State, will be on hand at the national awards banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, to present the new award to the division's outstanding freshman.
Some freshmen are ahead of the curve as September turns into October and the conference races heat up across the FCS.
The initial Jerry Rice Award Watch List, which can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page= cfoot2/misc/rice_2011/candidates.htm, might look much different come the end of the season, as freshmen rise and fall like a typical day on Wall Street. But for the 15 freshmen on the list, they hope to keep putting up excellent numbers as the season continue to unfold.
The first Watch List features:
* Two quarterbacks: Jerry Lovelocke of Prairie View A&M and Greg McGhee of Howard;
* Two wide receivers: R.J. Harris of New Hampshire and Brandon White of San Diego;
* Three linebackers: Michael Dallas II of the Morgan State, D'Vonte Grant of North Carolina A&T and Dillon Lucas of Villanova;
* Two cornerbacks: Eriq Lewis of Old Dominion and Zachary Senvisky of Morehead State;
* One punter: Garrett Mohr of Jacksonville.
The nominees come from eight FCS conferences, led by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with four and CAA Football and the Pioneer Football League with three each.
The new award allows Rice to join three other football legends whose names adorn the top individual awards in the FCS: the Walter Payton (FCS outstanding player) and Eddie Robinson (FCS coach of the year) awards, which are celebrating their 25th anniversaries this season, and the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS outstanding defensive player) - each sponsored by Fathead.com.
"I am truly honored to be a part of the FCS Awards and to be in the company of Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan and Eddie Robinson," Rice said. "It truly means the world to me and it's unbelievable to be able to have my legacy live on forever.
"I love to give back and it is amazing to be able to award a deserving freshman based on his accomplishments. I think it's important to recognize people at all levels for their hard work and dedication."
STATS THAT STAND OUT
Led by junior safety Kejuan Riley's five interceptions, Alabama State (3-1) has forced 20 turnovers for a plus-16 margin.
Maybe crime pays. Of the 25 FCS teams averaging the fewest penalties per game, 14 have losing records.
Perfect 11: Weber State quarterback Mike Hoke has thrown 11 touchdowns without an interception and Norfolk State senior kicker Ryan Estep is 11-for-11 on field-goal attempts.
Morehead State, behind quarterback Zach Lewis, is averaging 415.8 passing yards and 45.3 points, but has a 1-3 record.
Holy Cross senior quarterback Ryan Taggart has thrown 201 straight passes without an interceptions, dating to last season.
Furman senior quarterback Chris Forcier has a ridiculously high 212.73 passing efficiency rating to lead the FCS. The next highest is 178.52.
New Hampshire junior linebacker Matt Evans has 52 tackles (31 solo) in only three games.
In three games, Western Carolina has allowed 1,231 rushing yards on 154 attempts, or eight yards per carry.
Opponents have completed only 22-of-69 pass attempts (31.9 percent) against Texas Southern.
Only one FCS team has a winning streak longer than three games. Sam Houston State has won five straight dating to last season.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...
Once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf
AROUND THE NATION
The FCS season will enter October with five unbeaten teams: No. 1 Georgia Southern, No. 5 North Dakota State, No. 16 Sam Houston State and No. 23 Towson, which are all 3-0, and unranked Yale, which is 2-0 ... Redshirt freshman quarterback Jace Edwards is expected to start for ninth-ranked James Madison now that Justin Thorpe has been suspended indefinitely from the university. Expect more Wildcat formations with Dae'Quan Scott, who has rushed for 398 yards and five touchdowns on 87 carries this season ... No quarterback is having a better season than Lehigh senior Chris Lum (16 touchdown passes, four games of at least 300 passing yards), but the 13th-ranked Mountain Hawks sure have run into some top signal-callers in New Hampshire's Kevin Decker, Liberty's Mike Brown and, on Saturday, Yale's Patrick Witt ... Terry Allen was 75-26 in eight seasons (1989-96) as Northern Iowa's head coach, guiding seven Gateway Football Conference (now Missouri Valley) champions, but he's 0-5 against the Panthers as Missouri State's head coach, and none of the games has been closer than 21 points. Allen and the Bears (0-4) will try again in their home opener Saturday against the second-ranked Panthers (2-1) ... The only team higher than Northern Iowa in the rankings, No. 1 Georgia Southern (3-0), faces a tricky road assignment at Elon (3-1), which just gained experience playing another triple option team from the Southern Conference, The Citadel. "We've been practicing this since the day that I got hired," Elon first-year head coach Jason Swepson said ... The FCS' biggest game this week is another SoCon match-up: third-ranked Appalachian State (3-1) at eighth-ranked Wofford (3-1). They were conference co-champs last year, although ASU throttled Wofford, 43-13, in the head-to-head meeting by shutting down Terriers All- America fullback Eric Breitenstein ... The first game of the final Great West Conference season will be played Saturday when North Dakota (2-2) visits 17th- ranked Southern Utah (3-1). The visiting Sioux have blocked five kicks this season, giving them 21 since they joined the FCS in 2008. Leading the way over that period is senior Broc Bellmore, who has seven blocked kicks, including one this season ... Dartmouth will play a night game for the first time in its 130-year history when two-time defending Ivy League champion Penn visits Memorial Field on Saturday for a 6 p.m. ET kickoff. Big Green senior Nick Schweiger (137 ypg) is atop the league's rushing chart after leading it in each of the past two seasons ... One of the better returns from injury is being made by Bryant senior quarterback Mike Croce, who suffered a broken foot only days prior to the start of preseason camp. In three games, he has thrown five touchdowns without an interception, highlighted by his 245 passing yards and two touchdowns last Saturday at Wagner, a 30-28 win which put the Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0) on top of the Northeast Conference. However, they are not eligible for the conference's automatic playoff bid ... In the premier Southland Conference game this week, 18th-ranked McNeese State (2-1) goes to Northwestern State (2-2). Both are 1-0 in conference games ... The Ohio Valley Conference race will become wide open Saturday if the home teams win the excellent Jacksonville State-Murray State and Tennessee Tech-UT Martin match- ups ... Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault, who accounted for 41 touchdowns (31 passing, 10 rushing) last season, has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight) in four games, In fact, the Tigers have committed an FCS-worst 19 turnovers ... Few defensive backs have done more for their team than Presbyterian senior cornerback Justin Bethel. He has 30 1/2 tackles, including 24 solos, intercepted three passes with one return for a touchdown, broken up another four passes and scored two more touchdowns off blocked kicks ... Norfolk State quarterback Chris Walley can't throw an interception if he tries. He's 78 of 102, or 76.5-percent accuracy ... If South Carolina State wins at Norfolk State on Saturday, the table appears set for the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs to run the table through the MEAC for the third time in four seasons ... Portland State senior running back Cory McCaffrey, who has rushed for 291 yards and seven touchdowns in only two games, may miss his second straight game with a knee injury when the Vikings visit Idaho State on Saturday ... No. 25 Sacramento State at No. 4 Montana State? Oh, just a rematch of last year's 64-61 MSU win in overtime last year ... In the Pioneer Football League, Morehead State will unleash the FCS' No. 2-ranking scoring offense (45.3 ppg) on Valparaiso's worst-ranked scoring defense (58.3 ppg). The host Crusaders have lost 23 straight games ... Massachusetts' first game as a Bowl Subdivision program next year will be played Aug. 30 at Connecticut. The Minutemen, who will play in the Mid-American Conference, also will host Indiana (Sept. 8) and visit Michigan (Sept. 15) and Vanderbilt (Oct. 27) in non-conference games ... The dissatisfaction among Delaware fans over the university charging season-ticket licensing fees was evident this past Saturday. The Blue Hens' CAA Football opener against Old Dominion drew the smallest paid regular-season crowd at Delaware Stadium - 16,789 - since a 1998 game against James Madison. None of the first three homes games has been a sellout.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 51-18 (.739)
Season Record: 239-59 (.802)
All Times EST
Thursday, Sept. 29
Texas Southern (2-1, 1-1 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (3-1, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1
Robert Morris (0-3, 0-0 NEC) at X-Monmouth (2-1, 1-0), noon
Holy Cross (2-1) at X-No. 7 New Hampshire (2-1), noon
X-Jacksonville (2-2, 1-0 PFL) at Marist (1-3, 0-1), noon
X-No. 11 William & Mary (2-2, 0-1 CAA) at Villanova (1-3, 0-1), noon
Sacred Heart (1-2, 0-1 NEC) at X-Central Connecticut State (3-1, 2-0), noon
Wagner (1-3) at X-Cornell (1-1), 12:30 p.m.
Yale (2-0) at X-No. 13 Lehigh (3-1), 12:30 p.m.
X-Harvard (1-1) at Lafayette (1-3), 1 p.m.
X-Fordham (1-2) at Colgate (1-3), 1 p.m.
Georgetown (3-1, 1-0 Patriot) at X-Bucknell (3-1, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Bryant (3-1, 2-0 NEC) at X-Duquesne (3-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
North Carolina A&T (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at X-Morgan State (2-2, 1-0), 1 p.m.
X-Albany (1-2, 0-0 NEC) at St. Francis, Pa. (1-3, 0-2), 1 p.m.
Butler (2-2, 0-1 PFL) at X-Dayton (3-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Wesley (2-1) at X-Charleston Southern (0-4), 1:30 p.m.
X-No. 1 Georgia Southern (3-1, 2-0 SoCon) at Elon (3-1, 1-0), 1:30 p.m.
Campbell (1-2, 0-1 PFL) at X-Drake (3-1, 1-0), 2 p.m.
X-Morehead State (1-3, 0-1 PFL) at Valparaiso (0-3, 0-0), 2 p.m.
Illinois State (2-2, 1-1 MVFC) at X-No. 5 North Dakota State (3-0, 0-0), 2 p.m.
X-No. 2 Northern Iowa (2-1, 1-0 MVFC) at Missouri State (0-4, 0-1), 2 p.m.
North Dakota (2-2, 0-0 Great West) at X-No. 17 Southern Utah (3-1, 0-0), 3 p.m.
X-No. 6 Delaware (3-1, 1-0 CAA) at Maine (2-1, 0-0), 3 p.m.
X-Southern (1-3, 1-1 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-4, 0-3), 3 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (1-2) at X-Samford (1-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 3 Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) at No. 8 Wofford (2-1, 1-0), 3 p.m.
Northern Colorado (0-4, 0-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 19 Montana (2-2, 1-1), 3:05 p.m.
Bethune-Cookman (2-1) at X-Miami, Fla. (1-2), 3:30 p.m.
No. 23 Towson (3-0) at X-Maryland (1-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-Weber State (2-2, 2-0 Big Sky) at Eastern Washington (0-4, 0-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 10 Richmond (3-1, 0-1 CAA) at No. 9 James Madison (3-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m.
X-Portland State (2-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at Idaho State (2-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.
No. 25 Sacramento State (2-2, 1-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 4 Montana State (3-1, 1-0), 3:35 p.m.
X-No. 22 South Carolina State (2-2, 2-0 MEAC) at Norfolk State (3-1, 1-0), 4 p.m.
Lamar (2-1, 0-0 Southland) at X-Southeastern Louisiana (1-3, 0-1), 4 p.m.
X-No. 12 Southern Illinois (2-1, 1-0 MVFC) at Western Illinois (1-3, 0-1), 4 p.m.
Lindenwood (3-1) at X-No. 21 South Dakota (2-2), 5 p.m.
Davidson (2-1, 0-0 PFL) at X-San Diego (3-1, 1-0), 6 p.m.
X-Rhode Island (1-2) at Brown (1-1), 6 p.m.
Delaware State (2-2, 0-1 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (2-2, 0-1), 6 p.m.
X-Columbia (0-2, 0-0 Ivy) at Princeton (0-2, 0-0), 6 p.m.
X-Furman (2-1, 1-0 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-2, 0-1), 6 p.m.
Penn (0-2, 0-0 Ivy) at X-Dartmouth (1-1, 0-0), 6 p.m.
The Citadel (1-2) at X-No. 15 Chattanooga (2-2), 6 p.m.
Nicholls State (1-3) at X-Texas State (2-2), 7 p.m.
X-Grambling State (1-3, 1-2 SWAC) at Prairie View A&M (2-2, 2-1) at Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 7 p.m.
No. 20 Massachusetts (2-1, 1-0 CAA) at X-Old Dominion (3-1, 0-1), 7 p.m.
UTSA (2-2) at No. X-16 Sam Houston State (3-0), 7 p.m.
X-No. 24 Indiana State (3-1, 1-0 MVFC) at South Dakota State (1-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
X-No. 18 McNeese State (2-1, 1-0 Southland) at Northwestern State (2-2, 1-0), 7 p.m.
X-Stephen F. Austin (1-3, 0-1 Southland) at Central Arkansas (1-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-1, 2-0 SWAC) at X-Alabama A&M (2-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.
Tennessee State (2-1, 1-1 OVC) at X-Austin Peay (1-2, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Howard (1-3, 0-2 MEAC) at X-Savannah State (1-3, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Eastern Illinois (1-3, 0-2 OVC) at X-Southeast Missouri State (0-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Kentucky Wesleyan (0-4) at X-Liberty (1-3), 7 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (3-1, 2-0 OVC) at X-UT Martin (2-1, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
Alcorn State (1-3, 1-3 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (3-1, 3-0), 8 p.m.