The 2019 FCS legacy awards have been voted upon this past week … in fact, they're due today (Monday – Dec. 2). I voted Sunday, and you all know I don't vote on anything FCS without showing my ballot and explaining why I chose what I did. So like my weekly poll ballot this year? I'm going full disclosure with my legacy award votes. You all as diehard fans deserve to know why, so I'll give you my explanation.
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JERRY RICE AWARD (TOP FCS FRESHMAN)
EXPLANATION: This is a 100-percent lead pipe, dead-pan, bank-vault lock for Trey Lance (and you'll see why below as we discuss him further in an award that may be a tad bit more controversial). My sympathies go to Jeff Undercuffler, an extremely talented redshirt freshman from Albany who not only has owned things this year and has a wonderful career ahead of him, he also has the Great Danes in the second round of the playoffs. And how can we ignore Javon Williams at SIU … he was one of the big reasons the Salukis should have made the playoffs as an at-large team. So much freshman talent … but Lance is a no-brainer and will win this hands down. In past years? It was never this clear cut.
1. Trey Lance, QB, NDSU
2. Jeff Undercuffler, QB, Albany
3. Javon Williams, RB, Southern Illinois
4. John Bachus III, QB, UT Martin
5. Nick Eaton, LB, UC Davis
OTHERS I WOULD HAVE VOTED ON: UNI's QB, Will McElvain, wasn't on the ballot but should have been. He has now thrown for 2,540 yards with 20 TDs and 6 INTs, while gaining (not netting) 555 yards rushing. And Sam Houston State DL Jevon Leon posted 16 tackles for loss and had 8.5 sacks this year. I would have put them No. 4 and No. 5, no slight to Bachus and Eaton who both were incredible this year.
EDDIE ROBINSON AWARD (TOP FCS COACH)
EXPLANATION: No JMU? No NDSU? Obviously I have a ton of respect for both programs, and both have built themselves up to being FCS monsters. And this philosophical question comes up every single year … why is NDSU's head coach not winning this every year?
Both will get votes — as Coach Entz at NDSU is a first-year guy who has never been a head coach before and took a young group to this point. And Coach Cignetti at JMU is also a 1st year coach with the Dukes who had to immediately build his own brand of "culture". I get all of that and my guess is both will get a lot of love in the voting for this. But my take for the Eddie Robinson vote will always go with the guy who had to build things from scratch more than most, and how can you not do that with Troy Taylor at Sac. State? The program was 2-8 and fired their coach last year. This isn't NDSU or JMU where their departing coaches were hired for FBS jobs because of success, this was the bottom of the Big Sky Conference, and Taylor — an accomplished P5 assistant coach — assembled a stellar staff and got this team to the point where it shared a conference title and got a first-round bye. Wow. My "1B" vote would be Mark Hudspeth at Austin Peay … the Governors are now at a school-record (by 2 wins by the way) 10 total wins, a conference title — first in 42 years, you name it, it's happening. Both of these gentlemen deserve honors this year. I'd love to see Troy and Mark be co-coaches of the year for the FCS Eddie Robinson Award.
1. Troy Taylor, Sacramento State
2. Mark Hudspeth, Austin Peay
3. Nathan Brown, Central Arkansas
4. Kevin Callahan, Monmouth
5. Scott Wachenheim, VMI
OTHERS I WOULD HAVE VOTED ON: My No. 5 pick is tough, because I put Coach Wach at VMI and Coach Shealy at Houston Baptist and Coach Dewayne Alexander in kind of the same category this year. All three rallied 1-win teams from 2018 to be "in the mix" in their conferences this year. I would have given my No. 5 vote to Dewayne Alexander at Tennessee Tech for going 7-5 with the first winning season in years at the school after a 1-10 record last year. Coach Alexander is really building something.
BUCK BUCHANAN AWARD (TOP FCS DEF. PLAYER)
EXPLANATION: This award is a true b**ch to vote for this year, but I'm siding with the monster D-linemen this time around. Who would you go with? The top DBs like Elon's Greg Liggs and SIU's Jeremy Chinn because of their INT exploits … and what about the monster at LB for Christian Rozeboom at South Dakota State? Goodness gracious. He's only the career tackle leader among current FCS players. But this award, this year, is about — THIS year. And that's where you have to get specific. Ron'Dell Carter has been an absolute beast on the D-line for the Dukes, and he splits the spoils with another legit candidate for this award — John Daka. Carter kicked off the seasons with 2 TFLs against West Virginia and never looked back, racking up 22.5 TFLs and 10 hurries … and he's still playing. And probably will continue to play deep into December, and he'll continue to be needed more greatly than he has in the regular season. The truth is? Good defensive linemen are the hardest commodity in the FCS to find … and the Dukes have two soon-to-be All-Americans crushing the opposition. It's tough to have a returning Buck Buchanan superstar like Zach Hall not in my No. 1 spot, especially after meeting the young man in July (great guy) and watching him stuff the opposition all fall … but when your D-line dominates like this, it's worthy of note.
1. Ron'dell Carter, DL, James Madison
2. Dante Olson, LB, Montana
3. Zach Hall, LB, SEMO
4. John Daka, DL, James Madison
5. Sully Laiche, DL, Nicholls
WALTER PAYTON AWARD (TOP FCS OFF. PLAYER)
EXPLANATION: This is where you have to ditch the politics and just be honest, folks. North Dakota State has gone from "rebuilding and questions" to very confident and almost "seasoned" looking, and the biggest reason is this guy — Trey Lance. He's the nation's leader in passing efficiency, he's rushed for nearly 800 yards and 10 TDs and he's not an option quarterback … he's thrown 23 TDs and get this (for a freshman) … he has thrown ZERO interceptions. Now, has his production dipped a tad when he's played teams that have challenged NDSU the most? Yes. Has he lost any of those games? NOPE. When Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt-freshman in 2012 and Tim Tebow won the Heisman as a sophomore in 2007 … people screamed and yelled because it broke political precedent. "It's a senior award!" Well, I'm not so sure the FCS has political precedent with this … just pick the right kid, right? I looked at this very hard with James Robinson at Illinois State. Let's face it … James carried the Redbirds on his back this weekend to win on the road in the playoffs, and he's a 4,000-yard career back and a future NFL Draft Pick. He's outstanding, but I think Lance nips him in terms of importance to team. And that's what this should be about … Last year? Devlin Hodges should have (and did) won it over Easton Stick, sorry folks. Devlin was a monster QB at Samford and scared the living daylights off of ACC and SEC teams annually. He led Samford to the playoffs too, and he broke all kinds of records. Everybody knew what Devlin was going to do, and he still did it. His Samford team wasn't NDSU level, but he still deserved the Walter Payton Award — and now the Pittsburgh Steelers love the guy. But the right thing to do this year? Go with the freshman.
1. Trey Lance, QB, NDSU
2. James Robinson, RB, Illinois State
3. Eric Barriere, QB, Eastern Washington
4. Case Cookus, QB, Northern Arizona
5. Pete Guerriero, RB, Monmouth;
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