Players to watch for Payton, Buchanan awards
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - Scaling down a preseason list of possible candidates for the FCS legacy awards is difficult in a normal season, let alone with all the uncertainty heading into the spring season.
Quite simply, it's not going to be an apples-to-oranges kind of spring season.
So many All-Americans departed for FBS programs or NFL training and over a quarter of the 127 schools have opted out of playing in their spring conference schedule. Plus, the number of games among spring participants will vary greatly from conference to conference.
Below are key returning players who have the potential to be in the mix for the Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year, first awarded in 1987) and the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year, first awarded in 1995)
The other FCS legacy awards are the Eddie Robinson (FCS coach), Jerry Rice (FCS freshman) and Doris Robinson (FCS scholar-athlete). All five are presented by Stats Perform.
WALTER PAYTON AWARD
The Payton, won by the likes of Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Brian Westbrook, Jimmy Garoppolo, Cooper Kupp and, most recently, Trey Lance, has gone to a quarterback in 15 of the last 16 seasons, which must be welcome news to 2019 finalists Eric Barriere of Eastern Washington and Daniel Smith of Villanova. Barriere is the nation's leading returnee in total offense, while Smith paced all FCS signal callers in total touchdowns, even catching one in his 48 overall.
Two FCS record-setters who also should be in the picture: Albany's Jeff Undercuffler set the freshman record with 41 touchdown passes and VMI's Reece Udinski threw 368 passes without an interception to open the 2019 season.
Running backs used to win the Payton more often than quarterbacks. There are plenty of good ones this spring, including Percy Agyei-Obese of James Madison, Josh Davis of Weber State, Karl Mofor of Albany, Pierre Strong Jr. of South Dakota State, Devin Wynn of Furman and, maybe as a sophomore dark horse, Javon Williams Jr. of Southern Illinois. Davis was the 2018 Jerry Rice Award recipient.
Teams may seek to run the ball more often with the spring season starting in the winter, but those that play in a dome can keep the passes coming. Christian Watson of three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State and Isaiah Weston of Northern Iowa are big-play wide receivers to keep a close eye on.
BUCK BUCHANAN AWARD
Past Buchanan Award recipients to go on to NFL careers include Dexter Coakley, Rashean Mathis, Jared Allen, Arthur Moats and Kyle Emanuel. Defensive end and linebacker have provided the most recipients.
The Citadel linebacker Willie Eubanks III, a 2019 finalist, got a jump on the competition by playing well during fall nonconference games. Other returning finalists are Kennesaw State linebacker Bryson Armstrong, the 2017 Jerry Rice Award recipient, and Austin Peay nickel back Kordell Jackson, a 2019 consensus All-American.
The Buchanan tends to be wide open, however, and defensive linemen Mike Greene of James Madison, Trace Mascorro of Sam Houston, Nick Salley of Charleston Southern and Kobie Turner of Richmond, and linebackers Keonte Hampton of Jackson State and Jackson Hankey of North Dakota State are among the nation's top returnees. Hampton, who was the 2019 SWAC defensive player of the year as a sophomore, gets a boost from the national attention on Jackson State and its first-year coach, Deion Sanders.
Southeastern Louisiana's Ferlando Jordan joins Jackson as a top returning defensive back. He was one of two players to have an FCS-leading three interception returns for touchdowns in 2019.
Updated February 17, 2021