Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's hard to argue against quarterback being the most important position on a football field.
Members of the Southeastern Louisiana, Princeton and San Diego teams clearly take their lead from the play of their quarterbacks, and each has led his squad to first place in their respective conferences. In fact, Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett, Princeton's Quinn Epperly and San Diego's Mason Mills have been so exceptional this season that all three were nominated to the Walter Payton Award Watch List on Tuesday.
The 27th annual award, presented by The Sports Network, honors the outstanding player in the FCS. This year's winner will stand alongside a list of Payton Award greats such as Steve McNair, John Friesz, Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo, Brian Finneran and Armanti Edwards.
Bennett, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound redshirt junior, has led 14th-ranked Southeastern Louisiana to first place in a strong Southland Conference race. A heralded transfer from the University of Oregon, Bennett has lived up to the hype, ranking second in the Southland with 283.2 total yards per game. Much of his success comes with his feet as Bennett has run for 763 yards and a Southland-best 13 touchdowns. But he also has a 151.7 passing efficiency rating, completing 138-of-222 attempts (62.2 percent) for 2,069 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Epperly, a 6-1, 220-pound junior, also knows about dominating opponents with either his arm or feet. In Princeton's 7-1 season atop the Ivy League standings, Epperly has rushed for 475 yards and 16 touchdowns and thrown for 1,668 yards and 20 touchdowns with only two interceptions. He ranks first nationally in points responsible for per game (27.5), second nationally in completion percentage (74.1, on 157-of-212 passing), third nationally in scoring per game (12.0) and sixth nationally in passing efficiency (169.4).
Mills, a 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt senior, hopes to lead San Diego to the Pioneer Football League's first automatic bid to the FCS playoffs - something that would happen with a Toreros win on Saturday. The Toreros' all-time passing leader ranks seventh nationally with 317.6 passing yards per game, having thrown for 3,176 yards and 32 touchdowns and only five interceptions with 66.6 percent accuracy (227-of-341). A fourth-year starter, Mills has passed for 10,817 yards and 92 touchdowns in his career.
Other nominees on the Watch List are quarterbacks Vernon Adams of Eastern Washington, Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, Brock Jensen of North Dakota State, Jeff Mathews of Cornell, Michael Nebrich of Fordham and John Robertson of Villanova; running backs Zach Bauman of Northern Arizona, Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State, Timothy Flanders of Sam Houston State, Kyle Harbridge of Saint Francis (Pa.), Lorenzo Taliaferro of Coastal Carolina, Fabian Truss of Samford, Terrance West of Towson and Zach Zenner of South Dakota State; and wide receivers Lee Kurfis of Lehigh, Erik Lora of Eastern Illinois and Walter Powell of Murray State.
Bios of all 20 players can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
Other players considered for the Watch List: quarterbacks DeNarius McGhee of Montana State, Brady Attaway of Stephen F. Austin, Kurt Hess of Youngstown State, Jacob Huesman of Chattanooga and Jordan Johnson of Montana; running backs David Johnson of Northern Iowa and Christian Reyes of Charleston Southern; and wide receiver Jordan Harris of Bryant.
The Payton Award Watch List can undergo revision during the season. Ballots will be sent to a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The top three vote-getters will be invited to The Sports Network FCS Awards Presentation to be held Dec. 16 in Philadelphia.
The Sports Network also presents the Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards. The Buchanan Award honors the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, the Rice Award goes to the FCS freshman of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. The winners of those three awards also will be invited to the national banquet.