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Vandals’ Cowan has shot at punting title

Bobby Cowan was the newbie in 2008, an 18-year-old freshman who shadowed T.J. Conley during the most successful season for a punter in University of Idaho history.

A year later, Conley - who had graduated and started auditions for NFL clubs – bequeathed the Vandals’ punting responsibilities to Cowan. And there’s scarcely been a drop-off since.

Cowan is second in the FBS in punting average – just .11 yards behind the national leader, Shawn Powell of Florida State – coming into today’s season finale at Nevada. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Mackay Stadium.

It’s been a nightmarish season for the 2-9 Vandals, and particularly for the team’s feeble offense. But given more opportunities than he’d care to have, Cowan has sparkled.

His average of 46.89 yards per punt closely trails Conley’s national- and program-best 2008 mark (47.43). A solid outing this afternoon from the redshirt junior could cement the national punting title through the regular season.

“It would be a great honor, and there’s no doubt that was one of my goals heading into the year,” Cowan said. “But it’s about the team and we’ve had great coverage on the punts. So that’s a big thing. But it would mean a lot.”

The 6-foot-5 redshirt junior from Vancouver, Wash., has more punted more times per game (7.55) than all but one punter in the nation (Tom Hornsey of Memphis). And he has accumulated more total punting yardage (3,892) than the Vandals’ offense (3,312).

Cowan was one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter. But he failed to make the final cut, a development that befuddled UI coach Robb Akey.

“How that works, I don’t know,” Akey said. “I was very disappointed when I saw that list (come) out and a little bit surprised.”

Cowan still stays in touch with Conley, who’s in his first year with the New York Jets. The two occasionally worked out together over the past two years, as Conley hopped from one professional tryout to the next.

Conley’s perseverance through two seasons of not sticking with an NFL team made an impression on his former understudy. After next season, Cowan’s goal is to land one of 32 pro punting gigs.

In the meantime, though, he doesn’t think he has reached Conley’s level.

“… He was a darn good punter,” Cowan said. “I would probably have to get a little bit better to be compared to him.”

Akey credited Cowan with helping the Vandals’ defense progress this fall. By booming long punts – like his 76-yarder at Virginia – he’s often flipped the field-position battle.

“He’s a great kid and he happens to be a great punter,” Akey said. “I’m really glad he’s ours. And I think he makes for a great weapon.”

NOTES – Senior quarterback Brian Reader is expected to get the start at quarterback for Idaho. … With a loss to the 6-5 Wolf Pack, the Vandals will finish with two or fewer wins for the third time in Akey’s five-year tenure. … Nevada is a 20-point favorite.

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