There are various awards given out to the best college football players at the end of each season, and while we are quite a while away from that time, the preseason watch lists for many of these honors have been announced.
Many Michigan State Spartans have made watch lists for various trophies, for both on and off the field accomplishments. Let’s recap what we know so far:
Walter Camp Award (College Football Player of the Year): Defensive End, Kenny Willekes
Thoughts: While Willekes was voted as a Walter Camp second-team All-American in 2018 — and has a great chance to make first team in 2019 — he is unlikely to win the Walter Camp Award. This trophy has almost exclusively been awarded to offensive players. Now in its 52nd year, only three defensive players have ever taken home the honor — and zero defensive linemen. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o was the last defender to do so in 2012. Of the 40 players who made the watch list, Willekes is one of just 10 defensive players.
Dick Butkus Award (Nation’s Top Linebacker): Linebacker, Joe Bachie
Thoughts: Joe Bachie is not only of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, but in the entire nation, hence why he is one of just 51 players on the preseason watch list for the award. He has started 26 consecutive games and led the Spartans in tackles in each of the past two seasons. Bachie, a team captain, was voted as a first team All Big Ten selection in 2018, and is a preseason favorite for both Big Ten and All-American top honors this season. He could become the first Butkus Award winner for the Spartans since 1989.
Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Award Watch Lists (College Football Defensive Player of the Year/Best Defensive player in NCAA): Defensive End, Kenny Willekes and Middle Linebacker, Joe Bachie
Thoughts: It is not a surprise these two players made either watch list. With strong seasons, either Willekes or Bachie could easily find themselves as a finalist for the Bednarik Award or Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defender. It is highly unlikely that both players will end up as finalists for both awards, but that would be something. This could also elevate the friendly competition between the two buddies. Bachie is the active leader for the Spartans in career tackles with 214, while Willekes ranks second in all of FBS in active career tackles for loss per game at 1.30.
Paul Hornung Award Watch List: (Most Versatile Player in College Football): Running Back, Connor Heyward
Thoughts: First awarded in 2010, the Hornung Award has historically been given to those who play both sides of the ball or double as kick/punt returners. Heyward is expected to lead the MSU backfield, but other halfbacks will rotate in. He returned kicks in both 2017 and 2018, but it’s unclear if the coaching staff will allow him to do that as the team’s No. 1 tailback this season. We could also see him used more as a pass-catcher. Heyward was one of five finalists for the award in 2018, and is now part of the 44-person watch list in 2019.
Lou Groza Award Watch List (College Football’s Top Placekicker): Kicker, Matt Coghlin
Thoughts: Coghlin was a semifinalist for the Groza Award in 2018, and was also a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media. Now a junior, Coghlin was selected as a preseason first team All-Big Ten choice by Athlon Sports, CollegeFootballNews.com and Phil Steele. He has connected on 33 of his 41 career field goal attempts, and has (knocked on wood) never missed an extra point in 63 tries. He currently ranks first in MSU history in career field goal percentage at 80.5 percent, and PAT percentage at 100 percent. The Groza Award is within reach for McLovin.
Danny Wuerrfel Trophy (“College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service,”): Offensive Tackle, Cole Chewins
Thoughts: Not much older than the Hornung Award, the Wuerrfel Trophy first was awarded in 2005. Chewins, a fifth-year senior, is a two-time Academic All-American and three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He spends his free time trying to make a difference in the East Lansing community by visiting local elementary schools, volunteering at various events and participating in MSU’s “Lansing Promise” program. He is also part of the football team’s Eagle Leadership Council. He looks to be the first Spartan to take home the honor.
John H. Outland Trophy (Nation’s Top Interior Lineman): Defensive Tackle, Raequan Williams
Thoughts: Williams, at 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, is a menacing presence and huge reason why Michigan State was the toughest team to run the ball against in 2018. He was selected as a first team All-Big Ten selection by the Associated Press last season. Now as a senior, Williams is one of 83 Outland Trophy watch list members. He can become the first Spartan to win the award since Ed Bagdon in 1948. Williams has started 29 consecutive games at nose tackle and has recorded 21.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, six pass deflections and two forced fumbles in his career.
Jim Thorpe Award (Nation’s Best Defensive Back): Cornerback, Josiah Scott
Thoughts: With Justin Layne and Khari Willis gone to the NFL, Scott is the most experienced member of the secondary. He is one of 46 players named to the Thorpe Watch List. The junior cornerback, who was also named as a preseason All-Big Ten selection by multiple media sources, has recorded three interceptions and 16 pass deflections in his career. After starting right away as a freshman, Scott missed eight games as a sophomore due to a knee injury. Fully healthy to start 2019, Scott will be a tough assignment for opposing wide receivers.
Dave Rimington Trophy (Nation’s Top Center): Center, Matt Allen
Thoughts: The Michigan State offensive line struggled with injuries and consistency in 2018, but returns a much more experienced group this year. Allen enters his junior season as a preseason third team All-Big Ten selection, according to Phil Steele. He has played in 21 career games, with seven starts. Allen has a chance to become the first ever Spartan to win the Rimington Award. After missing a few games with a foot injury in 2018, a healthily Allen looks to ascend his play in 2019 and carry on the Allen legacy at MSU.
Former Award Winners from Michigan State
Outland Trophy: OG, Ed Bagdon (1948)
Butkus Award: LB, Percy Snow (1989)
Thorpe Award: CB, Darqueze Denard (2013)
In addition to the watch lists, both Bachie and Willekes were named first team preseason All-Big Ten selections, and either first or second team preseason All-Americans by multiple media sources, including Athlon Sports, Lindy’s, Phil Steele, Sporting News, Street & Smith’s and CollegeFootballNews.com.
This is fun to look at, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t personally put a ton of stock into preseason watch lists. We haven’t seen what these players, and the competition they’ll be facing for these awards, will do in 2019 just yet. A lot happens over the course of a season: injuries, regression for some, ascension for others, etc. And while individual accolades are great, it’s a team game and wins and losses matter.
However, this should certainly still be considered an honor for these players to be mentioned amongst the top players in the country at their position, or overall. And when all is said and done, these Spartans have a chance to be finalists, or potentially even win the aforementioned awards.
It’s almost time to let the play on the field do all of the talking.