2015 Season Preview: Breaking Down the Award Watch Lists

By Vico on August 30, 2015 at 11:15 am
Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett
Ohio State Football 2015 Season Preview

Ohio State's talent-laden rosters during Urban Meyer's tenure leads to considerable excitement every preseason. One source of excitement comes from the collection of talent that leads to hope for a national championship like the one the Buckeyes won this January.

Another source or excitement operates at the player-level. Ohio State's collection of talent leads to many of the projected starters appearing on preseason "watch lists" for major position and overall player awards to be given this December.

What realistic chance do these Buckeyes have at winning these awards for which they are on the preseason watch list? It's not always clear. Watch lists may contain dozens of players. This reduces the preseason award watch list to little more than an uninformative list of college football players who award voters intend to watch this season.

This season preview feature offers a look into the Buckeyes that appeared on preseason watch lists this summer and how realistic their chances are at winning them in December. I start with the position awards before moving to more prestigious overall player awards like the Bednarik and Maxwell.

Fred Biletnikoff Award

Michael Thomas appeared on the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list. This award goes to the country's best wide receiver.

Winners of this award over the past ten years had stats that were easily distinguishable from other wide receivers. The last three winners—Amari Cooper (Alabama), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), and Marqise Lee (USC)—all had over 1,700 receiving yards in their award-winning seasons. Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) combined for over 3,300 receiving yards in his consecutive years as Biletnikoff Award winner.

Award Description Buckeyes on Watch List
Bednarik Best Defensive Player Joey Bosa, Joshua Perry
Biletnikoff Best WR Michael Thomas
Butkus Best LB Raekwon McMillan, Joshua Perry
Ray Guy Best Punter Cameron Johnson
Lombardi Best Down Lineman Joey Bosa, Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, Darron Lee, Adolphus Washington
Mackey Best TE Nick Vannett
Maxwell Best Offensive Player J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller
Nagurski Best Defensive Player Vonn Bell, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, Adolphus Washington
O'Brien Best QB Cardale Jones
Outland Best Interior Lineman Taylor Decker, Pal Elflein, Adolphus Washington
Rimington Best Center Jacoby Boren
Jim Thorpe Best DB Vonn Bell
Doak Walker Best RB Ezekiel Elliott

With that in mind, any optimism about Michael Thomas as Ohio State's second Biletnikoff Award winner should be tempered. He plays in a run-based offense that focuses on getting the ball to as many playmakers as possible.

Rashard Higgins (Colorado State) might be a favorite to win this award. Higgins was the only other player in the country last year who had more receiving yards than Amari Cooper.

Further, I like Mike Williams (Clemson) and, especially, D.J. Foster (Arizona State) as dark horses for this award as well.

Terry Glenn (1995) is Ohio State's sole Biletnikoff Award winner.

John Mackey Award

Nick Vannett is the lone Buckeye to appear on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the country's top tight end.

Ohio State fans should be bullish on what Vannett will do this year. He performed great in Jeff Heuerman's absences during the postseason run. However, it is unlikely this will result in a postseason award for Vannett.

My concern is that Mackey Award winners of late have received awards on name recognition and not necessarily by statistics. The vetting process looks much different for the Mackey Award than the Biletnikoff Award.

Last season's winner, Nick O'Leary of Florida State, was a well-regarded tight end from the 2013 national championship squad who got the award as a senior despite statistics that were not discernibly greater than his competition.

The 2013 winner, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington, was the odds-on favorite in the preseason and got the award despite having a junior year that fell well below preseason expectations and even his 2012 stats. In other words, his award may have been little more than a function of the preseason expectation that he would get it.

With that in mind, expect the Mackey Award to go to an SEC tight end this year. My pick is O.J. Howard of Alabama. Alabama's offense will be without Amari Cooper and without a set quarterback. Howard, an excellent tight end, may become a security blanket for whoever is taking snaps in Tuscaloosa.

Evan Engram (Ole Miss) and Hunter Henry (Arkansas) are also names to consider.

Ohio State has never had a Mackey Award winner.

Davey O'Brien Award

Cardale Jones appeared on the Davey O'Brien Award watch list for an award given every year to the country's top quarterback. While he does not appear on the watch list, J.T. Barrett deserves some consideration since he is a presumptive starter this year.

It is conceivable that an Ohio State quarterback could win this award. Barrett may have received more consideration if not for the injury, the Penn State game, and Marcus Mariota's particularly impressive season.

The likelihood of Ohio State winning this award may be inverse to the likelihood of Ezekiel Elliott winning a major position or overall player award. It is difficult to envision Ohio State players winning both the O'Brien Award and the Doak Walker Award, for example. USC had the best chance in recent memory to accomplish that between 2004 and 2005 with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and could not.

Trevone Boykin (TCU) may be the tentative favorite for the award this preseason. He is also a credible threat to win the Heisman. Connor Cook (Michigan State) will receive a lot of consideration as well.

Watch for two dark horses: Jared Goff (California) and Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech). Goff, in particular, will likely put up an impressive stat sheet this year. He just needs a defense to keep Cal afloat.

Troy Smith (2006) is Ohio State's only Davey O'Brien Award winner.

Rimington Trophy

Jacoby Boren appeared on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the country's best center.

Boren is a great center, one of the best in the country. One problem he may encounter is whether he is perceived as the best center in his own conference. Michigan State's Jack Allen receives more attention at the center position than him. For as much Ohio State fans may like Jacoby Boren, he may not even be first-team All-Big Ten.

USC's Max Tuerk appeared on more preseason first-team All-American lists than any other center. Tuerk, a senior, is probably the highest-rated center on NFL Draft boards as well.

This is another position award that Alabama is a credible threat to win. Ryan Kelly is well-regarded by sports-writers, notably appearing on Kirk Herbstreit's "Herbies" feature as an "unsung warrior".

LeCharles Bentley (2001) is Ohio State's only Rimington Trophy winner.

Doak Walker Award

Ezekiel Elliott is on the Doak Walker Award watch list. The trophy goes annually to the best running back in college football.

Among the Buckeyes appearing on various award watch lists this preseason, Elliott may be the most likely to win. Elliott's three-game stretch of 200+ rushing yards will keep him in the minds of the selectors for the award at SMU.

One factor concerns how this year's offense develops. I mentioned earlier that is difficult to envision a scenario in which Ohio State's starting quarterback and Ezekiel Elliott win the Davey O'Brien Award and Doak Walker Award, respectively.

While Elliott is a favorite to win this award, he will have some great competition, Nick Chubb (Georgia) may be a bigger feature of Georgia's offense than Elliott will be for Ohio State. Chubb is also a trendy and reasonable preseason projection for the Heisman Trophy. He will have a lot of votes entering the ceremony if Georgia wins the SEC with him.

Keep an eye on Derrick Henry (Alabama) and Samaje Perine (Oklahoma). Henry should accumulate a lot of yards for Alabama if the Tide's uncertainty at quarterback makes the offense more conservative. Fans may recall that Perine broke Melvin Gordon's single-game rushing record one week after Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson's NCAA record from 1999.

Ray Guy Award

Cameron Johnston appeared on the Ray Guy Award watch list, though he is also unlikely to win this award.

His situation is similar to Jacoby Boren. Johnston had some poor moments, notably in the Sugar Bowl, but is an undervalued weapon for the Buckeyes. However, it is not clear he's the best punter in his own conference. Minnesota's Peter Mortell won the Big Ten's punter award last season.

Further, this is another award that will likely be handed to a player from Alabama. J.K. Scott, an All-American last year as a freshman, was possibly the best player on the field in the Sugar Bowl. He is already the subject of college football profiles across the country.

While J.K. Scott is receiving disproportionate attention at punter, he was not a consensus All-American at the position last year. That honor went to Utah's Tom Hackett, along with the Ray Guy Award. Hackett will compete for both honors again this year.

Jim Thorpe Award

Vonn Bell is the lone Buckeye among 42 selections on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, which goes to the country's best defensive back.

Bell is Ohio State's best defensive back and led the team in interceptions last year. He should lead another great defensive unit in interceptions again. As such, he is better than a longshot to win the award.

A failure by Vonn Bell to win the award will likely say more about the competition than Bell's season itself. Kendall Fuller, who the Buckeyes will see on Labor Day, is an excellent cornerback. 

Vernon Hargreaves III might be the most important player for a team in the country. Florida may not be any good this season, but its defense should keep it in every game it plays this season.

Antoine Winfield (1998) and Malcolm Jenkins (2008) have won the Thorpe Award playing for Ohio State.

Butkus Award

Raekwon McMillan and Joshua Perry are on the Butkus Award watch list, given annually to the country's best linebacker.

Both should have great seasons, but competition for this award is wide-open. Notables on this list include  Su'a Cravens (USC), Darien Harris (Michigan State), Myles Jack (UCLA), and Eric Striker (Oklahoma), among many others.

Two additional players are worth highlighting as potential favorites at this stage. Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) is a special talent who is high on numerous NFL Draft boards. He is a special athlete who also appeared on almost all first-team All-American lists this preseason.

The other is Scooby Wright III, last year's Nagurski Trophy winner. Wright III did not win the Butkus Award last year for his position, but was a one-man defensive stat sheet in 2014.

Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Five Buckeyes appeared on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list this summer, given annually to the country's top defensive player.

Joey Bosa is one of the favorites to win this trophy, though we here at Eleven Warriors have cautioned that Bosa may find this season frustrating. His situation is similar to what Jadeveon Clowney encountered entering the 2013 season. Aaron Donald won the award that year.

I could offer chances for the other Buckeyes to appear on this list, but this looks like another award for which Arizona's Scooby Wright III is the favorite. Last year's Nagurski Trophy winner is a one-man defensive stat sheet.

While Wright III is a favorite to repeat, Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) is a name to watch for this trophy as well.

James Laurinaitis (2006) is Ohio State's only Nagurski Trophy winner.

Outland Trophy

Three Buckeyes appeared on the Outland Trophy watch list. The Outland Trophy is peculiar for its consideration of interior linemen on either side of the ball. Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, and Adolphus Washington were on this summer's watch list.

Of these three, Pat Elflein may have the slimmest chance. The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) considers interior offensive linemen for the trophy, but they almost never get it these days. Just three interior offensive linemen have won the award since 1990. The last was Greg Eslinger (C, Minnesota) in 2005.

Taylor Decker may have the best chance. Four of the last five winners have been offensive tackles, including Iowa's Brandon Scherff last year.

Michigan State's Jack Conklin and Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil should provide the stiffest competition to Decker for this award.

Ohio State has won the Outland Trophy four times, though Orlando Pace (1996) was the last winner.

Rotary Lombardi Award

Five Buckeyes were included on the 2015 Rotary Lombardi Award watch list, which is also conspicuous for its consideration of down linemen on either offense or defense.

Joey Bosa is probably the favorite among the Buckeyes on the watch list, though we should reiterate the caution Ohio State fans should have about his ability to pad stat sheets this year.

The breadth of players and positions eligible for this award makes projecting favorites a bit difficult. Scooby Wright III appears on this watch list and should be a favorite to win the award again. He won it last year.

Shawn Oakman (Baylor) is another trendy favorite, but I wonder if that is based on his meme. Oakman did not have a great game in that Cotton Bowl and will command a lot of attention from opposing offenses in the Big XII.

Ohio State leads all schools with six Lombardi Award winners. A.J. Hawk (2005) was the most recent. Jim Stillwagon (1970) won the first award given. Orlando Pace (1995, 1996) is the only player to win it twice.

Chuck Bednarik Award

Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry were on the Bednarik Award watch list for an award given annually to the best overall defensive player.

Bosa should be the favored among the two Buckeyes, though he will again compete with Scooby Wright III for this award. Wright III won the award last year and will try to join Pat Fitzgerald (1995, 1996) and Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006) as the only two-time winners of the award.

Expect Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith to compete for this award as well. If Notre Dame realizes the playoff hype afforded to it, he will be a major reason why.

Maxwell Award

Four Buckeyes are on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given annually to the best overall offensive player. Ezekiel Elliott is the only Buckeye not listed at quarterback on the list.

The Maxwell Award is its own award but it has a unique lore for being something akin to a consolation prize to the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Alabama's A.J. McCarron—for some reason—won the award in 2013 and was the Heisman runner-up that year. The same result unfolded in 2012 (Manti Te'o), 2011 (Andrew Luck), and Vince Young (2005). Colt McCoy (2009), Tim Tebow (2008), and Brady Quinn (2006) finished just shy of runner-up status in the Heisman vote and won this trophy.

Put another way, this might be an award Ezekiel Elliott or Ohio State's starting quarterback could land if we are skeptical that Buckeye will outshine players like Trevone Boykin (TCU) and Nick Chubb (Georgia) for Heisman consideration. 

Tim Tebow (2007), Cam Newton (2010), and Marcus Mariota (2014) have all won the award and Heisman in the same year, though. An Ohio State player getting both trophies is not out the realm of possibility.

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