This is Part Two of our ballots for the best of the 2023 College Football season, if you missed Part One, here ya’ go:
Malik Nabers (WR, LSU)
This season was one of the more evenly matched in terms of wideout talent. There were three legitimately great wideouts this year and a score of very good ones: Malik Nabers, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Luther Burden.
That is precisely the order in which we voted for them too. Luther Burden is the Amari Cooper clone; MHJ is the Jerry Jeudy clone, and Malik Nabers is just the best of the bunch, and has been more productive than his peers against a tougher schedule too.
Nabers was as good against SEC teams as non-conference foes, and was remarkably consistent every month, almost every game, and in every situation. He notched 14 TDs on the season and over 1500 yards. While he was undoubtedly helped by the emergence of Brian Thomas on the other side, let’s not pretend that MHJ is exactly a one-man show in Columbus, nor for that matter is Luther Burden the sole good wideout for Mizzou.
Stats can be a bit numbing when discussing wide receivers — they all will appear so similar. And people will focus on Harrison’s soft hands and acrobatic catches, on Burden after the catch and his ability to high-point contested passes. However, I took a different tack entirely: Who did not have to make circus grabs? The guy who seemingly always beat his man, always got himself open, hauled in catches that should have been contested, and then racked up great open field yardage.
In many games this year, MHJ was largely held silent, and unlike Nabers, Harrison’s production fell off steeply against Top 25 teams — almost three fewer catches per contest. That tells you that Harrison is more easily defended than Nabers, though probably a better receiver in contested moments. But the fact is, Malik doesn’t even let DBs contest passes.
While Nabers is not in that tier with Ja’Marr Chase, he will be an outstanding pro, and he’s the best route-runner in the nation, hands-down.
T’Vondre Sweat (DT, Texas)
Given to the nation’s best interior linemen, we went on the other side of the ball, away from the usual left tackles that dominate the Outland voting. Instead, we chose T’Vondre Sweat of the Longhorns.
Sweat amassed 40 total tackles, 16 solo, 8.0 tackles for loss and two sacks — one of which came in the critical win at Alabama. In that game, he was a man amongst boys. And he has provided intense pressure from the interior — he has four pass breakups at the line and a blocked kick from the middle. There’s a reason Texas leads the nation in 3D defense, with opponents converting just 26.3% of their chances.
First round talent, and has looked like it every game this season against the nation’s No. 8 SOS. More than any other player, I attribute Alabama’s early season Longhorns loss to Sweat et al. The Tide’s shaky interior — and Seth in particular — had no chance. That was an NFL starter abusing a marginal SEC bench player.
Doak Walker Award
Cody Schrader (RB, Missouri)
The SEC’s leading rusher by more than 30 yards per game has 1,499 yards on 247 carries. The nation’s second-leading rusher has 13 rushing touchdowns and has scored in nine straight games after a 217-yard outing vs. Arkansas to close the regular season. He can pick his way through small spaces, has great feet, surprising power, more agility than should be allowed in the backfield, and a very good extra gear in the open field. Converting from DB to RB really paid off.
In Year Four of the Eli Drinkwitz era, Mizzou has finally turned the corner and notched its first 10-win, Top 10 regular season since Gary Pinkel was roaming the sidelines. Does anyone think Mizzou would be 10-2 without Schrader?
Bronko Nagurski Trophy
Paul Hornung Award
Cooper DeJean (CB, Iowa)
The Nagurski is given to the nation’s best individual defender, and for this one, we turn to the best individual player on arguably the best defense in the country: Cooper DeJean of the Iowa Hawkeyes. He plays corner, hits like a safety, tackles like a linebacker, returns kicks like a bunny rabbit, and is all over the field whenever Iowa has needed a play.
He has 41 tackles on the season, two interceptions and five pass breakups. The ball is not thrown to his side of the field often. DeJean had 10 tackles against Iowa State, a rarity for a corner, marking his third career 10-plus tackle effort. Iowa’s defense currently is third nationally, giving up 12.3 points per game, and has allowed only one touchdown over its last four games.
He’s not the best pure corner, nor its most productive, but he’s been the best when Iowa has needed him most. He’s the best player I’ve seen in the Big 10 this year, period.
This versatility is also why Cooper DeJean received our vote for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player. Travis Hunter had a great year at Colorado, sure. But his defense was really quite spotty, and for every interception he nabbed, he gave up three big plays.
Cooper had no such demerits.
Jim Thorpe Award
Terrion Arnold (CB, Alabama)
Alabama came into the season with most conceding that the Tide had the nation’s best corner on its roster. That is still true — but we may wish to frame that in terms of 1 and 1A, because teams deciding to stay away from Kool-Aid tested Terrion Arnold...to their peril and dismay.
This year, Terrion has 10 PBU (3rd), 2 FF, 2 hurries, 1 sack, 5 INTS (T-3rd), 10 PD (8th). He’s fourth nationally among DBs with six TFL, and has notched 55 total tackles on the year. To that, he is allowing just 34% completion rate on contested passes (second-best in college), and has given up the second-fewest explosive passes of 20+ yards in man coverage. The only one better than him in both of those marks? Kool Aid.
But, whereas McKinstry dominates with positioning, Arnold has shown a safety’s knack for making a play on the ball in the air. That is what has separated him from Kool-Aid this year — and one reason why some Draftniks are even predicting NFL teams will take him above McKinstry. They’re both Top 10 talents, but the productivity all over the field, at every level, set Arnold apart in 2023.
It’s also why he gets our nod for the Thorpe Award.
Payton Wilson (MLB, NC State)
It seems like the ACC, despite having a general talent deficit next to the Big 10 or SEC, always unearths some outstanding linebackers who are tackling machines. The Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker, honors these productive, high-energy guys — especially in the middle, and there’s really only one choice for us.
NC State’s Payton Wilson doesn’t just have eye-dropping tackling stats though he has though (138 total, 69 solo), but he has also a forced fumble, two recoveries, has scored a TD, racked up half a dozen sacks, and he’s very good in pass coverage:the best-graded linebacker in the country, in fact, and has 4 PBU, 6 PD, and 3 INTs from the middle — those are defensive back numbers, folks.
NC State’s defense is again among the saltiest in the ACC, and Wilson is the leader in the field, on the locker room, and in no small measure is why NCSU is a 9-win team in what was meant to be a rebuilding year.
Heisman Memorial Trophy
Jayden Daniels (QB, LSU)
Broken record with this guy, I’m telling you.
He is 236-for-327 (.722) for 3,812 yards with 40 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has rushed 135 times for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns. Daniels leads the nation in points responsible for (302), total offense (412.2), passing efficiency (208.0), total quarterback rating (95.6) and touchdown passes (40). By far, he has the best YPA in the country, and the best since Tua in 2019 (11.6). He also ranks among the nation’s best in passing yards (3rd, 3,812) and completion percentage (7th, .722). He is solely the reason the Tigers are ranked 13th and finished the regular season with a 9-3 record.
LSU may have disappointed fans this year, but the electric Daniels wasn’t the reason why. That trash fire defense was. Anyone that votes for Nix or Penix did not watch a single football game this season or plainly has a geographic / political motivation to vote against him, and deserves to have their ballot revoked forever. I mean that too.
He’s been the best damn player in the country all year, week in-and-out, and it has been a joy to watch him...even when he’s carving up your alma mater.
Chuck Bednarik “Defensive Heisman” Award
Dallas Turner (OLB, Alabama)
With Anderson out of the picture, Turner has became the superstar of the Alabama defense. Turner has 46 tackles, a team-leading eight sacks, a team leading 12.5 TFL, two forced fumbles, 13 hurries, 9 hits, 3 PDs, 2 passes batted down. His motor never stops, and No. 15 is always around the ball, especially on 3rd down.
For all of the praise of Anderson, what Turned has lacked in those unreal stats, many of his numbers are very comparable to No. 31. Like Will, Dallas is affecting passers on 60% of his rush attempts — be that hurries, hits, sacks, batted passes, or even making defenders account for him.
His emergence has also made his teammates better. With Turner a known commodity, Chris Braswell has finally been able to shine as the 5-star edge many thought he could always be. Braswell’s 40 tackles, 8.0 sacks, and 10.5 TFL are very close to Dallas’s output — that’s not an accident either; just as Will’s presence opened the door for Turner, Turner’s emergence has helped Braswell shine and make Alabama’s pass rushing unit among the very best in the country.
Sometimes these MVP awards are based upon productivity. Sometimes they’re based on how you improve the team around you. In Dallas Turner’s case, it’s both.
That’s enough for us.
Paul W. Bryant National Coach of the Year
Jerry Kill, New Mexico State University
While Curt Cignetti has been phenomenal at James Madison, Jamey Chadwell has dominated at Liberty, Nick Saban has turned out some of the best coaching of his career, Rich Rod has shepherded a first-year FBS team to a 9-win season and a Top 3 CUSA finish, and Eli Drinkwitz has stunned the SEC, there’s really just one choice here for us.
Jerry Kill, New Mexico State.
It is hard to fully contextualize what an amazing job Kill has done in just two seasons at one of the most moribund, left-for-dead, historically awful programs in the 140 year history of college football. “Unprecedented” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
He is the first coach to sweep NMSU rivals UTEP and UNM in his first two seasons. For the first time in school history, the Aggies have won 10 games. For the first time in history, the Aggies defeated an SEC school — they had been 0-27 until two weeks ago. For the first time in half a century, the Aggies are playing for a conference title. For the first time in 48 years, NMSU received votes in the AP Top 25. For the first time since 1987, the Aggies had a home sellout. And so on down the line.
In the two+ seasons before Kill arrived, NMSU went 5-21. In his first season, the Aggies went 7-6, and won just their second bowl game since 1978. This year, the Aggies are 10-3 (7-1 CUSA), and are competing for the conference championship.
If there’s been a better job in coaching than this one, I’d like to see it...plus he did make Auburn pay him $1.8 million to kick their teeth in on national television. Just for the LULZ.
Who would get your vote for Biletnikoff?
This poll is closed
Marvin Harrison Jr.