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Eddie Robinson Award candidates are obvious

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Whenever I am asked about which players should be considered favorites to win the Walter Payton and Buck Buchanan awards, I start with disclaimers.

I say I don't want to influence voters because The Sports Network oversees and presents the major individual awards in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Payton goes to the nation's outstanding player, while the Buchanan is for the outstanding defensive player, and both awards are sponsored by Fathead.com.

I never fail to give my opinion on the awards, however, because I add to my disclaimers that I won't ignore the obvious of who is having outstanding seasons.

Our diverse panel of voters, who vote weekly in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, have confirmed to me that opinions vary greatly, so my disclaimers probably can be tempered.

Thus, I find it a good idea to provide my favorites for the Eddie Robinson Award, the other Fathead.com-sponsored award which is bestowed on the FCS coach of the year. Unlike the Payton and Buchanan, the Robinson Award doesn't have a Watch List for fans to follow along. Its list of 20 finalists will be announced on Nov. 22 following consultation with the conferences.

Voters will give their top five selections with all three awards. How they make their Robinson selections may come from countless ideas, including a program's improvement from 2009, a championship season or general program excellence. How a voter makes a selection is his or her prerogative.

Brian Jenkins and Bethune-Cookman are closing in on the MEAC title.
My favorites for the Robinson Award heading into the final two weekends of the regular season (in no particular order):

Delaware's K.C. Keeler - The ninth-year coach has gone from drawing the ire of the rabid Blue Hens' fans to positioning the team for a possible CAA Football championship and FCS title run. After finishing 6-5 last season, the No. 5-ranked Blue Hens are 8-1, with only a one-point loss to William & Mary.

Bethune-Cookman's Brian Jenkins - In his first season, Jenkins has brought national attention to the MEAC school by implementing the "Speedway O" no-huddle spread offense that has been among the highest-scoring in the FCS all season. At 9-0, the No. 11 Wildcats are the FCS' only unbeaten team, and they are closing in on the MEAC title. They finished 5-6 last season.

Indiana State's Trent Miles - Despite suffering their first home loss of the season on Saturday to Missouri Valley Football Conference leader Northern Iowa, the Sycamores are a surprising 5-4. All you need to know about that record is they lost 60 of their prior 62 games heading into the season. Miles has provided them with respectability in his third season.

Western Illinois' Mark Hendrickson - In another surprising story out of the MVFC, the No. 24 Leathernecks are 6-3 after finishing 1-10 last season, which included a loss to Indiana State. Hendrickson is their former offensive coordinator who also served as acting head coach over parts of the 2008 and '09 season because of former head coach Don Patterson's health concerns. Hendrickson has the Leathernecks in contention for the conference title.

Southeast Missouri State's Tony Samuel - The Redhawks already are among the most improved teams in Division I history, but they want to accomplish so much more. A mere 2-9 last season, the No. 9 Redhawks will take a 9-1 record to Jacksonville State next Saturday with a chance to wrap up the Ohio Valley Conference's outright title and automatic FCS playoff bid. Samuel had entered his fifth season in Cape Girardeau with only a 13-32 record.

Grambling State's Rod Broadway - You think of Grambling State first when you talk about SWAC teams, but there was reasonable concern about the Tigers dropping off after they lost several key players in the preseason. Broadway, in his third season, has prevented that and helped the No. 21-ranked team go 8-1 and surpass last year's seven wins. The big season includes a 7-0 mark in conference games.

Northwestern State's Bradley Dale Peveto - His enthusiastic style has helped the Demons overcome his 0-11 debut season of a year ago. They are 5-4 overall and have won four straight games in the Southland Conference to move into a three-way tie for first place.

Wofford's Mike Ayers - The Terriers have rebounded from the worst season under their 23rd-year head coach. They were 3-8 last season, including 2-6 in the Southern Conference. Now the nation's No. 7-ranked squad is 8-1 and heads to Appalachian State next Saturday with a chance to win the SoCon title and the conference's automatic playoff bid.

I won't name 20 candidates, but here are some other head coaches who belong in the Robinson Award conversation: Montana State's Rob Ash, whose Big Sky co- leaders are 8-2; Southern Utah's Ed Lamb, who has led the Thunderbirds (6-4 against a tough schedule) to their first Great West championship; Penn's Al Bagnoli, whose terrific program is overcoming a player's suicide in April with a 7-1 season and another possible Ivy League title; Robert Morris' Joe Walton, whose 8-1 squad has clinched the Northeast Conference's first-ever automatic playoff bid in addition to at least a share of its title; Jacksonville State's Jack Crowe, whose Gamecocks are 8-1 and have reached as high as the No. 2 ranking in the nation; and Lehigh's Andy Coen, who has responded to talk of his job possibly being on the line with a 7-2 season and likely Patriot League title.

WILL THE GREAT TEAMS PLEASE STAND UP

This season has been so wild at every turn that you can now say it's as easy as 1, 2, 3.

As in the No. 1-, 2- and 3-ranked teams losing in an incredible scenario on Saturday.

No. 1 Appalachian State usually finds it tough going when it visits Georgia Southern and had its 26-game Southern Conference winning streak end in overtime, 21-14. No. 2 Jacksonville State also had its unbeaten season - and the FCS' longest winning streak at 12 - end at Eastern Kentucky, 49-37. No. 3 Villanova, the defending FCS champion, also ran into a roadblock, falling 17-14 at Rhode Island.

Just who is No. 1? William & Mary (7-2, 5-1), which entered the weekend fourth and then won a Top 10 showdown at New Hampshire, would seem to be the likely candidate when The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 comes out Monday afternoon.

Good thing there's an FCS playoff system to separate all the teams.

AROUND THE NATION

Bethune-Cookman trailed for the first time in the second half this season, but rallied past Hampton, 23-18, on Saturday, remaining the only unbeaten FCS team at 9-0. Isidore Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter providing the winning score ... As the Big South plays toward its first-ever automatic playoff bid, Coastal Carolina (4-5, 3-1) remains a factor behind Liberty and Stony Brook, which are both 4-0 heading into the final two weekends of the regular season. The Chanticleers host Liberty next Saturday, with quarterback Zach MacDowall coming off a 31-3 win over VMI in which he completed 16 straight passes at one point ... Massachusetts (6-3, 4-2) remained in the playoff hunt with a 39-24 win over Maine. Junior linebacker Tyler Holmes became the first Minuteman to return two interceptions for touchdowns in a game, traveling 18 and 50 yards ... Super sophomore linebacker Matt Evans had 20 tackles in New Hampshire's 13-3 loss to William & Mary ... Henry Harris rushed for an FCS season-high 293 yards as Southeast Missouri State throttled Southwest Baptiste, 40-14. Harris broke the Redhawks' game record for rushing yards as well as their single-season marks for rushing yards (1,493) and all-purpose yards (2,192) ... From the big play department, Eastern Kentucky sophomore wide receiver Orlandus Harris totaled 205 yards and two touchdowns on only four receptions in the Colonels' 49-37 upset of No. 2 Jacksonville State in the OVC ... From the tough to do department, Murray State's Mike Harris had a 94-yard rush and didn't score on it in a 44-13 win over Tennessee Tech. Harris was stopped at the Golden Eagles' 1-yard line. He finished with 242 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries ... Texas Southern's Arvell Nelson became the third quarterback to complete a 95-yard pass this season, connecting with Kirk Fitzhugh in a 54-7 romp at Southern ... South Dakota didn't have an answer for Cal Poly's Mark Rodgers. In Cal Poly's 38-24 road win, the junior slotback rushed for 235 yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries, and returned three kickoffs for 93 yards ... The lead exchanged six times before Dayton topped rival Drake, 31-25, in the Pioneer Football League. With Dayton trailing 25-24, quarterback Steve Valentino escaped a sack and threw a 37-yard jump ball that Luke Bellman came down with (pinned to his helmet) in the back of the Bulldogs' end zone with one second remaining ... How's this for another incredible way to win a game? With Illinois State trailing Youngstown State, 39-35, quarterback Matt Brown connected on a 33-yard pass to Marvin Sanders to the Youngstown State 40 with eight seconds left, then threw a game-winning, 40-yard touchdown pass to Tyrone Walker with one second left. Illinois State improved to 5-4 with the 41-39 victory ... Weber State's playoff hopes ended with a 24-10 loss at Montana State, and senior quarterback Cameron Higgins left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. He did not throw a touchdown pass and remained in a three-way tie for the Big Sky's all-time record with 96 ... Quarterback Josh Boudreaux accounted for seven touchdowns - five passing and two rushing - as Arkansas-Pine Bluff beat Mississippi Valley State, 49-20, in the SWAC. In their loss, the Delta Devils (0-9) committed 13 penalties for a whopping 177 yards ... Charles Bay's three sacks were among the 10 that Dartmouth inflicted on Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews in a 28-10 win ... Wagner's Walt Hameline became the eighth active FCS head coach with 200 wins when the Seahawks downed Monmouth, 31-20 ... First-year program Georgia State clinched a winning season with a 23-17 win over Lamar. The Panthers, behind quarterback Drew Little's terrific lead, will take a 6-4 record into their season finale at the University of Alabama on Nov. 18.

SNEAK PEEK

What's big anymore is hard to tell after this upset-filled weekend. Can we cover overselves and say all of next weekend's games are big?

Despite their losses, next Saturday's games involving Appalachian State and Jacksonville State should be a pair of Top 10 battles, and both of those teams will play at home with the chance to regain the inside track to their conference's automatic playoff bids. App State (8-1, 6-1) will host Wofford (8-1, 6-0) in the SoCon, while Jack State (8-1, 5-1) will host Southeast Missouri State (9-1, 7-0) in the OVC.

The week kicks off Thursday with Grambling State (8-1, 8-0) visiting Texas Southern (6-3, 6-1) in a SWAC showdown which will help determine the West Division representative in the conference's championship game.

Other pivotal games on Saturday include Delaware (8-1, 5-1) at Massachusetts (6-3, 4-2), likely No. 1 William & Mary (7-2, 5-1) at James Madison (4-5, 1-5), and New Hampshire (5-4, 4-3) at Villanova (6-3, 4-2) in the CAA; Lehigh (7-2, 3-0) primed to wrap up an outright Patriot League title at Georgetown (3-6, 2-2); Liberty (7-2, 4-0) at Coastal Carolina (4-5, 3-1) in the Big South; and Harvard (6-2, 4-1) at Penn (7-1, 5-0) in the Ivy League.

There's also Western Illinois (6-3, 4-2) at Southern Illinois (3-6, 2-4) and Missouri State (4-5, 3-3) at Northern Iowa (6-3, 5-1) in the Missouri Valley Conference; North Dakota (3-6) at Montana (6-3) in a must-win non-conference game for the host Grizzlies; Hampton (5-4, 4-2) at Florida A&M (6-3, 5-1) in the MEAC; Jackson State (6-3, 4-3) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (5-4, 4-3) in the SWAC; and Southern Utah (6-4) at Eastern Washington (7-2) in a terrific non- conference matchup.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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Breaking The Line
by Samuel G. Freedman
Samuel G. Freedman's "Breaking The Line" vividly recreates the world of black college football in the civil rights era with a gripping chronicle of the 1967 season for coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State and Alonzo S. "Jake" Gaither at Florida A&M.
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