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Top Sleeper Picks for Major College Football Awards

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIAugust 5, 2013

Top Sleeper Picks for Major College Football Awards

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    Cheering on a favorite, is, well, what most people do. 

    You want to be different, though, so you're looking for legitimate long shots who are capable of bringing home college football's most coveted hardware. 

    The Heisman, the Walter Camp, the Outland and the Maxwell are such awards, and the front-runners are obvious.

    But you want to stand out from the crowd and go against the grain. You want a dark horse in this race.

    And by reading this slideshow, you'll get a few suggestions. 

Dick Butkus Award: Iowa LB Christian Kirksey

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    If Christian Kirksey played at a higher-profile program, he'd most likely be more than a long shot for the Dick Butkus Award. 

    As a junior in 2012, Kirksey, a permanent team captain at Iowa, recovered four fumbles, second most in the nation and tied for the lead in the Big Ten. He's durable, as evidenced by his 25-game start streak. And at 6'2" and 235 pounds, he has the size to dish out and take punishment. 

    Last season, he was among the Big Ten's top tacklers with 95 stops and two sacks. He averaged 7.9 tackles per game. 

Bronko Nagurski: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

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    Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier has elite-level talent, but in Defensive Player of the Year consideration, he lacks the hype of, say, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney

    As a sophomore in 2012, Shazier had 115 tackles, second most in the Big Ten, along with 11 pass deflections and five sacks. He'll be a key factor for the Buckeyes, who are favorites to win the Big Ten after going 12-0 a year ago. 

Chuck Bednarik: Arizona State DT/DE Will Sutton

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    Arizona State senior Will Sutton is versatile enough to play tackle or end, and he's certainly worthy of consideration for the Chuck Bednarik Award, another piece of hardware given to the nation's top defender.

    Sutton was projected as a fifth-rounder in the 2013 NFL draft, but don't let that slight fool you. He has earlier-round talent.

    In 2012, he essentially erased a football field's worth of ground—96 yards for those counting—with 13 sacks.

    He doesn't mess around. 

Rimington: Toledo C Zac Kerin

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    In 2012, Zac Kerin, the Toledo Rockets' 6'5", 300-pound center, was partly responsible for the success of running back David Fluellen, who was the nation's 12th-leading rusher with 1,498 yards. 

    This season, they both return as seniors. Kerin is more experienced, and Fluellen could have another incredible year. Kerin should benefit by playing for a team that ranked third in total offense this past season in the Mid-American Conference. 

    The more offensive production, the better Kerin looks.  

Lombardi: UCLA LB Anthony Barr

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    This past season, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o took home the Lombardi Award. In 2011, Boston College's Luke Kuechly won it. This year, UCLA's Anthony Barr could be the third straight linebacker to do so. 

    As a sophomore in 2012, Barr led the Pac-12 with 13.5 sacks. WalterFootball.com, a popular NFL mock draft site, has the New York Jets taking Barr as the No. 5 pick of the 2014 draft. 

Outland: Pitt DT Aaron Donald

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    Since 2000, eight offensive tackles have won the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's top interior lineman. 

    Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are two of the favorites for the award this season, but don't discount Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh's senior defensive tackle. 

    In 2012, Donald led the Big East with 1.54 tackles for loss per game. Adding to his resume were 64 tackles and 5.5 sacks. NFLDraftScout.com rates him as the No. 11 defensive tackle in the nation. 

John Mackey: Michigan TE Devin Funchess

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    As a freshman in 2012, Devin Funchess quickly gained recognition in the Big Ten for his ability on the field. This fall, he could certainly bloom into one of the top tight ends in the nation as he becomes more of a focal point of the offense.

    In 2013, Funchess will play in an offense predicated on distribution. Call him a long shot, which he is, but don't forget about him. He doesn't have the same name recognition as someone like South Carolina's Rory Anderson, who is considered one of the best in college football, but he's playing on a team that's geared for production from the tight end spot. 

Fred Biletnikoff: Georgia WR Michael Bennett

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    Having a Heisman-caliber quarterback throwing to you has its benefits, aS Georgia wideout Michael Bennett will find that out this fall.

    With senior Aaron Murray's cannon of an arm at work, Bennett will have ample opportunities to make drive-extending catches and earn Biletnikoff consideration.

    An ACL injury kept him from reaching his full potential as a sophomore. However, his production during those five games in 2012 was respectable: 24 catches, 345 yards and four touchdowns. 

Johnny Unitas: San Jose State QB David Fales

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    The Golden Arm Foundation may not want to etch Alabama senior AJ.McCarron's name on the Johnny Unitas Award just yet. 

    Sure, McCarron is a senior, and the Unitas goes to a senior. But San Jose State's David Fales is a worthy competitor.

    As a junior in 2012, Fales was a throwing machine, passing for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns. He completed 72.5 percent of his passes and threw just nine picks. 

    Now a senior, he is set for more gaudy stat lines. 

Davey O'Brien: Texas QB David Ash

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    David Ash's offseason was all about improvement

    Consider it mission accomplished. And consider Ash an outside candidate for the O'Brien, given to the best signal-caller in the nation. 

    First, the Texas junior quarterback "wowed" coach Mack Brown, according to Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That's a positive sign in itself. Second, he has dramatically improved his leadership.

    His stat line from 2012 wasn't bad: 2,699 yards, 19 touchdowns, eight interceptions. But that offseason improvement should lead to even better results this season.

Doak Walker: Miami RB Duke Johnson

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    The Hurricanes have a storm waiting to erupt in sophomore running back Duke Johnson, who could sneak through the back door and take home the Doak Walker Award this fall. 

    As a freshman in 2012, Johnson burst onto the scene with 947 rushing yards, good for third in the ACC, and 10 touchdowns, the fourth most in the conference. 

    Expecting an even bigger season from the second-year Miami star is fully warranted based on what he showed as a freshman.

Home Depot: UCLA's Jim Mora

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    Football and Jim Mora go together like cheerleaders and pom-poms. 

    Now entering his second year at UCLA, Mora appears to be directing the Bruins in the right direction. In 2012, he coached them to nine wins, their most since 2005. He's recruiting well, too, according to Rivals.com. 

    Because of his work, Mora's Bruins are favorites to win the Pac-12 South. Should they succeed, it'd be their second straight division championship under Mora, who took over coaching duties in 2012. 

Walter Camp: Georgia RB Todd Gurley

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    The Walter Camp is sort of like a third-place Heisman. 

    Figure Georgia sophomore running back Todd Gurley to be in the equation. 

    In 2012, Gurley was the SEC's second-leading rusher with 1,385 yards. He finished just behind Texas A&M's Heisman-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel, who had 1,410 yards. His 17 touchdown runs were also second to Manziel's 21.

    Gurley has a shot at the Heisman, too. But quarterbacks have always been favored to win this award, and that trend continues this season.

Maxwell Award: Michigan OT Taylor Lewan

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    Being an offensive tackle limits Taylor Lewan. 

    The Michigan senior is on the Maxwell watch list because he's simply one of the best players in college football, regardless of position. However, the Maxwell typically goes to a Heisman runner-up or a Heisman winner. Although Lewan has Heisman-esque qualities—leadership and ability—it's doubtful that he'll be considered for it. 

    Maybe in another day and age, but not in 2013. 

    Lewan is projected to be an early first-rounder in the 2014 NFL draft. 

Heisman: Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon

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    Saving the best for last is only right.

    The Heisman is college football's highest individual honor, but it's usually more of a popularity contest than an objective analysis of which player is the game's best. 

    Everyone knows the favorites. But if you are stuck to find a sleeper, Alabama sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon is your guy. 

    At times as a freshman, Yeldon looked like an NFL-ready back. While he only cracked 100 yards five times in 2012, Yeldon played well against big-time opponents such as Michigan, LSU, Georgia and Notre Dame, which lost 42-14 to the Tide in the BCS title game. 

    He was the SEC's sixth-leading rusher, which may not sound Heisman-worthy, but take a look at his line: 175 carries, 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

     

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