Something for Everybody (or How Every Player in the Country Made a College Football Award Watch List); Part I: Defense

The initial dust has settled from the announcement of the watch lists for the college football awards. There are 24 awards and usually 3+ finalists. Couple that with the fact that watch lists can be very deep, and you now have a situation where every player in college football is on a watch list for an award. 

It’s ridiculous. So, in the spirit of the ridiculous, here is my list of predicted winners for these trophies–complete with arbitrary weights and assumptions. 

Before we begin please note, the Disney Spirit Award is a great award, but it will not make this list because it is reactionary and not an award that can be earned through athletic achievement. The Campbell Trophy for scholarship, Frank Broyles Award for assistant coach of the year, and the Home Depot coach of the year awards will not be included this pass either. So, that gets us down to 20. 

Defense

The defensive suite of awards is kind of a log jam. Two awards are for Defensive Player of the Year–Nagurski and Bednarik trophies. We will start with the outstanding position awards and move to the overall defensive awards. 

Jim Thorpe Award

The Jim Thorpe Award is awarded annually to the top defensive back in the country. The award is based on stats and the vagaries of the subjective term “optics.” 

Finalists: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech), Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Ishmael Adams (UCLA)

Last Two Out: Jalen Ramsey (Florida State), Vonn Bell (Ohio State)

Winner: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

As a Hargreaves fan, this is difficult for me to write. However, Kendall Fuller having another season like he had last year will solidify him as the Thorpe winner. Fuller is more involved in the defensive scheme, especially in run support. He will have more tackles and more pass breakups than either Hargreaves or Adams because he will be thrown at more–because ACC quarterbacks tend to be stupid about that kind of thing. Bud Foster’s defense lends itself incredibly well to Fuller’s talents. While Hargreaves may be the closest thing college football has to a shutdown corner, he just won’t end up posting the numbers Fuller will. And, I doubt “optics” will completely trump the all-around playmaking ability of Fuller. As for Adams, he will have an excellent year in the PAC with a number of teams testing him. But, unfortunately for him, the timing sucks. Most people have this as a two horse race between Fuller and Hargreaves, and rightly so. It will be nearly impossible for a third to break in. 

As for Ramsey and Bell, I don’t see Ramsey posting the same off the wall season he had last year. If he does, Ishmael is out and he is in as a finalist. However, it will be hard to break into the discussion if Fuller* and VH3 have the seasons they are capable of. And I think Bell will struggle to succeed in a conference that has the reputation of having a run-first mentality. But, he may be able to carve out a nice, competitive stat line–especially if he is a key part of the defense for the nation’s number 1 team. 

*Sorry, VT fans, I don’t know if your guy has a nickname. 

Ted Hendricks Award

This award is given to the top defensive end in the country. Like the Thorpe Award, it’s not solely a statistical award, the player has to look the part. 

Finalists: Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

Last Two Out: Shawn Oakman (Baylor), Dadi Nicolas (Virginia Tech)

Winner: Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)

This was impossible. Any of these five guys could win this trophy next year. There’s a handful more not listed that could. 2015 will have a very deep and very talented class of defensive ends. Garrett is my winner because I am taking the upside here. This kid broke Clowney’s freshman sack record. Joey Bosa is the smart money pick to win this award, but you don’t win a lot betting on favorites. I think Bosa will win the NFL lottery after this season, but I like Garrett’s position and his fit with A&M a little better than Bosa’s. Derek Barnett is in a position in Tennessee where the defense may be schemed to get him free regularly. He, too, could have a monster season. I’m just leery of picking a guy on a team like Tennessee–who looks like a breakout contender, but finds ways to let you down. 

I suppose I should include my last will and testament and my memoirs in this article because Oakman is going to kill me for not giving him the award. But, let’s be realistic, Oakman is a freak combination of size, strength and speed, but he isn’t as good as his talent should make him. He seems underdeveloped and while a force on the field, he’s just not in the same class as the other three. Dadi Nicolas is the second VT player in as many awards to play defense for Bud Foster–that defense is going to be scary. And he’s out of the finalists simply because I think the other three are marginally better. If VT has a better year than Tennessee, don’t be surprised if Barnett and Nicolas swap by season’s end. 

Dick Butkus Award

The Dick Butkus Trophy is awarded to the top linebacker in college football. This award is difficult to judge because middle linebackers and outside linebackers have such different responsibilities. 

Finalists: Joshua Perry, OLB (Ohio State); Scooby Wright, ILB (Arizona); Jaylon Smith, OLB (Notre Dame)

Last Two Out: Antonio Morrison, ILB (Florida); Jordan Jenkins, OLB (Georgia)

Winner: Scooby Wright, ILB (Arizona)

This award is Scoob’s to lose. He won both DPOY trophies last year and lost this award to Eric Kendricks from UCLA last year. Many, myself included, believe that Wright should have taken the award in 2014. And the idea has been floated that they didn’t want to give Wright all the hardware, which is stupid if true since Kendricks took the Lott IMPACT Trophy home as well. Regardless, if Wright plays like the caliber of player he is, no one will be able to take this award from him. Perry and Smith are great, but the Inside Backer position is more involved than Outside Backer. For the offensive minded, it’s the equivalent difference of QB and running back. So, a good season from Scooby will hold off all challengers. 

Morrison is a great talent, but he is a giant question mark along with the Gators as whole. Morrison has had a catastrophic knee injury and what appears to be a lifelong bout with stupidity since he barked at a police dog and was arrested for it. Still, Morrison is a hell of a talent and it would not be a surprise if a great season kicks him into the finalist position. However, he’s an outside shot to win this award. Jenkins is a stellar player and should have had a much better year last season. The Bulldogs in general should have. Jenkins will be good enough all year to be in the conversation, but ultimately, I don’t think he cracks the top 3.

Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Awards

These are the defensive player of the year awards. There are two of them. I don’t know why. I’m combining them even though they both have separate selections and technically separate finalists. 

Finalists: Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Scooby Wright (Arizona), Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

Last Two Out: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech), Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)

Winner: Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

I originally had Bosa and Garrett flipped, but the problem with that is that Bosa has polish and wits that Garrett has not grown into yet. In order for an end to win these trophies, they have to be sharp and fundamentally sound playmakers. That simply does not yet describe Myles Garrett, but it describes Bosa to the letter. He’s good enough to take first overall in next year’s NFL draft. I don’t think anyone can pry this award away from Bosa. Hargreaves should have an excellent season and mature into an even better shutdown corner. With the chance he has to showcase his works, he will be on the short list for this award at the end of the season. Scooby will have quite a case for this award again as well, however if both he and Bosa have great seasons, this award goes to Bosa. Scooby would have to have a better season than Bosa to such a degree that the committee would be compelled to give him the honor. I don’t see that happening. 

Again, putting Garrett out of this was a tough call. If he takes anyone’s place as a finalist, it’s Hargreaves. The only thing stopping me from doing that is the fact that it would leave the two best corners in college football out as finalists. And let’s face it, either Fuller or Hargreaves will be in the final discussion. There’s very little doubt about that. 

Lott IMPACT Trophy

The IMPACT part of this award’s name is an acronym that describes desireable attributes in players both on and off the field. It’s a talent award that also has an integrity and character component. It is my favorite defensive award. 

Finalists: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech), Vernon Hargreaves (Florida), Jalen Ramsey (Florida State)

Last Two Out: Scooby Wright (Arizona), Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

Winner: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

With all the crap that we hear about players getting in trouble off the field, it’s nice to have an award that recognizes great athletes who are also great stewards of the game off the field. From what I know about these guys–admittedly, not much–they seem to be stellar individuals and guys you want to have around your locker room and your recruits. Now, keep in mind that we hold these guys to an impossible standard in a lot of ways, so coming anywhere close is refreshing and should be recognized. Kendall Fuller is an elite player, and he’s the consummate student of the game. He’s from a pedigreed Virginia Tech football family and the last of four brothers to play for Frank Beamer. He’s one of those “zero concern” guys, which is impressive for a 5 Star player anywhere. The Lott Trophy is going to award great play with great character–Fuller has both those things. The other young men on the list are stellar, and although Ramsey and Hargreaves may be well deserving of an award like this. I find it highly improbable that the committee will give a character and integrity award to a player from a school so rife with off field incidents as Florida State and Florida. That’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. 

Scooby and Joey, in addition to sounding like a ABC Family sitcom, are great guys and may end up being in the conversation. However, I had to pick, so I did. 

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