Bleacher Report's Summer Predictions for Every Major College Football Award
There are still more than two months before the 2014 college football season finally welcomes us back with open arms, and we're doing our best to pass the time until those first kickoffs.
A lot of focus has been put on team expectations for this fall, with programs evaluated based on their chances of making the first-ever College Football Playoff. The quality of their rosters and coaching staffs factors into this process, but comparing individuals doesn't.
That's what the many awards given out are for.
Watch lists have already started popping up for the bevy of postseason college football awards given to the nation's best quarterbacks, linebackers, linemen and even kickers, not to mention for the best coach and several that honor the top overall player. The Heisman Trophy gets the most attention, but there are many more that are just as distinctive.
These awards will be based on the body of work put forth throughout the 2014 season, but it's never too early to start thinking who's going to take home some hardware in December.
Check out Bleacher Report's summer predictions for every major award, then give us your thoughts on who's worthy (or not so much) in the comments section.
Frank Broyles Award
Award type: Top assistant coach
Predicted winner: Kurt Roper, Florida
One of the biggest disappointments of the 2013 season was the performance of Florida, a tradition-rich program that had won national titles in the past decade but stumbled to a 4-8 record, the worst since 1979. Particularly woeful was the Gators offense, which averaged less than 19 points per game and finished 113th in total yards.
Kurt Roper was brought in from Duke—where he'd helped execute the turnaround of a dormant program—to be the offensive savior, to take the wealth of talent Florida is able to recruit on offense and turn it into a productive group.
Early returns from Roper's work with the Gators have been very positive, according to head coach Will Muschamp.
"He's playing to the players' strengths and what we're trying to do, and I think he does a really good job," Muschamp told Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun. “He's just a really good teacher. And more than anything, just a positive guy. His positive energy is very contagious in the building.”
We think he's going to make great strides this year, so much so he'll win the Broyles Award given to the nation's top assistant coach. Past winners include Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who piloted the Spartans' lockdown unit in 2013, as well as former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in 2012.
Award type: Top former walk-on
Predicted winner: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
College football teams get 85 scholarships to help fill their teams, with the rest of the spots going to players willing to pay their own way for a chance to live their dream. They're known as walk-ons, and while most never get much action, some end up becoming so important to their team they earn a scholarship.
The Burlsworth Trophy is given each year to a player that began his career as a walk-on but later became a star. That describes Ryan Mueller's Kansas State career to a tee, as he is the Wildcats' best defensive player after coming to the school in 2010 without a scholarship.
Unable to grab any Division I offers, Mueller walked on at K-State. He sat out one season, then played in every game in 2011 and 2012 but had just 14 total tackles. Then came last year, when he exploded for 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, earning All-Big 12 honors and the league's defensive lineman of the year award.
Now a senior, Mueller should once again be among the best pass-rushers in the country, but he'll be the best who started his college career without a free ride.
Ray Guy Award
Award type: Top punter
Predicted winner: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
If offense sells tickets and defense wins championships, punting sets the stage for both to do their thing.
Mike Sadler was as important as any other player during Michigan State's stellar 2013 season, as the senior helped flip the field on many occasions with his 42.5-yard average on 76 kicks. The Spartans offense got better as the season went along, taking pressure off their defense, but when things didn't go well moving the ball, they knew Sadler would come through with a great, booming kick.
Sadler looks primed to be the next great punter to come from the Big Ten, as NFLDraftScout.com rates him as the No. 1 senior punter in the country.
Lou Groza Award
Award type: Top kicker
Predicted winner: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Nobody tends to notice the kicker unless he makes a mistake. So in that respect, the fact that Roberto Aguayo isn't very well-known is a heck of a compliment.
But for those who don't know him, they should. As a redshirt freshman, he won this award, given to the nation's top kicker, thanks to scoring more points (157) than any other kicker in FBS history. He was so prolific, making 21 of 22 field goals and all 94 extra-point attempts, that he personally outscored three FBS teams and nearly tallied more points than Florida State's opponents (170) last season.
And maybe most importantly, Aguayo hasn't followed in the footsteps of some of his FSU predecessors, who had notable missed field goals in key situations throughout their careers.
Paul Hornung Award
Award type: Most versatile player
Predicted winner: Ty Montgomery, Stanford
Everyone's definition of versatility may be different, but when it comes to honoring this attribute at the college level, the Paul Hornung Award is looking for someone who can do it all. It's what its namesake, a former Notre Dame quarterback, running back, kicker, punter, defensive back and return specialist, did during his college career.
We're tabbing Ty Montgomery from Stanford for this honor, as the senior was the Cardinal's top receiver and most explosive return man during their Pac-12 championship run in 2013. He averaged more than 15 yards per reception, scored 10 touchdowns on passes and also returned a pair of kicks for TDs. Overall, he finished ninth nationally in all-purpose yardage.
Montgomery will again play an integral role in multiple facets of Stanford's game plan in 2014. He'll be asked to do a lot, and his versatility will shine all year long.
Jim Thorpe Award
Award type: Top defensive back
Predicted winner: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
The Jim Thorpe Award is given to the nation's best defensive back, but the winner needs to be more than just a great cornerback or safety. They need to be able to do it all, like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has done during his Oregon career.
Ekpre-Olomu has not only intercepted seven passes over the past three years, he's also forced seven fumbles and scooped up a lost ball. He's fierce both on pass defense and in stopping the run, as his five tackles for loss in 2013 can show.
The likely first cornerback taken in the 2015 NFL draft, Ekpre-Olomu will take with him his ability to contribute in all facets of defense for a long professional career.
Dick Butkus Award
Award type: Top linebacker
Predicted winner: Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fla.)
Of all the postseason awards, there's something about the Dick Butkus Award that makes it stand out. It's probably got to do with its namesake, one of the hardest hitters the college and pro game has ever seen.
Denzel Perryman's play during his Miami (Fla.) career has closely mirrored what Butkus did at Illinois in the 1960s, as Perryman has shown rapid improvement each year that included a massive 2013 season with 108 tackles and five tackles for loss.
He absolutely obliterated a teammate during the Hurricanes spring game, a hit that was captured up close and personal thanks to Perryman wearing a helmet camera during the scrimmage. That play, and many others, is why NFL.com has listed the senior as the No. 2 most physical player in college for the 2014 season.
Ted Hendricks Award
Award type: Top defensive end
Predicted winner: Randy Gregory, Nebraska
Randy Gregory began his career with a scholarship to Purdue, but he didn't qualify and had to end up at a junior college for two seasons before Nebraska landed the talented but raw defensive end. After waiting two years to get into a Division I game, Gregory exploded in 2013 with 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
If Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is to be believed, the amazing season that Gregory had last year will pale in comparison to what's in store for 2014.
"Randy Gregory hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's going to become, what he's going to be," Pelini told reporters during spring practice.
Gregory was named CollegeFootballNews.com's Sophomore Player of the Year in 2013, and despite being on the light side for an end at 245 pounds, his 6'6" frame and amazing length and reach make him a matchup nightmare for offensive tackles and guards.
Bronko Nagurski Award
Award type: Top defensive player
Predicted winner: Vic Beasley, Clemson
Vic Beasley plays defensive end in college, though most scouts and experts figure the senior will fit best as a linebacker in the NFL. Wherever he plays, though, Beasley will likely be dominant thanks to his great speed and a level of strength that helps overcome his smallish 6'2", 235-pound frame.
Beasley played on the edge all of last season and had little trouble getting around and through blockers, especially on passing downs, logging 13 sacks among his 23 tackles for loss, as well as 12 quarterback pressures and six pass breakups. Beasley also forced four fumbles and recovered another loose ball, wreaking havoc in the ACC and elsewhere with his pass-rushing ability.
With Clemson losing a lot of talent on offense from last season, more pressure will be put on the Tigers defense to help hold the line early. That will make Beasley's efforts on the edge much more important, but we see the future pro linebacker being able to handle that added responsibility.
Chuck Bednarik Award
Award type: Top defensive player
Predicted winner: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
As Michigan State was building momentum early last year en route to one of the best seasons in school history, the Spartans were very reliant on their defense to help carry the load. Shilique Calhoun helped lead that charge, turning into an unexpected scoring machine with three defensive touchdowns.
Those all came in the first two weeks of the season, but that wasn't where Calhoun's contributions stopped. Instead, he continued to excel in his first year starting at defensive end, finishing with 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hurries and four fumble recoveries.
The fourth-year junior was eligible to go pro after last season, but he returned to MSU to try and help the Spartans get into the College Football Playoff. With that return, he said he's transformed himself from the 2013 version that he referred to as "Bane" to this fall's "Lynx" mode. What that means is uncertain, but we're pretty sure it will translate into another amazing season for Calhoun.
Award type: Top lineman
Predicted winner: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
To understand how big a year Brandon Scherff is in line for as a senior, all you need to do is read one simple tweet he sent out on June 11:
You will only see the best of me this year — Brandon Scherff
Bold yet understated, it's how Scherff has managed to anchor down the left side of Iowa's offensive line during the Hawkeyes' solid 2013 season. During that year, Iowa's quarterbacks were sacked only 15 times, and very few of those came from anywhere near Scherff's left tackle position.
At 6'5" and 320 pounds, he's NFL-ready at this point, and with this final season in college, he'll fine-tune his skills by keeping defenders off either Jake Rudock or C.J. Beathard and opening holes for Iowa's run game.
Vince Lombardi Award
Award type: Top lineman
Predicted winner: Leonard Williams, USC
Leonard Williams has been a dominant force on USC's defensive line since his debut as a true freshman in 2012, and even with a position change from inside to the end in 2013, he was a nearly unstoppable force.
Williams had 13.5 tackles for loss at tackle as a freshman, the same number he tallied last year on the edge. He'll likely start outside again this fall, but he could be moved inside with certain formations or if injuries occur. That kind of flexibility will make him highly sought-after when he becomes draft-eligible after the season.
ESPN's Todd McShay has listed Williams as his No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft if he were to come out after his junior year, while Bleacher Report's Matt Miller lists him as the second-best defensive tackle and the top run-stopping defender in the nation.
John Mackey Award
Award type: Top tight end
Predicted winner: Devin Funchess, Michigan
There may be other tight ends in 2014 who will show skills more resembling of a traditional tight end, but that's not what Devin Funchess has been during his Michigan career. Instead, he's been a top-tier pass-catcher who just happens to have a tight end's body.
Last season, Funchess had 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns, putting together the best season for a Wolverines tight end in school history. He was amazingly consistent, hauling in at least one pass in every game and serving as a great slot weapon when not blocking on the edge.
At 6'5" and 230 pounds, he's a large target who has great speed and fluidity, and he'll be a key piece to Michigan's passing offense this fall under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Fred Biletnikoff Award
Award type: Top wide receiver
Predicted winner: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Recruited by Kansas State more because of his legacy—father Kevin holds most of the school's receiving records, and uncle Aaron is high on those lists as well—than for his ability, Tyler Lockett has blossomed into the nation's most unguardable wideout as he heads into his senior year.
Lockett should end up passing his family members and all other Wildcats for receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and numerous kickoff return career marks. Last year, he had 81 catches for 1,262 yards and 11 TDs, while as a returner he averaged 26.5 yards and has four kickoff scores during his K-State career.
The 5'11", 175-pound receiver isn't the fastest and doesn't jump the highest, but he's managed to carve out a niche as a great possession receiver who can do plenty after the catch. He's the best receiver in the country and will be the most dangerous weapon in a Big 12 Conference that has plenty of standout offensive players.
Doak Walker Award
Award type: Top running back
Predicted winner: Todd Gurley, Georgia
Injuries robbed us all from seeing how much better Todd Gurley got from his freshman to sophomore seasons, as he missed three games in 2013 yet still managed to rush for nearly 1,000 yards. That came after nearly 1,400 yards as a true freshman.
Though the numbers might not show it, those who had to try and stop Gurley when he was healthy last year can tell you how good he was.
Georgia coach Mark Richt, who has been at the school for 15 years, went so far as to nearly call Gurley the best running back he's had with the Bulldogs.
"You know, there's been some good ones," Richt told Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee. "I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but this guy [Gurley], I'll just say, he is a very special talent."
A hard runner with speed and power, Gurley is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He supplemented his 10 rushing touchdowns with 37 receptions for 441 yards and five scores last season. Coming into this fall at full strength, he should be unstoppable.
Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
Award type: Top senior quarterback
Predicted winner: Sean Mannion, Oregon State
By the time Sean Mannion's career is over at Oregon State, not only will most school passing records belong to the big-armed senior, but he'll own so may many Pac-12 career marks as well.
Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last season—the yardage setting the conference mark and the TDs breaking the Beavers' regular-season record. He had the benefit of throwing to the nation's best wide receiver in Brandin Cooks last year, but without Cooks anymore, Mannion will get a chance to show how much of the credit belongs to him.
Though his 46 career interceptions are troublesome, he's never shied away from trying to make the tough passes. And after another season of big numbers and big plays, Mannion will be deserving of recognition.
Davey O'Brien Award
Award type: Top quarterback
Predicted winner: Bryce Petty, Baylor
Bryce Petty waited his turn for a shot at running Baylor's high-flying offense, and when that time came in 2013, he put up one of the most efficient seasons in college football history. In 2014, he's apt to do even better, and combined with his performance a year ago, that effort will be rewarded.
Petty threw for an even 4,200 yards in 13 games last season, tossing 32 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Yes, he had plenty of weapons to work with, but the crispness on his long passes enabled the Bears to average more than 16 yards per completion.
He also showed off a gear of speed and elusiveness around the goal line that belied his 6'3", 230-pound frame. Petty rushed for 14 touchdowns on just 94 attempts, saving his scrambles for when they paid off the most.
Walter Camp Award
Award type: Player of the year
Predicted winner: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Of the three major national player-of-the-year awards (along with the Maxwell and Heisman), the Walter Camp separates itself by how the voting goes. Rather than a mix of media members, current and former coaches and past winners, the Walter Camp is chosen exclusively by a vote of active FBS coaches and sports information directors.
Those people get to see things up close every week, and this year, that group will tab Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota as its winner.
Mariota, who will also be in line for other awards this season, will put up the best numbers of his already illustrious career with the Ducks, and that performance will garner the top amount of votes for this award.
Award type: Outstanding player
Predicted winner: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Like the Walter Camp, the Maxwell Award is another one of the player-of-the-year honors that may or may not predict who will take the Heisman. Only two of the last 10 Maxwell winners have claimed the Heisman as well, with last year's hardware going to Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.
This year, we're giving it to the reigning Heisman winner for the excellence he'll put up for a second straight season. Whether Jameis Winston will claim a second Heisman Trophy this December is a story for another slide, but we know he'll excel enough this season to earn this honor.
The sophomore should match what he did in 2013, though the competition will be much tougher. Being able to succeed yet again will solidify Winston's legacy and earn him this trophy.
Home Depot Award
Award type: Coach of the year
Predicted winner: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
It ain't easy being the king.
Just ask Jimbo Fisher, who a year after returning Florida State to glory with a national championship faces an even bigger challenge in trying to show he can do it again. And if he does, he'll join some elite company, including his old boss, Nick Saban.
While Fisher has Jameis Winston back, many of his other stars from the 2013 title team moved on, meaning he has to integrate new stars into a lineup still packed with power players and make sure they can mesh. He's also got to do it without the defensive coordinator that helped him to the championship, as Jeremy Pruitt moved over to Georgia during the offseason.
An upgraded schedule includes far more tests than last year, along with the added weight of being the defending champions and having each and every victory scrutinized for possibly not being good enough. But if there's a guy out there who can handle all that pressure without much visible strain, it's Fisher.
Award type: Outstanding player
Predicted winner: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Marcus Mariota didn't finish among the top vote-getters in the 2013 Heisman race after the tail end of his season saw a drop-off in both his and his team's production. Don't expect the same this year, as the junior quarterback will bring Oregon its first-ever honor for the nation's most outstanding player.
"Mariota was the Heisman front runner for a large chunk of (the 2013) season," Chris Huston, creator and operator of HeismanPundit.com, wrote on his website. "Losses to Stanford and Arizona knocked him out of the race, but he should be better in 2014. If he can finally get Oregon past Stanford, he’ll probably make a trip to New York."
Mariota will win in spite of the fact that reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston will have another great year.
Winston may surpass what he did last season as a redshirt freshman, when he set numerous records for a first-year quarterback. But that was the same scenario for Johnny Manziel, whose 2013 numbers were up from what he produced when he won the Heisman the season prior, yet he finished a distant fifth in the voting.
Matt Leinart experienced the same thing in 2005, putting up better numbers than when he claimed the trophy in 2004 but still finishing behind teammate Reggie Bush and Texas' Vince Young.
While Winston has to top himself to win it again, Mariota just has to keep getting better. And with his knee looking strong and the Ducks poised to make a strong push for the College Football Playoff, he's our Heisman choice.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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