It’s hardware season, and it’s time for us to show our work. Here’s the ballot we submitted to the FWAA for which we have votes (as well as whom else we could have selected, considered, or almost picked):
QB: Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
Almost: Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) — and he has to be that good too. That he has been is very impressive. Kid is a gamer.
RBs: Darrell Henderson (Memphis), Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)
Almost: No one else; there’s not been a better tandem in CFB this season
TE: Irv Smith Jr. (Alabama)
Almost: Noah Fant (Iowa) — Had this ballot been cast a month ago, Fant gets the nod. But he has to be on the field, and he’s been underused by the Hawks the last month, and his productivity has dropped as the Hawkeyes have lost three straight. This was the narrowest decision I made.
WRs: Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), Rondale Moore (Purdue) — Best combination of productivity and ability to be a game-changer. Moore has been a little nicked up, but the Boilermakers are a three-win team without him.
Could have also been: A.J. Brown (Ole Miss) — Highly productive, but not a game-changer unlike the other two. Welcome to a 10-year pro career in the forgotten wastes of San Diego or Jacksonville. Laviska Shenault (Colorado) — A game-changer with good production, but injured off and on through his Sr. campaign.
C: Ross Pierschbacher (Alabama)
OL: Jonah Williams (Alabama), Cody Ford (Oklahoma), Chris Lindstrom (Boston College), Greg Little (Ole Miss)
Defensive Line: Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Christian Wilkins (Clemson), Chase Winovich (Michigan), Ed Oliver (Houston) — when Ed’s healthy, he’s almost as much of a game-changer as Q. His production has dipped some with nagging injuries, but even at 70% he’s better than the alternatives. The others are self-explanatory.
Almost: Nick Bosa (Ohio State) — You have to feel for a kid who tears a core muscle when his game relies on torque and speed; Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State) — Unlike his linemate, Montez Sweat, you do have to scheme around this unblockable sociopath.
Linebackers: Josh Allen (Kentucky), David Woodward (Utah State), Devin White (LSU) — We tease about Devin White, and he got ran slap over by Najee, but he’s an exceptional player. Woodward can do it all: tackling machine, smart, excellent in coverage, gets downhill in a hurry, solid hitter: just a great fundamentally sound LB. Josh Allen is an absolute edge terror. Best in the business in 2018.
DBs: Deionte Thompson (Alabama), Grant Delpit (LSU), Anthoulha Kelly (Fresno State), Deandre Baker (Georgia) — WADR to Greedy, Delpis isn’t just the best DB in Baton Rouge, he’s also the best defender period. It was hard to swallow the fact that he’s a dirty POS, but that’s an LSU safety specialty. And I take solace in the fact that he’s still not as good as Deionte Thompson.
Could have also been: Greedy Williams. I think he’ll be a better pro than Baker, but keep testing that side. He needs to come down with more of those 50-50 balls though. Had Trevon Diggs remained healthy, he was on pace to be one of the best CBs in America.
Punter: Braden Mann (Texas A&M) — In a runaway.
Kicker: Cole Tracy (LSU) — In a runaway.
Returner: Sean Riley (Syracuse) — Fantastic speed, vision, good productivity, YPR, and has housed a ton. He’s made a dangerous Orange offense even better.
Almost: Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) — Not the production of some other contenders, but no one wants to kick to this guy. He’ll have a monstrous pro career. Expect to see Jaylen Waddle here next year.
Outland Trophy Award (Best interior lineman):
Ranked Order: Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Christian Wilkins (Clemson), Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State)
Could have been: Ross Pierschbacher (Alabama), Ed Oliver (Houston) — In this particular horse race, I did consider health, sorry Ed. And, as good as Ross has been at center, he’s just a step behind the excellent crop of defensive tackles in 2018.
Bronco Nagurski Award (Nation’s best defensive player):
Ranked Order: Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Christian Wilkins (Clemson), Deionte Thompson (Alabama) — The latter is overlooked by his monstrously talented NT buddy. But Thompson is having a Minkah-type year in 2018...and hits a lot harder than 29 ever did to boot. He has shut down fully half the field every game, either by scheme or by play.
Almost: Ed Oliver — Again, gotta stay healthy, man. Production matters here.
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award:
Bill Clark (UAB) — He rebuilt a program from the ground-up twice, including after a de facto death penalty.
Dino Babers (Syracuse) — Look at Syracuse three years ago (and for the two decades prior). Now, look at the Orange. Outstanding job.
Mike Leach (Washington State) — A lot of close wins, to be sure. A down PAC 12, sure. But with the offseason attrition, a suicide that tore the community apart, and trying to teach a kid from ECU the offense in three weeks, all the Cougs have done is become a playoff contender. This team is far better than the sum of its parts, winning defensive struggles. blowouts, and shootouts. Tennessee really **** the bed when they whiffed/intentionally botched this hire.
Could have been:
Nick Saban: That he’s only won a COY award twice, and the SEC COY award three times is a real disgrace. Yes, the 5-star talent and excellent staffs build in a buffer. But, 1. who do you think built that, and 2. the Tide get everyone’s best effort every week, and have for a decade. There’s not a more consistent team snap-to-snap in the country. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like it. Going on this year, however, I think there were more deserving candidates. In these very pages, we speculated Alabama would go 15-0, and not have a particularly close game: 2/3rds of the season in, and the Tide have met expectations. I guess I’m part of the problem.