Breaking down the College Football Awards: Who will win the Doak Walker, Bednarik, Biletnikoff and other awards?
Just three days away from the awarding of the Heisman Trophy, the race still appears up for grabs. Any of the three finalists—Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey—could conceivably take home the award, as all three possess strong cases.
But while the Heisman understandably overshadows other college football awards, it’s one of several prized honors to be handed out this week. Before the Heisman Trust presents its trophy Saturday, the College Football Awards on Thursday will highlight some of the best players in the sport. Like the Heisman, these awards are not without controversy. Here is a breakdown of the finalists, snubs and projected winners for each honor, with the awards listed in alphabetical order.
Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year)
2014 winner: Scooby Wright III, Arizona
2015 finalists: Tyler Matakevich, Temple; Carl Nassib, Penn State; Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Biggest snub: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Eighteen tackles for loss from a safety weren’t good enough to make Cash a finalist. To get a sense of how incredible Cash’s playmaking was, no other defensive back recorded more than 12 tackles for loss. Only 10 players total topped his 1.5 per game average. He also added three forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and 101 tackles.
Projected winner: Matakevich. Temple’s senior linebacker already took home the Bronco Nagurski Award for defensive player of the year, which has gone to the same player as the Bednarik Award for the past three years. Matakevich filled the stat sheet with 126 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and five interceptions. Considering the offenses of Houston, Memphis and Notre Dame, it’s hard to dismiss his numbers as merely the product of an inferior schedule.
Biletnikoff Award (Wide receiver of the year)
2014 winner: Amari Cooper, Alabama
2015 finalists: Corey Coleman, Baylor; Josh Doctson, TCU; Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Biggest snub: Will Fuller, Notre Dame. Fuller put up over 60 more yards and five more touchdowns than Treadwell despite having to adjust to a backup quarterback. He helped DeShone Kizer settle in to the starting role by giving Kizer an elite deep threat—nine of Fuller’s 13 touchdowns came on passes of 39 yards or more. The 6’0”, 184-pound junior topped 100 receiving yards six times, including in key showdowns against USC and Stanford.
Projected winner: Coleman. Had Doctson stayed healthy, this race could have come down to the wire. Even so, Doctson makes a more than worthy runner up. But he missed all or part of four games with an injury. That tips the scales towards Coleman, who racked up 1,363 receiving yards and a national-best 20 touchdowns this season despite Baylor being forced to cycle through quarterbacks due to injuries.
Lou Groza Award (Kicker of the year)
2014 winner: Brad Craddock, Maryland
2015 finalists: Daniel Carlson, Auburn; Jake Elliott, Memphis; Ka’imi Fairbairn, UCLA
Biggest snub: Greg Huegel, Clemson. Huegel’s consistent kicking is a key reason the Tigers are undefeated. Though he lacks a true game-winner, his field goals proved the difference in wins over Louisville and Notre Dame and his 34-yarder in the fourth quarter against Florida State broke a 13–13 tie. Huegel made 22 of 25 kicks this season, including five of seven from 40 yards or further.
Projected winner: Fairbairn. UCLA’s kicker was the most accurate of the three finalists (.870 kicking rate to .846 for both Carlson and Elliott) and also possessed arguably the strongest leg, booting a 60-yarder against Cal. Fairbairn was perfect on extra points, making all 44 of his tries.
Ray Guy Award (Punter of the year)
2014 winner: Tom Hackett, Utah
2015 finalists: Michael Carrizosa, San Jose State; Tom Hackett, Utah; Hayden Hunt, Colorado State
Biggest snub: Austin Seibert, Oklahoma. On 51 punts this year, Seibert allowed returns on just 10 of them. And those 10 returns combined to gain just seven total yards.
Projected winner: Hackett. The finalists rank Nos. 1–3 in net punting yards, so the safe choice is to go with No. 1—who just happens to be the defending champion.
Maxwell Award (Player of the year)
2014 winner: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2015 finalists: Derrick Henry, Alabama; Christian McCaffrey, Stanford; Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Biggest snub: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. Same as with the Heisman voting, Mayfield is the most notable name not to make this finalist list. Although he’s not as much of a dual threat as Watson (420 yards to Watson’s 887), Mayfield threw for more yards per game and six fewer interceptions than the Clemson passer.
Projected winner: Henry. In a possible sign of what’s to come Saturday night at the Heisman ceremony, Henry becomes the first running back to win the Maxwell since Larry Johnson in 2002. Compared to the other two, Henry has the clearest argument that his team wouldn’t be remotely the same without him, as Alabama’s passing attack has been inconsistent with Jake Coker under center. Henry has carried the Crimson Tide—almost literally so in wins over Auburn and Florida—to the College Football Playoff with an NCAA-best and SEC-record 1,986 rushing yards.
Davey O’Brien Award (Quarterback of the year)
2014 winner: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2015 finalists: Trevone Boykin, TCU; Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Biggest snub: Keenan Reynolds, Navy. He’s not your standard quarterback, but Reynolds’s effectiveness is undeniable. No other QB rushed for more yards than Reynolds’s 1,093 this season, and he set the FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a career with 83 (and counting). Though Reynolds doesn’t pass much, he did so efficiently this year, gaining 11.5 yards per attempt for 964 yards with six touchdowns to one interception.
Projected winner: Watson. If his selection as a Heisman and Maxwell finalist are any indication, there’s a clear consensus Watson is this year’s top quarterback. He’s the only player this year to pass for over 3,000 yards (3,512) and rush for over 700 (887). Watson also scored 41 times to guide the Tigers to an undefeated season.
Outland Trophy (Interior lineman of the year)
2014 winner: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
2015 finalists: Spencer Drango, Baylor; Joshua Garnett, Stanford; A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Biggest snub: Sheldon Day, Notre Dame. Alabama’s Robinson was the only defensive player to be named a semifinalist. Day certainly deserved to join him. On a team riddled with injuries, Day’s leadership and production at defensive tackle were critical to keeping the Fighting Irish from falling apart. He was a consistent source of disruption to opposing offenses with a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss along with four sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.
Projected winner: Drango. The senior tackle anchored the line for the nation’s No. 1 offense in yards and points. Despite a shuffle of quarterbacks due to injuries to Seth Russell, Jarrett Stidham and Chris Johnson, Drango’s line allowed a QB sack percentage of just 3.48%. Baylor also led the nation in standard down line yards per carry and opportunity rate.
Thorpe Award (Defensive back of the year)
2014 winner: Gerod Holliman, Louisville
2015 finalists: Jeremy Cash, Duke; Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida; Desmond King, Iowa
Biggest snub: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan. Lewis led all Power 5 players in passes defended with 21 this year, including 19 passes broken up. He played the role of the shutdown corner for the nation’s No. 1 defense in yards allowed per pass attempt and also contributed 49 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Projected winner: Cash. King’s eight interceptions played a critical role in getting the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten title game, but Cash was the more consistent playmaker. Eighteen tackles for loss from a defensive back is an astounding total and earned Cash ACC defensive player of the year honors, making him Duke’s first player to win the award since it debuted in 1993.
Doak Walker Award (Running back of the year)
2014 winner: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
2015 finalists: Leonard Fournette, LSU; Derrick Henry, Alabama; Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Biggest snub: Dalvin Cook, Florida State. Cook didn’t just best all three finalists in yards per carry; he blew past them. Fournette’s 6.42 figure is closest to Cook’s 7.86 while Henry (5.86) and McCaffrey (5.79) trail by two yards or more.
Projected winner: Henry. Fournette faced the unenviable task of having to go up against the Alabama front-seven, perhaps Henry’s biggest advantage over him. McCaffrey has a better chance to top Henry in the Heisman or Maxwell, where his all-purpose prowess factors in. Henry’s huge finish (874 rushing yards in his last four games against SEC defenses) should propel him to victory.