Alabama’s Evan Neal was named a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy, the Football Writers Associate of America (FWAA) and the Greater Omaha Sports Committee announced Wednesday evening.
Neal is one of six players that make up the semifinalist list and is joined by Jordan Davis (Georgia), Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa) and Nicholas Petit-Frere (Ohio State).
This is the 75th anniversary of the Outland Trophy.
Alabama has had six previous winners of the Outland, including Alex Leatherwood (2020), Quinnen Williams (2018), Cam Robinson (2016), Barrett Jones (2011), Andre Smith (2008) and Chris Samuels (1999). All but one have been during the Nick Saban era.
Three finalists for this year will be announced on Tuesday, Nov. 23, and the recipient of the 2021 Outland Trophy will be announced live on The Home Depot College Football Awards on ESPN on Thursday, Dec. 9.
Here are the candidates:
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
6-6, 340, Sr., Charlotte, N.C.: The only defensive player among the six semifinalists, Davis is the most dominant defensive tackle in college football for top-ranked Georgia (10-0). The Bulldogs own the nation's second-best total defense giving up 247 yards per game and with Davis anchoring the interior line own the nation's second-best rushing defense (78.1 ypg). Georgia is the national scoring defense leader (7.6 ppg) by more than a touchdown and has not given up more than 17 points in any game. Nobody has been able to run on Davis. Georgia has an Outland Trophy tradition on the defensive front. Now with Davis, the Bulldogs have had two defensive tackle semifinalists in the past three seasons along with Andrew Thomas in 2019. The Bulldogs' lone Outland Trophy winner was also a defensive tackle, Bill Stanfill, in 1968.
Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
6-4, 320, So., Charlotte, N.C.: Ekwonu has been ranked as the top run blocker in college football by Pro Football Focus and has more than 56 pancake blocks and 18 knockdowns for the Wolfpack (7-3). He has earned the ACC Offensive Line Player of the Week twice this season. Protecting quarterback Devin Leary at left tackle, Ekwonu and N.C. State are 19th nationally in passing offense at 291.1 yards per game, fifth in the ACC and 11th among Power 5 schools. Leary is 14th nationally in passing yards at 288.3 ypg. "He's nasty. He's athletic. He's big," said Tim Hasselbeck of the ACC Network. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic calls him the most feared lineman in the ACC. "Ridiculous strength levels, athleticism and will to finish," said Jordan Reid of ESPN. N.C. State now has two semifinalists within the past four seasons, including center Garrett Bradbury from 2018. The Wolfpack's lone Outland Trophy winner was at center, Jim Ritcher, in 1979.
Darian Kinnard, OT, Kentucky
6-5, 338, Sr., Knoxville, Tenn.: One of the top offensive linemen in the Southeastern Conference for a much-improved offense from a year ago. Kinnard has started at right tackle in the past 36 games for Kentucky (7-3) since the end of the 2018 season. The Wildcats' resurgence this season is built around its run game, which boasts its 10th all-time 1,000-yard rusher in a season in Chrstiopher Rodriguez Jr., who led the SEC in rushing for the first half of the season and is currently second at 1,032 yards with six touchdowns. Kentucky, which has clinched second place in the SEC East, is tied for sixth in the SEC in rushing at 186.3 ypg. Kinnard is Kentucky's first Outland semifinalist. Offensive tackle Bob Gain won the fifth Outland Trophy in 1950.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
6-3, 290, Jr., Solon, Iowa: Linderbaum is one of the dominant linemen at his position for the Hawkeyes (8-2). He was the Second Team FWAA All-America center a year ago. The junior has started all 31 career games after playing on the defensive line as a true freshman. He moved to the offensive line following the 2018 regular season, and this season has a 94.8 offensive grade among centers by PFF, the best for a center since 2014. Iowa's run game has improved, as Tyler Goodson needs 187 rushing yards in the final two games to become Iowa's first 1,000-yard-season rusher since 2017. Iowa has now had a semifinalist in two of the last three seasons along with offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs in 2019. The Hawkeyes have four Outland Trophy winners in their past, most recently offensive tackle Brandon Scherff in 2014, who is also the Big Ten's last Outland winner. Offensive tackle Robert Gallery (2003), tackle Alex Karras (1957) and guard Calvin Jones (1955) are other winners. The last center to win the Outland came in 2005 from the Big Ten, Greg Eslinger of Minnesota.
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
6-7, 350, Jr., Okeechobee, Fla.: Slimmed down to 350 pounds to increase mobility, Neal has gained explosive speed and great reach. The FWAA Freshman All-America selection as a true freshman in 2019 settled in at left tackle this season after playing all along the offensive line previously for second-ranked Alabama (9-1), which is in the top 10 in offense in scoring offense (3rd, 44.6 ppg), total offense (10th, 484.7 ypg) and passing offense (11th, 322.6 ypg). Neal's protection has helped quarterback Bryce Young to 302.5 passing yards per game, 13th nationally. The Crimson Tide claim last year's Outland Trophy winner, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, and three of the last five winners from both sides of the ball. Quinnen Williams, a defensive tackle, won in 2018, and offensive tackle Cam Robinson won the 2016 award. Five of the Tide's six winners have been offensive tackles. Alabama’s six Outland winners are second-most all-time to Nebraska’s nine.
Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State
6-5, 315, Jr., Tampa, Fla.: Regarded as the top offensive lineman on a Buckeyes front considered one of the nation's best. He has built up his weight as his playing time increased, now weighing 315 pounds without losing his nimbleness for Ohio State (9-1). Petit-Frere started 18 of his 31 career games for the Buckeyes, who this season are tops in the nation in scoring offense (46.3 ppg), total offense (550.4 ) and sixth in passing offense (353.6 ypg). The line has provided big holes for explosive gains – running back TreVeyon Henderson is tied for third nationally in runs of 40 yards or more with six and has eight runs of 30-plus yards. Petit-Frere is the Buckeyes' first Outland semifinalist since center Billy Price in 2017. Ohio State has four Outland winners in its past, started off by guard Jim Parker in 1956. Middle guard Jim Stillwagon (1970) and offensive tackles John Hicks (1973) and Orlando Pace (1996) have won it since.