The 2013 college football season featured plenty of exceptional individual performances from some of the sport’s biggest stars.
With the regular season now officially in the books, it’s time to honor the true best of the best.
Though we’ll have to wait until Saturday night to find out who will take home the sport’s most prominent award—The Heisman Trophy—many of college football’s other top honors will be handed out at the Home Depot College Football Awards, which will be broadcast live on ESPN on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 pm ET.
So who are the favorites to win some of the sport’s most prestigious honors such as the Outland Trophy, the Biletnikoff Award and the Maxwell Award?
Here are the predicted winners for every award that will be handed out during the broadcast.
The John Mackey Award
Honor: Most Outstanding Tight End
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Nick O’Leary, Florida State
Predicted Winner: Eric Ebron, North Carolina
You have to question the true validity of this year’s Mackey Award, since Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro hasn’t even been voted as a finalist. Amaro, who has more catches in just his last four games (34) than finalist Nick O’Leary has this entire season (33), has clearly been the top tight end in college football in 2013.
Though it may be an injustice that Amaro won’t win, you can at least make the argument that North Carolina’s Eric Ebron has been impressive enough to earn the honor. The highly explosive Ebron has hauled in 55 catches—which ranks second nationally behind Amaro among tight ends—for 895 yards and three touchdowns this year.
The 6’4”, 245-pound junior displayed big-play ability in the passing game, averaging over 16 yards per catch, and he proved to be an incredibly tough matchup problem for opposing defenses.
The Rimington Trophy
Honor: Most Outstanding Center
Bryan Stork, Florida State
Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Travis Swanson, Arkansas
Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Predicted Winner: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
This is an award that’s been dominated by seniors since its inception in 2000. Of the previous 14 winners, only two were underclassmen: Nebraska’s Dominic Raiola in 2000 and Florida’s Maurkice Pouncey in 2009.
Though history may not be on the side of Oregon junior Hroniss Grasu, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s clearly been the best overall center in the country this season. The three-year starter has improved each and every season since taking over as a redshirt freshman in 2010, and this was by far his best campaign yet.
For the third straight year, the Ducks ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing offense, averaging 278 yards on the ground per game. Grasu has always been the focal point and leader in the trenches for Oregon’s high-powered offense, and never was that more evident than in 2013.
Though it’s tough to bet against senior standouts such as Ikard and Swanson, Grasu is the player who truly deserves this year’s honor.
The Lou Groza Award
Honor: Most Outstanding Placekicker
Anthony Fera, Texas
Marvin Kloss, South Florida
Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Predicted Winner: Anthony Fera, Texas
Texas certainly wasn’t a team that you would call consistent this season. But Longhorns kicker Anthony Fera certainly fit that description. After dealing with injury issues in 2012, the former Penn State transfer finally got the chance to prove himself in Austin this season, and he certainly made the most of the opportunity.
Fera nailed 20 of his 22 field-goal attempts, including six kicks from beyond 40 yards.
Though Florida State freshman Roberto Aguayo also put together a terrific performance in 2013, I expect that voters will give the edge to the senior specialist.
The Ray Guy Award
Honor: Punter of the Year
Cody Webster, Purdue
Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
Tom Hornsey, Memphis
Predicted Winner: Tom Hornsey, Memphis
Since the Memphis offense ranked 120th in the nation in third-down conversion percentage, punter Tom Hornsey saw plenty of action this season. Hornsey totaled 62 punts in 2013, however, he still managed to maintain a 45.2 yards per punt average.
During his career at Memphis, Hornsey boomed 13 punts of over 60 yards, including a career long 79-yard punt in this year’s season-opener against Duke. Plus, he had just 12 total touchbacks.
The Outland Trophy
Honor: Most Outstanding Interior Lineman
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Predicted Winner: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Over the last decade, only two defensive tackles have won the Outland Trophy: LSU’s Glenn Dorsey in 2007 and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009. Though offensive linemen have usually emerged as the victors in recent years, this year, the top candidate is clearly Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald.
The “one-man wrecking crew” has put together a dominant performance in 2013 that’s comparable to what we saw from Dorsey and Suh during their respective winning campaigns. Donald has totaled 10 sacks, 26.5 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hurries and forced four fumbles during his senior year.
The 6’0”, 285-pound senior has already taken home the Bronko Nagurski Award, but that won’t be the only trophy he’ll have to make room for on his mantle.
The Jim Thorpe Award
Honor: Nation’s Best Defensive Back
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Predicted Winner: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Star QB Jameis Winston is the Florida State player who has soaked up all of the publicity and accolades during the team’s run to the national championship game this season. However, on the other side of the ball, CB Lamarcus Joyner has quietly been the backbone of the Seminoles stout defense.
Joyner is the leader of a secondary, which ranks first in the nation in pass defense for the second straight season, allowing just 4.9 yards per throw. After making the switch from safety to cornerback during the offseason, the 5’8”, 190-pound senior has looked like a natural at his new position, as he’s racked up 64 tackles, including 43 solo stops and five sacks, picked off two passes, and forced three fumbles.
The playmaking ball-hawk has proven that he has the coverage skills to shut down some of the premier receivers in the ACC such as Sammy Watkins, Stefon Diggs, Alex Amidon and Jamison Crowder.
Though Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard are both future first-round draft picks, who will be picked higher in the 2014 NFL draft than Joyner, there’s still no denying that the so-called undersized corner has had a bigger impact this year than any other defensive back in the country.
The Doak Walker Award
Honor: Nation’s Premier Running Back
Andre Williams, Boston College
Bishop Sankey, Washington
Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
Predicted Winner: Andre Williams, Boston College
All three of the finalists for this year’s Doak Walker Award have been true workhorse backs this year, as they’ve all carried the ball over 300 times. While Ka’Deem Carey and Bishop Sankey have both put together great seasons, rushing for over 1,700 yards each, it’s been Andre Williams who has been the true standout player at the position in 2013.
Williams rose from relative obscurity to become the first back at the FBS level since 2008 to eclipse the rare 2,000-yard rushing mark. The powerful 6’0”, 227-pound senior rumbled his way for 2,102 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, while helping turn around an Eagle team that went from two wins in 2012 to seven wins this year.
The Biletnikoff Award
Honor: Most Outstanding Receiver
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Predicted Winner: Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans may be destined to be the first two wide receivers selected in the 2014 NFL draft. Still, this award isn’t handed out to the best receiver prospect in college football, it’s handed out to the receiver who had the most outstanding performance.
This season, that receiver was Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks.
Though he was constantly the main focus of opposing defenses this year, Cooks still managed to haul in 120 catches for 1,670 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. His 31 catches of 20 yards are the most in the nation.
The explosive track star torched opposing secondaries all year long and he produced at a rate that Watkins and Evans simply can’t compare to.
The Chuck Bednarik Award
Honor: College Defensive Player of the Year
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Anthony Barr, UCLA
CJ Mosley, Alabama
Predicted Winner: CJ Mosley, Alabama
Alabama experienced some key defensive defections this past offseason, losing standout players such as CB Dee Milliner, LB Nico Johnson and DT Jesse Williams. However, the unit was once again one of the most statistically impressive defenses in college football in 2013, ranking second in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, allowing just 11 points and 274 yards per game.
The centerpiece of the Tide’s dominant defense was yet again LB CJ Mosley.
After leading the team with 107 tackles last year, Mosley was able to easily repeat that feat this season, totaling 102 tackles, including 57 solo stops and seven tackles for loss.
The 6’2”, 232-pound senior has already taken home the Butkus Award, which is handed out to the nation’s best linebacker. It will be interesting to see if he receives the respect and recognition he deserves as the top overall defensive player in the country.
The Davey O’Brien Award
Honor: Nation’s Best Quarterback
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Jameis Winston, Florida State
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Predicted Winner: AJ McCarron, Alabama
There have been three quarterbacks who have won the Davey O’Brien Award in consecutive seasons: BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990 and 1991, Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in 1995 and 1996 and Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003 and 2004. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee Johnny Manziel, the defending 2012 award-winner, becoming the fourth.
While Manziel has put together another outstanding individual performance in 2013, ultimately, voters will likely be picking between Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. While Winston has been the bigger national star this year, I could easily see voters rewarding McCarron for his overall career accomplishments.
During his three years as a starter at Alabama, the senior signal-caller has gone 36-3 and guided the Tide to two BCS championships. During that time, he’s developed into one of the most efficient pocket passers in the country. This year, he finished the regular season with a 67 percent completion percentage, an 8.7 yards per pass average, a 26-5 touchdown-interception ratio and a 165 passer rating, which ranks eighth in the country.
Winston may be a lock to win the Heisman, but I wouldn’t be surprised if McCarron beats him out for this award.
The Maxwell Award
Honor: College Player of the Year
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Jameis Winston, Florida State
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Predicted Winner: Jameis Winston, Florida State
In 2010, it was Cam Newton.
In 2011, it was Robert Griffin III.
In 2012, it was Johnny Manziel
This year, it’s been Jameis Winston, who has emerged as college football’s most captivating breakout star and taken the sport by storm.
Winston has put together a sensational first season as a starter, displaying the rare physical skills and natural playmaking ability that you only see from truly elite young quarterbacks. The former blue-chip recruit a has completed 68 percent of his passes, thrown for over 3,800 yards and accounted for 42 touchdowns, as he’s guided the Seminoles to a No. 1 national ranking and a BCS championship berth.
The dazzling dual-threat quarterback has undoubtedly been the top overall player in college football this season, and he deserves to take home both the Maxwell Award and the Heisman Trophy.