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2020 MAC Ultimate Preseason Watchlist Guide

A watchlist-by-watchlist guide of all the 2020 preseason MAC honorees.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Central Michigan at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While most college football awards are handed out in December, there is also a week-long awards ceremony for the sport every July. In preparation for the upcoming season, committees and selectors put together watchlists for every major award in college football — primarily an award for a player’s success in the previous season.

Here is a comprehensive list of every MAC player on the major award watchlists:

Maxwell Award

Rewards: Collegiate player of the year

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 5/90 (5.56%)

  • Dustin Crum, QB, Kent State (Sr.)
  • Caleb Huntley, RB, Ball State (Sr.)
  • Bryant Koback, RB, Toledo (Jr.)
  • Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo (Jr.)
  • Kalil Pimpleton, WR, Central Michigan (Jr.)

The Maxwell Award is similar to the Heisman Trophy as it is designated for the collegiate player of the year, but it uses different selectors. It is primarily a skill-position player award, as 86 of 90 members of the watchlist are quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.

With stacked running back depth in the conference, three MAC rushers qualified for the watchlist. Joining Caleb Huntley, Bryant Koback, and Jaret Patterson are Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum and Central Michigan wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton.

Davey O’Brien Award

Rewards: Nation’s best quarterback

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 1/30 (3.33%)

  • Dustin Crum, QB, Kent State (Sr.)

Dustin Crum became a household name among college football fans last December, when he completed 21/26 passes for 289 yards, rushed for 147 yards, and accounted for three touchdowns in a 51-41 upset victory over Utah State — Kent State’s first bowl victory in program history. Crum started the season as a backup to former Auburn transfer Woody Barrett, but when given an opportunity, he proved how accelerated his development was and quickly became one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. He completed 69.3 percent of passes as a junior and fired 20 touchdowns through the air, compared to just two interceptions.

Doak Walker Award

Rewards: Nation’s best running back

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 6/76 (7.89%)

  • Andrew Clair, RB, Bowling Green (Jr.)
  • Caleb Huntley, RB, Ball State (Sr.)
  • Bryant Koback, RB, Toledo (Jr.)
  • Kobe Lewis, RB, Central Michigan (Jr.)
  • Kevin Marks, RB, Buffalo (Jr.)
  • Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo (Jr.)

The MAC loses its reigning Offensive Player of the Year in former Western Michigan running back LeVante Bellamy. Even without Bellamy, the MAC still exhibits one of the deepest 2020 running back classes in all of college football.

Jaret Patterson surged to the end of last season with 140+ rushing yards in each of his final six contests. He finished sixth in the FBS in rushing yards and seventh in touchdowns, while leading Buffalo to its first-ever bowl win in the Bahamas with an MVP performance. Buffalo presented one of two running back duos in 2020 to rush for 1,000 yards each. Fellow sophomore Kevin Marks joined Patterson in the 1,000-yard club and earned a spot on the watchlist.

The other 1,000-yard running back duo in 2020 belonged to Central Michigan. While Jonathan Ward graduated from the university, junior Kobe Lewis returns to the reigning MAC West champs. The MAC West division features other star running backs including Toledo’s Bryant Koback, who finished in the top 25 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2019, as well as Ball State’s Caleb Huntley, who nearly attained 1,300 yards on the ground last season.

Fred Biletnikoff Award

Rewards: Nation’s best receiver

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 2/55 (3.64%)

  • Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan (So.)
  • Kalil Pimpleton, WR, Central Michigan (Jr.)

No MAC receiver attained 1,000 yards receiving in the 2019 season, but plenty of potential was discovered in a pair of receivers in the state of Michigan. Biletnikoff watchlist honorees — as well as 2019 First Team All-MAC selections — Skyy Moore and Kalil Pimpleton accumulated 802 and 894 receiving yards a season ago, respectively. Moore was regarded as one of the conference’s best deep threats with an average of nearly 16 yards per reception. Pimpleton hauled in a monstrous 82 receptions (first in the MAC) in his first year suiting up for the Chippewas.

Outland Trophy

Rewards: Nation’s best interior lineman

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 5/85 (5.88%)

  • Kayode Awosika, OT, Buffalo (Sr.)
  • Mike Caliendo, OG, Western Michigan (Sr.)
  • Tommy Doyle, OT, Miami OH (Sr.)
  • Bryce Harris, C, Toledo (Sr.)
  • Jaylon Moore, OT, Western Michigan (Sr.)

The Outland Trophy watchlist includes all offensive linemen and defensive tackles. All five MAC honorees are senior offensive linemen. And each of the five has earned an All-MAC appearance in his college career. Western Michigan leads the pack with its left tackle and left guard on the list. Buffalo, after allowing one sack after the month of September last season, is represented by returning tackle Kayode Awosika.

Miami’s Tommy Doyle is the conference’s highest projected draft pick at the 2021 NFL Draft and is expected to land on the All-MAC First Team one more time before leaving Oxford. Toledo center Bryce Harris missed the entire 2019 season with a knee injury, but the FWAA (selectors of the Outland Trophy) rewarded him after a productive 2018 season.

Chuck Bednarik Award

Rewards: Nation’s best defensive player (selector is Maxwell Football Club)

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 4/90 (4.44%)

  • Troy Brown, OLB, Central Michigan (So.)
  • Antonio Phillips, CB, Ball State (Sr.)
  • Taylor Riggins, DE, Buffalo (Sr.)
  • Sterling Weatherford, SS, Miami OH (Jr.)

The heart of Central Michigan’s defense, Troy Brown wrapped up for 74 tackles and three interceptions in 2019. Antonio Phillips boosted Ball State’s secondary with four interceptions and 43 tackles in 10 games. Taylor Riggins finished second in the MAC in sacks in 2019 with 8.5, and he had a strong showing with six stops in Buffalo’s 2019 Bahamas Bowl victory. Sterling Weatherford has served as a Swiss army knife in Miami’s defense, operating as an esteemed run stopper, blitzer, and coverage man in the secondary.

Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Rewards: Nation’s best defensive player (selector is FWAA)

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 5/98 (5.10%)

  • Troy Brown, OLB, Central Michigan (So.)
  • Treshaun Hayward, ILB, Western Michigan (Sr.)
  • Malcolm Koonce, DE, Buffalo (Sr.)
  • Antonio Phillips, CB, Ball State (Sr.)
  • Taylor Riggins, DE, Buffalo (Sr.)

The Nagurski Trophy watchlist doesn’t exactly mirror the Bednarik watchlist, despite the similar nature of the awards. Five of 98 names on the Nagurski watchlist belong to the MAC, including both defensive ends from Buffalo’s relentless pass rush, Malcolm Koonce and Taylor Riggins. Tackling machine Treshaun Hayward makes an appearance, as does Central Michigan sophomore linebacker Troy Brown. Lastly, frequent watchlist nominee Antonio Phillips makes an appearance on this one as well.

Dick Butkus Award

Rewards: Nation’s best linebacker

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 1/51 (1.96%)

  • Treshaun Hayward, ILB, Western Michigan (Sr.)

Treshaun Hayward is the lone MAC player on the list of the nation’s 51 best linebackers. He enjoyed a breakout 2019 season at inside linebacker, receiving Defensive Player of the Year honors in the conference and registering 142 total tackles, ranking third in the FBS. Hayward finished in the top 10 nationally in both solo tackles and assisted tackles, and he’s made a mark as a solid run stopper heading into his senior campaign.

Jim Thorpe Award

Rewards: Nation’s best defensive back

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 5/49 (10.20%)

  • Tyrone Hill, FS, Buffalo (Sr.)
  • Antonio Phillips, CB, Ball State (Sr.)
  • Emmanuel Rugamba, CB, Miami OH (Sr.)
  • Amechi Uzodinma II, CB, Ball State (Jr.)
  • Sterling Weatherford, SS, Miami OH (Jr.)

The Jim Thorpe watchlist contains a greater percentage of MAC players than any other major award watchlist. The five defensive backs honored represent three MAC programs. Ball State has both starting cornerbacks on the list, who combined for nine interceptions in 2019. A pair of Miami secondary players also earned a nomination, both recording 85+ tackles in the RedHawks’ MAC championship season. Lastly, Tyrone Hill represents Buffalo after breaking up 10 passes and earning three tackles for loss last fall.

Lou Groza Award

Rewards: Nation’s best placekicker

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 1/30 (3.33%)

  • Matthew Trickett, K, Kent State (Jr.)

Matthew Trickett probably should have been a finalist for this award in 2019. The reigning First Team All-MAC kicker successfully converted on 29/34 field goal attempts as a sophomore, nailing all 39 of his extra point attempts. Trickett was nearly automatic within his range, finishing 13/14 from 20-29 yards, 6/7 from 30-39 yards, and 10/11 from 40-49 yards. He closed his season with an exclamation point, draining all five field goal attempts in Kent State’s Frisco Bowl victory.

Paul Hornung Award

Rewards: Nation’s most versatile player

MAC players/Total players on watchlist: 3/50 (6.00%)

  • Dylan Drummond, WR, Eastern Michigan (Jr.)
  • D’Wayne Eskridge, CB, Western Michigan (Sr.)
  • Kalil Pimpleton, WR, Central Michigan (Jr.)

Dylan Drummond qualified for this watchlist as a wide receiver, punt returner, and kick returner for Eastern Michigan. In those fields, he accumulated 493, 110, and 235 yards respectively in 2019.

D’Wayne Eskridge is a fascinating inclusion as he has valuable experience on both sides of the ball. Before a season-ending injury last September, Eskridge was in the midst of a successful transition from Western Michigan’s No. 1 receiver to the team’s top cornerback, while still maintaining a role with the offense.

Kalil Pimpleton, like Drummond, excels as a return specialist outside of his typical receiving duties. He managed 894 receiving yards and 208 punt return yards last season, while also rushing for 81 yards on a handful of jet sweeps.