Miller: Giving odds for every Notre Dame football player on award watchlists
Jake Miller | Friday, August 25, 2023
Over the past few weeks, several Notre Dame football players have been placed on official watchlists for the major college football awards that are given out prior to the start of bowl season. From the preseason watchlists, the fields of candidates will be updated to form mid-season watchlists, which will eventually be used to create a lists of semi-finalists and finalists. The status of what makes a player eligible for a watchlist is slightly unclear and extremely subjective. Some of the watchlists don’t consider incoming freshmen, which obviously detracts from the value of even having one.
Nevertheless, the recognition that Notre Dame received entering this season is substantially higher than last year and should be a cause for general, high-level optimism among the Irish fanbase. I took a look at each of the awards, the field, and the representatives from Notre Dame, concluding each summary by offering my honest thoughts on that player’s chance to bring the trophy back to South Bend.
Joe Alt, Lombardi Award: The Lombardi award is given to the best lineman on either side of the ball, including linebackers and tight ends. Alt is one of the best offensive linemen in college football. He has started 21 consecutive games for the Irish, and last year, he helped Notre Dame to one of its best running seasons of the past decade. Alt’s competition is stiff, though, and an offensive lineman hasn’t received the award in nearly 30 years. Probably not the year for Alt. Odds of winning: 25:1
Benjamin Morrison, Chuck Bednarick Award: Given to the best defensive player in the nation, the reception of the Bednarick award varies from defensive ends to safeties. While Morrison had an impressive first year in 2022, many other players had better campaigns, such as USC safety Calen Bullock, who had five interceptions last season. He returns in 2023. My vote’s with Bullock. Odds: 100:1
Joe Alt and Sam Hartman, Walter Camp Award: Voted on by head coaches and sports information directors, and similar to the Heisman, the Walter Camp Award is given to the best player in college football. In other words, this really is Caleb Williams’ award to lose. Odds: 100:1
Sam Hartman, Maxwell Award: This is also given to the best player in college football — although here, strangely, the voters are a mix of sportswriters, sportscasters and head coaches. Again, Williams has the edge. Odds: 100:1
JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau, Butkus Award: Presented to the top collegiate linebacker. The competition for this award is intense, particularly in the SEC, but Bertrand will have his chance to shine. Coming off of a year where he posted 82 tackles — 8.5 for loss — the dependable Bertrand will lead the Irish defense in what most assume is his final season with the program. Bertrand also had an excellent 2021, with over 100 tackles. Bertrand’s sack numbers are low, however, and he has yet to record an interception for the Irish, something voters will take note of. I’m not quite as high on Liufau, who still needs to break through for the Irish and cement himself as an every-down player. Liufau missed all of 2021, so there’s an injury concern as well. Odds: 25:1 for Bertrand; 250:1 for Liufau
Benjamin Morrison, Jim Thorpe Award: Given to the nation’s best defensive back, the Thorpe award bounces between cornerbacks and safeties. Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry has the edge in my book, with the aforementioned Bullock in contention as well. At the same time, if Morrison keeps up his production from 2022, particularly in the Irish’s primetime games, he has a fair chance. Odds: 30:1
Audric Estime, Doak Walker Award: Awarded to the top running back in college football, the Walker Award can often be stolen by a dark horse. Audric Estime is very much NOT a dark horse. The junior back will almost surely see another 1,000 yard season, but that won’t be enough for him to be a finalist. Estimé will be lining up behind a talented line and will likely be featured in many of the RPO packages that Hartman ran during his time at Wake Forest. However, given Notre Dame’s backfield depth, it’s fair to assume that Estimé won’t have to do everything himself. I think we’ll see another strong year from the native New Yorker, but not one that statistically lies among the best in the game. Odds: 50:1
Sam Hartman, Davey O’Brien Award: Best quarterback in college football. The hype around Hartman confuses me a bit. He’s a solid player and put up a historic amount of yards during his time at Wake Forest. At the same time, he had an abysmal end to 2022, fumbled the ball seven times and relied on a RPO-heavy offense. Caleb Williams, Michael Penix Jr. and Jordan Travis are all higher on my list. Odds: 30:1
Zeke Correll, Rimington Trophy: Top center in college football. Very few people, including myself, understand exactly what makes a good center. However, I do know that the winner of this award is often simply the center that is highest on NFL draft boards. At this time, Correll isn’t high up on those. Odds: 250:1
Chris Tyree, Paul Hornung Award: For the most versatile player in college football. Tyree is most definitely versatile. This year, he’s expected to see significant action in the passing game as well. Tyree returns kicks for the Irish, though – not punts. The Hornung winner will likely go to someone who does both. Additionally, Tyree’s kick return average and long dramatically decreased in 2022 (vs. 2021) to 16.9 yards and 33 yards, respectively. Stats like that need an uptick for consideration here. Odds: 65:1
Spencer Shrader, Lou Groza Award: Best kicker in college football. Shrader, a transfer from USF, did not put up particularly amazing field goal numbers at USF, going 20-for-25 over the last two years with a career long of 52. The increased pressure that comes with playing for the Irish does not leave me hopeful here, although I wish Shrader the best. Shrader walked on to USF after pursuing a professional career in soccer. Odds: 200:1
Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, Outland Trophy: Awarded to the best interior lineman in college football. As mentioned earlier, Alt could shine in 2023. Already seen as one of the top linemen in the country, Alt will be tested this year, especially in the passing game. He can’t win this by himself, though. To be recognized, he’ll need the help of teammate Blake Fisher. Fisher played well last year, although voters will want to see fewer sacks allowed: last year he ceded five. Fisher will likely have to live in the shadow of Alt, but if they effectively complement each other, we could see Alt get the credit. Odds: 3:1 for Alt; 125:1 for Fisher
J.D. Bertrand and Benjamin Morrison, Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Awarded to the best defensive player in the game, the Nagurski Trophy winner typically has either a lot of sacks or a lot of interceptions – neither of which are Bertrand’s strength. Morrison has a shot here – but opposing quarterbacks may instead try to target the receiver covered by Cam Hart. Hart is a great player, but he’s not quite on Morrison’s level. A reduction in opportunities for Morrison might cause him to lose an interception or two, which could be the deciding factor here. Odds: 50:1 for both Bertrand and Morrison
Michael Vinson, Patrick Mannelly Award: Given to the game’s best long snapper, Vinson has a legitimate shot. None of his snaps resulted in blocked punts in 2022, and although snap time isn’t made publicly available, sources tell The Observer that Vinson’s times were among the best in the country. Vinson received first team All-American honors in 2022 from the American Football Coaches Association. Similar to Caleb Williams, it’s his to lose. Odds: 3:2
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.