College Football Predictions 2011: Andrew Luck and the Winners of 7 Major Awards
As the 2011 college football season peeks over the horizon, we'll now take a look ahead and predict the winners of the Mackey, Lombardi, Davey O'Brien, Thorpe, Doak Walker, Butkus and Biletnikoff awards.
Each of these highly coveted awards are annually given to college football's best tight end, lineman, quarterback, defensive back, running back, linebacker and wide receiver, respectively.
All seven of these trophies will be hotly contested this season, and there will most definitely be several players at each position deserving of the hardware. But the question is, who will be the most deserving?
It's anyone's game, but at the end of the year, only one will come out on top for each prize. Here are the seven players who will win these major awards in 2011.
John Mackey Award: Michael Egnew, Missouri Tigers
One of the easiest selections, the John Mackey Award goes to Michael Egnew of the Missouri Tigers.
Egnew is a stud who caught 90 passes for 762 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, an unbelievable stat line for a tight end.
Missouri will roll with unproven quarterback James Franklin in 2011, and Egnew will be one of his most consistent and reliable targets. The 6'6", 235-pound senior will look to dominate the Big 12 and lift his NFL draft stock to new heights.
Already the consensus top tight end, that won't be difficult.
Finalists: Orson Charles (Georgia Bulldogs) and Drake Dunsmore (Northwestern Wildcats)
Other prospects: Kyler Reed (Nebraska Cornhuskers),George Bryan (NC State Wolfpack), Philip Lutzenkirchen (Auburn Tigers), Jake Stoneburner (Ohio State Buckeyes), Tim Biere (Kansas Jayhawks)
Rotary Lombardi Award: Vinny Curry, Marshall Thundering Herd
The Lombardi Award annually goes to the top lineman in the nation, regardless of his specific position. This year, I'm going out on a limb and giving the nod to defensive end Vinny Curry of the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Curry is a 6'5", 242-pound monster who racked up an astonishing 94 tackles, 12 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2010, but you really get a sense of how good he is by looking beyond the initial stat line.
In addition to recording four 11-tackle performances in a row, Curry had his best games in the biggest spotlights, notching two sacks per game against Ohio State, West Virginia and Southern Miss. When you consider that he dominated despite playing on a team that went 5-7 in Conference USA, it's clear how good Curry really is.
With no true clear-cut winners of this award, Vinny Curry has as good a shot as anyone to take home the honors.
Finalists: Jared Crick (Nebraska Cornhuskers) and Matt Kalil (USC Trojans)
Other prospects: Brandon Jenkins (Florida State), Billy Winn (Boise State Broncos), Quinton Coples (North Carolina Tar Heels), Jerel Worthy (Michigan State Spartans), Bruce Irvin (West Virginia Mountaineers)
Davey O'Brien Award: Andrew Luck, Stanford Cardinal
The consensus top preseason player in college football, Andrew Luck bypassed a probable No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft to continue playing college football for the Stanford Cardinal.
Luck got a lot of heat for the decision because of what happened to Washington quarterback Jake Locker, but the junior doesn't seem to have nearly as many flaws as the former Husky.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh bolted for the NFL, but Luck gets stud running back Stepfan Taylor and explosive receiver Chris Owusu back to help him carry the team. Luck put up impressive numbers in 2010, and as the unquestioned leader of the team, expect his stats to improve this season.
Based on all the hype he's getting already, as long as he doesn't regress in 2011, he's a lock for the Davey O'Brien.
Finalists: Kellen Moore (Boise State Broncos), Landry Jones (Oklahoma Sooners)
Other prospects: Robert Griffin III (Baylor Bears), Geno Smith (West Virginia Mountaineers), Dan Persa (Northwestern Wildcats), Nick Foles (Arizona Wildcats), Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State Cowboys)
Jim Thorpe Award: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska Cornhusker Aflonzo Dennard is my pick as the No. 1 cornerback in the nation, and while there may be some corners with more impressive stats, Dennard's sheer ability is second to none. If he can hone his technique this fall, he has every chance to beat out the competition for the Thorpe Award.
The 5'10", 205-pound cornerback makes up for his relative lack of height with a 40-plus-inch vertical, impressive speed and an aggressiveness that makes him a nightmare for opposing receivers.
The total package at the position, Dennard shut down top receivers all year long while also recording four beautiful interceptions and returning one of them 31 yards to paydirt.
As a senior, Dennard is not letting up. He is one of three All-American candidates for the Blackshirts defense and will do his best to erase every opponent's No. 1 receiver.
Look for him to earn the award that narrowly avoided his counterpart, Prince Amukamara, in 2010.
Finalists: Jayron Hosley (Virginia Tech Hokies), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State Seminoles)
Other prospects: Mark Barron (Alabama Crimson Tide), Morris Claiborne (LSU Tigers), Trenton Robinson (Michigan State), Chase Minnifield (Virginia Cavaliers), Robert Lester (Alabama Crimson Tide)
Doak Walker Award: Knile Davis, Arkansas Razorbacks
*UPDATE*—Knile Davis recently suffered a major injury in fall camp and could be out for the season. LaMichael James, Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore will now be the frontrunners for the Doak Walker.
In a year stacked with running back talent, I'm going with Arkansas Razorback Knile Davis as the Doak Walker winner.
Davis had a breakout sophomore season for a surprising Arkansas squad, gaining 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 204 carries, a 6.5 yards-per-carry average. The Razorbacks might be even better in 2011, and with all the returning talent surrounding him, Davis is primed to explode as a junior.
Best of all, the 6'0", 220 pounder will be an underdog for the award. Players like LaMichael James, Trent Richardson, Marcus Lattimore and Edwin Baker will be more favored to take home the hardware. College football thrives on the unexpected, and this could be an instance where Davis beats Goliath (terrible pun, I know).
The Doak Walker goes to Knile Davis in 2011.
Finalists: LaMichael James (Oregon Ducks), Trent Richardson (Alabama Crimson Tide)
Other prospects: Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina Gamecocks), Edwin Baker (Michigan State Spartans), James White (Wisconsin Badgers), Chris Polk (Washington Huskies), Montee Ball (Wisconsin Badgers)
Butkus Award: Luke Kuechly, Boston College Eagles
What was more impressive than Luke Kuechly's true freshman season at Boston College, in which he recorded almost 160 tackles? His 183 stops as a sophomore might be.
The nation's premier tackling machine, Kuechly is a 6'3", 225-pound beast who is on pace to shatter Tim McGarigle's record of 545 career tackles. In fact, if his junior season is anything like his last two, he could easily get close in just three years.
In addition to the impressive tackle numbers, Kuechly notched 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.
The unquestioned leader of the Eagles' defense, expect Kuechly to stand out among a very strong crop of linebackers in 2011 and take home the Butkus Award.
Finalists: Vontaze Burfict (Arizona State Sun Devils), Lavonte David (Nebraska Cornhuskers)
Other prospects: Keenan Robinson (Texas Longhorns), Courtney Upshaw (Alabama Crimson Tide), Danny Trevathan (Kentucky Wildcats), Shayne Skov (Stanford Cardinal), Manti Te'o (Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
Fred Biletnikoff Award: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina Gamecocks
I know I am going to get a lot of grief for not picking Justin Blackmon as a two-time Biletnikoff winner, but Alshon Jeffery is just too good to pass up.
Jeffery had an incredible sophomore season for the South Carolina Gamecocks, snagging 88 passes for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns.
While Blackmon is a big-time stud and had significantly higher numbers (111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns), he played in a pass-happy system that is known for inflating statistics.
South Carolina looks like a team that could break out in 2011, and Jeffery might reap the rewards. Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia should improve again, and if he doesn't, promising sophomore Connor Shaw will look to step up and take over.
Either way, Jeffery is supremely talented and will dominate the competition in 2011 on his way to taking home the Biletnikoff.
Finalists: Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State Cowboys), Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma Sooners)
Other prospects: Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M Aggies), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame Fighting Irish), Juron Criner (Arizona Wildcats), Robert Woods (USC Trojans), Derek Moye (Penn State Nittany Lions)