Update: I completely screwed up the Heisman and Doak Walker finalists. I left out Ezekiel Elliott, which was dumb. The reasons why don’t matter, but he is one of my picks as a finalist for both these awards (and maybe the Maxwell). I won’t screw this up in my September update.
If you remember the old commercials for Miller Lite about the Men of the Square Table’s Man Laws, then maybe you get the reference in the image. If you don’t, I highly suggest using Google to brush up on them. There’s no way they’d air today because we are all so offended and outraged by everything. Still, there’s one line from one of the commercials: “It’s time we show a little love for the off-fence,” a reference to game day signs.
It took me some time to recover from the defensive component of this writeup. Specifically, I had to emotionally deal with the fact that Kendall Fuller could clean up at the defensive awards and I don’t even like VPI (Virginia Tech) or Fuller all that much. That said, we press on. Here’s my breakdown for the offensive side of the college football awards–inclusive of special teams awards, still no coaches trophies.
The offensive awards–apart from the awards for offensive line–all run together and stand firmly in the shadow of the Heisman Trophy.
I will be skipping names for this award at present simply because it refers to a specialized position and sometimes people move into this spot from another position on the line when a senior center graduates. Let’s be clear, the centers in the Big 10 and SEC have the best odds. Size matters, and these two conferences have the biggest linemen on average. Still, without having a feel about what center will play where, I can’t make any predictions–even outlandish ones.
All I can think of is the Mortal Kombat movie when I think of this award–yes, I know it was Outworld, leave me alone. This trophy awards the most outstanding interior lineman, including tackles–which makes no sense, but that’s a debate for another time. But, I’m especially sorry to the offensive guards, but this award is for Offensive Tackles, and if the tackle is a blind side protector, he’s got an easier road. It’s hard to recognize a guard for this award when tackles tend to go up against elite defensive ends, who are some of the best athletes in football. Case in point: go try to block Jadaveon Clowney. Better yet, just try to slow him down. This should be an offensive tackle award, but other offensive linemen and defensive linemen are eligible and included in the list.
Finalists: Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle (Ole Miss); Spencer Drango, Offensive Tackle (Baylor); Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle (Notre Dame)
Last Two Out: A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle (Alabama); Jack Allen, Center (Michigan State)
Winner: Spencer Drango, Offensive Tackle (Baylor)
Drango was a semi-finalist last year. He’s the only returning interior lineman to make it that deep into the consideration process. He’s also playing for a great team in a pathetic conference. And, it’s easy to overlook the lousy offenses in the conference because nearly every defense is bad enough to allow 30 points every game. Yes, I am hating on the Big XII. Yes, it is warranted. Yes, I do have a point. It’s this: Baylor will likely run roughshod through the conference again, and when you play a bunch of crap defenses, everyone on offense looks like a pro bowler. This will be the difference for selecting the winning tackle.
Additionally, Laremy Tunsil is likely the most talented on this list, but who knows if he’ll be eligible. He’s had a rough go of it this offseason. As a result, his season and production are in doubt. Finally, I think the vote goes against Stanley because I expect Notre Dame to struggle against their schedule.
A’Shawn Robinson will struggle to win this award because of who it’s “supposed” to go to. Defensive tackles have to be standouts like Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley to even be considered–and Fairley didn’t win it his final season. Jack Allen may win the Rimington, but as a center, he doesn’t get to show out like great tackles do. He’ll be great, just not great enough.
Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
I’m going to be a little salty here. Since this is a senior award, this is the quarterback consolation prize. If you’re good enough to win some of these other awards, you probably aren’t still playing college ball as a senior. This award feels like the metal chotchky equivalent of saying, “Thanks for coming out, Champ.” Still, let’s go through the process.
Finalists: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech); Connor Cook (Michigan State); Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)
Last Two Out: Trevone Boykin (TCU); Christian Hackenberg (Penn State)
Winner: Connor Cook (Michigan State)
Good grief! I had a lot of time finding senior quarterbacks–which should tell you all you need to know about this award. Connor Cook is special. He will be a top half first rounder next year if he manages to put together a season similar to last year. He’s a very balanced player with the skill and knowledge to run his offense efficiently. He will likely be the guy to beat for this award. Justin Thomas is a running quarterback who passes, and fits perfectly in Tech’s flexbone option attack. He is instinctive, decisive, and smart. He is easily the best option QB Tech has ever had. But, this is the “Golden Arm” award. You don’t win if you don’t throw. Tech won’t throw enough. Prescott could easily win this award, but I’m not sure he’s going to have the season people think he will.
Boykin plays for TCU in the Big XII, and at some point good players have to be punished for playing in a soft conference. Awards time is usually when that happens. Not sure he grades well in the enigmatic “optics” category. Hackenberg isn’t a senior, but he’s on here because he’s very good and because I couldn’t get clarification around whether it was only seniors or all upperclassmen. Regardless, he’s serviceable as a QB but is playing in a power run conference. He won’t be able to show out. Heck, he may not even be eligible for this award. But, if he is, he isn’t winning.
Davey O’Brien Award
This is the Unitas trophy without any of the ridiculous or arbitrary requirements. This trophy, plain and simple, goes to the best quarterback in the country. It’s one of those awards that QBs who are Heisman winners always seem to win. Funny how that works.
Finalists: Dak Prescott (Mississippi State); Connor Cook (Michigan State); Brad Kaaya (Miami-FL)
Last Two Out: Christian Hackenberg (Penn State); Ohio State QB Committee
Winner: Connor Cook (Michigan State)
I’m sold on Connor Cook. He’s the real deal and he’s had several seasons to get his legs under him and learn Dantonio’s offense. He will have an uphill battle as a quarterback in the B1G. Still, Michigan State looks to be scary good this year. They have all the pieces, and we will see if they can string them together. Since that all starts and ends with Connor Cook, it’s only fair he get most of the credit if they succeed, because he will receive most of the blame if they don’t. Sparty has Oregon and Ohio State on the schedule. If Cook can shine in those games, it’ll be hard to keep this trophy out of his hands.
Prescott should have a decent season, but Mississippi State is going to be a bottom half SEC West team–which isn’t the knock against them that it sounds like. But, they have Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU on the schedule. I’m not sure any quarterback can survive that, much less transcend it enough to win every game. If he does, Cook’s out and Dak’s in.
Brad Kaaya is a long shot and not even on the watch list. But, this kid is a player and part of a Miami team that should be decent and playing with a lot of fire. Teams should not want to play The U this year. I’m taking a flyer on Kaaya here because I think Miami will exceed expectations this season, and he will get all the credit. Kaaya has a once in a blue moon offensive mind, he’s smart and hungry. Miami will be a tough draw for everyone this year.
Hackenberg is very good, but this just doesn’t look like the year for the Nittany Lions. And, honestly, this award goes to winners. Hackenberg won’t be one of those as often as they would like this season–not with Michigan State and Ohio State where they are. He’ll do well enough to be considered, but he won’t be making the trip. Ohio State’s QB committee cannot be nominated as a three-headed entity, despite each being one of the best quarterbacks in college football. If Meyer realizes his dream of true QB-by-committee, then it’s unlikely any of the three will produce enough to win an individual award, despite Ohio State likely cruising into the playoff.
John Mackey Award
This is for the top tight end in the country. Although some of the best tight ends in the country are blockers, this is an award about offensive production.
Finalists: O.J. Howard (Alabama); Jonnu Smith (Florida International); Evan Engram (Ole Miss)
Last Two Out: Josiah Price (Michigan State); Nick Vannett (Ohio State)
Winner: Evan Engram (Ole Miss)
This award is gift wrapped for Engram. As a position, college football is thin on tight end talent going into this season, and Engram was a finalist last year. Additionally, tight end is an important position for a new quarterback as they typically offer short- to mid-range high percentage routes. Engram stands head and shoulders over the others. Maybe the season will progress unexpectedly, but for now. It’s Engram and no one else.
Fred Biletnikoff Award
This award goes to the best wide receiver in the country in terms of ability and production.
Finalists: Pharoh Cooper (South Carolina); Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh); Rashard Higgins (Colorado State)
Last Two Out: Travin Dural (LSU); Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss)
Winner: Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh)
This award is completely up in the air–forgive the terrible pun that I secretly love. And, it’s an interesting award because it is quite dependent on the ability of the passer. Most of the receivers on this list lost their passer and have a new signal caller getting them the football. For me, that is the deciding factor right now. Tyler Boyd has a seasoned quarterback in Chad Voytik to get him the ball. Additionally, Pittsburgh has wide receiver pedigree and are blessed with a pretty soft schedule. Expect the offense to be built around standouts like Boyd. I think Pitt gets him the ball plenty and he gets a chance to showcase his ability more often than these other players.
In Cooper’s case, all signs point to Connor Mitch winning the job for the Gamecocks. Assuming Mitch–two first names!–has the ability to get the ball in Cooper’s vicinity, he will have little problem securing the ball. Additionally, Spurrier uses Cooper on end arounds, so the receiver has added versatility in the ground game. Cooper is an impressive receiver; if South Carolina performs well, Cooper could cruise to this award over Boyd.
Rashard Higgins lost some certainty when CSU lost QB Garrett Grayson to the draft. The Rams still have the remnants of Jim McElwain’s stellar recruiting, but they have lost their quarterback and their coach. The team has the personnel to run a pass attack, so Higgins will get looks and targets. But, too many question marks longer around this program–too much flux.
LSU is a rush team with Leonard Fournette. They will not be passing nearly enough to get Dural competitive stats and exposure, and they shouldn’t. Dural will be a great next level talent, but he’s not winning this award. Laquon Treadwell for the Rebels is coming off a broken leg and a loss of Mississippi’s own Jekyll and Hyde, Bo Wallace. Many Ole Miss fans are thanking whoever they pray to that he is gone. But let’s be clear, when Bo Wallace was on, he was damn near unbeatable. The Rebels now have unproven youth set to take over the signal calling jobs in a horrible, horrible situation–the SEC West. Too many factors stand against Treadwell, but he will still produce enough to get noticed. He just won’t be able to compete with the finalists.
Doak Walker Award
This award goes to the best running back in the country. Like the Davey O’Brien for quarterbacks, it’s a given that if a running back is set to win the Heisman Trophy, he’s also winning the Doak Walker. It may not be true, but the odds are good that it is.
Finalists: Leonard Fournette (LSU); Derrick Henry (Alabama); Paul Perkins (UCLA)
Last Two Out: James Connor (Pittsburgh); D.J. Foster (Arizona State)
Winner: Leonard Fournette (LSU)
So, here’s the deal: this is a toss-up between Henry and Fournette. But, Fournette on tape looks like the second coming of Hershel Walker. Henry does not–but let’s be clear, I’m not interested in trying to tackle either of them. Additionally, Henry will be battling uphill against Bama-fatigue among committees. It’s human nature to think “Alabama always has good running backs, let’s give this award to someone else.” So, I think that pushes what will be a hell of a contest over into Fournette’s favor. Fournette will also be carrying the mail for LSU since it may take some time for the new QB, likely Harris, to get his feet under him. Paul Perkins will likely be the best back in the PAC-12, but he just picked the wrong year to be born. If UCLA manages to win the conference, then Perkins could have a better case for this award than either Fournette or Henry, especially if Auburn wins the SEC West.
Connor is a great running back, but Pitt isn’t a good enough team to have both Tyler Boyd and James Connor end up as finalists for position-level awards. D.J. Foster won’t be a finalist if Perkins makes in. The PAC does not garner enough respect for both to make it; it will be either/or, and my money is on Perkins.
Walter Camp Award/Maxwell Award
This is another pair of awards like the defense has for players of the year, but there could go to defensive players. Their finalists and winners have been varied in the past, but it’s just as easy to combine them for now as my list is the same. No writeup will be done this time.
Finalists: Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU); Connor Cook, QB (Michigan State); Joey Bosa, DE (Ohio State)
Last Two Out: Derrick Henry, RB (Alabama); Dak Prescott, QB (Mississippi State)
Winner: Joey Bosa, DE (Ohio State)
Heisman Memorial Trophy
I could easily write 1000 words about the irony of the Heisman Trophy. The award gets its namesake from John Heisman, legendary coach of Georgia Tech, Auburn, and Clemson among others. This is the man that legalized the forward pass–yes, the irony that Georgia Tech runs the triple option is not lost on me. The Downtown Athletic Club of New York City created the award two years before Heisman’s death in 1936. Before his death, Heisman refused to allow the DAC to rename the award in his honor because football was too much of a team game to recognize individual achievement. Shortly after he died, they renamed the trophy in his honor. I’m sure he’s thrilled.
Again, no writeup on this one for now.
Finalists: Joey Bosa, DE (Ohio State); Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU); Derrick Henry, RB (Alabama); Connor Cook, QB (Michigan State)
Last Two Out: Paul Perkins, RB (UCLA); Trevone Boykin, QB (TCU)
Winner: Connor Cook, QB (Michigan State)
I have Cook winning a lot. That will almost certainly change once we hurtle into the season. I plan to look at this each time watch lists are narrowed. Stay tuned.
This completes my bold predictions for offense.
Read my defensive award predictions here.