College Football Award Finalists: Projecting The Deserving Candidates

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 8: Wide receiver Justin Blackmon #81 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys gestures to the crowd during the first half of the game against the Arizona Wildcats on September 8, 2011 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State leads Arizona 21-0 at the half. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

College football awards are a thing, as are college football finalists lists (hey, they're unveiled Monday night!). As long as we're doing this, we might as well do it right.

This evening, the finalists for 10 of college football's major awards will be announced. For nine of them, a list of semifinalists was released in recent weeks; let's take a look at what the advanced stats have to say about who should make the finalists list, who should be the front-runner, and who absolutely shouldn't make it any further in terms of consideration.

Chuck Bednarik Award

Category: Best Defensive Player

Semifinalists (16): Alabama's Mark Barron (DB), Kansas State's Arthur Brown (LB), Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict (LB), LSU's Morris Claiborne (DB), Nebraska's Lavonte David (LB), Alabama's Dont'a Hightower (LB), South Carolina's Melvin Ingram (DL), Boston College's Luke Kuechly (LB), LSU's Tyrann Mathieu (DB), Illinois' Whitney Mercilus (DL), Miami's Sean Spencer (LB), Penn State's Devon Still (DL), Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (LB), Stanford's Chase Thomas (LB), Alabama's Courtney Upshaw (LB) and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy (DL).

Shouldn't Be A Finalist: Burfict, Brown.

Should Be A Finalist: Upshaw, Claiborne, Still.

I realize that using team stats to talk about an individual award is dicey, but the simple fact that Arizona State ranks 44th in Def. S&P+ and Kansas State ranks 60th should probably eliminate Burfict and Brown unless their stats are just spectacular. Burfict has a tendency for making the enormous plays (seven tackles for loss, five sacks), but he hasn't made enough regular plays for ASU to be successful. Brown, meanwhile, has just 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and interception. Both are good, but neither are among the very, very best defensive players in the country. (Same goes for Kuechly, really.)

On the flipside, Uphaw, Claiborne and Still can each stake a claim to being a) the best defensive player on one of the best defensive teams in the country and b) the best player in the country in their given unit. I have just been blown away by Still's performance this year, but I would be happy with any of these three taking the prize.

Fred Biletnikoff Award

Category: Best Receiver

Semifinalists (10): California's Keenan Allen, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, Houston's Patrick Edwards, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Western Michigan's Jordan White, USC's Robert Woods and Baylor's Kendall Wright.

Shouldn't Be A Finalist: Floyd.

Should Be A Finalist: Blackmon, Wright.

This really is a pretty good list with no undeserving candidates. Honestly, my biggest complaint is a snub: Iowa's Marvin McNutt should have made the list. If Floyd makes the finalists, it won't be the end of the world, but he and Woods are the only players here who have averaged fewer than 8.4 yards per target. Blackmon has raised his game recently, while Wright (10.7 yards per target) and Edwards (13.1) have made the absolute most of their opportunities.

Lou Groza Award

Category: Best Place-Kicker

Semifinalists (20): LSU's Drew Alleman, UL-Lafayette's Brett Baer, West Virginia's Tyler Bitancurt, Rice's Chris Boswell, Texas A&M's Randy Bullock, Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro, Penn State's Anthony Fera, Washington's Erik Folk, Washington State's Andrew Furney, Florida International's Jack Griffin, USC's Andre Heidari, Florida State's Dustin Hopkins, Nebraska's Brett Maher, Iowa's Mike Meyer, Wake Forest's Jimmy Newman, Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp, Alabama's Jeremy Shelley, Florida's Caleb Sturgis, Miami's Jake Wieclaw and Stanford's Jordan Williamson.

Should Be A Finalist: Sharp, Sturgis.

I'm not sure if he should win, but the simple fact that Sturgis has made 21 field goals for a team so incredibly desperate for points is impressive enough for me. Sharp should probably win; he has made 17 of 20, and if you saw Friday night's OSU-Iowa State game, you could make a pretty good case that he's actually 18-for-20.

Ray Guy Award

Category: Best Punter

Semifinalists (10): Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen, UTEP's Ian Campbell, Auburn's Steven Clark, Idaho's Bobby Cowen, Ball State's Scott Kovanda, Houston's Richie Leone, Cincinnati's Pat O'Donnell, Oregon's Jackson Rice, Bowling Green's Brian Schmiedebusch, LSU's Brad Wing.

Should Be A Finalist: Rice, Wing.

Oregon's net punting average of 41.9 is absolutely ridiculous. Rice gets my (non-existent) vote, but Wing has been among the most important players on the nation's best team.

John Mackey Award

Category: Best Tight End

Semifinalists (eight): Clemson's Dwayne Allen, Georgia's Orson Charles, Northwestern's Drake Dunsmore, Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert, Stanford's Coby Fleener, UL-Lafayette's Ladarius Green, Wisconsin's Jacob Pederson and Syracuse's Nick Provo.

Should Be Finalists: Charles, Eifert. 

Maxwell Award

Category: Best All-Around Player

Semifinalists (16): USC's Matt Barkley, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Oregon's LaMichael James, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Houston's Case Keenum, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Washington's Chris Polk, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Wisconsin's Russell WIlson, Virginia Tech's David Wilson, USC's Robert Woods.

If you have been reading my weekly Heisman column, you know where I stand with this one.

Davey O'Brien Award

Category: Best Quarterback

Semifinalists (17): USC's Matt Barkley, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, Texas Tech's Seth Doege, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Houston's Case Keenum, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Washington's Keith Price, Michigan's Denard Robinson, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, Oregon's Darron Thomas, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.

Ditto.

Outland Trophy

Category: Best Interior Lineman

Semifinalists: none.

Should Be A Finalist: USC's Matt Kalil (OT), Cincinnati's Derek Wolfe (DT), Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler (OG)

And here's the problem with awards watch lists. This summer, 64 players were named to the Outland Watch List, and without a list of semifinalists, we don't know what new names may have emerged. But there were no Oregon players on the list, which is a shame because the Ducks are the only team in the Top Five in both Adj. Line Yards (a run-blocking measure) and Adj. Sack Rate (predictably, a pass-blocking measure). Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had two offensive linemen on the watch list -- Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix; both have battled injuries, but Pitt has still managed to rank third in Adj. Line Yards. Who gets credit for that if Jacobson and Nix are both hurt? Anyone? Plus, no LSU or Alabama defensive linemen were on the watch list, nor was Penn State's Devon Still. In the end, the three players above a) have led fantastic efforts in their given units and b) were on the preseason watch list. Even though this is guaranteed to produce some serious snubs, including these three players would be a lovely start.

Jim Thorpe Award

Category: Best Defensive Back

Semifinalists (15): South Carolina's Antonio Allen, N.C. State's David Amerson, Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks, Alabama's Mark Barron, Georgia's Brandon Boykin, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown, LSU's Morris Claiborne, Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward, Virginia Tech's Jayron Hosley, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, Kansas State's Nigel Malone, Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin, USC's T.J. McDonald, Virginia's Chase Minnifield.

Should Be A Finalist: Amerson, Brown.

This is another strong list of candidates, but as long as the accomplishments of Amerson (11 interceptions, five passes broken up) and Brown (four, 13) are acknowledged, I'm good. They are both among the nation's top eight in passes defended, and Amerson is four up on everybody else in the interceptions category. Brown has been the primary reason Oklahoma State made such a deep run in the national title race (I guess I shouldn't use past tense on that just yet).

Doak Walker Award

Category: Best Running Back

Semifinalists (10): Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, Oregon's LaMichael James, Missouri's Henry Josey, SMU's Zach Line, Washington's Chris Polk, Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Virginia Tech's David Wilson.

Shouldn't Be A Finalist: Polk, Hillman, Burkhead.

Should Be A Finalist: Ball, Richardson, Randle.

Polk has rushed for 1,241 yards thus far, a lovely overall total. However, his plus-1.2 Adj. POE -- a measure that looks at how a runner performs compared to opponent-based expectations -- suggests that he really has not produced much more than an average running back (1.2 points over expected) and has taken advantage of some iffy defenses. Using Adj. POE, Polk is six touchdowns behind what Ball, for instance, has produced this year. Hillman and Burkhead, meanwhile, are better, but not great. They have produced Adj. POE's of plus-5.4 and plus-8.9, respectively.

Ball, Richardson and Randle are the nation's top three rushers according to Adj. POE. Ball in particular has been outstanding in this regard; his plus-43.9 Adj. POE is more than a touchdown better than the No. 2 guy, Richardson. The next three on the list are Line, James and Josey, and all three have dealt with injury issues. As long as Ball, Richardson and Randle are named as finalists, then the voters got it right.

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