Tulsa's Zaven Collins Wins 2020 Chuck Bednarik Award

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2021

FILE - Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins (23) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NCAA football game in Tampa, Fla., in this Oct. 23, 2020, file photo. Collins was selected to The Associated Press All-America first-team defense, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio, File)
Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins was named the winner of the 2020 Chuck Bednarik Award as the Defensive Player of the Year in college football on Thursday.

He earned the honor over finalists Patrick Surtain II from Alabama and Jeremiah Oswusu-Koramoah of Notre Dame.

Collins was one of the most impactful players in all of college football this season, tallying four interceptions on the year, including two returned for a touchdown.

One of his picks was returned 96 yards for a score in double overtime to seal a walk-off win over Tulane.

In addition to his play in coverage, Collins made an impact all over the field with 54 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, with four sacks in eight games.

The junior was a key part of Tulsa producing a 6-1 record in the regular season before suffering a narrow 27-24 loss to Cincinnati in the AAC title game. The Golden Hurricane finished with a defense that ranked 27th in the nation with 21.6 points allowed per game.

On an individual level, Collins had already won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, potentially putting him in position to be a first-round NFL draft pick, as ESPN's Todd McShay projected.

It's been a major climb for a player who had only one Division I scholarship offer.

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Collins becomes just the third player outside of the Power Five conferences to win the Bednarik Award since its creation in 1995, joining 2015 winner Tyler Matakevich of Temple and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o in 2012.