By: Cole Mantell (@ColeMantell)
The regular season has come to a close and it is time to look at who might be up for postseason awards. While in previous seasons we have talked about who is a likely or under-the-radar candidate to win these awards, today let’s take a look at one player on each team who is the most likely to win some end-of-season recognition. The rules for this exercise are simple. We are looking at the player most likely to receive recognition next month at the end of the season with a major award. All-American candidacy does not count for this exercise, and we will only be looking at on-field awards to count for this look. Each team is ordered in alphabetical order as well.
Alabama Crimson Tide
MLB Ryan Schultz – Defensive Player of the Year
Entering Week 7 Ryan Schultz sits at 68 tackles, 15 TFLs, and 3 sacks. The Junior transfer from Iowa and Kentucky previously has been an All-American twice already, and a win for this award likely stamps a Hall-of-Fame candidacy before entering Senior year. Alabama has been at its best when Schultz plays at his best, and while the competition will be fierce for this award this season, Schultz has a case to take it. Alabama has never had a Defensive Player of the Year, and their last major on-field player award was Terrence Jones winning Most Improved Player last season.
HB Storm Odie – Most Improved Player
Last season, Storm Odie was the backup to Kieran Ennis and had 59 rushing yards on 18 carries his freshman season. This season, Storm Odie enters Week 7 with 542 rushing yards on 113 carries. The sophomore has spent the entire season in the Top 5 of the CFSL in rushing yards, and while he still needs to finish strong to stay there, his improvement is making him a star in the CFSL, whether or not he wins this award next month. If Odie would win, he would be the first-ever Auburn Tiger to win the award. Auburn’s last major on-field award winner was Chris Black in Season 11 for Defensive Player of the Year.
Boise State Broncos
DT Mo Hart – Defensive Player of the Year
Mo Hart has been a relatively less talked about player compared to even some of his teammates the past few seasons. That has changed in a big way this season, with 9 sacks already entering Week 7. That is more than he had in his first two seasons in the CFSL combined. As you’ll see, this award is going to have stiff competition this season, and Mo Hart is another competitor. He’ll need to finish very strong before voting begins, with the 26 tackles number, in particular, a knock against his case. Still, for anyone watching Boise State this season, it’s obvious Mo Hart has been one of the better QB hunters in the league this season. Boise State has never had a Defensive Player of the Year award winner and is looking for its first major on-field award winner since Bo Diddle won Freshman of the Year in Season 10.
QB Loki Gunderson – Most Improved Player
While Loki’s WRs in Bruce Roberson and Nasir Kooper might also be considerations, Clemson’s most likely shot at an award this season easily is their QB. Clemson fans likely want him in the conversation for Offensive Player of the Year as well. However, Gunderson’s best case is Most Improved Player. While it is conceivable he wins both, Gunderson’s inclusion at all as one of the very best QBs in the CFSL is about a complete reversal compared to last season. Gunderson has already nearly doubled his passing touchdowns, halved his interceptions, and is 2nd best in the CFSL in QB Rating (1st among Power 2 QBs at the time of writing). Clemson’s schedule will get some knocks on his candidacy, but Gunderson has played well against both MAC and Power 2 competition. This would be Clemson’s 2nd ever win for Most Improved Player, following Deedrick Law in Season 8. Clemson’s last major on-field award was Dane Jones for Most Outstanding Senior in Season 10.
QB Beau Dale – Freshman of the Year
Of the freshman QB class, no one has shined as bright as Dale. Entering Week 7 Dale leads the CFSL with 2713 passing yards. While people might point to the playbook, keep in mind that 7 teams in the CFSL went with the Air Raid this season, and none of their QBs have as many passing yards as Dale. Beau Dale still struggles with completion percentage and turnovers, as most freshmen do. But Dale also has more touchdowns than almost anyone else through the air in the CFSL this season, continuing a proud Florida Gators passing tradition. Florida has never had a player win Freshman of the Year, and they last had players win major on-field awards in Season 12 (Ronnie Blevins – Most Improved Player, Levi Temes – Most Outstanding Senior and Offensive Player of the Year).
Florida State Seminoles
QB Ryan Ravenhill – Most Outstanding Senior
While Ronnie De La Rocha has had an excellent season, Florida State’s most likely award candidate right now is arguably Ravenhill. Already a well-known name in the CFSL, Ravenhill won Freshman of the Year for his class in Season 14, and it would be quite a way to bookend his career by winning Most Outstanding Senior. It’s been a battle this season, however, for this award. Both Ravenhill and Kentucky QB Moses King have been in the Top 10 of the CFSL for QB Rating, and that’s before getting to other candidates in the CFSL outside QBs. Interestingly, the last Most Outstanding Senior that was a QB was Leo Asiata, the first winner of this award in Season 8. That likely changes this season. Florida State’s last Most Outstanding Senior was Isaac Frost, Ravenhill’s former teammate, in Season 14. Florida State swept the awards season that year after winning their first National Championship and has not had a major on-field award winner since.
MLB Kirby Sierra – Defensive Player of the Year
Georgia is in a bit of a weird spot when it comes to the awards this season. They have a few good candidates for some of the awards, with names like Ludwig Friedman and Joshua Sims coming to mind. However, it will be an uphill battle for any of them right now with their stats entering Week 7. If someone from UGA is going to win a major award this season, they’ll need to have an excellent last few weeks to convince voters. Kirby Sierra has had stretches where he has completely taken over games, and if he can do that the last few weeks, he’s Georgia’s best bet. Sierra enters Week 7 with 55 tackles, Top 10 in the CFSL. He’ll need some more sacks and maybe a defensive touchdown to convince voters he is their guy. Georgia has yet to have a player win a major award in their few seasons in the CFSL so far.
Illinois Fighting Illini
OLB JW Eibeck – Defensive Player of the Year
With apologies to Shaq Edwards, Eibeck is likely the Fighting Illini’s best chance for a major award winner this season. Eibeck is similar to Sierra with 63 tackles this season, Top 10 in the CFSL. However, in addition to having more tackles compared to Sierra Eibeck also has a few more sacks, as well as 3 defensive turnovers this season. Voters historically favor Linebackers with more tackles when considering them for this award, so Eibeck will need to still have big performances to end the regular season to get into more serious consideration here. He has the capability, however. Illinois is also another team without a major award winner yet.
MLB Jameson Weinrich – Defensive Player of the Year
To be clear, Moses King is a strong contender for awards as always. As mentioned previously, he still has a great shot at Most Outstanding Senior. However, for Kentucky this season the player who has driven play the most has been on defense for the team. Weinrich has taken the league by storm his sophomore year, leading the CFSL in tackles at numerous points during the regular season. Weinrich also has 4 forced fumbles to add to that and has been a monster at stopping both the pass and run. While Kentucky had a player win Offensive Player of the Year last season, this year it could be their first Defensive Player of the Year in Weinrich.
QB Mateo Walker – Offensive Player of the Year
It feels weird to have Kentucky’s best award chance to be on defense and Miami’s on offense, but here we are. While Miami’s defense has been no slouch, Walker has proven not only to be a good QB but one of the better ones in the CFSL. Walker’s QB Rating enters Week 7 at 153.0. While good, he’ll need to work on that number to close the gap between him and some other candidates, while likely needing some more wins as a team to get more consideration. However, this candidacy is still very alive if Miami finishes the season strong. Miami has never had a player win Offensive Player of the Year, and last won a major on-field award last season with George Yost winning Defensive Player of the Year.
QB Topher Foreman – Offensive Player of the Year
Michigan’s Topher Foreman is another strong candidate for Offensive Player of the Year this season. He enters Week 7 4th in the CFSL with a 163.1 QB Rating and has been excellent in Year 2 of Michigan AD Aaron Ike’s tenure at the school. Michigan on both sides of the ball has improved tremendously, helping them get to #1 at points this season in the rankings. Still, while team record helps, it’s on the individual player to prove he deserves this award, and Michigan will have a tough final two weeks. Foreman is on the right track but still has work to finish. Michigan has not had an Offensive Player of the Year since Javon Mack in Season 2. Their last major on-field award winner was Jesse Colton in Season 11.
North Carolina Tar Heels
WR Gunny McGuire – Most Outstanding Senior
Ayden Martinez will contend for a few awards this season, but the most likely award winner for the Tar Heels is the transfer from the MAC last season. Top 5 in multiple receiver categories, Gunny McGuire has helped transform North Carolina’s offense this season and has been Martinez’s most trusted guy. A monster season will get the looks, and while he will face off with some great QBs for this award, he has as much of a chance as any other senior this season. McGuire would be the first major on-field award winner for UNC in their history in the CFSL as well.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
DT Balor Blaise Dale – Defensive Player of the Year
Anytime you lead the CFSL in sacks, you’ll get some mentions for Defensive Player of the Year. While Dale has not been the flashiest defender, his fundamentals put him into this category and give him a great chance to win this award. Leading the CFSL in sacks entering Week 7, it’s going to be a battle between him and a few fellow Power 2 defenders to end the season on top of said category. Notre Dame has a rich history on defense, so Dale will have a chance to continue said history at the end of this season. Notre Dame’s last Defensive Player of the Year was back in Season 1 with Justin Philhart. Their last major on-field award winner was Duane Sammons winning Most Outstanding Senior in Season 15.
Ohio State Buckeyes
FS Donte Brown – Most Outstanding Senior
Ohio State certainly has had a tougher season than expected, coming into Week 7 unranked and fighting for their playoff lives. However, going under the radar this season has been Brown for the Buckeyes. The former Wisconsin safety has been excellent in coverage and pressuring opposing offenses. Brown will likely need a few strong last few weeks to get into the running for this award, but Brown certainly will get some All-American consideration as well from his final CFSL season. Ohio State has never had a player win Most Outstanding Senior, and their last major on-field award winner was Colton Allen winning Defensive Player of the Year in Season 8.
WR Damien Jones – Offensive Player of the Year
If a Quarterback does not win Offensive Player of the Year, historically it is going to a Wide Receiver who had an awesome season. Jones, entering Week 7 leading the CFSL in receiving yards per game, fits the idea well. Jones could be a contender for Most Improved Player as well, but if any Wide Receiver is joining Delano from Season 15 and Temes from Season 11, it’s Jones this season. While Oklahoma is still in a battle to try to make the playoffs this season, if the Sooners do end up making it, Jones will have a huge part in that on offense for them. Oklahoma has never had a player win a major on-field award, so you could say this honor would be long overdue.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
DE Ben Sapp – Most Outstanding Senior
The rivals on the other side of Bedlam have a rich history of major awards, but mostly on offense. Despite finishing another season near the top of the BIG 10, Oklahoma State’s best chance for awards is actually on defense this season instead. Both Ezra Rogalski and Ben Sapp could be Defensive Player of the Year candidates this season. However, Sapp has spent a career being underappreciated, and his work this season is most likely to get recognition for this award. As stated, Oklahoma State has had a plethora of major on-field awards in the last few seasons. If Sapp wins this award, it would be the second season in a row a Cowboy won it, after Les McAdoo last season. It also would be the third season in a row Oklahoma State had a player win a major on-field award.
MLB Ajani Abu – Freshman of the Year
At the time of writing, Ajani Abu has more tackles compared to any other freshman in the CFSL right now. Easily, Abu is the best player on Oregon’s defense right now in terms of pure statistical value, and Abu will look to finish his season on a high note. Oregon has struggled this season, but the future looks bright, thanks to Abu and his freshman class. A Linebacker has not won Freshman of the Year since Season 7 when Ohio State’s Isaiah Fowler did. A defensive player has not won the award since Boise State DE Bo Diddle in Season 10. Abu is one of the best chances to change this streak this season. Oregon has not ever had a winner of Freshman of the Year. Their last major on-field award winner was Brock Hoskins for Defensive Player of the Year in Season 15.
QB Helix Myers – Most Improved Player
Looking at pure passing stats, Myers doesn’t jump out as a player who could contend for some awards. However, in the rushing game this season, no QB is even close to what Myers has done. His ability both in the air and ground has powered Pittsburgh this season. Myers enters Week 7 2nd in the CFSL with 696 rushing yards, 2nd most of anyone in the CFSL, period. As Myers is a senior, all of this could get him a nomination for Most Outstanding Senior as well. If Myers won either award, he would be the first major on-field award winner in Pittsburgh Panthers’ history.
CB Buck Michaels – Most Outstanding Senior
Michaels is another example of a player who has gone under the radar for awards their entire career. Michaels has 4 interceptions this season, tied for 3rd most in the CFSL, and does more than just pick off footballs. A leader on and off the field, Michaels will go down as one of many Texas Longhorns who have starred for the team, and near the top in a few team records. It’ll be a tough fight for recognition for Most Outstanding Senior unless Michaels gets a few more flashy stats, but he is the best chance for a player on this team to get some recognition this season. Texas has never had a player win Most Outstanding Senior, and their last major on-field award winner was Joey Cass for Defensive Player of the Year in Season 13.
West Virginia Mountaineers
HB John Paul Smith – Offensive Player of the Year
With no slights intended to Tony Ellis or Tomlin Clementine, Smith represents West Virginia’s best-ever chance to get this award in team history this season. Smith has been simply electric this season, leading the league in rushing yards entering Week 7. Ironically, Smith has already been really good, so it seems more likely he’ll contend for Offensive Player of the Year instead. Just goes to show what many seem to have missed brewing the last few seasons in Morgantown. While AD Nate Murphy has two Broadcaster of the Year awards, no WVU player has a major on-field award yet.
It would be unfair to mention every team without going through each award candidate a MAC team could offer. Last season, we had Ludwig Friedman win Freshman of the Year from the Eastern Michigan Eagles, so recognition from the MAC is possible. However, two things also work against MAC teams. First, a shorter schedule for MAC teams this season limits counting stats. Secondly, the quality of play, while entertaining, is also different. Right or wrong, this will color many voters when they vote for awards at the end of the season, despite two MAC wins over Power 2 teams this season. So while there won’t be an entire write-up for these players, think of these guys as your under-the-radar submissions for players you probably haven’t watched yet, but should.