5 biggest college football award snubs
The end of the college season is upon us, and a number of the most prestigious awards have narrowed down their field of contenders. Many stars of the 2015 college season will gather at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show, but some notable names are absent from the lists of finalists released thus far.
Here we highlight five players we feel deserve recognition as being among the best in the nation in 2015, but have been overlooked by the award bodies. This isn’t to suggest that those who have been nominated are unworthy; rather, we feel that some other players have equally strong cases to make.
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Technically Joey Bosa hasn’t been snubbed — not entirely anyway. He’s one of four finalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, which recognizes the best down lineman or linebacker in football — but that award, while prestigious, isn’t part of the Home Depot 25th Anniversary College Football Awards Show. Bosa is a notable absentee from the list of finalists for both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awards that honor the best defensive player in the nation.
Compared to his stellar 2014 campaign, Bosa’s sack numbers are down, with just five this season to 13 last year. Yet he is generating far more pressure in 2015, with 60 pressures in 10 games compared to his 2014 total of 75 in 15 games; factoring in pass rush snap counts, that’s a 33 percent increase in pressure rate. Nor is Bosa just a pass rusher — he’s equally destructive in run defense, and that’s reflected in his +58.2 overall grade, which leads all edge rushers. Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, who is enjoying an excellent campaign of his own, is a distant second with a +43.9 grade.
Bosa’s season has been so impressive that we felt he should be seen as a Heisman contender, even though we know that the Heisman is rarely awarded to a defensive player. So, it’s surprising to see a list of final nominee’s for the nation’s best defensive player without Bosa’s name on it.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
With a +27.8 overall grade Sterling Shepard sits atop our WR rankings, but wasn’t selected as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the most outstanding receiver in college football.
Matching Oklahoma’s back-loaded schedule, Shepard has saved his best for last, posting a nation-leading +9.9 overall grade over the past two weeks in which the Sooners played potentially season-defining games against Baylor and TCU. Shepard was targeted 16 times against Baylor, catching all 14 catchable passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He backed that up with an eight catch, 111 yard effort against TCU. Shepard is such a reliable target that quarterbacks targeting him have a 145.2 passer rating, fourth-best in the nation.
Shepard’s surge may have come too late for the award voters, but it deserves recognition, and being a finalist for the Biletnikoff would have been fitting.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Few players have dominated their position group the way that Jourdan Lewis has this season. He graded superbly early in the season, and hasn’t let up since — his +21.1 overall grade leads all corners.
Lewis’s coverage has been targeted 80 times, yet he’s given up just 320 yards and one touchdown. To put that in perspective, only one corner has been targeted more often than Lewis, yet 174 other corners have given up more yards, and 305 corners have allowed two or more touchdowns. Just 36.3 percent of passes into his coverage have been completed.
Lewis was surprisingly left off the shortlist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back; perhaps he is paying for the lack of highlight reel plays. While he leads the nation with 14 pass breakups, he has snagged just two picks (though his pick-six against Northwestern was definitely a highlight reel-worthy effort). Regardless, Lewis has been among the very best defensive players in college football this season; he would have been worthy recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award.
Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green
The Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s best quarterback has a shortlist of three: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, TCU’s Trevone Boykin, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. It’s hard to argue against any of them, but Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson has the statistics and performances to more than match them — it’s just tougher to get noticed in the MAC.
Johnson leads the nation with 4,465 passing yards, and has thrown more touchdown passes (41) than any other quarterback. He ranks second among QBs in both overall grade (+44.0) and passing grade (+43.0). On deep passes — those that travel 20+ yards downfield before being caught—Johnson has thrown for more yards (1,577) and touchdowns (18) than any other quarterback.
It’s always going to be difficult for a player like Johnson to compete with higher profile passers when it comes to award season, but his performances have been good enough to merit a place on the shortlist for either the O’Brien Award or the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Buckner, a 3-4 defensive end, leads all interior defenders with a +64.5 overall grade. Notre Dame’s excellent Sheldon Day is second with a +47.9 grade. Buckner also leads all interior defenders with 10 sacks and 60 total pressures, and is tied for the lead with 39 defensive stops.
He has graded positively in every game this season, and while sometimes that’s because it’s a physical mismatch against less talented opponents, he has also come out on top when matched up against some of the best linemen in the nation. Buckner’s battle against Michigan State LT Jack Conklin was fun to watch, and while it wasn’t one-sided, Buckner got the better of Conklin. The same was true when he faced Stanford LG Joshua Garnett, who posted his sole negative grade of the season against Buckner.
Despite that, Buckner is absent from the final shortlist for every defensive player award that has been announced thus far. He’s been so far off the radar that he was even overlooked as a semi-finalist for the Bednarik and Rotary Lombardi prizes, which is inexplicable. Buckner may yet be a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award for the nation’s best defensive end, but his play has deserved more.