That time of the college football season is now upon us. The weeks leading up to bowl games when banquets and trophy presentations honoring some of the nation's best players for their work throughout the season. A number of awards will be given on ESPN Thursday, and a couple have already been announced. With all these opportunities for making predictions at our disposal, how could Billy Palmer and I not make our own selections? We've spiced it up a bit as well: the person with fewer correct picks will have to paint their face the school colors of a team they'd rather not root for and post the photo here. With Billy being a diehard Sooner fan, he'd be decked out in burnt orange should things not go his way. My choice of paint: Notre Dame. I'm still upset about the six-game deal UConn's AD and coach signed off on despite the absence of one true home game in the series. Here are the finalists and our picks.
Bednarik Award (to the nation's most outstanding defensive player)
Finalists: LB James Laurinaitis (Ohio State), LB Rey Maualuga (USC), DE Aaron Maybin (Penn State)
Billy Palmer: All three up for this award are very deserving. Maualuga will be the best pro of the bunch I believe and Maybin was solid for Penn State. I just feel that James Laurinaitis is the most solid college defensive player presently playing. He cleaned up with 121 tackles (best amongst the 3 finalists) and has been the most consistent week in and week out.
Raphielle Johnson: I agree with your analysis here. But I can't take the same stance on the winner. Although Laurinaitis has the most tackles of the trio, he (and Maualuga) will get more opportunities than a defensive end like Maybin. And with the leader of one of the nation's most dominant defenses on the list, I'll have to go in that direction. I'll take Rey Maualuga.
Biletnikoff Award (to the nation's most outstanding wide receiver)
Finalists: Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State), Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech), Jeremy Maclin (Missouri)
BP: The Big 12 was an offensive powerhouse conference this year and it shows. All three finalists for this award are from the Big 12. I do believe that Jarrett Dillard from Rice was wrongfully left out of the finalists. He led the nation in receiving touchdowns (19) and had more yards than all but one of the finalists. Dez Bryant is a solid receiver but he was way too inconsistent. He'd have one monster game then follow it up with an average or below average one. Crabtree will probably be the winner but I don't think he's the most complete of the receivers. I'm not going to be surprised if he comes back to school for another year. So without further ado I present to you Jeremy Maclin, the 2008 Biletnikoff Award winner. Maclin has the best speed, size, and hands combination of almost any WR in the NCAA today. He had 95 catches for over 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not to mention he's one of the most feared return men in the game.
RJ: Yeah, you can rack this one up to a selection process that fell in love with the Big 12. Not to say that any of these three should be taken off of the list, but as you pointed out Jarrett Dillard should be a finalist. But in regards to these three, especially your pick of Maclin, how much should special teams factor into the equation? That'll be the determining factor in regards to who the voters select. I see a repeat here for Michael Crabtree, and it goes beyond the stats. Of the three finalists, he's the one that's had a play anywhere near a "defining moment" that'll be stuck in the minds of enough voters to win this award: the touchdown catch against Texas. Repeat. As for where he'll be catching passes next year, it's anyone's guess right now.
Broyles Awards (to the top assistant coach in the country)
Finalists: Gary Andersen (defensive coordinator, Utah), Dick Bumpas (defensive coordinator, TCU), Stan Parrish (offensive coordinator, Ball State), Charlie Strong (defensive coordinator, Florida), Kevin Wilson (offensive coordinator, Oklahoma)
Kevin Wilson was named winner of the award on Tuesday, so both of us will receive credit for this selection to be fair. And when you lead the nation's most prolific offense, you deserve all the praise sent your way. I just want to take a moment to ask one question: why hasn't Coach Strong's name been present in more job openings in recent years? It's not like he hasn't been putting together excellent defensive units for some time now. It's about time the man gets his due and a shot at running his own program.
Butkus Award (to the nation's most outstanding linebacker)
Finalists: Darry Beckwith (LSU), Rennie Curran (Georgia), Aaron Curry (Wake Forest), Brian Cushing (USC), Mark Herzlich (Boston College), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State), Rey Maualuga (USC), Rolando McClain (Alabama), Perry Riley (LSU), Clint Sintim (Virginia), Brandon Spikes (Florida), Sean Witherspoon (Missouri)
To say the least, both of us would have gotten this one wrong. Wake's Aaron Curry was named winner of the Butkus Award on Tuesday, and neither of us pegged him as the guy. We both went with our respective picks to win the Bednarik, with Billy choosing Laurinaitis and myself Maualuga. On the season, Curry racked up 101 tackles, three fumble recoveries and an interception for the Demon Deacons this season.
Walter Camp Award (to the nation's most outstanding football player)
Finalists: QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), WR Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech), QB Graham Harrell (Texas Tech), QB Colt McCoy (Texas), QB Tim Tebow (Florida)
BP: The finalists are all superstars of college football. Crabtree and Harrell can be dismissed. Bradford's numbers are flat out awesome but he has too much talent around him. Tebow is an awesome leader and an underrated passer. That leaves one player, Colt McCoy. McCoy doesn't have the best overall numbers at all but I still think he's probably the most outstanding player. Dude has been a flat out gamer this year and is more important to his team than any of these other players.
RJ: This one's a tough award to pick, but like Billy it was relatively easy to eliminate the Red Raiders despite their credentials. McCoy and Tebow are more versatile that Bradford in that they can make plays with their legs as well as their arms, which for some would give them the upper hand. But Sam Bradford put up ridiculous numbers in leading the nation's best offense. 48 touchdown passes to just six interceptions? Turn on your video game console and see how many times you have to restart your season in order to duplicate that.
Groza Award (to the nation's mot outstanding placekicker)
Finalists: Josh Arauco (Arkansas State), Graham Gano (Florida State), Louie Sakoda (Utah)
BP: As a player I either loved or hated the kicker. If I would've played with any 3 of the finalists for the Groza I'd have loved them all. Arauco is too small name to win this award and attempted far fewer kicks. Louie Sakoda and Graham Gano are both going to be in the NFL. That's a stone-cold lock. However, there can only be one Groza winner and that guy is Graham Gano. He made an absurd 24 field goals on 26 attempts. Those numbers are flat out scary.
RJ: Yes, Gano had outstanding numbers on the season. And when you go 10-12 from forty yards and out, that just about qualifies as automatic. Sakoda will make this race close, and could even win it thanks to the sheer number of points (115) that he scored. But Gano dealt with health issues and had to clean up for a far less prolific offense this year. You could even say that without Gano, the Seminoles aren't bowl eligible this season. He's that good.
Ray Guy Award (to the nation's most outstanding punter)
Finalists: Matt Fodge (Oklahoma State), Pat McAfee (West Virginia), Louie Sakoda (Utah)
BP: Louie Sakoda is going to have a bad awards night. He's a finalist for the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards but he won't win either (He'll win come NFL contract time though). Again though I am a little upset that the best punter in the nation, T.J. Conley from Idaho didn't make the list. That leaves us with Matt Fodge of Oklahoma State and Pat McAfee of West Virginia. I'm a numbers guy so I'm going to go with McAfee who had to punt a little more than Fodge this year. McAfee ended the year with a 44.73 average which was good for 8th nationally.
RJ: Boring as it may be, we're on the same page here as well. McAfee has a better average than Sakoda by about three yards per kick, and Fodge doesn't even have enough punts to qualify for the national rankings. Should T.J. Conley (Idaho) be a finalist? Yes, but what probably hurt him is the fact that Idaho's offense gave him plenty of opportunities to work on his form. The Mountaineer gets it done.
Lombardi Award (to the nation's most outstanding down lineman)
Finalists: LB James Laurinaitis (Ohio State), LB Rey Maualuga (USC), DE Brian Orakpo (Texas), OT Andre Smith (Alabama)
BP: Finally back to the real manly awards. Laurinaitis and Maualuga are both finalists but I'm not picking either of them to win. It'll be between Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith or Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo. Since this award is won by a defensive player most of the time I'm going to go with Orakpo. He's a solid senior with a big professional career ahead of him.
RJ: Nothing against either linebacker on the list, but I'm not a big fan of giving this award to guys who spend the majority of their time standing up instead of with their hand on the ground (even though the rule, which focuses on how close to the line of scrimmage they play, makes them eligible). Orakpo had an outstanding season for the Longhorns, with his ability to rush the passer a key in the improved pass defense on the Forty Acres. But I look at Smith and it's like studying tape of the last SEC championship team at Alabama, when a left tackle by the name of Chris Samuels was the man up front. Whenever the Tide needed a big play in a short-yardage situation, they ran right behind Smith. Andre Smith wins the Lombardi.
Mackey Award (to the nation's most outstanding tight end)
Finalists: Chase Coffman (Missouri), Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma), Brandon Pettigrew (Oklahoma State)
BP: Just like the Biletnikoff, we have three Big 12 players up for this award. Chase Coffman from Missouri has been a long time staple of the Tiger program and put up 920 yards receiving to go along with 10 touchdowns this year. He has the surest hands of all three finalists. Brandon Pettigrew from Oklahoma State only produced 420 yards and 0 touchdowns but he is probably the best blocking TE of the group. However, the most feared of all the Mackey finalists is Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham. (If you're Kirk Herbstreit you call him Jermaine Grisham for some reason). Gresham had almost 900 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns. He's got the best NFL size and speed combination and is going to be scary in a pro style offense.
RJ: Is there really anything else that I can say to tout Gresham? I won't even try, for he should win this vote in comfortable fashion.
Maxwell Award (to the nation's most outstanding football player)
Finalists: QB Graham Harrell (Texas Tech), QB Colt McCoy (Texas), QB Tim Tebow (Florida)
BP: The winner of this award usually has a good shot to win the Heisman. Harrell, McCoy and Tebow are all solid finalists. I think McCoy wins the Camp and Tebow wins the Maxwell. His "Go Get 'Em, God Bless" speeches are going to put him over the top here. Not to mention he won the award last year as well. I'm a little preturbed that Sam Bradford isn't on this list but I will let it go.
RJ: I have to admit that Tebow is one of my favorite players in college football. But in regards to this award I like Colt McCoy to take home the hardware. Like you said winning the Maxwell could forecast good things to come in the Heisman voting, but that trend may be thrown for a loop with Bradford not even being named a finalist.
Davey O'Brien Award (to the nation's most outstanding quarterback)
Finalists: Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Graham Harrell (Texas Tech), Colt McCoy (Texas)
BP: I love Graham Harrell but he's a system guy. Colt McCoy is a solid quarterback but he's more of a gritty player than a great quarterback. That leaves the winner, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma. Bradford has already set numerous passing records. This year he threw for 4400+ yards and 48 touchdowns. What's even more outstanding is he only threw 6 interceptions! He also ended the regular season with the nation's best passing efficiency rating.
RJ: This selection could have more of a forecasting in regards to the Heisman than the Maxwell, and I also like Bradford to win. Harrell had an outstanding season, but while I won't dismiss him as a "system quarterback" the end of his season wasn't the stuff that award-winning campaigns are made of. McCoy may have had slightly better numbers in their head-to-head meeting, but Bradford was red-hot down the stretch. And when you lead an offense that set an FBS record for points in a season and put up sixty in five straight games, you're walking away with some hardware.
Outland Trophy (to the nation's most outstanding interior lineman)
Finalists: T Michael Oher (Ole Miss), G Duke Robinson (Oklahoma), T Andre Smith (Alabama)
BP: Hope the awards show Thursday night has a big buffet table set up for these finalists. Michael Oher from Ole Miss is a big-time tackle. He's usually best in the run game but is solid as a pass blocker too. He handled some good SEC ends but he's not going to win this award. Duke Robinson from Oklahoma is a physical guard that is a beast run blocking. He's also a solid pass blocker but needs work still. The most complete of these three finalists is Alabama's Andre Smith. Smith is going to be a highly drafted tackle and play in the NFL for many years. He's a super-skilled big guy who will fit an offense. If he doesn't win this award I'll be very surprised.
RJ: Since I picked Smith to win the Lombardi, it wouldn't make much sense to go in any other direction for the Outland, although both Oher and Robinson also had outstanding seasons. Robinson may be a victim of how good that entire Sooner line is, while besides Antoine Caldwell the Crimson Tide really don't have another guy who could be on his way to a huge NFL payday in the near future.
Thorpe Award (to the nation's most outstanding defensive back)
Finalists: S Eric Berry (Tennessee), CB Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State), S Taylor Mays (USC)
BP: I've been fortunate enough to see this award presentation in person a couple of times in Oklahoma City. Most people don't know a lot about Jim Thorpe, but he was probably the greatest athlete to ever live. This award is given to the greatest defensive back of the year and we have some very interesting finalists. First up is Eric Berry from Tennessee. As a sophomore, Berry tied for the most interceptions in the nation. He also returned 2 of those 7 interceptions for touchdowns. He was a bright spot for the Vols this year but probably not going to win the Thorpe Award. The other two finalists are Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State and Taylor Mays from USC. Mays was a first team All-American last year and will probably repeat that feat again. He's a huge physical defensive back who led the Trojans in pass break ups this year. The other finalist, Michael Jenkins from Ohio State, is the prototypical corner. With good size and great speed Jenkins lead the Buckeyes in passes broken up and was second on the team in interceptions. It could be a close award but I still see Jenkins winning.
RJ: Nice choice, Billy. But I can't agree with you here. Although Mays is a serious hitter, look at some of the other components to that USC defense and not to take anything away from him, he's got an awful lot of help. Jenkins could fit into that same category, along with teams practically refusing to test him this season due to his previous track record. That leaves my pick, Eric Berry. Overshadowed by an inept offense in Knoxville, he even saw snaps on that side of the football this season. On defense, he scored two touchdowns and picked off seven passes, more than either Mays or Jenkins.
Doak Walker Award (to the nation's most outstanding running back)
Finalists: Shonn Greene (Iowa), Knowshon Moreno (Georgia), Javon Ringer (Michigan State)
BP: We have two Big 10 guys and a super sophomore from the SEC up for the Doak Walker. Again a few backs left out who should have gotten a finalist invite. No love for my man Donald Brown from UConn or Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State, both of whom could have been finalists. I think that Knowshon Moreno is easily the best back of the three finalists. He's a speedster with athleticism that matches Olympic hurdlers. I think he'll be the favorite to win this award next year (maybe even the Heisman). Javon Ringer from Michigan State was a workhorse with 370 carries on the year to go along with 20 touchdowns. His big problem was that he didn't have a great passing game around him to open things up so he had 5 games where he went under the century mark. However, the last finalist, Shonn Greene from Iowa, can say the same thing as far as having no help from the passing game. Greene, even with the lack of a balanced offense still hit the 100 yard mark every game this year for the Hawkeyes and he's the main reason they went 8-4. I like consistency and Greene was the most consistent so he wins the Doak Walker.
RJ: Before making my pick for the Doak Walker, I'd like to expand upon a point that Billy made on the lack of a passing game in making a case for Donald Brown. If Greene and Ringer didn't have the benefit of a passing game to relieve defensive pressure, what do you call a passing offense in which three quarterbacks combine for four touchdown passes on the entire year? But Brown still led the nation in rushing yards. Moreno has Matthew Stafford, and along with numbers less than those of either Big Ten finalist means that they got the wrong Pop Warner teammate (Brown and Moreno played on the same team as youngsters) for this list. So who wins comes down to which is of more value: consistency or media hype? Like Billy, I'll go with consistency and take Greene, even though I've wrestled with this one for a while.