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In the FCS Huddle: Diverse list kicks off Rice Award watch

A coach may not know right away what he has in a freshman, but over the course of season, a player's talent will shine through.

A year ago, it took Towson football coach Rob Ambrose one game before he lifted running back Terrance West's redshirt. Was he ever glad he did, as West went on to score an FCS-high 29 touchdowns when the Tigers captured the CAA Football title and finished 9-3.

West won the inaugural Jerry Rice Award, which honors the FCS' national freshman of the year.

On Wednesday, The Sports Network announced its initial Watch List for the 2012 Rice Award. Sixteen players are on the list: six quarterbacks, three running backs, one wide receiver, one all-purpose player, four linebackers and one strong safety.

The Rice Award, named for the legendary wide receiver, who played in the FCS (then Division I-AA) at Mississippi Valley State, will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The list will grow to 20 finalists by then.

Named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List:

Vernon Adams, Eastern Washington, Quarterback, 6-0, 180 - No player has snuck up on the competition faster than Adams. He was the surprise starter for the first half of the Eagles' third game. A week later, he had 407 yards of total offense and threw two of his three touchdown passes in the final 2:19 as the Eagles rallied past Big Sky Conference rival Montana. The redshirt freshman has passed for 428 yards and rushed for 118 yards in his first six quarters of action.

Zak Browning, Southern Utah, Linebacker, 5-11, 215 - Browning has been an all- around force to start his career. He collected double-digit totals in tackles in three of his first four games and ranks in the top 12 nationally at 11.3 per game. He also has forced three fumbles, broken up two passes and recorded one sack.

Reese Hannon, Furman, Quarterback, 6-2, 201 - Hannon became the Paladins' starting quarterback in their second game and proceeded to throw four touchdown passes against Coastal Carolina. Through his first four starts, he ranks 12th in the FCS in passing efficiency (150.91), having completed 71- of-111 passes for 937 yards and six touchdowns with one interception.

Ryan Heaston, Missouri State, Running Back, 5-10, 174 - After earning more carries, Heaston rushed for 126 yards against Southern Illinois and 148 yards against South Dakota State. The speedy redshirt freshman has 377 yards on 64 carries and 11 receptions for 136 yards through the Bears' first five games.

Telvin Hooks, Tennessee State, Running Back, 5-10, 190 - A redshirt freshman, Hooks has been a consistent threat in the Tigers' 5-0 start this season. He has rushed for at least 66 yards in four of their first five games, highlighted by 108 yards against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He has totaled 374 yards (on 6.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in the season-opening stretch.

Jacob Huesman, Chattanooga, Quarterback, 6-1, 190 - Huesman has made it easy for his father, Mocs coach Russ Huesman, to play him as a redshirt freshman. The younger Huesman has gone out and performed well, compiling 1,003 yards of total offense in his first five games. He's completed 70-of-111 passes for 699 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. The dual-threat rushed for 166 yards and one touchdown against Jacksonville State.

Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah, Strong Safety, 6-3, 201 - Talk about a safety valve, Killebrew has 43 tackles, including 25 solos, broken up two passes and scooped up a fumble in his first five games. The redshirt freshman totaled 15 stops in the Thunderbirds' first-ever Big Sky Conference game - a 49-42 win over Portland State.

Sawyer Kollmorgen, Northern Iowa, Quarterback, 6-2, 215 - UNI has had some early season growing pains, but its redshirt freshman signal-caller has held his own. Kollmorgen ranks 11th in the FCS in passing efficiency (151.15), completing 90-of-151 pass attempts for 1,285 yards and 11 touchdowns against three interceptions. He threw for a season-high 333 yards with three touchdowns against Youngstown State. Kollmorgen hails from the highly regarded Jenks (Okla.) High School program.

T.J. Lally, South Dakota State, Linebacker, 6-0, 225 - Lally broke out for a four-sack game against UC Davis - the most in SDSU's Division I era - with 10 solo tackles and a fumble recovery. Overall, the redshirt freshman has 41 tackles in five games, adding one interception and one forced fumble to his all-around production.

Trent McKinney, Montana, Quarterback, 6-0, 198 - McKinney has given Montana some Hawaiian punch this season. The native of Miliani, Hawaii, is a dual- threat under center. He has completed 94-of-138 pass attempts for 941 yards and six touchdowns, with seven interceptions, while rushing for 294 yards and four touchdowns in the Grizzlies' first five games.

Sean Price, Appalachian State, Wide Receiver, 6-5, 210 - Price is making up for lost time. The redshirt freshman didn't play in two of the Mountaineers' first three games, but has gone over 100 receiving yards in his first three games to tie a school record. He has caught 26 passes for 361 yards and five touchdowns - all team highs among the receivers. Price already has drawn comparisons to former ASU great Brian Quick.

J.J. Raffelson, Western Illinois, Linebacker, 6-3, 235 - Possessing terrific size for a redshirt freshman, Raffelson is off to a big start to his career. He has averaged 10.5 tackles through WIU's first four games, which ranks second nationally among first-year players. He had 13 tackles and a pass breakup against Illinois State.

Brendon Riddick, Norfolk State, Running Back, 5-11, 210 - Riddick has shared time in the NSU backfield and come on strong. In his first five games, including three starts, he has rushed for 279 yards and five touchdowns on 49 carries. The redshirt freshman also has a touchdown on seven receptions. He was the team's scout team quarterback last year, but moved to running back this past spring.

John Robertson, Villanova, Quarterback, 6-1, 200 - A dual threat under center, Robertson has run the Wildcats offense efficiently. The redshirt freshman has completed 55-of-97 pass attempts for 725 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. On the ground, he has rushed for 321 yards on 62 carries, with one touchdown in each of the five games. The 'Cats won only twice last season, but are off to a 4-1 start.

Luke Rhodes, William & Mary, Linebacker, 6-2, 230 - It appears all Rhodes for ball carriers lead to the Tribe's middle linebacker. Rhodes, a redshirt freshman, began his career with 11 tackles against Maryland. Through five games, he has 41 tackles, including 3 1/2 for loss, with three pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Andre Stubbs, Youngstown State, All-Purpose, 5-6, 160 - Officially Stubbs is listed at wide receiver, but the redshirt freshman does a little bit of everything for the Penguins. As a runner, receiver and return specialist, he has averaged 120 all-purpose yards per game. He collected 172 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns in the season-opening win at Pittsburgh.

In addition to the Rice Award, The Sports Network presents the Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan and Eddie Robinson awards. The Payton Award honors the outstanding player in the FCS, the Buchanan Award goes to the outstanding defensive player in the FCS and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year.

All four major awards will be announced at the FCS national banquet on Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.

The FCS Awards package is found at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8. Included are new additions to the Payton and Buchanan lists this week.

A CLASSIC GAME APPEARS LIKELY

The signs point to the biggest game of the first half of the regular season living up to the anticipation. Third-ranked Youngstown State visits top-ranked North Dakota State on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and shouldn't be bothered by playing on the road against the defending national champion Bison..

In fact, the Penguins have won their two visits to the Fargodome, 39-35 in 2009 and 27-24 last year, which was the only loss for NDSU.

Youngstown State holds a 4-2 lead in the series, and the biggest margin of victory is eight points.

"Any time you lose a game, that has an impact on you," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said. "Certainly, they flat beat us last year. For our players, they certainly recognize how tough the Missouri Valley Conference is and how the differences between winning and losing are so slim. There's not a Saturday that our team or I'm sure other teams in the Valley don't go on the gridiron with the anticipation of winning a game and also (the) understanding that you can lose a game. That's how we see this game."

"I think every year's a new year, every year's a new team and we're a much different team than we were last year," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "I think they're a different team than they were last year. So I think from year-to- year, the previous year really has no bearing on this year's outcome."

Both teams are 4-0 and have a win over an FBS opponent.

Ironically, the upper classes on both teams have been built out of 3-8 seasons. NDSU finished with that record in 2009, went 9-5 and won two playoffs games in 2010 and then went 14-1 last season. Meanwhile, YSU was 3-8 in Wolford's first season in 2010 and doubled the win total last year in going 6-5.

AROUND THE NATION

Big Sky: Cal Poly's option gives opponents fits, but so does cornerback Nico Molino, who leads the FCS with four interceptions in the Mustangs' first 4-0 start since 2004 ... Eastern Washington has scored all 15 times it has been to an opponent's red zone, including eight touchdowns ... Southern Utah has retooled its defense with a bunch of young players, but it lost junior cornerback Tyree Mills to an indefinite team suspension ... With leading rusher Dan Moore sidelined by a high ankle sprain and a broken bone in his foot, Montana has taken the redshirt off freshman running back Joey Counts for Saturday's game at Northern Colorado.

Big South: The Big South is the last in Division I to play a conference game, with three this weekend. Coastal Carolina (2-3) is idle before returning to action Oct. 13 by hosting defending champion Stony Brook ... The way its schedule shapes up, Liberty has a chance to rally to a winning season after an 0-4 start. The Flames have posted six straight winning seasons ... Stony Brook senior Miguel Maysonet (3,561 career rushing yards) needs 73 yards to surprass Rashad Jenning's all-time league-record 3,633 yards for Liberty from 2006-08.

CAA Football: NBC Sports Network will carry one of the biggest games in the CAA, No. 12 Towson (2-2, 1-0) at No. 5 James Madison (3-1, 1-0). The two schools didn't meet last season when Towson won the league title. Both teams will try to impart their will by establishing the run game. JMU coach Mickey Matthews is seeking his 100th career win ... You might think a player from Old Dominion would be leading the league in all-purpose yards, but it's New Hampshire sophomore wide receiver R.J. Harris (135.2 ypg), who keeps getting better. Like Matthews, UNH coach Sean McDonnell is seeking his 100th career win on Saturday. The Wildcats visit Georgia State.

Ivy: Yale running back/return specialist Tyler Varga, who is ranked third in the FCS in all-purpose yards, was thought to be a freshman, but it appears the Ivy League and NCAA will rule him to be a sophomore because of the 2011 season spent at the University of Western Ontario ... Cornell (2-1, 1-0), behind record-setting quarterback Jeff Mathews, will take its shot at Harvard (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday. The Big Red, who have lost 10 of their last 11 against the Crimson, have scored at least 45 points in their last three league games dating to last season ... Princeton (1-2) has been much more competitive in coach Bob Surace's third season. The Tigers are the only Division I program to not allow a touchdown through the air.

MEAC: Florida A&M (2-3) travels to Howard (3-1) is a matchup of two of the three 2-0 teams within conference play. Bethune-Cookman (3-2, 2-0) would go to 3-0 with a win over North Carolina A&T ... Bethune-Cookman is plus-14 in turnover margin through five games. The team it just beat, Hampton, is minus-10.

Missouri Valley: All four Valley games this week are homecomings - at Illinois State, Indiana State, North Dakota State and South Dakota ... With 8,587 career yards, Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown is only 502 behind Ryan Helming's conference-record 9,089 yards for Northern Iowa from 1997-2000 ... Western Illinois players should be tested on the Mount Rushmore State in two weeks. The Leathernecks, who have lost eight straight road games, visit South Dakota on Saturday and then South Dakota State on Oct. 13.

Northeast: Albany coach Bob Ford had one of the season's better lines last Saturday regarding a Great Danes' fake punt from their 23-yard line in the first quarter against Monmouth: "I thought we could (convert). And because I'm 75 years old and I can call anything I want to call." ... Bryant, which received a first-place vote in the conference's preseason poll, will fall to 0-6 if it doesn't solve its woes against conference co-leader Albany (4-1, 2-0) on Saturday.

Ohio Valley: The week's big game pits Eastern Kentucky (4-1) at Tennessee State (5-0). Although EKU holds a 20-4 series lead, TSU has won two of the last three meetings. The Tigers defense has been stout this season, so it might be able to slow EKU's powerful offense ... With all but one team returning its starter, it was going to be the year of the quarterback in the OVC. As a by-product, wide receivers are thriving. Eastern Illinois' Erik Lora (first, 157.3), Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers (seventh, 112.4), Murray State's Walter Powell (10th, 108.8) and Eastern Kentucky's Tyrone Goard (12th, 98.8) all rank in the top 12 in the FCS in receiving yards per game.

Patriot: Lafayette (4.75), Bucknell (7.25) and Lehigh (7.8) have the three- closest average final scoring margins in their games in the FCS ... There's an interesting one-on-one matchup within Georgetown (3-2) at Fordham (3-2). It's Fordham's Carlton Koonce, the leading rusher in the league and sixth in the FCS, against Georgetown linebacker Robert McCabe, the top tackler in the nation. First-year Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead is a former assistant coach at Georgetown.

Pioneer: What a job being done by Jacksonville defensive backs coach Danny Verpaele. Opponents have completed a mere 37.2 percent of passes (51-of-137) for an FCS-low 116.2 passing yards per game. The Dolphins (4-1) will get a test on Saturday from Morehead State quarterback Zach Lewis, who is averaging 269.8 passing yards per game ... Last year's co-champions will meet at Drake when the Bulldogs host San Diego Saturday. The Toreros won last year's meeting, 31-24, in a tight series (Drake leads, 10-9).

Southern: In a terrific individual matchup, Appalachian State will have cornerback and Buck Buchanan Award nominee Demetrius McCray shadowing Elon wide receiver and Walter Payton Award nominee Aaron Mellette. Last year, Mellette had 14 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown, while McCray had a career-high 11 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups. Wonder if they saved any plays for their teammates ... The crossroads game of the week is The Citadel (3-2) at Samford (4-1). Both teams are 2-1 in the SoCon, but coming off conference losses.

Southland: Central Arkansas' Faculty Senate is studying whether the university is better off returning to Division II, but it can only recommend a move and any formal decision would have to come from the Board of Trustees. It seems likely UCA will remain in Division I ... Saturday's "Battle of the Piney Woods" rivalry game got a boost by the announcement that Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin will continue to play each other at Houston's Reliant Stadium through the 2017 season ... No. 21 McNeese State (4-1, 1-1) is idle this weekend, but how's this for an upcoming three-game stretch: Oct. 13 versus Central Arkansas, Oct. 20 at Sam Houston State and Oct. 27 versus Stephen F. Austin.

SWAC: When Prairie View A&M (0-5) and Grambling State (0-4) meet Saturday, they will both be winless for the first time in their annual State Fair Classic in Dallas ... Jackson State senior running back and kick returner B.J. Lee has ended his career with the Tigers to concentrate on track and field ... Alabama A&M quarterback Deaunte Mason has been the SWAC's offensive player of the week for three straight weeks. In that time, he's completed 52-of-71 pass attempts for 757 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, with six rushing touchdowns. He's yet to throw an interception in five games.

Extra Point: Mason (nine touchdown passes) isn't the only top quarterback who has yet to throw an interception. Eastern Kentucky's T.J. Pryor (nine TD passes), Youngstown State's Kurt Hess (eight) and North Dakota State's Brock Jensen (eight) join Mason in the top six of the most efficient FCS quarterbacks.

WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW

The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.

Also, 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.

THE PICKS

Last Week's Record: 42-13 (.764)

Season Record: 281-67 (.807)

All Times ET

Friday, Oct. 5

X-No. 20 Cal Poly (4-0, 2-0 Big Sky) at Weber State (0-5, 0-2), 8 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 6

X-Albany (4-1, 2-0 NEC) at Bryant (0-5, 0-3), noon

Robert Morris (1-3, 0-1 NEC) at X-St. Francis, Pa. (2-3, 1-1), noon

Dartmouth (2-1, 0-1 Ivy) at X-Yale (1-2, 0-1), noon

Columbia (1-2) at X-No. 11 Lehigh (5-0), 12:30 p.m.

Bucknell (1-3, 0-1 Patriot) at X-Holy Cross (0-4, 0-0), 1 p.m.

X-Jacksonville (4-1, 2-0 Pioneer) at Morehead State (1-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.

Georgetown (3-2) at X-Fordham (3-2), 1 p.m.

No. 12 Towson (2-2, 1-0 CAA) at X-No. 5 James Madison (3-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.

Brown (2-1) at X-Rhode Island (0-4), 1 p.m.

Cornell (2-1, 1-0 Ivy) at X-No. 25 Harvard (3-0, 1-0), 1 p.m.

Florida A&M (2-3, 2-0 MEAC) at X-Howard (3-1, 2-0), 1 p.m.

X-Dayton (1-4, 0-2 Pioneer) at Davidson (0-4, 0-1), 1 p.m.

X-Wagner (2-3, 2-1 NEC) at Sacred Heart (1-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.

Furman (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at X-No. 6 Wofford (4-0, 2-0), 1:30 p.m.

X-Presbyterian (2-3, 0-0 Big South) at VMI (1-3, 0-0), 1:30 p.m.

San Diego (2-2, 1-0 Pioneer) at X-Drake (3-2, 2-0), 1:30 p.m.

X-Butler (3-2, 2-0 Pioneer) at Valparaiso (0-4, 0-1), 2 p.m.

Texas Southern (1-4, 1-2 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (3-2, 3-1), 2 p.m.

X-No. 17 Eastern Kentucky (4-1, 2-0 OVC) at Tennessee State (5-0, 1-0), 2 p.m.

Southern Illinois (2-3, 1-1 MVFC) at X-No. 9 Illinois State (5-0, 2-0), 2 p.m.

GAME OF THE WEEK: X-No. 3 Youngstown State (4-0, 1-0 MVFC) at No. 1 North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0), 2 p.m. The Penguins won last year's game by controlling the clock. Which team will establish the better running game?

X-South Carolina State (2-3, 1-1 MEAC) vs. North Carolina Central (2-2, 1-0) in Indianapolis, 2:30 p.m.

Southeastern Louisiana (2-3) at X-UAB (0-4), 3 p.m.

Sacramento State (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-Southern Utah (2-3, 1-1), 3 p.m.

Southern (2-2, 1-1 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (1-4, 1-2), 3 p.m.

X-Western Illinois (2-2, 0-1 MVFC) at South Dakota (1-3, 0-1), 3 p.m.

No. 19 The Citadel (3-2, 2-1 SoCon) at X-Samford (4-1, 2-1), 3 p.m.

X-Alabama A&M (5-0, 4-0 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (1-3, 1-1), 3 p.m.

X-Eastern Illinois (3-2, 2-0 OVC) at UT Martin (3-2, 1-1), 3 p.m.

Missouri State (0-5, 0-2 MVFC) at X-Indiana State (3-2, 1-1), 3:05 p.m.

X-William & Mary (1-4) at Penn (1-2), 3:30 p.m.

Gardner-Webb (0-4, 0-0 Big South) at X-Liberty (0-4, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.

Elon (2-3, 0-2 SoCon) at X-No. 15 Appalachian State (3-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.

X-No. 14 New Hampshire (3-2, 1-1 CAA) at Georgia State (0-5), 3:30 p.m.

X-No. 8 Georgia Southern (3-1, 2-1 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-4, 0-3), 3:30 p.m.

Maine (1-3, 0-1 CAA) at X-No. 16 Delaware (4-1, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.

X-Montana (2-3, 0-2 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (1-3, 0-2), 3:35 p.m.

Stephen F. Austin (2-3, 1-0 Southland) vs. X-No. 9 Sam Houston State (2-2, 0-1) in Houston, 4 p.m.

North Carolina A&T (2-2, 0-1 MEAC) at X-Bethune-Cookman (3-2, 2-0), 4 p.m.

Delaware State (1-3, 0-1 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (2-3, 0-2), 4 p.m.

Princeton (1-2) at X-Lafayette (3-1), 6 p.m.

Richmond (3-2, 1-1 CAA) at X-Villanova (4-1, 2-0), 6 p.m.

Charleston Southern (1-3, 0-0 Big South) at X-No. 13 Stony Brook (4-1, 0-0), 6 p.m.

X-Grambling State (0-4, 0-3 SWAC) vs. Prairie View A&M (0-5, 0-3) in Dallas, 7 p.m.

Lamar (2-3, 0-1 Southland) at X-Northwestern State (2-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.

Jackson State (2-3, 2-1 SWAC) at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-2, 2-1), 7 p.m.

Nicholls (1-2, 0-0 Southland) at X-No. 24 Central Arkansas (3-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.

X-Murray State (2-3, 1-1 OVC) at Austin Peay (0-5, 0-3), 7 p.m.

X-Morgan State (2-2, 1-0 MEAC) at Savannah State (0-4, 0-2), 7 p.m.

No. 2 Montana State (5-0, 2-0 Big Sky) at X-UC Davis (2-3, 1-1), 7:15 p.m.

X-Jacksonville State (2-2, 1-1 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (2-3, 0-2), 8 p.m.

Idaho State (1-3, 0-1 Big Sky) at X-Portland State (1-4, 0-3), 8:05 p.m.

North Dakota (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 7 Eastern Washington (3-1, 2-0), 8:05 p.m.