College Football

Predicting Winner of Every Top 2013 College Football Award

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2013

Predicting Winner of Every Top 2013 College Football Award

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    Finalists were announced for the Home Depot College Football Awards on Monday evening, the latest in a long string of signs that the end of the season is nigh.

    Among the awards announced were the Maxwell, awarded annually to the year's most outstanding player, and one for almost every positional group on the field.

    The announcement of these finalists is always as notable for who wasn't included as it is for who was, but talk about snubs and merit can be saved for another day.

    Right now, these are the guys that still have a shot at claiming each award, fair or not. Who will stand tall among the rest?

Chuck Bednarik Award

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    LB Anthony Barr (UCLA), DT Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), LB C.J. Mosley (Alabama)

     

    This one is nearly impossible to pick, since the decision will likely come down to what criterion each voter values most in a Bednarik winner.

    Aaron Donald has been the most dominant defensive player, and he has put up the best stats, leading the country with 26.0 tackles for loss.

    Anthony Barr stands out the most on tape, and his numbers ain't half bad either.

    C.J. Mosley doesn't put up huge stats and isn't the same physical freak as Barr, but of the three candidates, he is the only one playing for a top-30 defense in terms of yards per game. He is the leader of the vaunted Crimson Tide defense, which once again might be the best pure unit in America.

    This one will be close, and each guy stands a legitimate shot at winning. Donald will make a strong push, but at the end of the day, Mosley will win in some sort of career-achievement coronation.

    I'm okay with that.

Biletnikoff Award

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    WR Brandin Cooks (ORST), WR Mike Evans (TA&M), WR Sammy Watkins (CLEM)

     

    Sammy Watkins has the least-impressive stats of the trio, but his production has been the most consistent from week to week, which should make him the preferred candidate.

    Brandin Cooks leads the nation in receptions and yards, ranking second in touchdowns behind Fresno State's Davante Adams (who's also had a huge year). It is hard to imagine this award not going to someone who almost has the national triple crown.

    Cooks' production has petered off in the latter part of the season, as his offense has on the whole. After averaging 168 yards per game during Oregon State's 6-1 start, he's down to "just" 96 yards per game during its current four-game losing streak.

    Mike Evans, meanwhile, is an impressive combination of talent and production, but his numbers are inflated by a couple massive games. He gets extra points for shredding Alabama and Auburn the way he did (566 yards combined), but he hasn't been the same beast in other games this year, finishing below 85 yards six different times.

    This is another award where all three guys have a legitimate shot to win, but at the end of the day, Watkins is the best blend of game film, production and consistency.

    Clemson has been off the map a bit since losing to Florida State, but Watkins has continued to be great.

Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award

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    USA TODAY Sports

     K Roberto Aguayo (FSU), K Anthony Fera (Texas), K Marvin Kloss (USF)

     

    This is pretty clearly a two-horse race between Roberto Aguayo and Anthony Fera, both of whom have missed just one kick this season (to Marvin Kloss' four) and share nearly identical numbers.

    Both have hit one kick from 50-plus yards, and both missed from between 43 and 45 yards on their sole misfire, but the context of that miss gives Aguayo a slight edge.

    He missed when Florida State was up 35-0 against Wake Forest in a game that would never be in doubt.

    Fera missed when Texas led 24-7 against Kansas State, setting up a long Wildcats touchdown drive that pulled the game within 10 points.

    The Longhorns still won, but in a race this close, that is the ultimate and deciding factor—at least for me. How other voters see it could be a coin flip.

Ray Guy Award

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    P Tom Hornsey (Memphis), P Drew Kaser (TA&M), P Cody Webster (Purdue)

     

    There's no need to overthink this one.

    Tom Hornsey has the highest punting average out of this trio, booting his 51 kicks for an average of 45.53 yards. He is a big reason Memphis has been so plucky this season; even without a winning record, the Tigers have a lot to build on after 2013.

    No BCS conference punter with 50 or more punts has a better average than Hornsey does, though Cody Webster checks in not far behind and would also be a solid candidate.

    Drew Kaser has a huge leg, but he's a cut behind the other two.

Maxwell Award

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    QB Johnny Manziel (TA&M), QB AJ McCarron (Alabama), QB Jameis Winston (FSU)

     

    According to Gary Fineout's Associated Press article, State Attorney Willie Meggs is not expected to make a decision on whether to charge Jameis Winston with sexual assault until after Thanksgiving.

    For now, operating under the constitutional premise of presumed innocence, Winston is the very easy choice for this award. He has Johnny Manziel's numbers and AJ McCarron's winning percentage, combining both of their strengths without any of their weaknesses.

    There has been no better player in the country.

    If he is charged, though, this—along with every other award Winston is nominated for, including, presumably, the Heisman Trophy—would be shrouded in mystery and doubt. The severity of rape charges cannot be overstated; even if eventually proven innocent, it's hard to imagine voters endorsing a man embroiled in such a fiasco.

    Still, for now, this is Winston's award to lose. We'll know more once Meggs decides whether or not to pursue the case. 

Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award

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    QB Johnny Manziel (TA&M), QB AJ McCarron (Alabama), QB Jameis Winston (FSU)

     

    Since 2000, the Maxwell has been awarded to a quarterback 10 different times. One would think that those recipients—the nation's top overall players—would also be shoo-ins as the nation's top overall quarterbacks, but only half of those 10 have also won the Davey O'Brien.

    Which is to say, even if Winston wins the Maxwell, he is not necessarily a lock to win the O'Brien. He should, probably, since he's been so awesome, but he might not.

    This seems like a spot where voters might ordain AJ McCarron with some sort of career achievement award. No matter what anyone says, the stigma about his being a "game manager" guarantees that he will never win something like the Heisman.

    Here is McCarron's chance.

    There would be uproar about the selection, and some of it would be justified, but all McCarron does is win football games, so why not give him this moment in the sun?

Outland Trophy

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    DT Aaron Donald (Pitt), OT Jake Matthews (TA&M), OG Cyrril Richardson (Baylor)

     

    Here, unlike with the Bednarik, it would be impossible to justify overlooking Aaron Donald, who has been unblockable in the A-gap this entire season.

    That's not to say that anything should be taken away from the other two candidates. Jake Matthews and Cyril Richardson are both enjoying fine years, and they will be rewarded for it with high NFL draft picks.

    They just haven't been Donald.

    Defensive tackles don't often win the Outland, but they do after enjoying truly special campaigns. The last defender to win the award was Ndamukong Suh in 2009, when he finished with 20.5 tackles for loss in 14 games.

    Donald already has 26 tackles for loss in 11 games. He'll take home the hardware.

Jim Thorpe Award

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    CB Darqueze Dennard (MSU), CB Justin Gilbert (OSU), CB/S LaMarcus Joyner (FSU)

     

    The Thorpe Award is always difficult to predict because defensive back play is so difficult to quantify. There is no tangible metric to go on since the best cornerbacks are typically avoided by opposing quarterbacks.

    Oftentimes, the ones with the worst stats are actually playing the best football.

    All three of this year's candidates are uber-qualified, but Darqueze Dennard gets the slight edge. Despite some physical limitations, he has drawn rave reviews all season, including recently being likened to Deion Sanders by pro scouts, according to Charles Davis of NFL.com.

    Michigan State's defense allows just 5.1 yards per pass attempt, the lowest in the country. Dennard is often left on an island with the opponent's best receivers, so he plays a big role in that process.

    Someone on Sparty's defense deserves to be recognized this season. Out of numerous qualified choices, Dennard will be that guy.

Doak Walker Award

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    RB Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona), RB Bishop Sankey (UW), RB Andre Williams (BC)

     

    Andre Williams is playing historically dominant football right now, and his late-season surge should be enough to clinch the Doak Walker.

    He's rushed for 897 yards in his last three—repeat: three—games, and he leads the nation by a long-shot with more than 2,000 yards this season. Williams is flirting with Barry Sanders- and Kevin Smith-like numbers, which are impossible to not recognize.

    Ka'Deem Carey and Bishop Sankey have both been workhorses this year, and there's something to be said for playing in the Pac-12 instead of the ACC. They have had to face harder week-to-week rush defenses than Williams has.

    The Pac-12 defenses aren't so much better that the stats can be ignored, though. Williams is having a season for the ages, and with Boston College playing decent football, he rightfully deserves this honor.

John Mackey Award

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    TE Eric Ebron (UNC), TE Nick O'Leary (FSU), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (UW)

     

    Not to beat a dead horse here, but none of these guys deserves to win. I mean, they deserve to win, but not as much as Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, who wasn't even named a finalist in what amounts to a criminal-level snub.

    I'll digress.

    Ebron has definitely been the second-best tight end in America this season, so if the award can't go to No. 1, he's the least of three evils.

    Okay, now I'll actually digress.

    Ebron has been a big reason for North Carolina's late-season renaissance, providing a freakishly athletic and physical target across the middle. He ranks among the top 100 players in receptions (80th) and yards (65th), which is more than either Nick O'Leary or Austin Seferian-Jenkins can say.

    (For what it's worth, Amaro ranks top 10 in both, but who's counting?)

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