For awards like the Heisman and the Maxwell, college football fans understand the formula to win them. Be the best quarterback on one of the best teams, and you too can take home the hardware. It does not actually matter if you are the best player in the sport that season; rather, just that you fit those two very simple criteria. There are a couple of exceptions, but if you fit the criteria, you can find yourself at least on the finalists list.
Defensive awards have a bit less standard criteria when it comes to winning the hardware. Ultimately, as the Heisman and Maxwell have evolved into popularity contests, the defensive awards have worked more and more to help highlight the best of the defensive bunch when it comes to their awards. Being a name helps, but ultimately, the cream rises to the top, and that is most certainly the case with the Thorpe award.
The Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back, falls into this same ideal where defensive awards are concerned. Today, the 2012 Thorpe Award Watch List was unveiled, and it is pretty inclusive. Guys from every conference, players who play man coverage, zone coverage and a fine mix of both safeties and cornerbacks.
In the last two seasons, a pair of LSU cornerbacks have taken the award home, and before that, it was Eric Berry; which gave the SEC three winners in a row. This year, the SEC has some big-time candidates in the likes of Robert Lester, Matt Elam, Eric Reid, Johnthan Banks and of course, Tyrann Mathieu. The league may see more names emerge, as Bacarri Rambo is not on the list and Tharold Simon has a shot to be special this season.
However, this could be the year that the SEC loses its three-year stranglehold on the award. The Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 have some candidates that could elbow their way to the top of the heap. Out west, look for Jordan Poyer and Nickell Robey at the cornerback spot to make waves. TJ McDonald at USC is the big name to watch, though; the safety is absolutely phenomenal, and he is going to make a strong push for the award.
In the ACC, all the preseason defensive back eyes will be on the Atlantic Division. Florida State has Xavier Rhodes, a solid corner, and LaMarcus Joyner, a safety quickly rising through the ranks, to hinge their award hope on. Not be outdone, NC State boasts David Amerson, the nation's leading interception grabber, on the watch list.
Kenny Vacarro and Tony Jefferson are the Big 12's best hopes for the award. Both play for teams that put defense at the top of their lists. For Vacarro, he looks to lead the back end of a Texas defense that has a pass-rush that helps make that entire secondary look good. Jefferson has Mike Stoops leading the defense as they look to reclaim the pride they lost in 2011.
All in all, both with the names on the list and guys who emerge through the season, the Thorpe Award is going to be a fight. This is not a stat-based award; the voters take inventory of the best players and they award a worthy winner on a year-to-year basis. With all of the talent out there, watching to see who climbs to the top of the defensive back world should be a fun one in 2012.