There are so many excellent candidates across the subdivision
There are plenty of right choices and few wrong ones when making final selections for the top individual awards in FCS college football.
After laying out a case for the Walter Payton (offensive), Buck Buchanan (defensive), Jerry Rice (freshman), and Eddie Robinson (coach) awards in the preseason, there are even more good choices today. You make a list, then reorder some choices and feel just as comfortable.
Quite simply, there's so much talent on the field and the sideline at the nation's 126 FCS programs.
Over 150 people vote for the four awards. The Rice and Robinson winners are expected to be announced later this month and the Payton and Buchanan winners will follow next month during the week of the FCS championship game.
Following is one writer's ballot (a top 5 for each award):
Walter Payton Award
1. Kevin Thomson, QB, Sacramento State
In a 15-day span of wins over Eastern Washington, Montana State, and Montana, the Big Sky offensive player of the year accounted for 1,104 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns.
2. Daniel Smith, QB, Villanova
The Campbell grad transfer accounted for 48 TDs (passing, rushing and receiving) in 13 games, including multiple scores in each one.
3. Chris Rowland, WR/RS, Tennessee State
The 104 receptions, 1,437 receiving yards and eight TD catches are impressive enough, but the Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year also scored on a carry, kickoff return, and punt return, averaging nearly 176 all-purpose yards per outing.
4. Kenji Bahar, QB, Monmouth
You know he's special (3,511 passing yards and 29 TDs) when Bahar beat out teammate Pete Guerriero, the FCS rushing leader, for Big South offensive player of the year.
5. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Payton has been awarded since 1987 and there's never been a freshman winner, but the Missouri Valley Conference offensive player of the year is in the mix, having thrown for 23 touchdowns and no interceptions with 10 more rushing scores.
Buck Buchanan Award
1. Sully Laiche, DE, Nicholls
Saving his best for the stretch run of Nicholls' second straight co-championship, the FCS' active career sack leader — 21.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks as a senior — is the first defensive player to earn the conference's overall player of the year since 2007.
2. Dante Olson, LB, Montana
Eight games with double-figure tackles have helped the Big Sky co-defensive player of the year to an FCS-high 152 stops.
3. Ron'Dell Carter, DE, James Madison
There were plenty of elite JMU players to fill the box score, but the CAA defensive player of the year still racked up 22.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, and 10 QB hurries in the regular season.
4. Jeremy Chinn, SS, Southern Illinois
So often the best player on the field and the Senior Bowl's most-coveted FCS prospect had 51 solos among 71 tackles, four interceptions and a fumble recovery.
5. Brandon Easterling, SS, Dayton
How's this for eye-catching statistics: 140 tackles, including 82 solos, six interceptions, four breakups, and three fumble recoveries in 11 games.
Jerry Rice Award
1. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Talk about a seamless transition: All the redshirt freshman has done is follow the all-time winningest FCS quarterback (Easton Stick). Lance is the national leader in passing efficiency (187.5), ranks second in completion percentage (68.9), and has 2,928 yards of total offense, which is second-best among freshmen.
2. Jeff Undercuffler, QB, UAlbany
Adding in the first round of the playoffs, the CAA offensive rookie of the year is up to 39 TD passes, an FCS single-season record by a freshman.
3. Keegan Shoemaker, QB, Lafayette
The Leopards' offensive line was subpar, but they still finished second behind the Patriot League's freshman of the year, who had 2,893 yards of total offense and 17 total TDs while completing 60 percent of his passes.
4. Javon Williams Jr., RB, Southern Illinois
Tough to tackle at 6-foot-1, 239 pounds, Williams rushed for 1,038 yards and 17 TDs, caught two TDs and passed for two more.
5. Hajj-Malik Williams, QB, Campbell
The Big South's offensive freshman of the year accounted for 2,706 yards of total offense and 26 total TDs.
Eddie Robinson Award
1. Troy Taylor, Sacramento State
In his first season as a head coach, the Hornets are the most improved FCS team — going from 2-8 to 9-3 — while earning a share of their first Big Sky title and advancing to the FCS playoffs for the first time as a No. 4 seed.
2. Bernard Clark Jr., Robert Morris
The Colonials entered the season with 14 consecutive losses in the Northeast Conference, plus 18 in a row on the road and 17 straight against Division I competition, then went 7-5 overall and finished second with a 6-1 conference mark.
3. Dale Lindsey, San Diego
The Toreros went 8-0 in the Pioneer League for the fourth straight season and increased their league winning streak to 37 straight games.
4. Mark Hudspeth, Austin Peay
Former Governors head coach Will Healy won the 2017 Robinson Award, but Hudspeth has taken the program to an even higher level in his first season: a share of its first OVC title since 1977, a first-ever playoff bid, and 10 wins for the first time.
5. Matt Entz, North Dakota State
An unbeaten regular season (12-0) is not new with the FCS dynasty, but Entz did so with only seven returning starters in his first season.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of NDSU Athletics)