Which "Watch List" Buckeyes Might Actually Win Awards in 2016?

By Vico on August 19, 2016 at 10:10 am
J.T. Barrett accepts his Fiesta Bowl MVP trophy.
Eleven Warriors' Ohio State Football 2016 Season Preview

Ohio State enters what amounts to a "rebuilding" project in 2016. Almost the entirety of 2014's national championship squad were draft-ineligible for 2015, but declared early after last season. J.T. Barrett and Pat Elflein are the lone starters of prominence from 2014 that remain on the roster.

Yet, Urban Meyer does well to reload his roster through recruiting classes that annually place in the top 10 across the country. Last year's recruiting class even ranked No. 4, behind just Alabama, Florida State, and LSU. Ohio State will field talent to compete for another Big Ten championship and playoff spot.

This talent will also compete for numerous individual postseason accolades. Several Buckeyes appear on preseason "watch lists" for major position and overall player awards given in December.

What realistic chance do these Buckeyes have at winning these awards for which they are on the preseason watch list? Watch lists contain dozens of players. They're almost banal to the point of literal. "Watch lists" are little more than lists of players that various committees intend to watch.

This season preview feature looks at Ohio State players 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, Maxwell, and Camp awards.

Butkus Award

Raekwon McMillan is on his second straight Butkus Award watch list. He is joined by anticipated starter Dante Booker on this list as well. The Butkus Award goes to the best linebacker in the country.

Booker, a first-time starter in 2016, is a long shot to win this award. McMillan is a more credible threat to bring this trophy home to Columbus. McMillan is a first-team preseason All-American linebacker at Athlon Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News, among others. He tallied 119 tackles last year on a defense that registered as ninth best in the country. The Butkus Award selectors will love those kind of stats.

McMillan's competition will be stiff. Anthony Walker (Northwestern) actually finished with one more tackle on the No. 13 defense from 2015 and will return this year as a favorite within the Big Ten for individual accolades. Alabama players under Nick Saban are also entitled to appearances on these lists. Watch for Reuben Foster and Tim Williams to compete for this distinction as well.

Expect Devonte Fields to win this award, all things equal. Fields had 22 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks after his transfer from Texas Christian to Louisville.

Andy Katzenmoyer (1997) and James Laurinaitis (2007) are the only two Buckeyes to win this award.

Ray Guy Award

Cameron Johnston reappears on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award for the best punter in the country.

Johnston was an undervalued weapon for the Buckeyes in both 2014 and 2015. Fans remember him mostly for a bad game against Alabama and missed opportunities to fake punt against Illinois, among other transgressions. They forget Johnston was second in the Big Ten in punting yards, punts inside the 20, and 50-yard-plus punts. The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in net punting yards too.

Johnston, a senior, will have a solid chance to cap his career with a Ray Guy Award. His major competition will be Dalton Schomp (Florida Atlantic), Michael Carrizosa (San Jose State), and Hayden Hunt (Colorado State). These three led the country in average yards per punt among players returning for 2016. JK Scott, the Alabama punter who Ohio State fans probably remember well, will also compete for this award even if he had a sophomore slump in 2015.

B.J. Sander (2003) is Ohio State's only Ray Guy Award recipient.

Davey O'Brien Award

J.T. Barrett will enter this year on the Davey O'Brien Award watch list for the best quarterback in the country. Cardale Jones was on this list last year despite Barrett being the presumptive starter through the summer.

Award Description Buckeyes on Watch List
2016 Award Watch Lists for Ohio State
Bednarik Best Defensive Player Tyquan Lewis, Raekwon McMillan
Butkus Best Linebacker Dante Booker, Raekwon McMillan
Camp Best Overall Player J.T. Barrett, Raekwon McMillan
Ray Guy Best Punter Cameron Johnston
Hornung Most "Versatile" Player Dontre Wilson
Maxwell Best Offensive Player J.T. Barrett
Nagurski Best Defensive Player Raekwon McMillan
O'Brien Best Quarterback J.T. Barrett
Outland Best Interior Lineman Pat Elflein, Billy Price
Rimington Best Center Pat Elflein

The bigger story would be that Deshaun Watson didn't win this award again come December, not that Barrett beat him for the honor. Deshaun Watson won the Davey O'Brien Award last year and was a Heisman finalist. Major parts of the offense return as well. Clemson lost just two offensive linemen (left guard Eric Mac Lain and right tackle Joe Gore) and a mediocre wide receiver (Charone Peake) from last year's squad. Everyone else is back.

Barrett could give him a run for his money if he has the type of season he had in 2014. The nature of his injury and the lost offense from last year make us easily forget he broke Drew Brees' Big Ten record for touchdowns in a season. Barrett is capable, but he will be fighting uphill against Watson in 2016.

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

Rimington Trophy

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

Elflein will anchor a rebuilt Ohio State offensive line for which just he and Billy Price are the sole players returning from last year's unit. Elflein will also be sliding into the center role vacated by Jacoby Boren. Elflein was a right guard last year.

It seems a stretch that Elflein takes home the Rimington under these circumstances, but he's a trendy pick right now. He's a first-team preseason All-American center for Athlon Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News, among many others. Elflein does not lack for name recognition and will enter the season in the good graces of the selectors for this trophy.

Brian Allen, younger brother of Jack Allen, who will make a similar transition from guard to center, may challenge him in the Big Ten for this trophy. Also watch Ethan Pocic at LSU. Every preseason watch list that has Elflein as first team also has Pocic at second team.

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

Paul Hornung Award

Dontre Wilson appeared on the Paul Hornung Award. This is a newer award, created in 2010, to honor the legacy of the only Heisman player from a sub-.500 team. The Louisville Sports Commission gives this award to the player it deems the most "versatile". Owen Marecic, who won the first award at Stanford in 2010, best exemplifies the spirit of the award, though it typically goes to starters who also excel as return specialists.

Ohio State fans should not seriously expect Wilson to win this award. Christian McCaffrey, last year's winner, will challenge to win it again. The watch list also includes players like Jabril Peppers (Michigan) and Adoree’ Jackson (Southern California). Both enter the season with ingrained hype machines for their versatility.

Outland Trophy

Pat Elflein and Billy Price appear on the Outland Trophy watch list. This award is peculiar for its allocation to the best player on the interior of the line on either side of the ball. Offensive tackles are eligible, but defensive ends are not.

This is an award with a clear bias. While interior offensive linemen are eligible, they rarely win. The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) has given the award to just four interior offensive linemen since 1990. Joshua Garnett's win last year was unlikely, all things considered. Greg Eslinger (Minnesota, 2005) was the last interior offensive lineman to win the award before him.

There is good competition on the list as well. Watch for Lowell Lotulelei (Utah) and Malik McDowell (Michigan State) among the interior defensive linemen. Cam Robinson (Alabama) and Roderick Johnson (Florida State) are good picks among the offensive tackles.

Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Five Buckeyes appeared on last year's Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list for an award given annually to the best defensive player. Joey Bosa and Josh Perry made it on the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list, which also goes to the best defensive player. This year, just two Buckeyes (Tyquan Lewis and Raekwon McMillan) appeared on those watch lists announced last month.

It's easy to dismiss Tyquan Lewis as a viable candidate because Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington were the bigger attractions last year. It's also easy to forget that Lewis had 14 TFLs and eight sacks last season. There's a reason he is a first team All-Big Ten selection in Athlon Sports.

McMillan, a credible candidate for the Butkus Award, has a portfolio that speaks for itself entering 2016. He will be a major player in competition for these two awards.

These are, however, overall defensive player of the year honors with some stiff competition. Both will fare better than Vonn Bell, who was on the Nagurski watch list last year. While both awards are nominally open to defensive backs, there is a strong bias toward linebackers and defensive linemen. Derrick Strait (Oklahoma, 2003) was the last defensive back to win the Nagurski Trophy. Patrick Peterson (2010) and Tyrann Mathieu (2011) won the Bednarik in consecutive years for LSU's secondary, but let that underscore how unusual it is for a defensive back to win these trophies. They are the only defensive backs in the 20-year history of the Bednarik Award to win it. The Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy have gone to the same player each year since 2012.

There has been a recent trend that favors players from smaller programs. The last five winners of the Nagurski were Luke Kuechly (Boston College), Manti Te'o (Notre Dame), Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), Scooby Wright III (Arizona), and Tyler Matakevich (Temple). Only Te'o came from a high-profile program. Even then, he had a unique season for a linebacker with a résumé that highlighted his interceptions for the year. That is not a typical "linebacker stat".

Tyler Matakevich, last year's winner, also had an unusual season. He was eighth in tackles, but 16th in tackles for a game. He was not top 100 in sacks in the country and tied for 37th in tackles for loss. Few things about his season suggested he would win it over the likes of Shaq Lawson and Carl Nassib.

With that in mind, think off the beaten path for a likely candidate to win these awards as the season develops. Jonathan Allen (Alabama), Malik Jefferson (Texas), and Malik McDowell (Michigan State) are some of the bigger names on this watch list who will vie for the award with Lewis and McMillan.

James Laurinaitis (2006) is Ohio State's only Nagurski Trophy winner. No Buckeye has won the Chuck Bednarik Award yet.

Maxwell Award

J.T. Barrett is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given annually to the best offensive player in the country.

This trophy does have a lore as a Heisman consolation prize. The runner-up in the Heisman ballot has won this award in 2013 (A.J. McCarron, for some reason), 2012 (Manti Te'o), 2011 (Andrew Luck), and 2009 (Colt McCoy). This might be changing as the Maxwell Football Club may not like this distinction. Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry won in 2014 and 2015 along with their Heisman trophies.

The competition for this award should be particularly tough. Deshaun Watson returns for his third year at Clemson and will challenge for this award. Christian McCaffrey returns to Stanford as well. Both were Heisman finalists last year.

This should be a good year at running back too. Leonard Fournette (LSU), Royce Freeman (Oregon), and Dalvin Cook (Florida State) will compete with McCaffrey among the running backs on this watch list.

There's reason for optimism in the preseason if Barrett has the kind of season he had in 2014. Barrett had 314 yards of total offense a game in 2014 (No. 10 in the country). He finished No. 18 in total offensive yards despite not playing in the final three games, separated from No. 2 (Shane Carden, Eastern Carolina) by just 1,040 yards. Only Marcus Mariota was out of reach (5,224 yards) from a fully healthy J.T. Barrett in 2014. If Barrett has that kind of season, he could win overall awards like these.

Ohio State has won the Maxwell Award four times in the history of the award, which dates to 1937. Howard Cassady won the first in 1955. Eddie George won it most recently in 1995.

Walter Camp Player of the Year

J.T. Barrett and Raekwon McMillan are on the watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year. This goes to the best overall player in college football regardless of position.

McMillan would need to have an amazing season to win this trophy. There's a clear bias toward offensive players (much like the Heisman). Only two defensive players have won the award first given to O.J. Simpson in 1967. Charles Woodson (1997) won this award primarily as a cornerback who also pretended to be a wide receiver on the eventual national champion Wolverines. Manti Te'o won the award in 2012 on a résumé that better resembled an overachieving defensive back (113 tackles and seven interceptions) on a team also undefeated after the regular season. Let both Woodson and Te'o underscore how unlikely a candidate McMillan is on this watch list.

Heisman Trophy winners have also won the Walter Camp Award in the past three years. The overall history of the award suggests it goes to the Heisman Trophy winner that year. Every Ohio State Heisman winner dating to 1967 (i.e. Archie Griffin, Eddie George, and Troy Smith) have also won the Walter Camp Award. Griffin is in fact one of just three players (O.J. Simpson and Colt McCoy) to win the award twice.

This Heisman connection will likely happen again in 2016. Barrett could compete but would need to have the kind of season to offset what Heisman finalists Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey may do again this year.

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