Week 0 in the FCS features only three games, but there is a lot of talent that will be on display on Saturday. Jackson State will face South Carolina State in the 17th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge. No. 20 Mercer and North Alabama will play in the ninth annual FCS Kickoff game in Montgomery, Alabama. Fordham will travel to UAlbany in an important non-conference game.
These are the top 10 players you need to get your eyes on this weekend.
10. Fau Tai’Vai (North Alabama; OL)
Fau Tai’Vai (No. 76) is a 6-foot-2, 340-pound junior guard who will anchor the line for the Lions this season. Tai’Vai earned first-team All-ASUN honors last season and helped guide a rushing attack that was top 30 in the nation with 184 yards per game. Watch for him to open running lanes in the center of the defense from his spot at right guard.
9. James Conway (Fordham; LB)
James Conway (No. 48) is a 225-pound junior linebacker you will see at the heart of Fordham’s defense. He led the Rams with 127 tackles last season, including 11 tackles for loss. His 127 tackles ranked third in the entire nation last season. Conway is coming off his second straight season with over 100 tackles and will look to help lead the Rams back to the playoffs.
8. Lance Wise (Mercer; S)
Lance Wise (No. 0) is a 5-foot-9 senior safety who will lead the secondary for the Mercer Bears. Wise earned second-team All-SOCON honors last season and guided a unit that finished 13th in Passer Efficiency allowed last season. Wise imposes his physicality on the game by using his athleticism to play sideline-to-sideline. You may even see him return some kicks as he is a dynamic athlete.
7. Nick Taiste (South Carolina State; OL)
In the weekend’s biggest game and rematch of the 2021 Celebration Bowl, guard Nick Taiste (No. 78) will lead the Bulldogs’ offensive line against Jackson State. Taiste is a 295-pound redshirt junior who earned first-team All-MEAC honors last season. Taiste will be looking to help get the Bulldogs offense back on track from a disappointing 2022 season. He will battle with a very talented Jackson State interior Defensive Line in what will be one of the best position battles to watch on Saturday night.
6. Esaias Guthrie (Jackson State; S)
Safety Esaias Guthrie (No. 6) transferred into Jackson State looking to help fill out a secondary that had a lot of talent transfer after the 2022 season. In the 2021 season for Delaware State, Guthrie earned FCS Freshman All-American honors in his first full year with four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Guthrie will quarterback the secondary for the Tigers and look to keep the defense at the top of FCS. The task starts Saturday against South Carolina State and you can be sure Guthrie will be ready to make an immediate impact after missing last season.
5. Julius Loughridge (Fordham; RB)
Junior Julius Loughridge (No. 15) is one of the top running backs in FCS coming into the 2023 season. Loughridge will take on more responsibility in the Fordham rushing attack after Trey Sneed’s departure. All the evidence from last season would suggest that he is more than ready to take the next step. Loughridge gained 940 yards on only 131 carries, good for 7.2 yards/carry (No. 4 in the nation). Loughridge will aim to make a statement for a Fordham offense looking to replace a lot of production in other spots.
4. Jeremiah Williams (Jackson State; DL)
Jeremiah Williams (No. 99) is a 285-pound redshirt sophomore defensive tackle for Jackson State. Last season in his first season seeing game action, Williams played in every single game totaling 32 tackles, including three sacks and three tackles for loss. He is one of the highest-graded returning defensive tackles in HBCU football, according to Pro Football Focus. Look for Williams to have a breakout season this year and help Jackson State try to establish dominance along the line of scrimmage.
3. Ty James (Mercer; WR)
This ranking for James may seem too low a number for one of the most dominant players in the FCS. The 6-foot-2 senior wide receiver has been one of the most explosive weapons for the Bears over the past three seasons. Ty James (No. 13) set a school record last season with 1,105 yards on a stunning 21.2 yards per catch. He also caught 13 touchdowns, which led the SoCon and ranked fifth in the country. James is an FCS preseason All-American here for the Bluebloods and it is easy to see why. His ability to win one-on-one matchups is unmatched at this level. Look for James to help quarterback Carter Peevy ease his way back into a bigger role and have another huge season starting this Saturday.
2. Reese Poffenbarger (Albany; QB)
Albany sophomore quarterback Reese Poffenbarger (No. 7) is primed to have a huge season in 2023. In only his redshirt freshman season Poffenbarger threw for almost 3,000 yards, 24 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. Poffenbarger will look to build on that sensational freshman season in the opener against Fordham, which he threw for 412 yards against last season. Look for Poffenbarger to light up the Fordham defense again and try to make a case to be a Walter Payton finalist this season. Poffenbarger will look to try to lead Albany in a CAA that has a lot of question marks after William and Mary and maybe even push for the playoffs.
1. Devron Harper (Mercer; WR)
At number one on the list of players you should be watching this weekend, we have another Bluebloods FCS preseason All-American. Devron Harper (No. 1) is one of the most electric players you will watch in all of college football this fall. Harper had 16 total touchdowns last season- 10 through the air, four on the ground, and two from returns. Mercer will try to get Harper the ball in space whenever they can and his speed in the open field is awesome to watch. Mercer will throw him the ball on the outside or get him involved in the jet sweep game. Devron Harper is sure to be all over the field Saturday and will be must-watch television.
Honorable Mention: No. 0 Kam’ron Green (North Alabama; DL), No. 3 Isaac Dowling (Mercer; LB), No. 15 Ken Standley (Mercer; LB), No. 2 MJ Wright (Fordham; WR), No. 42 Dylan Kelly (Albany; LB), No. 43 Patrick Godbolt (South Carolina State; DL), No. 34 Jeblonski Green (South Carolina State; DL), No. 97 Devonta Davis (Jackson State; DL), No. 86 DJ Stevens (Jackson State; TE), No. 5 Irv Mulligan (Jackson State; RB)
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