The 2011 college football is season almost over and it sure hasn't disappointed, providing fans with memorable moments like Michigan's improbable win over Notre Dame under the lights in Ann Arbor and Robert Griffin III's unexplainable late-game heroics.
With the season almost in the books, that means the 2011 hardware has been handed out, with the Heisman Trophy going to RG3, the Maxwell and Unitas Golden Arm awards going to Andrew Luck and the Doak Walker Award going to Trent Richardson.
With the 2011 hardware handed out, it's time to make some predictions on which players are going to take their game to the next level by winning a major college football award in 2012.
Here is a prediction for every major college football award that will be handed out in the 2012 season.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy is given at the end of the year to the "IMPACT" player of the year. IMPACT stands for, Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity, and the goal of the Lott IMPACT Trophy is to find the defensive player that best defines those characteristics in all of college football.
The 2012 winner of the Lott IMPACT trophy will be none other than Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o.
In 2011 Te'o was also named to the Capital One Academic All-American team, which displays his academic abilities. Te'o displayed maturity and integrity when he declared his intent to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, and he aptly displays performance and tenacity every time he steps on the field.
In 2011 Te'o recorded 120 tackles, 5.0 sacks and 1.0 forced fumbles. That production, along with his maturity and integrity will earn him the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which will be the final award Te'o wins before he enters the NFL.
The Ted Hendricks Award is given out annually to the top defensive end in the nation.
Past winners of the Hendricks Trophy include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' DaQuan Bowers, Washington Redskins' Brian Orakpo and St. Louis Rams' Chris Long.
In 2012 Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier's name will be added to that list, and for good reason.
Lemonier played in only 11 out of Auburn's 13 games, but he still managed to record 47 tackles (28 solo), 9.5 sacks and 1.0 forced fumbles. Lemonier's sack production, amongst defensive linemen, ranked second in the defensively focused SEC, only behind South Carolina's NFL-bound defensive end Melvin Ingram.
There are a lot of defensive ends who could win this award if they return to college football like Connecticut''s Trevardo Williams or FSU's Brandon Jenkins, but it is highly unlikely they will return.
With Lemonier only getting better there is no doubt that he will be able to average at least 1.0 sacks per game, which will be enough to earn him the 2012 Ted Hendricks Award.
The Ray Guy Award is given out every year to nation's best "overall" punter.
The award takes into account overall net punt yards, total punts inside the 20-yard line and percentage of punts not returned. In 2011 Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen was ranked fifth or higher in each of those categories, and there is no reason why he won't be ranked the same if not higher in 2012.
Allen averaged 46.2 yards per punt on 83 punts in 2011, an average which helped the LA Tech to an 8-5 record and an appearance in the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl, which they lost by a touchdown to the TCU Horned Frogs.
After winning the 2012 Ray Guy Award, Allen will join Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda as the only two-time winner of the award.
The Lou Groza Award is given out to the top kicker in all of college football. The 2011 award was given to Texas A&M's kicker Randy Bullock, who made 29 out of 33 field goals for a season kicking percentage of 87.9.
The player who will win the 2012 Lou Groza actually ranked higher in kicking percentage with an 88.9 this season. The only reason why this player didn't beat out Bullock because he kicked 15 fewer field goals.
The 2012 winner will be LSU kicker Drew Alleman. The main reason why Alleman will win the Groza is because, unlike last year, in 2012 the Tigers won't be able to find their way into the end zone so easily. That will result in Alleman receiving more field-goal attempts, which will help him put his incredible accuracy on display.
Alleman was 2-of-2 from 1-19 yards, 6-of-6 from 20-29 yards, 5-of-6 from 30-39 yards, 3-of-3 for 40-49 yards and 0-of-1 from 50-plus yards. Alleman will only increase his accuracy in 2012 with more attempts coming his way, which will help him win the 2012 Lou Groza Award.
Since 1986 the Jim Thorpe Award has been given out annually to the nation's top defensive back, honoring players like the Green Bay Packers' Charles Woodson, the Dallas Cowboys' Terrence Newman and the Arizona Cardinals' Patrick Peterson.
The 2011 Jim Thorpe Award was given to CB Morris Claiborne, helping an LSU player earn that honor for the second straight year.
The good news for LSU is a player from the school is lined up to win the award in 2012. That player is none other than Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu.
Mathieu was named to the list of finalists for the 2011 Jim Thorpe Award, but he ultimately lost the award to his senior teammate Morris Claiborne, who had fewer tackles (46 to 71 respectively) but more interceptions (6 to 2 respectively) than Mathieu.
WIth Claiborne leaving LSU for the NFL draft come April, the Tigers defense is left under the leadership of Mathieu,m and that is a good thing. Mathieu will continue to dominate on the defensive side of the ball in 2012, increasing both his turnover and tackle production, which will result in him walking away from college football with the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award.
The Butkus Award is given out at the end of every year to the best linebacker in all of college football. The award has been given to NFL stars like LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Marvin Jones, Derrick Johnson and Patrick Willis.
Winning the Butkus all but guarantees being a first-day selection in the NFL draft, and that won't change in 2012 when Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones is selected as the winner.
Jarvis Jones was a 2011 finalist for the Butkus award, mainly because of his 13.5 total sacks, which ranked second in all of college football, and his 19.5 tackles for loss, which ranked eighth in all of college football. If it wasn't for Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly's absurd 191 total tackles, Jarvis Jones could have very well walked away with the 2011 award.
Jones only accounted for 70 total tackles in 2011, which is something he will need to improve on in 2012 if he's going to win the Butkus. Jones will solidify a Georgia Bulldogs defense that will be returning at least seven starters, leading the Bulldogs to a run at the SEC title and earning himself the 2012 Butkus Award.
The Bronko Nagurski Award honors the nation's best defensive player at the end of every year. Former Nagurski winners include the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh, the Green Bay Packers' Charles Woodson and the Baltimore Ravens' Terrelle Suggs.
While the player who is going to win the 2012 Bronko Nagurski is not necessarily a household name for many, he has quietly become one of nation's top linebackers. That player is Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown.
Brown just recently declared his intent to return to Kansas State for his senior season, which set in motion expectations for him to be not only a leader but also one of the nation's top players in 2012. In 2011 Brown accounted for 95 tackles, two sacks and one interception (against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III). Brown's veteran leadership will help the Wildcats contend for a Big 12 championship while solidifying a Kansas State defense returning six starters.
This award could very well go to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o or Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, but Brown has the high-level football IQ mixed with strength and speed that it takes to be the best defensive player in the nation, ultimately earning himself the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Award.
Kansas State will contend for the national championship next year, and it will be in large part due to Arthur Brown's dominant play.
The Chuck Bednarik Award is handed out annually to the player whom the Maxwell Football Club deems the best defensive player in the nation. Past winners include LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny and Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
In recent years the Maxwell Football Club has leaned toward selecting cornerbacks over linebackers and defensive linemen, and that trend will continue in 2012.
Tyrann Mathieu will earn his second piece of hardware in 2012 when he takes home the Chuck Bednarik. Mathieu will earn the award by leading the Tigers defense to yet another top-five ranking and improving on his 2011 statistical production. WIth another year of experience, Mathieu will be utilized even more than he currently has been in blitz packages, resulting in an increase in turnover production.
I know it's hard to believe that Mathieu can get better, but he will do just that in 2012. I expect him to record over 70 tackles again, intercept four or more passes and account for 5.5 or more sacks in 2012. If Mathieu can produce at that level there is no reason why he can't take home the Chuck Bednarik for the second straight year, joining Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny as the only other two-time winner.
The Dave Rimington Trophy is given out to the best center in college football. This past season the award was given to Michigan center David Molk, who joined the elite status of other winners like the Oakland Raiders' A.Q. Shipley and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey. Molk was given the award based on his ability to get down field and block for quarterback Denard Robinson.
In 2012 the award will be given to a senior center who will help solidify one of the nation's top offensive lines. That player is none other than Oklahoma Sooners center Ben Habern.
Habern is a 6'4'', 295-pound center who led the Sooners offensive line with 123 knockdowns on the season. Habern's production also helped the Sooners only give up 11 sacks on the season, which ranked ninth in the nation.
With quarterback Landry Jones leaving for the NFL, the Sooners will need veteran leadership on the offensive line if quarterbacks Drew Allen or Blake Bell are going to step in and play confidently for the Sooners.
Ben Habern's senior leadership will not only help the Oklahoma Sooners, it will also help earn him the 2012 Rimington Trophy.
The Outland Trophy is given out annually to the nation's top interior lineman. More often than not the award is handed out to an offensive interior lineman (51 winners) rather than a defensive interior lineman (15 winners), and that will be the same in 2012.
The 2011 Outland Trophy was handed out to Alabama interior lineman Barrett Jones.
Many experts thought that after winning the 2011 Outland Trophy Jones would enter the NFL draft, but he did just the opposite, returning to Alabama for his senior season. The fact that Jones is returning in 2012, and the fact that Jones spent time at all line positions other than right guard in 2011, makes him the clear front runner for the 2012 Outland Trophy.
The Crimson Tide will be returning all but one starter from the offensive line in 2012, which will not only make them a front runner for the 2012 SEC title but also the BCS National Championship as well.
Barrett Jones will be the major reason why Alabama will be a great team next year, opening holes for running back Eddie Lacy and protecting quarterback A.J. McCarron. Jones's leadership in 2012 will make him the first ever player to win the Outland Trophy two years in a row.
The John Mackey Trophy has been handed out for the past 12 years to the top tight end in college football. Past winners like Kellen Winslow II, Heath Miller, Dallas Clark and Aaron Hernandez have gone on to be studs in the NFL, and so will the 2012 winner of the John Mackey: Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
Eifert has yet to decide if he is going to enter the NFL draft or return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
Notre Dame fans all over the world are hoping beyond all hope that he decides to return to play for the Fighting Irish, because if he does the Irish will be a dangerous team. Eifert was second in receptions and yards on Notre Dame's roster, only behind future NFL star Michael Floyd. EIfert accounted for 803 yards, which ranked first in the nation amongst all tight ends.
Eifert needs to return to Notre Dame if he wants to be a guaranteed first- or second-round draft pick, and I'm expecting him to do just that. WIth Floyd leaving Notre Dame, Eifert will be quarterback Tommy Rees's top target, which will result in Eifert accounting for close to 100 receptions and 1,000 yards, easily earning him the 2012 John Mackey Trophy and upping his draft stock exponentially.
The Fred Biletnikoff Award is handed out to annually to the nation's top wide receiver. Prior winners of the Biletnikoff Award include the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree. There have been two two-time Biletnikoff winners, Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon, and the 2012 winner has the possibility to be the next wide receiver to add his name to the two-time winner list.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the surprise of the 2011 season. As a freshman he helped lead the Clemson Tigers to an ACC championship and a BCS bowl bid by leading the team in receiving. Watkins accounted for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns on 77 receptions for an impressive average of 15.0 yards per catch.
With junior quarterback Tajh Boyd returning, the duo of Boyd and Watkins will be one of the most exciting to watch in 2012.
Boyd will be one of the most exciting players in all of college football next year, and that will be in large part due to having the speedster Watkins on the roster. Watkins will easily close in on 100 receptions for the year and account for at least 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, easily earning himself the 2012 Fred Biletnikoff Trophy.
The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Trophy is handed out to college football's top fourth-year/senior quarterback. While this award hast necessarily been a precursor for NFL success, there are some past winners who have gone on to be elite NFL quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan. 2011 winner Andrew Luck might just be the next player to add to that list, and so might be the 2012 winner.
In one of the most shocking post-regular season college football announcements, USC quarterback Matt Barkley announced he would return for his senior season. Many thought Barkley would have been a top-five draft pick if he had entered the NFL draft, but we will have to wait another year to see if that is actually true.
There is no doubt that Barkley will be the best fourth-year/senior quarterback in college football. This past season he threw for more yards than Andrew Luck, the recipient of the 2011 award, with 3,528 yards as compared to Luck's 3,517, and he did so playing in one fewer game.
With his top targets, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, returning to USC for their junior and sophomore years, respectively, Barkley will have no trouble surpassing his 2011 production, which will easily earn him the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Trophy and a spot on the list of 2012 Heisman finalists.
The Home Depot Award has honored college football's top head coach for each of the past 18 years. While it isn't always the case, often times the winner of the Home Depot Award is the head coach who ends up at least being in the BCS title game. The past two years, that has been the case, with Auburn's Gene Chizik and LSU's Les Miles being the past two recipients of the award.
I know it's too early to make this prediction, but Lane Kiffin will win the 2012 Home Depot Award, because his USC Trojans will be undefeated and playing in the BCS title game in 2012.
The Trojans, who were an impressive 10-2 in 2011, are returning 17 out of their 21 starters from 2011, including their two top receivers and their star quarterback Matt Barkley. The Trojans will undoubtedly be one of the most dangerous teams in 2012 and they will also be an early favorite to play in the BCS title game.
With Stanford losing Andrew Luck and Oregon losing LaMichael James, all Kiffin has to do is stand on the sideline and not break any NCAA recruiting rules for the Trojans to make it at least to the Pac-12 championship game. Lane Kiffin, although I hate to admit it, will win the 2012 Home Depot Coach of the Year award, not because he's an incredible coach, but because the talent on his USC Trojan team is just that good.
The Davey O'Brien Award is handed out to the nation's top overall quarterback. Unlike the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Davey O'Brien award is open to all eligibility classes of quarterback. Another way the Davey O'Brien award differs from other quarterback awards is that the past has proved that this award favors quarterbacks who can also run the ball, with past winners like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Vince Young and Eric Couch.
2012 will be no different with the award going to a hybrid quarterback like Kansas State's Collin Klein instead of a pure passer like USC's Matt Barkley.
In 2011 Klein led the Wildcats to an impressive 10-2 record and a bid to play in the 2012 Cotton Bowl. Klein did so by keeping defenses on their heels with his ability to run the ball, accounting for 1,099 yards and 26 touchdowns on 293 carries. In addition to that production on the ground, Klein also threw for 1,745 yards and 12 touchdowns on 145 completions.
If the Wildcats had beaten Oklahoma State, instead of losing on a last-second touchdown, there is no doubt that Klein would have been a finalist for the 2011 Heisman Trophy. With all the talent that is leaving the Big 12, Collin Klein and the veteran Wildcats are a team to watch in 2012, and that will be in large part due to Klein's performance that will earn him the 2012 Davey O'Brien Award.
The Doak Walker Award is annually handed out to the nation's best running back, with past winners like LaDainian Tomlinson, Cedric Benson, Darren McFadden and Shonn Greene going on to have successful NFL careers.
Out of all college football award predictions, the Doak Walker award is undoubtedly the hardest to select. There are so many players who could win this award like South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Penn State's Silas Redd, Auburn's Michael Dyer and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor.
The major factor in deciding the prediction for this award is the fact that LaMichael James decided to enter the NFL draft, which will give Oregon junior running back Kenjon Barner the majority of Oregon's 600-plus rushing attempts. In 2011, with limited carries behind LaMichael James, Barner accounted for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns on 152 carries, earning him an impressive average of 6.2 yards per carry.
While Barner will share some carries with sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas, Barner will still be the main focus of Oregon's high-flying offense. It is realistic to think that Barner could rush for close to 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns based on the fact that Oregon will hand him the ball at least 250 times. Ultimately Barner will win a highly contested race for the 2012 Doak Walker Award.
The Maxwell Award annually honors the nation's best player as judged by a group of sportswriters, sportscasters, head coaches and members of the Maxwell Club. The main difference between this award and the Walter Camp Award is the significant presence of sportswriters and sportscasters as voters, who often times favor players with a "highlight reel" appeal to their game. That type of voting is evidence by recent winners like Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Vince Young.
Denard Robinson is one of those "highlight reel" type players who just so happens to be returning to a team with a solid running game and a dominant top 20 defense.
In 2011 Robinson led the Michigan Wolverines to a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech and an impressive 11-2 overall record. He accounted for 2,056 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air and 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. If Robinson wants to take the Wolverines to the next level and win the Maxwell Award he has to increase his total yards production to over 4,000 yards and account for 35-plus touchdowns.
Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines, who are returning at least 13 starters, are going to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten and in all of college football. It's not unrealistic to think that Robinson can lead the nation in total touchdowns accounted for in 2012, as long as he cuts down on turnovers (14 interceptions), and win the 2012 Maxwell Award.
The Walter Camp Player of the Year Award is given to exactly what it seems: the nation's top football player as voted by Division I coaches and sports information directors. There are quite a few players who will compete for this award like Tajh Boyd, Denard Robinson, Michael Dyer, Kenjon Barner, Collin Klein and Tyrann Mathieu.
Unfortunately only one player can win the award, and that player will be USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
The Walter Camp Award, based on the history of the award, is more often than not given to a quarterback rather than a player at any other position, and that is one of the main reasons why Barkley will end up with the award. The other reason is that he will lead the country in passer efficiency, completion percentage and touchdowns. That kind of production will help the USC Trojans earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and possibly the BCS title game, and if that happens there is no way Barkley doesn't end up with this award.
This award will be highly contested, with all the talent deserving of the honor, but no player in college football will have the year that Barkley will have and that is in large part due to the 17 starters that are returning to the USC Trojans in 2012. Barkley will win the 2012 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award on his way to becoming a top-five draft pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Here it is, the grand daddy of them all, the Heisman Memorial Trophy. The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award of all college football awards, given to the nation's unrivaled player. There is always heated debate over who is the most deserving of the Heisman honor, and that tradition won't end in 2012.
2012 will be full of athletes who are more than deserving of the award, but the most deserving of all will be Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.
2011 was a breakout year for Klein, who accounted for 2,884 total yards and 38 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. Klein's play in 2012 will wow the college football world, putting up around 3,500-plus yards and over 40 touchdowns. His production will be reminiscent of the 2007 production of Tim Tebow, who just so happened to win the Heisman Trophy as well that year.
It might be a bold prediction to pick Klein to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy, but when you look at the talent the Big 12 will be losing next year in Robert Griffin, Landry Jones, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, the prediction makes a lot more sense.
So there you have it: Collin Klein will take home the 2012 Heisman Trophy in what will be one of the most highly debated Heisman races of all time.