Right now in the world of college football, it is awards season, when we force coaches to wear neckties, let players pick out their funkiest suits and hand out more hardware than Home Depot, the store that sponsors the big event.
All week long, various touchdown clubs located all over the map have held dinners and presented their trademark accolades. On Monday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, NC State’s Bradley Chubb won the Bronco Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defender. Earlier that day in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Washington State’s Luke Falk upset Baker Mayfield to win the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the most outstanding player who started his career as a walk-on. On Tuesday, the new College Football Hall of Fame class was inducted. On Wednesday morning, Scott Frost was named the Home Depot Coach of the Year.
The point here is, college football likes to hand out awards, and this is the time of year when they do it, part of a weeklong march toward Saturday night’s Heisman Trophy presentation.
On Thursday night, all of those who have already won stuff and some who haven’t but are good enough to will gather at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the Home Depot College Football Awards (7 ET, ESPN and ESPN App). There will be nine biggies given to the sport’s biggest stars.
Who is going to win what? Who should actually win what? And what are they actually winning? Here’s our guide to the goings-on on the turf carpet.
Chuck Bednarik Award
What it is: Top defensive player, similar to but not the Nagurski Award that was awarded Monday night.
Who it’s named for: Chuck Bednarik, aka Concrete Charlie, was a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber during World War II, then returned home to play both defense and offense for Penn. In 1948, he won the Maxwell Award and finished third in Heisman voting … playing linebacker and center! He is considered one of the greatest NFL players of all time, remembered by many for nearly taking Frank Gifford’s head off his shoulders in 1960.
Who should win it: Chubb. He won the Nagurski on Monday night (beating out Fitzpatrick and Smith), and on Wednesday afternoon he was named winner of the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s top defensive end. Only four players have won those two in the same year and only one has pulled off the Nagurski/Hendricks/Bednarik sweep: Alabama’s Jonathan Allen a year ago.
Who will win it: Fitzpatrick.
Fred Biletnikoff Award
What it is: Most outstanding receiver.
Who it’s named for: Fred Biletnikoff was a consensus All-American at Florida State when FSU never had All-Americans, earning election into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991. In between he made the Pro Bowl four times and was named MVP of Super Bowl XI with the Raiders. He also sported the greatest-ever eye black/mustache combo, one that even Mayfield would envy.
Who should win it: Washington
Who will win it: Washington. He was the guy whom everyone had listed as THE guy on their receiver lists in the preseason, and he didn’t disappoint. He led the nation in receiving yards (1,423) and catches of 30 yards or more (17).
Lou Groza Award
What it is: Top place-kicker.
Who it’s named for: Lou Groza signed with Ohio State as a tackle and kicker, but after a handful of games on the Buckeyes’ freshman team he signed up for the Army and fought in the Pacific during World War II. When he returned, his former college coach, Paul Brown, signed him for a new pro football team. The Browns and Groza won four NFL championships and Groza went to nine Pro Bowls en route to the Hall of Fame.
Who should win it: Carlson. Even his competition thinks so. “I am so excited to be here,” says Eberle, the only sophomore among the Groza finalists. “But then there’s Dan, who has been here so many times he knows everyone in the building. His career has been amazing.”
Who will win it: Carlson is back for his third trip as a Groza finalist in three years and earlier this year became the SEC’s all-time scorer with 471 points. He also became the first SEC player to score 100 points in three straight seasons and extended his conference record of 195 PATs. He’s never missed one.
Ray Guy Award
What it is: Top punter.
Who it’s named for: Ray Guy, who will be in attendance Thursday night, was elected to both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame in 2014. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time Super Bowl champion and is considered without argument the greatest punter in football history.
Who should win it: Scott, who landed better than 25 percent of his punts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, second best in the FBS, and surrendered only 0.7 yards per return, tops among all Power 5 punters.
Who will win it: Wishnowsky, who also happens to be the defending champ. He would become only the third player with a pair of Ray Guys at the house and the fourth Utah punter in a row to win the award. His predecessor, Tom Hackett, went back-to-back in 2014 and ’15.
What it is: Player of the year, aka Heisman Lite. Winning this one is like winning a Golden Globe. It’s either a precursor to winning the bronze stiff-armed guy two days later, or it’s a consolation prize for the guy who everyone knows won’t be winning the Heisman.
Who it’s named for: Robert “Tiny” Maxwell played for Amos Alonzo Stagg at Chicago University before transferring to Swarthmore College and becoming an All-American. He played pro football before becoming a legendary referee and then a coach and sportswriter. He was killed in a car accident in 1922 after hitting a truck full of Boy Scouts head on. As he lay bleeding in the street, he screamed to would-be rescuers, “Help the others! I can wait!” So, what we’re saying is that he was a stud.
Who should win it: Love, because Mayfield will get his bigger trophy on Saturday night.
Who will win it: Mayfield
Davey O’Brien Award
What it is: Best quarterback. Since 2005 only five players have won both the Maxwell and the O’Brien in the same year: Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow and Vince Young. Three of the five — Mariota, Newton and Tebow — also added a Heisman.
Who it’s named for: Davey O’Brien played quarterback for his hometown college, TCU, and led the Horned Frogs to the 1938 national title as he became the fourth winner of the Heisman Trophy. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles, leading the NFL in passing as a rookie, before retiring after the Eagles won only two games in two seasons.
Who should win it: Mayfield. Rudolph’s stats (4,553 passing yards, 10 300-plus-yard games) are better, but Mayfield outdueled his Big 12 rival head-to-head in November, as he did vs. Barrett in September.
Who will win it: Mayfield
What it is: Best interior lineman, aka best of the Big Uglies.
Who it’s named for: John Outland played football for three schools and was twice an All-American, each for playing two different positions, halfback and tackle. The Outland Trophy was named in his honor in 1946 and he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Not bad for a guy who looked like Woodrow Wilson.
Who should win it: Oliver. In 2016, he made a name for himself as a freshman by chasing Mayfield down in Houston’s season-opening upset against the Sooners. Still just a teenager, he is regarded by many coaches as not just the best lineman in the game, but perhaps the best overall player. His youth, his non-Power 5 school and an award dominated by offensive linemen all work against his chances.
Who will win it: Brown, the man charged with protecting frequently exposed wild man Mayfield, also powers the Sooners’ running game. When OU runs to the left side behind Brown, it averages 6.8 yards per carry. That’s good.
Jim Thorpe Award
What it is: Top defensive back
Who it’s named for: Jim Thorpe, All-American. Honestly, you should already know this one. Thorpe was a two-time All-American playing for Pop Warner at Carlisle. He also won two Olympic gold medals, and played pro football, baseball and basketball.
Who should win it: Fitzpatrick, who will become only the third DB to win both the Bednarik and Thorpe awards. The first two were Michigan’s Charles Woodson, who also added a Heisman, and LSU’s Patrick Peterson.
Who will win it: Fitzpatrick, who is so good his statistics aren’t so good. How does that even make sense? Because he’s so good that opponents are afraid to throw the ball anywhere near him. Even still, he ranks second on the team in passes defended, and that’s from the safety position.
Doak Walker Award
What it is: Best running back.
Who it’s named for: Doak Walker, the 1948 Heisman winner, was discharged from the Merchant Marines following World War II and two days later was in the backfield for SMU. He was named all-conference despite having played in only five games. After a year in the Army he came back to SMU to become an All-American and went on to win two NFL titles with the Detroit Lions.
Who are the finalists: Saquon Barkley, Penn State, Bryce Love, Stanford, Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Who should win it: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State. But the nation’s leading rusher wasn’t even invited to Atlanta, so, nevermind …
Who will win it: Love, who finished second in the nation in rushing, despite limping his way through the final games of the season. His 11 100-plus-yard rushing games were tied for tops in FBS while his 1,973 yards are second most in Stanford history, trailing only Christian McCaffrey’s 2,019 in 2015.