As the college football season powers into October, take a few seconds to collect your breath. Or maybe a full minute.
Almost a third of the regular season is completed in the FCS, and while the outstanding performances seem to be countless across the 128 member schools, a small group of players particularly had a September to remember. They’ve made major impacts on their team’s success, and often against higher-level competition.
While many players across the FCS have shown to be elite (see FCS Stats Zone), here are seven who simply can’t be ignored:
Eastern Washington QB Eric Barriere
Barriere ranks No. 1 among FCS quarterbacks in passing yards (1,683) and passing yards per game (420.8), second in passing touchdowns (16), and fourth in passing efficiency rating (190.6) and yards per completion (15.4) while completing 69.4% of his passes. Coming off the first back-to-back 500-yard passing performances in the FCS since 2011, Barriere has led Eastern Washington to the No. 6 national ranking.
His elite passing stats would put him at fourth in passing efficiency, second in passing touchdowns, third in passing yards, second in passing yards per game and eighth in yards per completion in the FBS.
He’s on pace to shatter his previous season bests across most statistical categories. They include his 3,712 passing yards and 31 TD passes in 2019 – the season after he helped guide his Big Sky program to a national runner-up finish.
Southeastern Louisiana QB Cole Kelley
Kelley established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS when he earned the Walter Payton Award following the spring season earlier this year. He has led Southeastern Louisiana (2-1) to a strong start this fall, including a No. 16 ranking.
The Lions’ lone loss was a near-miss at FBS member Louisiana Tech, 45-42. However, Kelley played very well with career highs in passing yards (495) and completions (44), and with three touchdowns and two interceptions on 59 attempts. Add in 42 rushing yards and two scores on the ground, and the Southland standout matched his career high for total touchdowns in a game (five).
Kelley not only ranks second in the FCS in passing yards per game (400.7), but he’s doing it with the second-best completion percentage (74.4), and with more than four times as many attempts as the national leader (Dartmouth’s Derek Kyler, 78.1).
James Madison QB Cole Johnson
One word to describe Johnson this season is efficient. He has the most passing touchdowns among FCS quarterbacks who haven’t thrown an interception – 11 while he’s guided the CAA power, ranked third nationally, to a 3-0 record.
His 200.1 passing efficiency is No. 2 in the FCS, but it leads all quarterbacks who have at least 400 passing yards. In addition, he’s No. 3 in completion percentage (74.1).
Johnson has thrown at least two touchdown passes in six straight games dating to the spring playoffs. It is the fifth-longest active streak in the FCS.
UIW QB Cameron Ward
Coming off a freshman campaign that saw him receive the Jerry Rice Award, Ward is on pace to have an even better season in his second go-around.
Ward sits fourth nationally in passing yards with 1,288 just four games into the season, after having 2,260 in six spring games. His 13 passing touchdowns are tied for fourth among FCS quarterbacks and on pace for 35 this season. He’s thrown for at least two in all 10 of his career games with the Southland program – a total of 37 TD passes overall against only five interceptions.
Ward’s strong play led UIW’s first win over an FBS program. In his best game of the season, Ward was 31 of 47 for 376 yards and four touchdowns to fuel the 42-34 victory over Texas State.
South Dakota State RB Pierre Strong Jr.
In a season deep with accomplished running backs, Strong has been over 100 rushing yards in each of second-ranked South Dakota State’s three games. He sits sixth in the FCS in rushing yards (398) and fifth in rushing yards per game (132.7). However, he’s carried the ball only 40 times, so his yards per carry – nearly 10 – stand out the most.
Of course, it’s nothing new for Strong. Since debuting for the Jackrabbits in 2018, he’s averaged 7.5 yards on 431 career carries, which ranks No. 1 in the FCS in that time.
In a Missouri Valley opener, he caught Indiana State by surprise when he took a handoff and threw back to quarterback Chris Oladokun for a 22-yard touchdown. Incredibly, Strong is 6 of 6 for 168 yards and three TDs in his career.
ETSU RB Quay Holmes
Holmes opened the season with a 149-yard rushing performance in ETSU’s victory at SEC member Vanderbilt, and that set the tone going forward. He’s helped the Southern Conference squad to a No. 13 ranking – the Buccaneers’ highest in 24 years.
In four wins, Holmes leads the FCS in rushing yards (536) and attempts (84), and is tied for second with six rushing touchdowns.
Holmes has always been an all-around threat. Adding in receptions, he’s averaged 109.6 scrimmage yards in 34 career games since 2018, which rank fourth among active FCS players. He hasn’t returned a kick this season, but entered the campaign with 1,300 kickoff return yards in his career.
Nicholls WR Dai’Jean Dixon
It’s not just what Dixon is doing this season, it’s who he is doing it against. He went for a combined 21 receptions, 305 receiving yards and two touchdowns in two games against FBS programs.
In the opener at Memphis, Dixon finished with 107 yards on seven catches. A week later against Louisiana, Dixon posted career highs with 14 receptions and 198 receiving yards, with two of the catches going for scores.
Nicholl’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and TD catches added another scoring catch against North Alabama. Through three games, he ranks second in the FCS in receiving yards per game (131) and is tied for fifth with 27 receptions, although the four players ahead of him have all played four games.