(Stats Perform) – National interest in the FCS Kickoff game this past Saturday night underscored how fans are anxious to welcome back college football.
In the FCS, the 15 teams that are playing nonconference schedules boast their share of top players.
If there is one on each team to put extra focus on, however, go with this excellent group:
Abilene Christian: Billy McCrary, RB, R-Sr., 5-11, 200 – The former Cal Bear, who gained a medical redshirt due to an upper body injury last season, has averaged 8.2 yards on 108 carries in 14 games with the Wildcats.
Austin Peay: Troy Henderson Jr., LB, R-Sr., 6-0, 225 – The grad transfer from Kennesaw State became the first player to wear jersey No. 0 since the NCAA allowed it this offseason, and he celebrated with a career-high 12 tackles against Central Arkansas in the FCS Kickoff.
Campbell: Caleb Snead, WR, R-Jr., 6-4, 215 – Quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams’ No. 1 target can be countedon for a touchdown with every five receptions, having caught 15 in just 20 career games.
Central Arkansas: Breylin Smith, QB, R-Jr., 6-3, 210 – Coming off the top passing season in school history, Smith threw for 283 yards in the opener against Austin Peay, which means the Bears are 11-0 when he goes over 250 in a game.
Chattanooga: Chris James, TE, Gr., 6-3, 220 – James was a quarterback who shifted to tight end last season and caught seven touchdowns while earning first-team All-Southern Conference honors. The NCAA has granted him a sixth season of eligibility.
The Citadel: Brandon Rainey, QB, R-Sr., 6-0, 215 – The SoCon military school gets its vibe from Rainey’s toughness. He accounted for 30 touchdowns last season to set the school’s single-season record.
Eastern Kentucky: Alonzo Booth, RB, R-Jr., 6-1, 250 – Despite losing Ohio Valley Conference rushing champ Daryl McCleskey Jr., the Colonels are in good hands with Booth coming off a 673-yard season in which he rushed for 14 touchdowns.
Houston Baptist: Bailey Zappe, QB, Sr., 6-2, 215 – The Huskies are playing three FBS opponents. In three previous starts against the upper level of Division I, Zappe is a combined 75-for-120 for 725 yards and four touchdowns and one interceptions.
Jacksonville State: Michael Matthews, RB, R-Jr., 5-11, 225 – After ranking sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing, the Gamecocks hope to get back on track behind their No. 1 top back. They’re 2-9 when quarterback Zerrick Cooper passes for 300 or more yards.
Mercer: Tyray Devezin, RB, Sr., 5-8, 233 – Devezin has rumbled under the radar the last two years, gaining nearly 2,000 rushing yards. He twice tied the school record with four rushing touchdowns in a game.
Missouri State: Kevin Ellis, DE, R-Jr., 6-4, 241 – After starting the final seven games last season, the Bears’ leading pass rusher is primed for a breakout under first-year coach Bobby Petrino. Ellis totaled 38 tackles in each of his first two seasons.
North Alabama: K.J. Smith, CB, R-Sr., 5-11, 187 – The Big South’s male scholar-athlete of the year is a shutdown defender, totaling 103 tackles, five interceptions and 13 pass breakups in two seasons since a transfer from Georgia.
North Dakota State: Trey Lance, QB, R-So., 6-4, 226 – The 2019 recipient of the Stats Perform Walter Payton and Jerry Rice awards can use the FCS champ’s lone game against Central Arkansas on Oct. 3 as a showcase for NFL scouts.
Stephen F. Austin: Xavier Gipson, WR/KR, So., 5-9, 170 – Coming off an excellent freshman campaign, Gipson was SFA’s only selection on the Southland preseason team, named to the second team at both wide receiver and kickoff return.
Western Carolina: Ty Harris, MLB, Sr., 6-1, 245 – Harris ranked fourth in the SoCon with 106 tackles as a junior. Consistency was his strong suit as he posted eight or more tackles in each of the season’s final nine games.