More than half of the 2017 College Football Awards watch lists were released this week, and each featured several Big 12 players. But some players face better odds of winning each of these awards than others. So, in this roundup of this week’s watch lists, we’ll point out the Big 12 player with the best chance to win each award. Note that some players are listed on more than one watch list and that some players will play their way into contention for these awards, even if they’re not on the initial watch list.
Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE/LB, Oklahoma
Okoronkwo is coming off a season in which he had 71 tackles, 12 sacks and earned second-team Big 12 honors. A redshirt senior, he has the maturity to better last year’s numbers and his overall athleticism makes him hard to stop. This award is highly competitive, both in the Big 12 and in the nation, because it’s awarded regardless of defensive position.
Maxwell Award (Player of the Year)
QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
This award is given regardless of offensive or defensive position. But let’s be clear — a quarterback has failed to win the award just twice since 2005. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson won it last year. So if you’re handicapping, Mayfield is the pony you want to ride. He threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2016, adding 177 yards rushing with six scores. The departures of running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon puts even more of the offensive load in his hands. There is plenty of Big 12 talent to challenge him, most notably Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Mackey Award (Tight End)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Not a hard choice. He’s the top tight end in the Big 12, coming off a 2016 in which he caught 31 passes, seven of which went for touchdowns. Andrews will likely fill some of the statistical hole that the departure of wide receiver Dede Westbrook created. A Big 12 player hasn’t won the award since 2008 (Chase Coffman, Missouri).
Rimington Award (center)
Zack Shackelford, Texas
It’s been nearly two decades since a Big 12 center has won the Rimington (Nebraska’s Dominic Raiola in 2000). Shackelford probably represents the league’s best shot, given that he’s coming off a Freshman All-America season and Big 12 honorable mention selection as a true freshman. His top competition is probably TCU’s Austin Schlottmann.
Lou Groza Award (kicker)
Clayton Hatfield, Texas Tech
The top placekicker returning to the Big 12, Hatfield has made 90 percent of his field-goal attempts in the past two seasons. The Red Raiders score a ton of points and that is of significant benefit to Hatfield. The last Big 12 player to win the award was Texas A&M’s Randy Bullock, who claimed it in 2011, the Aggies’ final year in the Big 12.
Ray Guy Award (punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
Dickson was a finalist last year, so he will be on voters’ minds again in 2017. He was tops in the Big 12 in average (47.9 yards) and punts of 50 yards or more (25). He was second behind Oklahoma State’s Zach Sinor for punts inside the 20 (28 to Sinor’s 35). Sinor is also back in 2017, but he has significant ground to make up in per-punt average (42.8).
Nagurski Award (top defensive player)
DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas
This award tends to skew toward defensive linemen and linebackers, and in some cases the player that wins the Bednarik Award wins this one, too. So, while you might think it’s a little nuts to highlight a Kansas for a national award, it’s really isn’t so crazy. Armstrong is coming off a fantastic season in which he registered 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss for a two-win team. The Jayhawks should be better, and if they push for a bowl game that means Armstrong is having an All-America type season. The Big 12 recently named him Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Outland (best interior lineman, offensive or defensive)
OL Connor Williams, Texas
Even though it rewards offense or defense, lately it’s become an offensive award, as that side of the ball has won it 11 of the last 15 years. Only a half-dozen Big 12 players made the cut. Williams gets it by a nudge here over Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown. Williams was a consensus first-team All-American last year. Brown was a second-team All-American. It’s that close. Expect at least one of them to be a finalist, and if both teams are having great seasons, they might both be at the award ceremony.
Thorpe (top defensive back)
DB D.J. Reed, Kansas State
He can tackle, he can cover and he can keep up with just about any receiver in the Big 12. The Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year provides stability to the Wildcats’ back row. He was one of only five Big 12 players on the watch list. Curiously, neither of Oklahoma’s top returning defensive backs — Steven Parker or Jordan Thomas — made the initial watch list. Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame president Eddie Griffin told the Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel that Thomas was excluded from the list for his previous off-the-field issues. He also told Tramel that Thomas would not be considered for the award.
Next week expect the watch lists for the Butkus (linebacker), Biletnikoff (wide receiver), Davey O’Brien (quarterback), Doak Walker (running backs) and Walter Camp (nation’s top player) awards to be released.