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November 29, 2011

Award criteria kept Powell off Ray Guy list

It's difficult to examine Shawn Powell's body of work in 2011 and figure he's not among the 10 best punters in the country. Not only has Powell been an integral, field-flipping part of Florida State's effort this season, he also leads the nation in punting average (47 avg.) and net punting (42 avg).

There was surprise and disappointment from Powell and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher when Powell was not even named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award on Nov. 11. The Guy Award is given to the nation's top punter each season.

"The guy is probably our team MVP," Fisher said following the win against Florida on Saturday. "When you go right down to it, you could argue him to be the MVP ... The guy is invaluable. He really is."

According to the Augusta Sports Council, which hands out the Ray Guy Award each season, Powell's omission was due to Powell's ranking in specific statistics at the time the committee was required to make decisions on semifinalists.

"The Ray Guy Award is based on certain criteria," said Brinsley Thigpen, CEO of the Augusta Sports Council. "The NCAA ranking is based on the gross average, and we don't look at that."

Powell expressed his disappointment in the snub following the Miami game on Nov. 12.

"I had some setbacks, but I let those things go past me with the Ray Guy thing," Powell said. "I just have to do what's best for my team and if I can continue to contribute for my team then that's all that matters."

Thigpen says that the Ray Guy Award looks at four main criteria: The percentage of punts not returned, average return yardage, the net punting average and number of punts downed or kicked out of bounds inside the opponent's 20. Those criteria are ones that Guy specifically asked to be included in the selection of the award winner.

According to Thigpen, when it was time to select the 10 semifinalists (based on stats through Nov. 5) Powell was ranked 30th in percentage of punts not returned, 31st in average return yardage, 16th in net punting average and 10th in punts down or kicked out of bounds inside the 20. All stats are provided to the Augusta Sports Council by each team's sports information department.

"Looking at all of those statistics together, he did not make our semifinalist list," Thigpen said. "We don't say, 'Oh, he's really great at one so he's going to make the finalists.' We have to look at all four of those and break down the stats based on that."

Thigpen says that the accelerated timeline for selection of semifinalists and finalists is driven by ESPN and the National College Football Awards Association, which wants winners picked in time for its awards show on Dec. 8.

"We're bound by those timelines to do it that early," Thigpen said. "It looks like (Powell) has had some great games, which is wonderful, but at the time our selection was made he wasn't (ranked highly) in the stats that we look at."

According to FSU's Sports Information Department, at the time of the decision on semifinalists (nine games), 65.5 percent of Powell's punts were not returned, return men only averaged 7.7 yards per attempt and Powell booted 41.4 percent of his punts (12 of 29) inside the 20. Also, since the award's guidelines require subtracting a player's longest punt and longest return when calculating the net average, Powell's net finished at 41.5.

And while Thigpen said that the NCAA gross punting average is not taken into consideration, Powell did not have enough punts to qualify for that category at the time the semifinalists were picked. Since the semifinalists were announced on Nov. 11, Powell has averaged 48.8 yards on 20 punts, which boosted his overall average from 45.7 on Nov. 11 to 47 yards per punt today.

In the award's 11-year history, only four punters have won it while leading the nation in gross punting. Four more finished in the top five at season's end.

Also, while Thigpen said that Powell ranked 16th in net punting average when the semifinalists were announced, his 41.5 average at that time was just below his 42-yard net average that currently leads the nation. A request for the raw statistics on Powell's standing for each criteria were not immediately returned.

Since Powell is a strong candidate to earn first-team All-American honors, his Ray Guy Award snub could also go against a strong trend: Of the 11 previous recipients of the Ray Guy Award, seven were also named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press. Only one Ray Guy Award winner, Cincinnati's Kevin Huber in 2008, did not make any of the three AP All-American teams.

Among the three finalists for this year's Guy Award, Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen is closest to Powell in average, ranking third nationally with 46.3 yards per punt. Oregon's Jackson Rice has 40 punts on the season, which is not enough to qualify in the NCAA's punting average, but is averaging 45.6 per boot and is second nationally in net punting. The third finalist, Auburn's Steven Clark, ranks 57th nationally in punting average (40.5).

FSU sports information also said that player's importance to a team is listed as a criteria. Three of the 10 Ray Guy semifinalists played on teams (Ball State, Idaho, UTEP) that finished with records of .500 or worse.



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