Biggest Snubs and Surprises from College Football's Preseason Awards Watch Lists
There are plenty of signs that college football is just around the corner.
Conference media days have started up, with coaches and returning stars raving about how great offseason workouts have gone and how confident they are in what will happen this fall. And before you know it, teams will begin training camp in preparation for season openers at the end of August.
And let's not forget the watch lists...so many, many watch lists.
Between July 7 and July 18, the National College Football Awards Association released preliminary rosters of potential candidates for 15 different national awards.
These awards range from as position-specific as honoring the top punter (Ray Guy Award) or the best center (Rimington Trophy) to naming the top overall defensive player (Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy) or the national player of the year (Maxwell and Water Camp Awards).
These lists will be pared down several times as the 2014 season progresses, with some names getting added if a player comes out of the woodwork (read: Jameis Winston last year and Johnny Manziel in 2012). For now, though, they collectively list 863 names, with many players showing up on two or more registers. Some of those whose names appear are a bit surprising, as is the fact that others were absent.
Here's the biggest surprises and snubs from 2014 college football preseason watch lists.
Snub: Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
Watch list missing from: Butkus (top linebacker)
Why he should be on there: If not for some guy from UCLA who decided to show off and play both ways last year (Myles Jack), Addison Gillam very likely would have been the Pac-12's Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. Even without that accolade, it was evident how important he was to Colorado's defense.
The 6'3", 225-pound Gillam led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles in 2013, the first time in program history a freshman finished atop the single-season tackles list. His 71 solo tackles were 15th-best in FBS, yet he expects to do better this year now that he's more familiar with what his coaches expect from him in the defense.
"We're so much further ahead than last year," Gillam told ESPN.com's Ted Miller. "Last year, we were learning a new defense. That really shows. A lot of people are showing more effort. Last year, people weren't running to the ball. This year, we're having fun out there, making plays. Everybody is cheering each other on."
Gillam is a captain for 2014, and along with quarterback Sefo Liufau, they are the first sophomores to be named permanent captains in school history.
Surprise: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
Watch list named to: Biletnikoff (top wide receiver)
Why it's a surprise: With 55 names on its initial register, the Biletnikoff Award isn't anywhere near the largest watch list. That would be the Rotary Lombardi Award, which lists 123 different players in contention for the best lineman or linebacker in the game.
With 128 FBS programs to select candidates from, it's surprising to see a player who is coming off an average season on a list that features so many great returning wideouts.
In 2013, Kenny Bell had 52 catches for 577 yards and four touchdowns for Nebraska as a junior. He led the team in catches (by one) but was far behind Quincy Enunwa's totals for yards (753) and TDs (12), and both of those stats were down from his 2012 numbers that got him first-team honors on various All-Big Ten teams that season.
Bell is likely to become Nebraska's all-time receptions and receiving-yards leader, needing 33 catches and 578 yards to top both school lists by the end of the 2014 season. The 6'1", 185-pound Bell is a good receiver, but unless he has a big start to this fall, he's sure to be one of the first names taken off the Biletnikoff list.
Snub: Chris Hackett, S, TCU
Watch list missing from: Thorpe (best defensive back)
Why he should be on there: At 39 players, the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award is among the most selective. Had the Jim Thorpe Association decided to make its list of candidates for the best defensive back in the country an even 40, we have to think standout TCU safety Chris Hackett would have been that extra name.
The snubs have been aplenty for Hackett this offseason, as the 6'2", 195-pound junior was also left off the Big 12 preseason all-conference team that was voted on by the league's media members. Last season, he registered 88 tackles (second-most on the Horned Frogs) along with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Hackett is part of one of the best secondaries in the country, and teammate Sam Carter is on the Thorpe watch list. There isn't a limit of one player per school on that list, as Boise State, Central Florida, Florida State and Michigan State each have two down as early Thorpe candidates.
Surprise: Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State
Watch list named to: Maxwell (player of the year)
Why it's a surprise: Jacoby Brissett is being looked at as the offensive savior for a North Carolina State team that is coming off one of the worst seasons in school history (3-9). However, Brissett has yet to take a snap for the Wolfpack, having been sitting on the sidelines since transferring from Florida in January 2013.
At Florida, the 6'4", 236-pound Brissett started three games, including two as a true freshman in 2011, but he eventually was beaten out by Jeff Driskel for the starting job in 2012 and only appeared in four games that season.
"I'm just ready to go," Brissett told The Associated Press in June. "Nobody really puts as much pressure than I do myself. And I feel like my goals are way bigger than what people expect."
Because there's a limited sample size for experts to look at to project what he'll do with the Wolfpack this fall, it seems almost like he was put on this list just to be safe rather than because of expected dominance. How else can you explain him being a candidate for one player of the year award but not the other (Walter Camp), as well as his absence from the Davey O'Brien Award that's exclusively for quarterbacks?
The same could be said about former Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker, who is also on the Maxwell watch list, despite not even being guaranteed to start this season for Alabama. With Coker, at least, he played last year, appearing in six games in relief of Jameis Winston.
Snub: Andre Monroe, DL, Maryland
Watch list missing from: Bednarik (top defensive player), Lombardi (best lineman), Outland (best interior lineman)
Why he should be on there: While they may get named on early lists, defensive linemen really don't have much chance of winning the big awards such as the Maxwell, Walter Camp or even the Heisman. For them, it's all about getting love from the bevy of honors devoted to defenders, yet somehow Andre Monroe wasn't worthy of being included on any of their watch lists.
The 5'11", 275-pound senior might be the most important player on Maryland's defense this season as it moves into the Big Ten.
Though he lacks the size you'd normally expect from a tackle, Monroe still manages to hold his own on the inside. Last year he had 17 tackles for loss, which would have put him fourth-best in the Big Ten in per-game average. Only three other players in the country return this season who had more TFLs than Monroe in 2013.
Monroe's performance last season was heightened by the fact it came after he missed all of 2012 following a preseason knee injury. He had 9.5 sacks in 2013, including three against Virginia Tech in the Terrapins' huge overtime win over the Hokies last November.
Surprise: Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State
Watch list named to: Doak Walker (top running back)
Why it's a surprise: Marcus Cox is very deserving of being on any list that recognizes the best running backs in the country, especially after setting school records for a freshman at Appalachian State last season.
The surprise comes from the fact the folks with the PwC SMU Athletic Forum, which administers the Doak Walker Award, had the foresight to include a player from a team making its debut at the FBS level in 2014.
The 5'10", 200-pound Cox was by far the Mountaineers' best offensive weapon during last year's rough 4-8 campaign, rushing for 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also catching 43 passes for 559 yards and six TDs.
He was held to 59 yards on 23 carries in ASU's 45-6 loss at Georgia, his only contest against an FBS team in 2013, but against fellow FBS newcomer Georgia Southern, he rushed for 104 yards and a score.
Cox could get a huge boost of notoriety if he puts up big numbers in the Mountaineers' opener, at Michigan.
Snub: Khalfani Muhammad, RB, California
Watch list missing from: Doak Walker (top running back)
Why he should be on there: While it was a pleasant surprise to see under-the-radar stars such as Appalachian State's Marcus Cox on the watch list for the nation's best rusher; in at least one instance, it almost feels like the Doak Walker selection committee picked the wrong player from a team.
That's the only reason we can think of that California's Khalfani Muhammad wasn't chosen but teammate Daniel Lasco was.
This isn't meant to be a knock at Lasco, a 6'0", 210-pound junior who rushed for 317 yards and two touchdowns last season. But Lasco was the third-leading rusher on a Golden Bears team that averaged just 122.2 yards per game on the ground in 2013.
If any rusher for Cal was worthy of getting preseason attention, it would be Muhammad, who had a promising freshman campaign in 2013 during which he ran for a team-best 445 yards with four TDs.
The 5'7", 170-pound Muhammad also averaged better than 23 yards on 46 kick returns. He is a track star who won multiple state titles in high school and is considered one of the fastest players in college football.
Surprise: Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
Watch lists named to: Davey O'Brien (top quarterback), Maxwell (player of the year), Walter Camp (player of the year)
Why it's a surprise: Everett Golson was the pilot of Notre Dame's offense during its magical journey to the BCS Championship Game in 2012. But then academics temporarily derailed his promising career, as the quarterback had to sit out last season.
Back in good standing with the school and once again a part of the Fighting Irish team, Golson is in a battle with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire for the starting job. Zaire isn't on any of these lists, however, even though he's got as good a chance as Golson to be under center when Notre Dame opens Aug. 30 against Rice.
Looking back on his 2012 numbers, it wasn't as if Golson lit the world on fire. In 12 games, he threw for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and added six rushing TDs. The Irish went 12-0 more because of their defense, so even if Golson hadn't missed a season, it's hard to consider him among the best quarterbacks in the nation.
Snub: Navy Offensive Line
Watch lists missing from: Rimington (best center), Lombardi (best lineman), Outland (best interior lineman)
Why they should be on there: By the end of last season, everyone knew about Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and his mastery of the Midshipmen's triple-option offense. But what about the guys up front who are required to execute the myriad blocking schemes that are necessary for an option run game to be successful?
Reynolds is on the watch lists for the Davey O'Brien, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards, and rightfully so, after he rushed for 31 touchdowns (including seven in one game, an FBS record for a quarterback) in 2013. Yet none of Navy's returning offensive linemen got any mention for any of the awards that the beefy blockers are best eligible for.
The Midshipmen return seven offensive linemen who started a combined 59 games last season, including a trio of seniors in tackle Bradyn Heap, guard Jake Zuzek and center Tanner Fleming who all started for part or all of 2012 as well.
Navy averaged 325.4 rushing yards per game last season, which was second nationally and just 2.9 yards behind Auburn (that saw center Reese Dismukes and guard Alex Kozan both get recognized on watch lists).
Surprise: Austin Hill, WR, Arizona
Watch lists named to: Biletnikoff (top receiver), Maxwell (player of the year), Walter Camp (player of the year)
Why it's a surprise: While there was no question Austin Hill deserved to be on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, seeing his name among the early candidates for a pair of national player of the year awards was quite shocking. Had this been prior to the 2013 season and had Hill not torn his ACL in spring practice that year, it would be a different story.
The 6'3", 210-pound Hill was among the best wideouts in the country in 2012, leading Arizona with 81 receptions for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff that season and likely would have been a top contender for that award in 2013 had he not gotten hurt.
His absence last year enabled the Wildcats to develop several young standouts at wide receiver. Arizona also has a pair of notable transfers in the mix at that position in former Notre Dame receiver DaVonte' Neal and former Texas wideout Caleb Jones.
Throw in some promising freshmen and it might be hard for Hill to get enough touches to remain on all these lists when the first cuts are made.
Snub: Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana
Watch list missing from: Davey O'Brien (top quarterback)
Why he should be on there: Until fellow Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson announced he was transferring in June, it was unknown how much playing time Nate Sudfeld would get during the 2014 season after splitting time at the position last year. Now that Sudfeld is the guy, he's deserving of getting a preseason nod as one of the 40 best passers in the country.
Unfortunately, the Davey O'Brien Foundation only chose 39 names for its initial watch list.
Sudfeld played in 12 games, starting eight for Indiana in 2013, and for the year he had 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He completed over 60 percent of his throws and had a passer rating of 142.0, which ranked 35th in FBS and 18th among returners this season.
This fall, the 6'5", 232-pound junior will get to play opposite four quarterbacks who made the initial Davey O'Brien list. If Sudfeld outplays any or all of them, his absence will be even more pronounced.
Surprise: J.W. Walsh, QB, Oklahoma State
Watch list named to: Davey O'Brien (top quarterback)
Why it's a surprise: There are dozens of quarterbacks who were full-time starters in 2013 who return to their teams this season, including several who are multiyear starters.
J.W. Walsh is technically part of the latter group, having started for Oklahoma State both as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and last season, but he lost the job to Clint Chelf midway through 2013 and hardly saw the field after that.
The 6'2", 205-pound Walsh has career totals of 2,897 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Cowboys, but he still has to beat out freshman Mason Rudolph and Arizona transfer Daxx Garman to be the starter this fall. According to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, all of this has just made Walsh more steeled for what's ahead:
Walsh is in another quarterback derby, and another true freshman, Mason Rudolph, appears to be Walsh’s chief competition. But this race looks less open. Walsh still doesn’t have the arm strength desired in the Cowboy offense, but his intangibles have grown so much over the last three years, it will be difficult to relegate him to the bench.
If he does win the gig, Walsh's first game in 2014 comes against defending champion Florida State, which led FBS in passing defense in 2013 and has numerous players listed on defense-specific watch lists.
Walsh will have plenty of chances to shine, but that was the case in 2012 and 2013. An injury got in the way that first year, but ineffectiveness did him in last season and tarnished his resume.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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