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Top three contenders for each college football award

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Ohio State's Braxton Miller returned for his senior season after considering NFL draft entry.

"Watch list" mania has subsided, what with the last official release from the National College Football Awards Association.

There were 15 watch lists released in the past two weeks, with the final one coming from the organizers of the Walter Camp Award.


14 for '14 series:
CFB 24/7 counts down the 14 college football players or coaches to watch in varying categories in 2014.

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Truthfully, putting out preseason watch lists for an end-of-season award is one of the, well, dumber things about college football. But it does help pass the time until the first game -- heck, the first practice -- gets here. (And it says something that the only college football award that truly resonates with fans, the Heisman, doesn't release a watch list.)

A lot of time and effort could be saved, though, on those watch lists. After all, why slog through the names of the 123 players on the Lombardi Award watch list or the 81 players on the Nagurski Trophy watch list? Instead, we've culled the lists to three players each for 16 awards (we have added the Ted Hendricks Award, which doesn't participate in the NCFAA preseason unveiling). And, no, there is no Heisman "watch list," here, either, though we already have made our preseason feelings known on that award.

Bednarik Award (top defender)

The three to watch: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon; DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska; LB Myles Jack, UCLA
Buzz: The Bednarik and Nagurski awards both go to the top defender, but defensive backs don't usually show up on the Nagurski finalists list. Thus, Ekpre-Olomu -- the nation's most hyped corner going into the season, and the hype won't cease -- makes this list. Jack makes this list, too, because he will be the best-known linebacker this fall. Gregory is going to have double-digit sacks and also could have (should have?) 20 tackles for loss.

Biletnikoff Award (top receiver)

The three to watch: Amari Cooper, Alabama; Antwan Goodley, Baylor; Rashad Greene, Florida State
Buzz: Goodley is, well, a good choice to have the most receptions among this group, with Greene second and Cooper third. And all three will play for teams that should finish in or at least near the top 10. Goodley and Greene also play with established quarterbacks; that's not the case with Cooper, which means that no matter how talented he is, he also is the most likely of this trio not to be on the finalists list at the end of the season.

Butkus Award (best linebacker)

The three to watch: Myles Jack, UCLA; Denzel Perryman, Miami; Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
Buzz: Jack also plays running back for the Bruins, and his two-way abilities already have led to a ton of offseason attention. And offseason attention is gold for non-skill-position guys. Perryman is a big hitter who could reach 120 tackles. And Smith is a big-time talent for Notre Dame, which guarantees national attention. He's also on a team that will have every one of its games nationally televised.

Walter Camp Award (top player)

The three to watch: Braxton Miller, Ohio State; Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Jameis Winston, Florida State
Buzz: The top three Heisman candidates also should be the top three Camp Award candidates. But only five of the past 10 Heisman winners (and, yes, we're counting Reggie Bush as a Heisman winner) also have won the Camp; recent history is even worse -- just two of the past seven (Winston last season and Cam Newton in 2010 were the only double winners).

Groza Award (top kicker)

The three to watch: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State; Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma; Marshall Morgan, Georgia
Buzz: Aguayo won the award last season as a true freshman, and he plays on a team that is going to score a ton of points. Morgan has a huge leg and should have the most 50-yard-plus field goals among this group. Hunnicutt lacks a powerful leg, but he is accurate and consistent and will score a lot of points for a team that should be at least on the periphery of the national-title hunt.

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks digs deep into the game tape to evaluate college football's most talented players.

» Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
» Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
» Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
» Leonard Williams, DL, USC
» Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
» Wisconsin's Gordon vs. Georgia's Gurley

Ray Guy Award (top punter)

The three to watch: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M; Austin Rehkow, Idaho; Mike Sadler, Michigan State
Buzz: Sadler is a must-follow on Twitter, and if ever there was a punter who could be in danger of being over-exposed, it will be this guy. At the same time, when even casual fans know about a punter, it's good for that punter's award chances. Rehkow plays for an awful team and is going to have a good average despite a ton of attempts -- sort of like last season's winner, Memphis' Tom Hornsey. Kaser, a finalist last season, has the opposite problem: He should have a good average but relatively few attempts; last season, he had so few punts that he didn't have the minimum number to qualify for the NCAA rankings.

Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end)

The three to watch: Vic Beasley, Clemson; Randy Gregory, Nebraska; Leonard Williams, USC
Buzz: Beasley and Gregory are going to pile up sacks, while Williams this season should become the best all-around defensive lineman in the nation. He won't necessarily pile up sacks, but he should flirt with 10 and the other two aren't close to him when it comes to stopping the run.

Lombardi Award (best lineman/linebacker)

The three to watch: DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska; OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M; DE Leonard Williams, USC
Buzz: There will be at least one offensive lineman on this list, and the pick here is that it will be Ogbuehi, who seems a lock to become the third A&M tackle in as many seasons to be drafted in the top 10 (joining Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews). Gregory is going to have 10-plus sacks and could flirt with 20 tackles for loss. Williams, meanwhile, is going to become the most well-rounded defensive lineman in the nation.

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John Mackey Award (top tight end)

The three to watch: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State; O.J. Howard, Alabama; Nick O'Leary, Florida State
Buzz: O'Leary is a senior and will be playing for a team that will be at or near the top of the rankings all season; he also could be FSU's No. 2 receiver. (That he is Jack Nicklaus' grandson -- which seemingly has to be mentioned every time O'Leary's name appears in print or on the air -- doesn't hurt.) Howard is a physical freak who won't have the stats of the other two finalists, but it won't matter. Bibbs is somewhat of an unknown now, but new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino knows it's important to get the ball into the hands of guys who can do something with it.

Maxwell Award (top player)

The three to watch: Braxton Miller, Ohio State; Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Jameis Winston, Florida State
Buzz: Again, the top three Heisman guys should be the top three Maxwell guys. Incredibly, just two of the past 10 Maxwell winners also won the Heisman -- Newton in 2010 and Tim Tebow in 2007. AJ McCarron won the Maxwell last season.

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defender)

The three to watch: DE Vic Beasley, Clemson; DE Randy Gregory, Nebraska; DE Leonard Williams, USC
Buzz: As we mentioned, the Bednarik and Nagurski awards both go to the top defender, but defensive backs don't usually show up on the Nagurski list. Thus, no Ekpre-Olomu. And no Jack, either. Instead, this will be an all-end list, with the vote basically coming down to big sack men (Beasley and Gregory) vs. a more-physical lineman (Williams).

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Davey O'Brien Award (top quarterback)

The three to watch: Braxton Miller, Ohio State; Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Jameis Winston, Florida State
Buzz: If the top three Heisman candidates are all quarterbacks, it makes sense, then, that the top three O'Brien candidates would be the same three quarterbacks. Eight of the past 10 O'Brien Award winners were quarterbacks, and seven of those guys won the Heisman. The only outlier: Oklahoma's Jason White won the 2004 O'Brien and USC's Matt Leinart won the '04 Heisman.

Outland Trophy (top interior lineman)

The three to watch: OT Cameron Erving, Florida State; OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M; OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Buzz: An all-OT list. LSU's La'el Collins has a chance to win this, too. Collins and the three guys listed have a shot to go in the top 10 of the 2015 draft.

Rimington Trophy (top center)

The three to watch: Reese Dismukes, Auburn; Hroniss Grasu, Oregon; Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
Buzz: Dukes and Grasu seem to be givens. Vitabile is the wild card of sorts. But Vitabile looks to be the best center in the Big Ten, and that could be worth something this season.

Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back)

The three to watch: FS Landon Collins, Alabama; CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon; CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Buzz: For out-and-out skill, it's hard to beat Hargreaves, who will be a sophomore. Collins hits a ton and covers a lot of ground for the Tide. Ekpre-Olomu is underrated against the run and can be a lockdown corner. You give any coach these three plus a dude off the streets at strong safety, and that coach will thank you and immediately focus on stopping the run because no one is going to be able to pass consistently against his team.

Doak Walker Award (top running back)

The three to watch: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska; Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin; Todd Gurley, Georgia
Buzz: Running backs might be out of vogue when it comes to the NFL draft, but they are not out of vogue when it comes to winning games on the college level. Each of these three will get enough carries to finish in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards. A legit goal for Gordon is 1,800 yards. Abdullah is the leading returning rusher in the Big Ten, but was overshadowed last season. When healthy, Gurley is the best all-around back in the nation.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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