While the Maxwell Award Watch List is out and we all expect the finalists to look a lot more like the Davey O'Brien award than an actual representation of the Most Outstanding Player; the Bednarik is in much better hands. The Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the college defensive player of the year, has a wide net cast, and it will undoubtedly have a worthy player taking home the hardware.
In the last decade, the Bednarik Award has gone to linemen, linebackers and defensive backs, a level of diversity that the Maxwell does not even come close to touching. Perhaps the defensive voters take more time to actually watch the sport instead of reading stats. Either way, the award has had worthy names like Patrick Peterson, Ndamukong Suh, Rey Maualuga and Dan Connor in the last few seasons. Throw in last year's best all-around defensive player, Tyrann Mathieu, and you've got an award that stands as a true indicator of the defensive landscape.
This year, the "watch list" runs the gamut with great talent. Up front you have the likes of Kawann Short, Brandon Jenkins, John Simon and Star Lotulelei, all guys that have the ability to put up award-winning seasons. At the second level of defense, Manti Te'o takes the cake, but guys like Dion Bailey, Chase Thomas, Shane Skov and Arthur Brown will be in the mix at the linebacker position. In the back end, Tyrann Mathieu headlines a list of very solid defensive backs like Robert Lester, John Boyett and Kenny Vaccaro.
The real question here will be just which position wins the award. Everyone has a shot, and with the way the football world is going, there are areas of opportunity for all three levels of defense. Tyrann Mathieu won last year as a cornerback, but his real contribution was through his playmaking abilities, not his coverage skills.
This year, with so many big-time players, look for a linebacker to again take the award home. With the prevalence of the spread offense, linebackers are making big impacts in both the pass and rushing game. In the Big 12, AJ Klein, Arthur Brown and Alex Okafor have a shot to be difference-makers for their squads, and with West Virginia, TCU and Oklahoma featuring big offenses, their role has a shot to make them candidates.
Manti Te'o is a name many should already know, and as the nation's best linebacker, playing a high-profile schedule, look for the Notre Dame senior to get plenty of shine. He's a big, physical, imposing player, and the way he moves sideline to sideline should help keep him near the top of the total tackle numbers.
2012 will be a banner year for defenses, and while people are counting stats on the offensive guys, the defense will be turning in peak performances and truly earning their keep. Look for a linebacker to take it home in 2012.