It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Eastern Washington’s star wideout Cooper Kupp as one of the best receivers at the FCS level, or dominating Sam Houston State defensive end P.J. Hall as a great pass rusher.
It seems, in fact, that all anyone talks about in the FCS preseason is the painfully obvious.
It doesn’t take a lot of courage to say that North Dakota State is a good team, or that Charleston Southern has the inside track for the Big South Title, or that Missouri State will probably beat Southwestern College today by more than four touchdowns.
But what about the not-so-obvious? Who are the potential FCS breakout players that are on the cusp, but isn’t on everyone’s preseason preview?
Here’s my “under-the-radar” list at each position group.
QB Jake Melville, Colgate
You may not have heard of the Sparta, NJ native, but if you were a fan of a Patriot League football program you have. The dual-threat quarterback was the biggest piece of Raiders’ resurgence last season, exploding after September to amass most of his 3,625 total yards on the year. Folks don’t have him on the radar screen for offensive MVP awards, but if he stays healthy, he should be.
FB Lorenzo Long, Wofford
In Mike Ayers’ Wingbone offense, Long was the leading rusher with 983 yards and 8 TDs, but sometimes misses out on all the rushing lists because he’s listed as a fullback, not a running back. Wofford, with a veteran offense returning, could see the senior expand on his rushing totals from last season – and be a surprise addition on a lot of postseason all-America lists.
WR Mike Sharp, Southern Utah
Sharp, a 6’2, 200 lb senior for the Thunderbirds, was their No. 1 passing target as the “Z” receiver, leading Southern Utah with 889 receiving yards and 14 TDs. He could be the most critical piece of Southern Utah’s bid to repeat as Big Sky Champions, and if he improves on his impressive junior campaign, watch out.
TE Cody Dauksch, Central Arkansas
You won’t see Dauksch on any receiving records list this season, but you might hear his name when it comes to being an NFL prospect. A rare pure H-Back and a very good blocker, he’ll make everyone around him on his Central Arkansas offense better by absorbing hits and occasionally nabbing a big pass over the middle.
AP Yedidiah Lewis Sam Houston State
Lewis has a lot of teammates that get a lot of talk on the national stage, so it’s sometimes easy to forget that this 5’8, 187 lb sparkplug enters the 2016 campaign at No. 6 in school history in receiving yards with 1,797 and is a devastating kick returner as well.
OL Trevin Huff, Bethune Cookman
This 5th year senior might have fallen off some radar screens with the MEAC’s choice to not participate in the FCS playoffs, but he shouldn’t have. This rock at left tackle has been an integral part of the Wildcats offense, who averaged almost 200 yards rushing last year. At 6’4, 291, you wonder if he’s on NFL scouts’ radar screens as well.
DT Aaron Thompson, Stony Brook
Defensive tackles don’t always get enough love on preseason All-America teams, but you have to like Thompson, who piles up sacks from a position that tends to mostly these days be a space-eater against the run. It will be interesting if he can expand on his solid 10 tackle for loss/8 1/2 sack performance from last season.
LB Charles Bell, Delaware
Delaware struggled last season, but one place where they didn’t struggle was at middle linebacker, where the Conestoga, PA native dominated the middle of the Blue Hen defense with 123 tackles and 54 solo tackles. A budding star at the position, can Number 5 continue his hard-hitting ways and get Delaware back in contention?
DB Bradley Dewberry, Eastern Illinois
Also a junior, the 6’0 Dewberry had a promising freshman season cut short with a torn ACL. As a sophomore, though, the talented safety finished second on the team with 73 tackles and 53 solo stops and four interceptions. If he makes another jump to make first-team all-OVC this season – and he’s certainly a strong candidate – the Panthers will be solid.
PK William Will, Dayton
Aside from having an awesome name, Will Will will kick long field goals, too. He was a perfect 33 of 33 on extra points and also nailed a 48 yarder for the Flyers last season. A 5th year senior, he might get into the conversation about playing professionally.
Behold as I unveil my quick picks of all the big FCS games going on this weekend.
UConn over Maine, 21-17. Thinking this game could be a lot closer than people think, with two old-school defenses, but Huskies pull this one out real late.
Mercer over The Citadel, 31-28. Don’t be fooled by The Citadel’s great showing last season, or Mercer’s 5-6 record – the Bears are ready to take that next step in the SoCon, and will do so tonight.
Wofford over Tennessee Tech, 34-20. The Terriers are tough to prepare for in the best of times. Well, this is the best of tImes for the Golden Eagles, being undefeated and all at this point of the season, but Wofford, a sneaky contender for the SoCon title, will likely be too much.
Western Illinois over Eastern Illinois, 29-28. I know the Leathernecks were an FCS playoff team last season and the Panthers, uncharacteristically, were not, but why are folks picking so lopsidedly in favor of Western Illinois? I still think the Leathernecks will pull this out, but a vastly improved Panther team I think will keep things close, and if they pulled off the “upset”, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
Duquesne over Youngstown State, 34-27. One of the most intriguing games on the FCS slate this Thursday night, the Dukes were last seen giving William and Mary fits in the FCS playoffs, and almost everyone on Jerry Schmidt’s team returns. While Bo Pelini’s Penguins are the sexy choice, are we really sure they are that good, especially against a sneaky good Dukes team?
North Carolina State over William and Mary, 28-14. A sexy pick for FBS upset will go by the wayside tonight. I still love the Tribe in the CAA this season, but I don’t love Jimmye Laycock’s chances against the ACC this evening.
Montana State over Idaho, 38-17. For reasons I’ve detailed here, I absolutely love this game as the big FCS over FBS upset tonight.
Lafayette over Central Connecticut State, 24-18. The Leopards, desperate to put 2015 behind them, succeed with just enough to get past the Blue Devils on the road.
Syacuse (FBS) over Colgate, 35-28. It won’t be the blowout some expect, but it won’t be a win for the Raiders, either.
Nevada (FBS) over Cal Poly, 34-16. After the Raiders, this should be the next-closest shot for a win over an FBS school, which isn’t saying a lot.
Navy (FBS) over Fordham, 41-7.
Lehigh over Monmouth, 35-28.
Georgetown over Davidson, 44-3.
Holy Cross over Morgan State, 28-13.
Pittsburgh (FBS) over Villanova, 28-6.
Virginia Tech (FBS) over Liberty, 34-16.
Richmond over Virginia (FBS), 28-27.
Florida Atlantic (FBS) over Southern Illinois, 27-24.
Washington State (FBS) over Eastern Washington, 41-35.