As the 2011 college football season approaches, the watch lists for most of the major awards have been announced. Eight different Nebraska players have been named to the watch lists for 11 of the awards.
Obviously while not all of the Husker players on the watch lists will win their respective awards, in many instances it is an honor just to be looked at as one of the best players at a given position heading into the football season.
Jared Crick received the most mentions of any Nebraska player, as would be expected, followed closely by Lavonte David. However, there were some surprises on the various lists also as you will see.
I do believe this to be a complete list of Husker players named to award watch lists thus far, however if I have missed any please let me know and I will edit the article accordingly.
Let's start off with the one of the biggest surprises, at least in my book. Taylor Martinez had such a torrid start to the 2010 season that he got mentioned in the early discussions for the Heisman Trophy last year. However, Martinez's struggles in the latter part of the season are what make his appointment to the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien Awards surprising.
It is that second part of Taylor Martinez's season which gives me reason to be mildly shocked at his placement on these lists. While I do understand that Martinez was hampered by an injury and that in large part accounted for his poor performances late in the year, I believe the injury also exposed some glaring weaknesses in his game.
The book on Martinez quickly became that all a defense had to do was make him beat you with his arm. With the exception of the Oklahoma State game (the Cowboys were one of the nation's worst pass defenses), this plan worked amazingly well in stifling Nebraska's offense.
Clearly the folks coming up with the watch lists believe that Taylor Martinez will make himself a more versatile threat on offense as a sophomore. If they are right then his resulting productivity will make him very deserving of being considered for these awards.
I am considerably more skeptical about the manner in which Martinez will continue to develop especially in terms of his passing skills. Unless I am wrong, Martinez won't be bringing home any hardware.
With the departure of Roy Helu Jr. and considering how much Nebraska runs the ball, Rex Burkhead being named to the Doak Walker Award watch list makes plenty of sense. Burkhead should receive the majority of the carries for the first time in his career and therefore this will be the most productive season of his career.
While Burkhead will not be forced to carry the load on his own, he will likely be the only experienced back the Huskers will count on in 2011. If Nebraska has a good season then Rex Burkhead should be a major reason why.
The problem with Rex Burkhead's chances to win the Doak Walker award is that last year's winner, LaMichael James of Oregon, is returning and will be the prohibitive favorite to win again this season.
I believe Rex Burkhead will have a breakout season and top 1000 yards for the first time in his career. He may even end up as a finalist for the Doak Walker award but with James still around, I do not think this is an award Burkhead will win.
Kyler Reed being named to the John Mackey Award watch list was one of the most surprising selections I came across. This is not because I do not think Kyler Reed is talented enough to deserve the distinction but rather because I do not think Nebraska will get Reed the ball often enough for him to have a legitimate chance to win it.
If last year is any indication then I am probably right. Kyler Reed had only 22 receptions last season for just under 400 yards. For comparison, last year's winner, Arkansas D.J. Williams, had 54 receptions for over 600 yards.
One thing Reed has going for him is that he seems to be Nebraska's favorite red zone target as he had eight of the Huskers' 16 receiving touchdowns last year. He also had an impressive average of 18 yards per reception.
If Nebraska can get a more consistent passing game from its offense, Kyler Reed will be a huge beneficiary. Reed will likely need to make somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 receptions to get serious consideration for the award.
Honestly, if Kyler Reed manages to haul in 40 receptions without allowing his yards per catch to drop significantly he has a chance to run away with the John Mackey Award, especially considering his knack for finding the end zone.
Kyler Reed has a legitimate shot to be named the nation's best tight end, but whether or not that happens is going to depend on the Husker's quarterback play possibly more than the play of Reed.
It is fitting that Nebraska center Mike Caputo is on the watch list for the Rimington Award, named after Husker legend Dave Rimington. Since Caputo entered the program as a walk-on, simply being mentioned as possibly one of the nation's best centers represents a remarkable achievement.
If Nebraska has a dominant running game, it will reflect well on the offensive line and that will likely go a long way in proving Caputo's worthiness for this honor. However, the real question will be how the Husker quarterbacks fare.
If Taylor Martinez manages to make it through the season without getting injured then the entire offensive line, including Mike Caputo, should be given an award.
Alfonzo Dennard has been placed on the watch list for both the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik Awards and deservedly so. Dennard was playing so well last year that some fans and analysts argued that he could be even better than teammate and eventual first-round draft pick Prince Amukamara.
The biggest obstacle for Dennard will face in winning either or both of these awards is that Nebraska did lose some key defenders from last year's team which means Dennard will likely have to carry more of the responsibility. However, if Dennard can shoulder the extra weight and still perform at a high level, then he will likely vault himself into prime position to bring home some hardware.
As a potential first-round pick in next years draft, Alfonzo Dennard clearly has the talent to win both of these awards. If I had to guess though, he has a much better shot at the Jim Thorpe Award than he does the Chuck Bednarik Award.
Last season Lavonte David burst onto the scene as a junior college transfer and wound up snagging First-Team All-Big XII and Second-Team All-American honors. This year, David won't be sneaking up on anyone as he has found himself on the watch list for the Butkus, Rotary Lombardi, and Chuck Bednarik Awards.
David played at about 210 pounds last season and that was perfect for chasing down the spread offenses of the Big XII. Word over the off-season place him at closer to 225 pounds as the Huskers head into the more physical Big Ten.
How much time David ends up spending on the award circuit next winter will depend heavily on how he adjusts to the new bulk and the new style of play that is favored in the Big Ten.
There is no question in my mind that Lavonte David will end up as a First-Team All-American in 2011 which would place him squarely in the hunt for the Butkus Award. Beyond that, it is difficult to predict if David will have the sort of impact season that it would require to snag the other two awards he is a candidate for.
Maybe it is the fact that he has been overshadowed by more noticeable stars on the Huskers defense, but seeing Cameron Meredith's name on the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list really caught me off guard. It probably shouldn't have considering Meredith was a Second-Team All-Big XII selection and had 64 tackles from his defensive end spot.
The problem with Cameron Meredith is that he has two teammates (Lavonte David, Jared Crick) who are also on the watch list that I believe are more likely than him to get serious consideration for this award.
While I do not believe Meredith is a real threat to take home the Rotary Lombardi Award, it is still an honor for him to be placed on the watch list as a recognition of his contributions to Nebraska's stellar defense.
While he may not be Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick is doing a pretty good impression of the ex-Husker and being named to four preseason watch lists is just another step in that same direction. Crick has been placed on the preliminary lists for the Rotary Lombardi, Chuck Bednarik, and Walter Camp Awards as well as the list for the Outland Trophy.
The most impressive of the awards for Crick to be associated with is the Walter Camp Award since it is presented to the best overall player in college football, not just the best defensive player. In order to take home this type of award, Jared Crick would have to turn in a Suh-like season in which he is transcendent and dominant from the defensive tackle position.
Of the 40 players on the watch list for the Walter Camp Award, only ten are defensive players. Jared Crick represents the only defensive tackle (the Walter Camp website lists Brandon Jenkins of Florida State as a defensive tackle but Florida State's official website lists him as a defensive end).
At the end of the season, I believe Crick has a very good chance to take home the Lombardi and Bednarik Awards along with the Outland Trophy. I think the Walter Camp is a little bit outside of his reach, but if Crick takes home the other three awards I am sure he will be more than happy with his performance in 2011.
Information for this article was used from the following sources: