Top contenders for college football's individual awards in 2015


Who needs watch lists, anyway?

They're a relatively hollow late-summer exercise for college football's various individual awards, because players not on the preseason list can emerge as contenders during the season. So College Football 24/7 has boiled them down to a front-runner and a couple of other top challengers for each award. This awards are listed in alphabetical order, and we've also added the Heisman Trophy, which doesn't release a preseason watch list. The full watch lists are available here and via the links below.

Bednarik Award (top defender)

The front-runner: LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
Other top contenders: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida; DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
The race: Wright is the defending winner and has as good a chance as anyone to take home the honor in 2015. This award has been known to go to a defensive back at times, most recently back-to-back winners from LSU (Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu), so another big year from Hargreaves could have UF's lockdown cornerback squarely in contention late in the year.

Biletnikoff Award (top receiver)

The front-runner: WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Other top contenders: WR KD Cannon, Baylor; WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
The race: Higgins posted monster numbers last season (96 catches, 1,750 yards, 17 TDs) and was a finalist behind 2014 winner Amari Cooper. A drag on Higgins' candidacy could be that his quarterback from last year, Garrett Grayson, is now spinning footballs for the New Orleans Saints. But new CSU coach Mike Bobo, who was never shy about throwing as Mark Richt's offensive coordinator at Georgia, will find a way to get the ball in Higgins' hands. The other top contenders, Cannon and Cooper, will be catching balls from a new quarterback this season, too.

Butkus Award (best linebacker)

The front-runner: LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
Other top contenders: LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame; LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
The race: It was a crime worthy of the Mystery Machine itself that Wright wasn't even on the semifinalist list for the Butkus Award last year, as evidenced by his clean sweep of the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik Awards. Wright ended up being a write-in candidate. This year's Butkus selection committee won't make that mistake again. Smith, a dynamic playmaker in a highly visible program, probably has the next-best shot.

Walter Camp Award (top player)

The front-runner: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Other top contenders:QB Trevone Boykin, TCU; QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
The race: This award almost always goes to an offensive skill-position player. Miller has to stay healthy, but as a fifth-year senior on a championship contender, he's as good a bet as anyone no matter what role he ultimately plays in the OSU offense. Boykin will post bigger numbers than Prescott at quarterback.

Groza Award (top kicker)

The front-runner: K Brad Craddock, Maryland
Other top contenders: K Roberto Aguayo, FSU; K Josh Lambert, West Virginia
The race: It's a little easier to lean more on pure statistics for this award, for obvious reasons, and Craddock didn't miss a field goal inside of 50 yards last season (16 for 16). That's tough to argue with, not to mention that he's the returning winner. Aguayo won the award in 2013. Still, kicking is an unpredictable thing, and the Groza Award won't always go to a kicker from a big-time school. Tulane has produced two Groza winners since 2001.

Ray Guy Award (top punter)

The front-runner: P Tom Hackett, Utah
Other top contenders: P JK Scott, Alabama; P Cameron Johnston, Ohio State
The race: Hackett is back as the award's defending winner, but the competition will be very stiff. Scott led the nation in net punting average last season (44.7 yards), which isn't as widely recognized as the raw punting average, but is of more importance to coaches. Hackett, for his part, pinned opponents inside the 10-yard line with 19 punts last year, the most in the nation.

Heisman Trophy (most outstanding player)

The front-runner: QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
Other top contenders: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State; QB Cody Kessler, USC
The race: Boykin is going to post numbers that make Heisman Trophy candidates stand out. Boykin's candidacy could depend heavily on his team's success, however, and if the Horned Frogs fall out of the playoff hunt, the Heisman trail could go cold for Boykin as well. While we don't know who will be taking snaps for defending national champion Ohio State, we know who will be taking the handoffs: Elliott, who emerged as a big-play machine in OSU's most important games late in the year in 2014. Kessler won't have Nelson Agholor to throw to, but perhaps more importantly for his Heisman chances, his team should perform better overall.

Lombardi Award (best lineman/linebacker)

The front-runner: LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
Other top contenders: DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State; DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
The race: As with the Bednarik honor, it's hard to imagine the Lombardi isn't Wright's to lose if he even approaches the kind of season he had a year ago for the Wildcats. Bosa will be the most unblockable member of the Ohio State defensive front and will draw national attention like few others. Oakman enters the season with far more national notoriety than he did to start 2014, and he will pile up plenty of big plays in the Big 12.

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John Mackey Award (top tight end)

The front-runner: TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Other top contenders: TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas; TE Austin Hooper, Stanford
The race: The Mackey Award can't lean too heavily on the stats, or else it will eventually become an award that leaves behind the traditional, hand-on-the-ground tight end for the new breed of pass-catching tight ends. Nevertheless, we like Engram -- a pass-catching tight end in the truest sense -- for the 2015 honor. Ole Miss will throw the ball all over the field and will hurry up to do it, giving Engram more opportunities to make plays than Henry or Hooper, who play in more conservative, traditional offenses.

Maxwell Award (top player)

The front-runner: QB Connor Cook, Michigan State
Other top contenders: QB Trevone Boykin, TCU; RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
The race: Cook is a steady performer on a very solid team. He could lead the Spartans' path to a Big Ten title (yes, they're capable of upsetting Ohio State). Cook might have to do just that to win the Maxwell Award, because he won't have the stats to match Boykin or some other quarterbacks playing in a more wide-open offense. The Maxwell is essentially a quarterback's award, though there have been two exceptions (linebacker Manti Te'o, running back Larry Johnson) since 2002. Chubb, after a 1,500-yard season as a freshman, could make it three.

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defender)

The front-runner: DB Jalen Ramsey, FSU
Other top contenders: LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona; LB Su'a Cravens, USC
The race: If there's an award where we'll veer from picking Wright as the returning-winner favorite, it's this one. The Nagurski hasn't had a repeat winner in almost 20 years (Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald) and Ramsey is a truly phenomenal talent who could easily be a finalist for the Thorpe Award as well. Cravens, a hybrid defender who makes linebackers look slow and safeties small, will replace Leonard Williams as the Trojans' biggest defensive star.

Davey O'Brien Award (top quarterback)

The front-runner: QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
Other top contenders: QB Cody Kessler, USC; QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
The race: Boykin could run away with this one on sheer numbers, much like he could the Heisman. But with this award, Boykin might not need as much accompanying team success as the Heisman might require. Along with Kessler and Prescott, two very different quarterbacks from a style perspective, another contender could be BYU's Taysom Hill, a dual-threat talent who should be ready to play coming off an injury that cut his 2014 season short.

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Outland Trophy (top interior lineman)

The front-runner: OL Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Other top contenders: DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama; OL Taylor Decker, Ohio State
The race: This is going to be a wide-open race with a lot more than three contenders for finalist honors, but these three are primed for as big a year as any of them. Stanley is one of the game's finest talents at offensive tackle. Robinson has stonewalled the line of scrimmage for the Crimson Tide since his freshman season. Meanwhile, Decker's presence on the Buckeyes' offensive line won't be overlooked, especially if OSU keeps a zero in the loss column. Finally, what will become of Laremy Tunsil's Outland candidacy? An NCAA investigation into his eligibility status continues.

Rimington Trophy (top center)

The front-runner: C Jack Allen, Michigan State
Other top contenders: C Mike Matthews, Texas A&M; C Ethan Pocic, LSU
The race: Allen returns as a 2014 Rimington finalist. He could be tough to beat in the Big Ten, particularly if the Spartans' rushing attack transitions easily from the loss of last year's star rusher, Jeremy Langford (fourth-round pick, Chicago Bears). Matthews, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, enters his final year with the Aggies.

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Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back)

The front-runner: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Other top contenders: DB Jalen Ramsey, Florida State; CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
The race: Entering his junior year, Hargreaves is widely thought of as the top cover man in the SEC, and an SEC assistant coach told CFB 24/7 that he's the league's best at the position since LSU's Patrick Peterson. Ramsey is just as dynamic a talent, however, and more active as a playmaker because he plays closer to the line of scrimmage than Hargreaves, who is almost always on an island with an outside receiver. Fuller, the younger brother of 2014 Chicago Bears first-round pick Kyle Fuller, is the most valuable player on the Hokies' defense.

Doak Walker Award (top running back)

The front-runner: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Other top contenders: RB Nick Chubb, Georgia; RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
The race: Elliott will have some massive holes behind a strong OSU offensive line, and the Buckeyes' ability to pass (whoever plays quarterback) will keep safeties at bay in run support. Chubb and Perine are both entering sophomore seasons after dynamic debuts in 2014. Chubb will face plenty of eight-man fronts with Georgia finding a new quarterback, but should easily eclipse 1,000 yards again, as should OU's Perine.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread*.

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