Now that #WatchListSeason is in full swing, its time to start wondering: just how likely is it that a member of the Cincinnati Bearcats will bring home one of those trophies at the end of the season?
The answer, based on projections and historical evidence, is not likely. No Bearcat has ever won the Maxwell, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, Bednarik, Mackey, Rimington, Ray Guy, Jim Thorpe, Butkus, Rotary Lombardi, Biletnikoff, Wuerffel or Doak Walker Award. The only major award ever won by a Bearcat was the Lou Groza award, which went to placekicker Jonathan Ruffin in 2000 during his consensus All-American campaign.
In 2016, six different Bearcats have been placed on preseason watch lists for one of the awards listed above. Quarterback Gunner Kiel and running back Mike Boone were each placed on the Maxwell Award list while linebacker Eric Wilson (Butkus), kicker Andrew Gantz (Lou Groza), tight end DJ Dowdy (Mackey) and Zach Edwards (Jim Thorpe) all made one as well. Which one could end UC’s trophy drought?
Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). Kiel and Boone have the most competition, as the Maxwell Award watch list is not position-specific and is therefore extremely deep. Some of the players the two Bearcats would have to leapfrog include Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and a host of other Heisman Trophy contenders. McCaffrey, Watson and Mayfield finished second, third and fourth in last year’s Heisman voting, respectively.
Kiel, as a quarterback, probably has the inside track, or at least will be closer to it than Boone. That is all to do with UC’s offensive strategy, which leans so heavily on the pass. Assuming Kiel can reclaim the starting job and stay healthy, he should put up another 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown campaign. That probably still wouldn’t be enough, but if a few things break his way and those numbers get closer to 4,000 and 40, then we’re talking.
Boone rushed for 749 yards for the Bearcats last season and led them in total touchdowns (nine) while averaging an incredible 7.2 yards per carry. If he were to get all the backfield work, that could make him too productive to completely ignore come December. However, Tion Green and he will at the very least share the workload if not split it outright, which will keep Boone from putting up numbers to rival other contenders like McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
Gantz could very well follow in the footsteps of Ruffin. He made 21-of-27 field goals and scored 112 points last season. Ruffin knocked in 26 field goals but finished with only 104 points during his award-winning campaign. Ka’imi Fairbairn of UCLA was last year’s winner and he had 20 field goals and 107 points. With how UC moves the ball, Gantz will have plenty of chances to score. As long as he makes his kicks, he stands as good a chance as anybody.
As for Dowdy, winning the award for best tight end would be a heck of a way to break out as a senior. The 6’4" Akron-native has only 19 catches for 146 yards in his career, amassing 12 for 104 a year ago. He is in line for a bump in production as UC continues to pass while working in some new receivers but will it be enough to be named the best tight end in the country? Probably not.
Wilson and Edwards both stand a fair-ish chance to win their respective awards. Wilson led the team in tackles last season (106) and if UC improves defensively and he gets to the quarterback more often, its not outside the realm of possibility that he could at least be a semi-finalist. However, a player from a team not currently in a Power 5 conference has never won the award and UC doesn’t exactly have the same type of defensive prowess as the teams of recent winners such as Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Eric Kendricks (UCLA) and C.J. Mosley (Alabama).
As for Edwards, if tackling alone was the criteria for the Jim Thorpe award, he would be a strong contender. However, that is not the case. Last year’s winner, Desmond King, finished with 72 tackles, but his eight interceptions and incredible 13 passes defended made him stand out by a long shot. Edwards beat King in tackles (93) but was nowhere near in picks (three) or passes defended (eight). Oh, and King decided to return for his senior season, making him an early favorite, while Edwards also has to compete with returning first-team All-American Athletic Conference performers like UConn’s Jamar Summers and USF’s Deatrick Nichols.
All of UC’s watch list nominees face a steep climb, both in terms of reaching high enough in terms of production and garnering national attention. Gantz is the most likely of the six to actually win an award but we’ll just have to, well, watch and find out.