By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It never seems quite right when somebody starts out by using a disclaimer, right?
You know, someone like your financial planner telling you up front that he can't guarantee the Ponzi scheme he's involved you in will keep you out of trouble.
We're always asked about who we think are the front-runners for the major individual awards in the Football Championship Subdivision - the Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson - and we feel a need to start out with a disclaimer. It's because the Sports Network presents the awards (Fathead.com sponsors them) and we want the 170 or so national voters to make up their own minds after the regular season and not be influenced by our opinion.
Yet we can't ignore what's going on before our eyes because the front-runners are stating their cases each week.
The Walter Payton Award is presented to the outstanding player in the FCS and the last seven winners have been quarterbacks.
That bodes well for Lehigh's Chris Lum, New Hampshire's Kevin Decker, Liberty's Mike Brown, Eastern Washington's Bo Levi Mitchell, Montana State's DeNarius McGhee and Northern Iowa's Tirrell Rennie. Lum has put up the best numbers in leading the FCS in passing yards per game (370) and touchdown passes (26, which is seven more than any other QB), but all six signal-callers are having fantastic seasons.
Jonathan Grimes, William & Mary's new all-time leading rusher, is making a nice bid with his versatile ability. He's fourth nationally (fifth when you include Brown) in all-purpose yards per game (184).
The outstanding defensive player in the FCS walks away with the Buck Buchanan Award, and the list of front-runners appears a little shorter than the Payton Award.
A linebacker or defensive end often wins the Buchanan and players at those positions have emerged in the first seven weeks of the season.
At linebacker, New Hampshire's Matt Evans and Northern Iowa's L.J. Fort are destroying opponents. They rank 1-2 in the FCS in tackles per game, 14 for Evans and 13.3 for Fort. In addition, Fort has forced five fumbles to lead the nation.
At defensive end, Prairie View A&M's Adrian Hamilton has the most tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (12.5) in the FCS, although the quality of play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference is far below the power conferences.
The inaugural Jerry Rice Award will be given to the FCS' outstanding freshman.
Running back David Johnson, a redshirt freshman, leads second-ranked Northern Iowa - and all FCS first-year players - in rushing yards (510). He has scored eight touchdowns as well.
Towson running back Terrance West has found the end zone even more times with 11 touchdowns. Already a two-time national freshman of the week, he has rushed for 450 yards on 6.4 yards per carry.
The top wide receiver has been New Hampshire redshirt freshman R.J. Harris, who has three 100-yard games and leads all FCS first-year players in receptions per game (6.6) and receiving yards per game (97.2).
The Eddie Robinson Award, like the Walter Payton, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. It is presented to the FCS coach of the year.
The front-runner has to be Towson's Rob Ambrose. His Tigers were 3-19 in his first two seasons and picked last in this year's CAA Football preseason poll. But they are 5-1, nationally ranked and tied for first place in the CAA at 3-0.
Of course, a lot of his competition is coming from the coach of the other CAA co-leader, Maine's Jack Cosgrove. His Black Bears, 4-7 last season, also are 5-1 and 3-0.
Among the three unbeaten teams, Sam Houston State (6-0, 3-0 Southland Conference) with Willie Fritz and North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley Conference) with Craig Bohl seemingly rate ahead of top-ranked Georgia Southern (6-0, 5-0 Southern Conference) and Jeff Monken after their teams beat Bowl Subdivision opponents.
Other coaches enjoying banner seasons are Pete Adrian at Norfolk State (6-1, 4-0 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), Andy Coen at Lehigh (6-1, 2-0 Patriot League), Ron Caragher at San Diego (6-1, 4-0 Pioneer Football League) and Reggie Barlow at Alabama State (6-1, 6-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference). If their teams win out, their candidacy will grow considerably.
Our picks to date: Decker (Payton), Hamilton (Buchanan), Johnson (Rice) and Ambrose (Robinson). Keep in mind our final selections last season won only one of the then three awards.
Fellow In the FCS Huddle writer Sean Shapiro says Lum (Payton), Fort (Buchanan), Harris (Rice) and Ambrose (Robinson), so opinions vary.
A lot can change in the final five weeks of the regular season.
Consider that another disclaimer.
GOOD WEEK FOR A BYE
Ironically, Southwestern Athletic Conference members Southern and Arkansas- Pine Bluff both have byes this weekend following last Saturday's post-game brawl between players and, eventually, fans who came down onto the field at UAPB's Golden Lion Stadium.
SWAC assistant commissioner for communications Tom Galbraith said Wednesday the conference expects to have an updated announcement this week.
Both schools have issued official apologies regarding the melee. Suspensions, at the least, appear impending.
NOT TO GET AHEAD OF OURSELVES, BUT ...
If each team holds serve this weekend, Oct. 29 would have two match-ups involving top six teams:
No. 1 Georgia Southern will visit No. 6 Appalachian State in the Southern Conference and No. 2 Northern Iowa will head to No. 3 North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION...
Once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at FCS Bracket
Fourteen teams that were in our preseason bracket remain in the current version.
AROUND THE NATION
Sam Houston State has never won in the eight times it has been McNeese State's homecoming opponent. That could change Saturday when the seventh-ranked Bearkats (6-0, 3-0) visit McNeese (3-3, 1-1) in Lake Charles, La. However, if the Cowboys knock Sam Houston State from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Southland Conference will open up considerably, with Central Arkansas and Northwestern State likely making it a four-team free-for-all ... Liberty two-time first-team All-America kicker Matt Bevins will set a new Big South career record with his next point. He has 297 points and is tied with former Coastal Carolina kicker Josh Hoke ... A shoulder injury will keep Coastal Carolina All-America tight end David Duran sidelined for a third straight game Saturday against Gardner-Webb ... After entering the season as a lot of people's darkhorse in CAA Football, Rhode Island (1-5, 0-3) has had a disappointing season. However, the Rams have played mostly close games despite having a negative-9 turnover margin. Coach Joe Trainer's squad could be a CAA spoiler in the coming weeks with home games against Delaware, William & Mary and Towson, and road games against New Hampshire and James Madison ... Third- ranked North Dakota State and South Dakota State are meeting for the 98th time in the Dakota Marker Game Saturday in Brookings, S.D. The visiting Bison hold a 52-40-5 series lead, but it's 4-3 South Dakota State since the Dakota Marker Game was created in 2004 when both teams moved to the FCS ... The only three FCS schools to have thrown zero interceptions this season are run-oriented teams, Georgia Southern, Northern Iowa and Cal Poly. UNI quarterback Tirrell Rennis has been particularly impressive with 121 interception-free attempts ... Think the Atlanta Falcons might want Idaho State's David Harrington as their punter. Harrington is averaging an FCS-high 48.9 yards on 45 punts; the Falcons' Matt Bosher is averaging 37.1 yards on 27 punts ... Montana, which will try to make it 14 straight wins over Northern Arizona on Saturday in Flagstaff, Ariz., is a third-quarter team. The No. 12 Grizzlies (5-2) have outscored opponents by 53 in the third and been outscored by 10 in the other three quarters ... A victory over Davidson would give Jacksonville (5-2, 4-0) a record 16th straight win in the Pioneer Football League. San Diego also won 15 straight PFL games from 2005-07. Wonder if Jim Schwartz was trying to congratulate Jim Harbaugh about that fact this past Sunday ... All five Great West teams have a positive turnover margin. No other FCS conference can claim this, although each has more teams than the Great West ... Few football teams, if any, have caught the injury bug like Colgate. The Patriot League squad has watched injuries strike 14 starters on offense, eight on defense and seven on special teams. For Saturday's visit to Georgetown, the Raiders (4-3, 0-1) expect to have back senior All-America running back Nate Eachus (concussion) and hope to get back sophomore quarterback Gavin McCarney (shoulder). Georgetown (5-2, 1-1), 0-8 all-time against Colgate, needs one win in its final four games to secure a winning season for the first time since going 9-2 in 1999, when the Hoyas played in the MAAC ... Two of the Ivy League's three 2-0 teams will meet in Philadelphia when Penn hosts Yale. The Quakers have won 17 straight league games and haven't allowed an opening drive touchdown in their last 28 games. Yale, like Penn is 3-2 overall, but has lost its two roads games ... Samford's Fabian Truss leads the FCS in all-purpose yardage (209.2 ypg). The Bulldogs take their shot at Appalachian State on Saturday in Boone, N.C. ... Speaking of App State, senior wide receiver Brian Quick is one touchdown reception away from becoming the sole leader in school history. He is tied with Bob Agle (1965-68) for the school's all-time lead at 25 ... Eastern Illinois (1-6, 0-5 Ohio Valley Conference) will hold its homecoming on Saturday against UT Martin (3-3, 0-2). The Panthers have only one other home game - Nov. 5 versus Tennessee State - as longtime head coach Bob Spoo nears retirement ... No. 10 Jacksonville State (5-1) will try to make it two straight wins over an SEC opponent when it visits Kentucky. The Gamecocks opened last season with a 49-48 double-overtime win over Ole Miss ... Coming up Little, er, big: Sacred Heart sophomore quarterback Tim Little faced the tough task of replacing Dale Fink, the Northeast Conference's all- time leading passer, this season. After back-to-back 300-yard games, Little leads the conference in passing yards per game (215.3). The Pioneers (4-2, 2-1) have matched last season's win total with five games remaining ... Thursday's Bethune-Cookman at Norfolk State game matches the MEAC's No. 1 scoring offense (Bethune-Cookman, 31.8 ppg) against the conference's No. 1 scoring defense (Norfolk State, 18.4 ppg). MEAC leader Norfolk State (6-1, 4-0) holds a half-game lead over North Carolina A&T (4-2, 3-0), which begins a four-game road swing on Saturday at Howard, followed by a trip to Norfolk State on Oct. 29 ... In a terrific season for linebackers in the MEAC, South Carolina State has two of the best in senior Donovan Richard and sophomore Joe Thomas ... Even after three straight losses, Texas Southern (2-4) leads the FCS in total defense (247.7 ypg). But the scoring defense (29.2 ppg) is a mere 84th, 87th if you include reclassifying/provisional teams.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 53-9 (.855)
Season Record: 374-104 (.782)
All Times EST
Thursday, Oct. 20
Bethune-Cookman (3-3, 1-2 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (6-1, 4-0), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 22
Wagner (1-5, 1-2 NEC) at X-Duquesne (5-2, 3-1), noon
X-Yale (3-2, 2-0 Ivy) at Penn (3-2, 2-0), noon
X-Albany (4-2, 3-0 NEC) at Central Connecticut State (2-5, 1-3), noon
X-Bryant (4-3, 2-2 NEC) at Robert Morris (2-4, 2-1), noon
No. 11 Jacksonville State (5-1) at X-Kentucky (2-4), noon
X-No. 9 Delaware (4-3, 2-2 CAA) at Rhode Island (1-5, 0-3), 12:30 p.m.
X-Brown (4-1, 1-1 Ivy) at Cornell (2-3, 0-2), 12:30 p.m.
Princeton (1-4, 1-1 Ivy) at X-Harvard (4-1, 2-0), 1 p.m.
Marist (2-5, 1-3 PFL) at X-Butler (4-3, 2-2), 1 p.m.
X-San Diego (6-1, 4-0 PFL) at Campbell (3-3, 2-2), 1 p.m.
Fordham (1-5) at X-Lafayette (2-4), 1 p.m.
Davidson (2-4, 0-3 PFL) at X-Jacksonville (5-2, 4-0), 1 p.m.
X-Dayton (4-3, 2-2 PFL) at Morehead State (2-5, 1-3), 1 p.m.
X-Monmouth (3-3, 2-1 NEC) at Sacred Heart (4-2, 2-1), 1 p.m.
Holy Cross (3-3, 1-0 PFL) at X-Bucknell (4-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.
X-North Carolina A&T (4-2, 3-0 MEAC) at Howard (3-4, 2-2), 1 p.m.
X-Liberty (4-3, 2-0 Big South) at Charleston Southern (0-6, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.
Florida A&M (4-3, 2-2 MEAC) at X-South Carolina State (4-3, 3-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-Stony Brook (3-3, 1-0 Big South) at VMI (1-5, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
Columbia (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) at X-Dartmouth (1-4, 0-2), 1:30 p.m.
X-Colgate (4-3, 1-1 Patriot) at Georgetown (5-2, 1-1), 2:00 p.m.
Austin Peay (2-4, 2-2 OVC) at X-Southeast Missouri State (1-5, 1-3), 2 p.m.
Cal Poly (3-3, 1-0 Great West) at X-No. 23 North Dakota (4-2, 1-0), 2 p.m.
X-No. 5 Wofford (5-1, 3-0 SoCon) at Furman (3-3, 2-2), 2 p.m.
Presbyterian (2-4) at X-No. 1 Georgia Southern (6-0), 2 p.m.
Valparaiso (0-6, 0-3 PFL) at X-Drake (5-2, 3-1), 2 p.m.
North Carolina Central (1-5, 0-3 MEAC) at X-Hampton (3-3, 1-2), 2 p.m.
No. 21 Indiana State (5-2, 3-1 MVFC) at X-Illinois State (4-3, 2-2), 2 p.m.
UT Martin (3-3, 2-2 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (1-6, 0-5), 2:30 p.m.
X-South Alabama (4-2) at Georgia State (1-5), 3 p.m.
Concordia, Ala. (4-3) at X-Alcorn State (1-4), 3 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (0-7, 0-6 SWAC) at X-Grambling State (2-4, 1-3), 3 p.m.
X-The Citadel (2-4, 1-4 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4), 3 p.m.
Central State (0-6) at X-Texas Southern (2-4), 3 p.m.
Tennessee State (3-4, 2-2 OVC) at X-Eastern Kentucky (3-3, 2-1), 3 p.m.
X-No. 4 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0 MVFC) at South Dakota State (2-5, 1-3), 3 p.m.
Samford (4-2, 2-2 SoCon) at X-No. 7 Appalachian State (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 6 New Hampshire (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at Massachusetts (4-2, 0-0) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass, 3:30 p.m.
No. 12 Maine (5-1, 3-0 CAA) at X-No. 20 Richmond (3-3, 0-3), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 18 Old Dominion (5-2, 2-2 CAA) at Villanova (1-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m.
No. 17 Towson (5-1, 3-0 CAA) at X-No. 16 William & Mary (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 3 Montana State (6-1, 4-0 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (0-7, 0-5), 3:35 p.m.
X-Central Arkansas (4-3, 3-1 Southland) at Lamar (3-3, 1-1), 4 p.m.
Southern Illinois (2-4, 1-3 MVFC) at X-No. 2 Northern Iowa (5-1, 4-0), 4 p.m.
St. Francis, Pa. (1-6) at X-Youngstown State (3-3), 4 p.m.
UC Davis (2-4, 0-0 Great West) at X-No. 15 South Dakota (4-3, 1-0), 5 p.m.
Southern Utah (3-4) at X-Weber State (3-3), 6 p.m.
X-No. 14 Montana (5-2, 4-1 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (2-4, 1-3), 6:05 p.m.
X-Stephen F. Austin (1-5, 0-2 Southland) at Nicholls State (1-6, 0-3), 6:30 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (1-5, 0-2 Big South) at X-Coastal Carolina (4-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.
Missouri State (0-7, 0-4 MVFC) at X-Western Illinois (2-4, 1-2), 7 p.m.
X-No. 10 Sam Houston State (6-0, 3-0 Southland) at No. 22 McNeese State (3-3, 2-1), 8 p.m.
X-Texas State (5-2) at Southeastern Louisiana (1-5), 8 p.m.
Willamette (3-3) at X-Portland State (3-3), 8:05 p.m.
Eastern Washington (3-4, 3-2 Big Sky) at X-Sacramento State (3-3, 2-2), 9:05 p.m.