Season 20 Midseason Award Candidates

LightningDragon · June 1, 2024


By: Cole Mantell (@lightningdragon)

Midway through Season 20, we somewhat know the contenders and pretenders. The same can go for the players, both freshmen and veterans. With four weeks done and four to go for the regular season, the picture of our award contenders is again coming into view. There is still plenty of football left to play, but at this midpoint, let’s check in on the awards and who is competing for each one. Players are listed alphabetically, but otherwise in no particular order. If a player is under consideration for multiple awards, I will note it but only include them once. Awards are listed in order of prestige, going from off-field to on-field awards.

Fan of the Year

409Kay won this award last season and is a strong contender to do so again this season. While he and his player have moved from USC to Texas, he still has brought his swagger. He has actively participated everywhere, from Discord to streams to the broadcast booth. Fan-voted awards often previous winners get a boost, and until stated otherwise 409Kay could be the prohibitive favorite as long as he remains eligible for the award.

AMK588 has been a longtime league presence, most well known for his efforts helping with “Plays of the Week” on the CFSL Inside Blitz Podcast. He’s also been a longtime member and a key part of the Syracuse Orange team and locker room since they joined the CFSL. While he has yet to win any major awards, he is someone to keep an eye on as a potential candidate for this major award this season.

Vennom has been a part of the league almost as long as anyone around, save for the admins. However, the longtime former Athletic Director was never eligible as he led teams to glory. After retiring last season as the AD of Florida, Vennom became eligible as a player/coach to win this award. So far, his presence for USC has been invaluable and his player isn’t half bad either. Expect him to get heavy consideration for the award.

Broadcaster of the Year

Elan Olliff has been the main Wednesday broadcaster for Play by Play this season, continuing another season of professionalism in the booth. He works well with his regular partner Ryan Moreland (who we will get to in a second) and has the chops to move up the rankings and into the top three consideration for broadcasters this season. This is a tough award to win, even more so given the regular competition for it, but Oliff is the best chance for someone to win this award for the first time in their career right now it seems.

Nathan Murphy is one of the longest-tenured CFSL broadcasters whose versatility and creativity in the booth sets him apart. He’s tied twice for this award with Cole Mantell in Seasons 14 and 15 but is still searching for his first solo win in this category. With his West Virginia Mountaineers on the upswing and his longevity and consistency in the booth, is this finally the season where we see Murphy upset Moreland and take the crown for himself? Time will tell.

Ryan Moreland is again the favorite for this award, with all the momentum going in his favor. In CFSL history, this award tended to be one where one person would win a few years in a row. For Ryan, he’s taken that idea to the extreme. Moreland has won this award for the past three seasons and is looking to become the first to ever win the award four seasons without ties. Only Cole Mantell has won the award four times in a row, but even he tied twice with Nate Murphy in his four-season run from Season 13-16. A win this year cements him as the greatest CFSL broadcaster of all time.

Team Spirit

Auburn is one of the early favorites for this award. Since AD Justin Duke took over this team coming over from Texas last season, he has elevated the team on and off the field. The team has an outsized presence all over the league, including a heavy presence projected for the 2024 Hangout in Tampa this July. Auburn is not only a National Championship contender under Duke, but a fun place to play. His team will show out in force both to get nominated for this award and to rally support for the team. Auburn last won this award in Season 7.

Florida State has always had a large locker room presence in its long history of success. AD Tom Pence’s unit once again this season has been among the best off the field, even among an uncharacteristic 2-2 start for the team. There is still much work to be done, but no one would be surprised if the Seminoles win this award once again. Florida State’s last and only win in this award was in Season 14.

Kentucky won three of the past four National Championships, and once again is a strong team, starting 3-1 this season. However, in a surprise twist, the Wildcats have never won this award, despite a strong locker room under multiple different Athletic Directors. Devan Davis has long been a respected teambuilder, and once again his squad is primed to both compete on the field and be a big presence off of it. His team has the chops to win this award depending on how voting goes at the end of the season.

AD of the Year

Jacob Cobb (USC) leads one of two unbeaten teams and continues his tear through the BIG 10. It takes a lot more than regular-season success to win this award, but the Trojans have improved each season under Cobb. He’s had to develop a new freshman QB, reload on defense, and take on a brutal schedule in the tough BIG 10. So far, Cobb and his staff have been more than up to the challenge and look more than capable of taking home the Trojan’s first Championship since Season 7. USC has never had an AD win this award. A BIG 10 AD has only won this award twice in the entire existence of this award since Season 8. They were Austin Krogh with Oregon in Season 11 and Aaron Eichenberg with Michigan in Season 17.

Justin Duke (Auburn) leads the other unbeaten team in the CFSL. We’ve already talked a bunch in this article about how successful the team has been in their first season with Duke leading the Tigers, so I won’t extol the team too much more here. Yes, Duke benefitted from many transfers from his previous stop in Austin. But he still had an extremely tough non-conference schedule and the gauntlet that is SEC conference play. So far, so good as he looks to continue the Tigers’ winning ways. Auburn has never had an AD win this award, and Duke would be the first SEC AD to win the award since Devan Davis won the award two seasons in a row in Seasons 15 and 16.

Nate Murphy (West Virginia) is on a mission for respect this season. Let’s be honest. West Virginia is not the easiest place to recruit. Nor has it been an easy road for the coaching staff in Morgantown. The team has lost multiple coaches over the seasons to “greener” pastures. Murphy has been the constant among the struggles. Now, it’s time to recognize what Murphy has done so far. The Mountaineers are 3-1, competing for their first-ever conference title. Just a reminder, West Virginia has never won a playoff game before this season. Right now, if they keep this up, they’re likely going to host a playoff game (and likely more than one). Murphy deserves recognition for the job he’s done in the slow building of the team, and he’s getting some here.

Freshman of the Year

Kentucky QB TJ Cunnington is the jewel so far of a large and talented freshman QB class. He leads his freshmen peers in QB Rating, completion percentage, and passing touchdowns. The only other freshman QB with more passing yards is Tennessee QB Sterling Verdugo. Cunnington has been another in a long line of star QBs for the Wildcats, and he is looking to lead the team to another National Championship this season to extend the dynasty. Surprisingly, Cunnington would be the first Wildcat ever to win this award. Florida State QB Zeus Claydon was the last QB to win this award in Season 18.

Oregon HB Ryan Ralosky has been a dynamo so far for the Oregon Ducks. His entire candidacy rests on one thing, his big play ability. In Week 2 versus Michigan State, the freshman ran for 259 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. It earned him his first of what could be many Player of the Week awards in his career. He’s shown flashes in the other three games so far, but he’ll need more performances like that to lock up this award. Ralosky is looking to join Miami HB Bo Yost from last season and make it two seasons in a row a HB wins the award. Oregon has never had a player win this award as well.

Oregon HB Ryan Ralosky slashed around the corner for a touchdown.

Texas A&M MLB Jason Quinn might be a legitimate candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year at this rate. The freshman does it all on the expansion Aggies defense. He’s still looking for his first career sack, but leads freshmen in tackles and has another 8 TFLs to boot. He’s going to be a star for many years in this league, especially with the team building in College Station. History is working against Quinn, however. Quinn would be one of only three defensive players to ever win this award. Boise State DE Bo Diddle was the last defensive player to win this award back in Season 10. Ohio State MLB Isaiah Fowler won this award in Season 7 as well.

Most Outstanding Senior

Alabama HB Tyrone Blake is going to compete for multiple awards this season, but I put him here because this is the most likely award he could win. The Crimson Tide halfback enters midseason as the only CFSL HB with over 500 rushing yards. Add to that 5 rushing touchdowns and a key role in a great offense, not to mention the relative lack of senior QBs who usually compete for this award, and you have a recipe for Blake to win this award this season. An offensive player has won this award the past three seasons, and Blake is the best bet to make it four years in a row right now. Blake would also be the first-ever Alabama player to win this award as well.

Alabama HB Tyrone Blake took the long run in for a touchdown through the tackle.

Notre Dame OLB Jackson Bando has been around the CFSL, joining Notre Dame as a senior transfer on his third team. He played for Bowling Green and Boise State previously. This time, however, he finally has a chance to be the centerpiece of a great defense, tied for the CFSL lead with 44 tackles. Bando’s play has helped keep the Fighting Irish afloat after the team had over 20 spots to fill this offseason in scholarships. Bando would be the third Notre Dame player to win this award, joining Leo Asiata in Season 8 and Duane Sammons in Season 15. He’d be the first Linebacker ever to win the award as well.

USC CB Jordan Holt has been a mainstay for the Trojan defense in his two seasons for the team after transferring from WVU. Holt has 6 interceptions this season, leading the CFSL, and is already more than he’s had in any of his other three full seasons in the CFSL. He needs a few more to truly contend for this award, but he also is on a defense that is playing well on an undefeated team. He’ll get chances to shine as the season goes on even more than he already has. Holt would be both the first-ever USC player and the first-ever cornerback to win this award.

USC CB Jordan Holt leapt to make the tough interception with the receiver on his back.

Most Improved Player

Clemson QB Luke Cannon represents what is so hard to predict about this award. Cannon had a tough freshman season, represented by the fact he threw as many touchdowns as he did interceptions (15). This season? In four games he has 16 passing touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. His Tigers have a tough final four weeks ahead though, and Cannon will need to be just as good if not better against the likes of Florida State and Notre Dame. Still, there is no doubt Cannon has proved himself capable and even great. If he can stay consistently this good, this won’t be the only award Cannon is a contender for. Cannon would be the first-ever Clemson Tiger to win this award. Toledo’s McKade Alber was the last QB to win this award.

Colorado QB Sky Sanders has been similarly impressive to Cannon this season. Quarterbacks seldom have a 15% increase in completion percentage from season to season, but someone forgot to tell Sanders that over the first four weeks. Like Cannon, Sanders and his Buffaloes have a tough four weeks ahead in conference play, but the upstart Buffaloes have something to prove after last season, and so far they’ve turned heads. Sanders is looking to be the face of that charge. Since joining the CFSL last season, Sanders would be the first-ever major award winner for the Colorado Buffaloes if he won this or any other award.

Colorado QB Sky Sanders cuts on the run to take it in for a touchdown.

Ohio State DE Mike Diamond is more than his CFSL-leading seven sacks, but let’s start there. In his two previous seasons, Diamond had a total of two sacks over 18 games. Again, over four games this season, he has seven. He’s been a star in a reformed Ohio State defense, and if any defensive player is going to take home this award, the favorite is by far Diamond. His only knock against him is the large number of points his defense has given up so far, but don’t sleep on Diamond despite his team’s 1-3 record. He’s a star in the making right now. Diamond would be the first Buckeye to win this award. He’d be the first DE since Oklahoma State DE Les McAdoo to win this award since McAdoo won it in Season 16.

Defensive Player of the Year

Illinois DE Buck Bolden represents a wide-open competition in this new era for Defensive Player of the Year. Bolden leads in the traditional stats for this award, leading the CFSL with 11 TFLs and tied for 2nd with 6 sacks through four games of play. It is rare for a freshman to be nominated for this award, let alone win it. This season, it seems possible, even likely, it will be a freshman. Illinois has never had a player win Defensive Player of the Year. Bolden would be the first DE to win Defensive Player of the Year since Miami DE Laci White won in Season 18.

Illinois DE Buck Bolden flew around the edge to get the sack on Keohane.

Michigan CB Amarion Xander Martel is another freshman on the list for one specific reason. His big-play ability. He is the only player in the CFSL right now with multiple defensive touchdowns, taking two of his three interceptions for touchdowns already. One was in a close Week 1 win over Baylor, the other just last week vs Miami. His three interceptions are also tied for 2nd most in the CFSL. If he can keep this pace, he will be in the running for multiple awards, including this one. Amarion Xander Martel would represent the first Wolverine to win this award since Season 3, representing the largest-ever gap between two players winning the same major award on the same team. He’d also be the first-ever Cornerback to win the award as well.

West Virginia FS Kevin Walsh is the next in a developing trend of safeties competing and winning this award. As of midseason, Walsh is tied for the CFSL league lead in tackles with Notre Dame’s Jackson Brando, who we discussed earlier in the article and who also could win this award. Walsh has been part of the glue that sticks this Mountaineer defense together. He still needs to round out the rest of his game, as he has 0 sacks or interceptions recorded so far. But Walsh could make it two seasons in a row a safety wins this award after Miami SS Jamal Davis won this award last season. Walsh would also be the first-ever West Virginia player to win an on-field Major Award.

West Virginia FS Kevin Walsh got his hands up to make the pick in the endzone.

Offensive Player of the Year

Georgia WR Jeff Frey has decimated his competition this season. He has 638 receiving yards at midseason, over 100 receiving yards better than 2nd place. But what truly sets Frey apart is the fact he has done that on only 19 catches. You read that right. The CFSL midseason receiving leader is averaging less than 5 catches a game. If he can sustain even close to this production, no matter how good any QB plays, Frey is almost locked for this award. There is a question of how he does under a heavier workload, but then again I have a feeling he will be just fine. Frey not only would be the first Georgia player to win this award but also the first Georgia player to win any major on-field award, period. It would make him (or any other WR) the third pass-catcher to win this award in a row, following UNC TE Cadbury Wellington in Season 18 and Miami WR Deuce Bolden in Season 19.

Miami WR Jalen Irvin is similarly looking to be the second Miami WR in a row to win this award. While he doesn’t have as many receiving yards as Jeff Frey, Irvin’s calling card this season has been touchdowns. Irvin leads the CFSL with 9 so far this season. That puts Irvin on pace for 18 in the regular season, not counting on another deep Miami Hurricanes playoff run. For reference, Deuce Bolden set the single-season touchdown record last season at 22 touchdowns, and Irvin had a good shot at matching or even beating it again this season. If he were to hit 20, he’d join Bolden along with Florida WR Levi Temes (Season 12) and Alabama WR Titus Price (Season 17). That’s the entire list.

Miami WR Jalen Irvin snagged the touchdown grab off the tipped pass in the back of the endzone.

West Virginia QB Gunner Rice is the representation of so much struggle paying off for Nate Murphy and his Mountaineers. The team has taken the next step in two seasons with Rice leading the squad, and Rice is your traditional QB archetype to win this award. At midseason, Gunner Rice leads the CFSL in QB Rating at 207.8. 2nd place is almost 30 points behind him (Penn State QB Sean Keohane – 183.9). Rice will need to keep this pace up, hope no QB catches up, and that no WR has a record-setting season. But if luck turns his way, Rice is the most likely QB candidate to win this award this season. He’d be the first QB to win this award since Kentucky QB Moses King in Season 16. As discussed earlier, WVU has never had a major on-field award winner.

National Champion

As with last season, predicting a National Champion after Week 4 is a fool’s errand. I predicted Florida State, Illinois, or Michigan would win last season, and instead, it was Kentucky who won. This season, if I have to choose three teams, I’m not just going to go with the best records. I’ll start with Auburn, who will be my only undefeated pick. They’ve demolished their tough competition at times, and look the part of a championship contender. I’ll go to the BIG 10 for my next pick, and take the Penn State Nittany Lions. They’re a complete team led by one of the best QBs in the CFSL right now. That is the building block of a National Champion. Not to mention they return a lot of experience from their playoff run last season. Finally, I’ll go with a “dark horse” pick for my final choice, and take the Oregon Ducks. What a story it would be for how Gavin Lussier became the Oregon AD to turn around and win the Ducks’ second National Championship. Anything can happen in this new era of the CFSL, and Oregon represents the best parts of that with its balanced offense and opportunistic defense.


Join the CFSL. Create your legacy.

Get Started