After missing out on the postseason in 2015, the playoffs make their return to Cheney Saturday when Eastern Washington hosts Central Arkansas.
The big question surrounding Beau Baldwin's program is the status of reigning FCS player of the year Cooper Kupp, who suffered a shoulder injury in their regular season finale against Portland State. The sprained occurred in his left shoulder, the opposite of the one he sustained against North Dakota State. That injury kept him off the field for one game. Baldwin said the severity is similar to his previous ailment.
"We're prepping with the mindset that we might have him and we might not, and that's okay," Baldwin said at practice Tuesday. "We've been in that situation before whether it's halves of football or the whole game against UNI and the guys are ready to step up.
"More than anything you want him to be able to play in that ball game simply because he's earned the right to play in this type of ball game. He's just put so much work in. But you never want to force it. You have to do what's right for him personally, but also in general for the team."
EWU faces a 14th ranked Central Arkansas club that is 10-2 following a double-digit second half comeback to knock off Illinois State in their playoff debut. Saturday will mark the first meeting between the two programs.
While the game will go down on the red turf, it features two programs with unique home fields. UCA installed 'The Stripes' in 2011, one year after the Eags added red turf. Baldwin is a fan of their signature look.
"I'd be a hypocrite if I said anything bad about it wouldn't I?"
Also on Tuesday quarterback Gage Gubrud and Kupp were named finalists for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the nation's offensive player of the year. The Payton Award is the Heisman of FCS football.
"That's what probably shocked me the most not is not that they deserved to be but the fact that it actually happened where they didn't kind of take each other's votes and they both are in that spot," Baldwin said. "So a tremendous honor and it might be something you never see again, you just don't know. So it's a pretty unique situation."
They will be joined by Sam Houston State's Jeremiah Briscoe at the awards ceremony January 6th in Frisco, Texas.