By TIM GAYLE
For most college football fans, the upcoming football season jumps into hype mode with the conference media days. The Football Writers Association of America helps by coordinating the preseason watch lists that tout college football’s top individual players for the 2018 football season.
The 16 awards, released over a two-week period from July 16-27, started with a bang with the release of the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top player, and the Bednarik Award, presented to the best defensive player. The two-week period ended with the preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate player.
Among the biggest names on the list are Alabama defensive lineman Raekwon Davis and tailback Damien Harris and Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, with each player earning recognition to three watch lists.
Davis was named to the Walter Camp list as well as the two national defensive player of the year awards, the Bednarik and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Harris was named to the watch list for the top two national awards, the Maxwell Trophy and the Walter Camp award as well as the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation’s top running back.
Stidham was named to the Maxwell and Camp watch lists as well as the Davey O’Brien Award, presented to the nation’s top quarterback.
Other Maxwell preseason nominees include Alabama quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (he was also on the O’Brien list) and Tua Tagovailoa as well as UAB running back Spencer Brown, former Opelika High (and South Carolina) quarterback Jake Bentley and former Edgewood Academy (and Ohio) quarterback Nathan Rourke.
Past winners include Baker Mayfield in 2017, Lamar Jackson in 2016 and Derrick Henry in 2015.
Joining Davis on the Bednarik list are Alabama linebackers Anfernee Jennings of Dadeville and Mack Wilson of G.W. Carver High as well as Auburn’s Dontavious Russell. Past winners include Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2017, Jonathan Allen in 2016 and Tyler Matakevich in 2015.
Brown and Bentley are on the Walter Camp list as well, joining Davis, Harris and Stidham. Past winners include Mayfield in 2017, Jackson in 2016 and Henry in 2015.
While the other awards don’t necessarily carry the weight of the Maxwell, Bednarik and Camp awards because they are position-specific, they are just as prestigious.
Auburn receiver Ryan Davis is among the candidates for the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the nation’s top collegiate receiver, along with South Alabama’s Jamarius Way. Past winners include James Washington of Oklahoma State in 2017, Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook in 2016 and Baylor’s Corey Coleman in 2015.
Alabama’s Hale Hentges and UAB’s Logan Scott are among the preseason candidates for the Mackey Award, presented to the nation’s top right end. Past winners include Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews in 2017, Michigan’s Jake Butt in 2016 and Hunter Henry of Arkansas in 2015.
Hentges and Brown are among the 106 players on the preseason watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, presented to the college player that best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
Others from the state on the list include South Alabama senior defensive end Sean Grayer, Troy senior receiver Damion Willis and UAB senior linebacker Craig Kanyangarara.
Alabama’s Ross Pierschbacher is on the Rimington Trophy list, presented to the nation’s best collegiate center, along with Troy’s Deontae Crumitie and UAB’s Lee Dufour. The Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the nation’s top defensive back, includes Troy senior Blace Brown on its preseason watch list.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy, presented to the nation’s top defensive player, includes Auburn defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson of Auburn on the preseason watch list, along with Davis and Troy teammates Hunter Reese and Blace Brown. Past winners include North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb in 2017, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen in 2016 and Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich in 2015.
The Butkus Award, presented to the nation’s top linebacker, includes a trio of Alabama players – Jennings, Wilson and Dylan Moses – along with Auburn’s Deshaun Davis. A fourth Alabama linebacker, Terrell Lewis, would have been on the list but was scratched after a preseason knee injury.
Moses won the high school version of the award in 2016 as a senior at IMG Academy. Also on the 2018 preseason watch list is Oklahoma’s Caleb Kelly, who won the high school award in 2015 while at Clovis West.
On the high school list is two Alabamians, Auburn High’s Mohamoud Diabate and Carver’s Ke’shun Brown.
Past winners include Roquan Smith of Georgia in 2017, Reuben Foster of Alabama in 2016 and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith in 2015.
The Outland Trophy, presented to the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman, includes Alabama tackle Jonah Williams and Pierschbacher on its preseason watch list, along with Crumitie of Troy and 2017 winner Ed Oliver of Houston.
The Lou Groza Award, presented to the nation’s top kicker, included four Southeastern Conference players on its preseason watch list, but none from Alabama or Auburn. The list includes 2017 winner Matt Gay of Utah. South Alabama’s Corliss Waitman is the only in-state player on the watch list for the 2018 Ray Guy Award, presented to the nation’s top punter.
Forty-three players were named to the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, which is presented annually to the most versatile player in college football. Among those on the list are Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and Troy’s Marcus Jones. Past winners included Saquon Barkley in 2017, Jabrill Peppers in 2016 and Christian McCaffrey in 2015.
Most of these awards will release a list of semifinalists in mid-November, along with a group of finalists a week later. Many of the winners will be announced on Dec. 6 at the Home Depot College Football Awards.