Coming off a 2014 season in which the national championship game featured two members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference — Illinois State and four-time reigning champion North Dakota State — small wonder the preseason STATS FCS All-American is heavy on MVFC representation.
Five 1st Team FCS All-American nominees hail from the Missouri Valley: Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich; Indiana State linebacker Connor Underwood; South Dakota State wide receiver Jake Wieneke, and North Dakota State offensive lineman Joe Haeg and punter Ben LeCompte. In pursuit of its fifth straight national championship, North Dakota State has a fitting five All-Americans nominated in total.
Just prior to North Dakota State’s reign of dominance, the Colonial Athletic Association started to build a reputation as the SEC of the SEC. The CAA featured 2008 national champion Richmond, 2009 title-winner Villanova and 2010 runner-up Delaware. Villanova’s hope of reclaiming the FCS championship was derailed during last year’s Playoffs, when Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending concussion.
Robertson is back, however, and headlines the FCS All-American team at quarterback. Robertson’s 2014 statistics were otherworldly: 2,864 yards passing with 35 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and 1,078 with 11 touchdowns on the ground. Robertson, who also won the 2012 Jerry Rice Award as the nation’s premier freshman, has broken 1,000 yards passing and rushing each of the last three seasons.
To call the CAA, which Villanova won last year, the FCS SEC is a bit of misnomer. For one thing, the CAA’s collection of quarterbacks is more impressive (kidding, before you crush the comments section).
James Madison quarterback Vad Lee started his college career down South, albeit in the ACC as the starter at Georgia Tech. Lee transferred to JMU and has flourished with the Dukes, coming off a 2014 in which he threw for 3,462 yards and 30 touchdowns, to go with 826 and nine rushing. He was a 2014 Walter Payton Award finalist, and heads into 2015 a STATS FCS All-American.
MVFC and CAA representation on the All-American roster is to be expected. However, both the Patriot League and Pioneer Football League — the only non-scholarship FCS conferences to participate in the Playoffs — also have 1st Team honorees.
Fordham’s Chase Edmonds was a resounding choice for the 2014 Jerry Rice Award, exploding for 1,838 yards and 23 touchdowns in the Rams’ 11-win, Playoff season. He’s a 1st Team FCS All-American at running back — though he’s also got the playmaking ability to make a case for inclusion on special teams.
This touchdown run against Villanova was called back, but it’s still quite impressive.
Representing the Pioneer Football League is Stetson safety Donald Payne, a 2014 All-American who last season, forced six turnovers (four interceptions and two fumbles) and recorded 185 tackles. That’s no typo: 185 tackles.
Stetson is entering just its third season of competition, so landing a player on the FCS All-American 1st Team is a landmark milestone.
For the entire STATS FCS All-American team, read Craig Haley’s roundup.