It's never a bad time to hand out superlative awards, but the midseason mark of the 2022 FCS football season is the perfect time to hand out these superlative awards. I have seven awards to give out so let's get to it.
The Best Performance by an FCS Player
Tim DeMorat and Lindsey Scott Jr. have lit up scoreboards to open the season, but neither quarterback gets the distinction of the best performance.
Jaden Shirden, Jarveon Howard and Fotis Kokosioulis have put up monster performances at the skill positions, but none of them get the nod either.
So who does get to hold the title of the best performance from the season's first half?
William & Mary cornerback Jalen Jones. They say defense wins championships, but defense also wins superlatives. Jalen Jones takes home this superlative after his three-interception performance against Campbell in his first start. Jones even took an interception back to the crib for six points. By getting three interceptions in one game, Jones has done something no other FCS player has done this year. That's worthy of the best performance.
The Sleeper Team
Can the 11th-ranked team in the country be a sleeper team? I think so and that's why Mercer gets the nod.
Mercer is undefeated against FCS competition and has the eighth-best scoring defense and ninth-best scoring offense entering Week 7. Scoring more points than the other team is something that translates to the FCS playoffs, yet few are talking about the Bears making a run in the playoffs in what would be their first-ever appearance. When you add in the consistency of quarterback Fred Payton's 16-0 touchdown-interception ratio, I think Mercer is a team that is being slept on.
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The Biggest Surprise
I looked back at my way-too-early FCS playoff predictions and also took a look back at fellow FCS reporters Craig Haley and Sam Herder's predictions and we all missed on Samford. Even the SoCon predicted order of finish missed on Samford entering this season as the sixth-best (out of nine) team.
Meanwhile, all Samford has done is start the season 5-1 and 3-0 in conference play en route to No. 15 in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. While the meat of Samford's conference schedule is in the second half (ETSU, Chattanooga, Mercer), the Bulldogs have surprised early in the season.
The Bounceback of the Year
Matthew McKay gets the bounceback of the year award. After losing his starting job at Montana State last year at the start of the FCS playoffs, McKay transferred to Elon this fall.
McKay has thrived, leading Elon to a 3-0 start in CAA play and a 5-1 start overall. He's completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,683 yards and 14 touchdowns, adding another 241 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Sometimes all a player needs is a fresh start. Matthew McKay is making the most of his and Elon is reaping the rewards.
The Lived-up-to-Hype Award
I don't want to toot my own horn, but in my preseason predictions, I forecasted Holy Cross running the table during the regular season this year. The Crusaders are 6-0 and the only team with a winning record left on the schedule is Fordham.
Will I be nervous about this prediction come Oct. 29? Yes. Do I think Holy Cross can pull out the win on Oct. 29? Of course. I'm standing by my prediction.
The Locked-In Award
No team in FCS football has been more locked in (focused on achieving a goal) than Jackson State was against Florida A&M to open the season. A game against a 2021 FCS playoff team and the defending SWAC Champions was expected to be close, but it was anything but.
Jackson State was laser focused from start to finish, winning 59-3. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders opened the game by completing his first 17 passes of the game, throwing three touchdowns. The defense forced Florida A&M to bench its quarterback and held all signal-callers to complete less than 40 percent of their passes. The run defense limited the Rattlers to only 34 yards for 1.21 yards per carry.
Even on special teams, the Tigers blocked a punt for a touchdown. From start to finish, Jackson State was locked in
Shedeur Sanders has been DOMINANT 😤— Andscape (@andscape) September 4, 2022
He's started the Orange Blossom Classic 16/16 for 157 yds and 3 TDs pic.twitter.com/XJg3yIqtA5
Hunter Luepke earns the Mr. Consistent superlative. Week after week, Luepke comes through for North Dakota State at fullback, doing whatever the Bison need him to do.
Need Luepke to block? He'll clear the way for the nation's third-leading rushing offense.
Need Luepke to run? He has eight rushing touchdowns on the season.
Need Luepke to catch passes? He has two receiving touchdowns too.
Luepke can do it all, consistently, at a high level.
FCS national award predictions
Those are the midseason superlatives. What happens next? These awards are predictions, forecasting the rest of the season.
The Jerry Rice Award
Saint Francis (Pa.) wide receiver Makai Jackson has been the best freshman in 2022. He'll take home the Jerry Rice Award as a result. Jackson has 39 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns, adding a score on a kickoff return.
Jackson has been electrifying to start the season and is far and away the leader for his award at midseason, but watch out for freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy from Idaho who could make a run at the award with a few upset wins.
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The Buck Buchanan Award
Did 2021's Buck Buchanan Award winner lead the nation in sacks and tackles for loss? Yes.
Did 2020-21's Buck Buchanan Award winner lead the nation in sacks and tackles for loss? Yes.
Who leads the FCS in 2022 at the midseason mark in sacks and tackles for loss? William & Mary's John Pius.
Recent history aside, I think John Pius will take home the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award — given to the best defensive player — as long as he continues his impressive pace he's on. I don't see it stopping anytime soon either and here's why.
It's hard for defenses to double-team Pius because he has one of the nation's best defensive ends on the other side of him in Nate Lynn, the preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Pius has stolen all the headlines from Lynn early this season, but expect Lynn's presence to help Pius end up as the nation's best defensive player when the season is over.
John Pius led a @wmTribefootball defense that held the Leopards to 240 total yards, including just 48 in the second half, recorded six sacks and didn’t allow a point over 54 minutes pic.twitter.com/xGANTdvlyM— CAA Football (@CAAFootball) September 19, 2022
The Walter Payton Award
UIW's Lindsey Scott Jr. gets the nod for the Walter Payton Award, beating out predicted finalists Tim DeMorat (Fordham), Shedeur Sanders (Jackson State) and Hunter Luepke (North Dakota State). Here's why.
A quarterback has won 16 of the last 17 Walter Payton Awards — given to the best offensive player — with wide receiver Cooper Kupp taking the outlier. While I believe Luepke is as good at his fullback position as Kupp was at wide receiver, a fullback winning the award is unprecedented and I think recent history will prevail.
That leaves three quarterbacks left. I'll start with Shedeur Sanders. While Sanders has been spectacular this season, with all signs pointing to an undefeated regular season and second-straight SWAC title, his numbers will likely pale in comparison by season's end to Scott and DeMorat. That'll keep him from winning the award.
Now it's time for Tim DeMorat. I think Tim DeMorat could finish this season as the nation's leading passer in yardage and touchdowns, given his start to the season. Yet, Fordham plays Holy Cross (see above) with a top-10 scoring defense that only averages 184 passing yards allowed per game. I see Holy Cross' defense causing DeMorat fits throughout the game, and without the Patriot League title, DeMorat misses out on the award.
I have Lindsey Scott Jr. taking home the Walter Payton Award, in part due to his dual-threat ability. Scott makes plays in a way that none of the other quarterbacks on this list do — with his legs. Scott has five rushing touchdowns already this season, DeMorat and Sanders have four combined. Throw in Scott's ability to air it out with the best of them, and you have your 2022 Walter Payton Award winner.