The 2014 college football season is on the horizon, and the Butkus Award watch list has officially been announced with several hopeful linebackers on the tally. With notable names like Eric Striker, Shaq Thompson and Terrance Smith on the illustrious program, there will be a fight all season for the trophy.
One of the most coveted honors to work toward on the field, the Butkus Award is given to the best linebacker in the country at the end of a long year. While the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards are slightly more prestigious, past winners prove the Butkus Award is special.
Those names include NFL stars Von Miller, Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis in the last decade. Though the names on this list might not be recognizable just yet, the winner will likely have a bright future ahead.
At the start, 51 names are entered—Dick Butkus' number when he played—but just one will emerge. Here's a look at the full watch list for the 2014 Butkus Award and a breakdown of some select players.
|Aaron Davis||Colorado State|
|Kyler Fackrell||Utah State|
|Maurice Falls||East Carolina|
|Jarrett Grace||Notre Dame|
|Curtis Grant||Ohio State|
|Mike Hull||Penn State|
|Taiwan Jones||Michigan State|
|Benardrick McKinney||Mississippi State|
|Mike Orakpo||Texas State|
|Norkeithus Otis||North Carolina|
|Denzel Perryman||Miami (Fla.)|
|Jaylon Smith||Notre Dame|
|Terrance Smith||Florida State|
Eric Striker, Oklahoma
With a last name like Striker, this Oklahoma linebacker is expected to be a big hitter. He lives up to his name.
Last season, he put his name in the elite category with 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Just how dangerous is he on the football field? Bryan Fischer of NFL.com explains why he's one of the scariest players in the college game:
Just ask an Alabama player how scary it is to play against Striker. He is one of the best blitzers in the country and should be even more dangerous as the Stoops brothers continue to put him in good spots on the field. A ferocious hitter, offenses will know where he's lining up before every snap.
The Sooners front seven will be stout this season, but Striker is the clear leader in the middle. With his combination of speed and hard-hitting style, he might be an early favorite to be a finalist for the award.
Striker has also been on other watch lists, as Oklahoma Football notes:
Given the fact that past standouts like Kuechly and Miller won the award, Striker will have to put together a nearly flawless season to win. After breaking out with the Sooners last season, expect big things from the junior.
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Just a year after C.J. Mosley took home the hardware, another Alabama linebacker hopes to step up.
After two years of sitting behind supremely talented players like Mosley and others, Reggie Ragland is now getting his opportunity and is sure to make the most of it. Ragland spoke about getting the chance to start this season, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com:
It didn't frustrate me at all. I knew I had two years to learn behind the best, and I did.
... Since C.J.'s gone it's time for me to step up and become a leader on the defense. At first it was hard going, trying to get a grasp of it, but now it's better. I understand it more than I did the last two years.
The new starter was a 5-star linebacker in high school, so he has the talent to get the job done. But in a tough SEC, the emerging star will have his hands full with the speed and athleticism on the field.
Ragland isn't the only player on the list for Alabama, with Trey DePriest also hoping to finish at the top of the list. Both will have a chance to shine this season, but Ragland might be an underdog to emerge with the Crimson Tide.
Following in the footsteps of Mosley won't be easy, but Ragland certainly seems up to the task. On an Alabama team that will get plenty of attention all year, he has a chance to become a star and possibly hoist the Butkus Award at season's end.
Shaq Thompson, Washington
Coming into his junior season, Thompson has shown flashes of brilliance.
He recorded 70 tackles last season, but just .5 sacks. As a freshman, Thompson put up similar numbers for Washington, but hasn't quite broken out to this point.
Lining up at linebacker might not be the only position for Thompson this year, though. The former high school running back spoke about the potential of playing on offense this season, per Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated:
It feels a little natural still. I haven't touched the ball for almost two years. [Former Washington coach Steve] Sarkisian had told me they'd do something for me [on offense] but nothing really happened. I'm wasn't tripping though -- I came here for linebacker, defense and special teams.
The two-way talent might just play an old school game this year, but he'll have to shine at linebacker to win the award. With his immense talent and speed on the field, Thompson has a chance to run away—pun intended—with the honor if he puts up huge numbers this year.
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