Five defensive standouts will vie for National Defensive Player of the Year
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five finalists for the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy representing five conferences, the top two teams in the current College Football Playoff rankings and two others from nationally-ranked Group of Five schools, were named Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club.
These are the candidates for the award honoring college football’s national defensive player of the year. Each of the five finalists – two linebackers, a defensive end, a defensive tackle and a cornerback – plays for a nationally-ranked team, four of which will play in their conference championship games and includes the first finalist from the Sun Belt Conference.
In alphabetical order, the finalists are Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, Coastal Carolina defensive end Tarron Jackson, Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
The recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy presented by LendingTree will be chosen from these finalists. The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s entire membership, selects the best defensive player in college football. The announcement of the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient will take take place on Wed., Dec. 23, two weeks from today.
Here is a look at the 2020 finalists:
Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (6-4, 260, Jr., Hominy, Okla.): Collins is one of the most dynamic linebackers in the nation. He earned the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week four times after his seven games this season and the Bronko Nagurski Player of the Week award the week of Nov. 14. Heading into the AAC Championship Game, Collins has 11.5 tackles for loss and ties for fifth nationally with four interceptions – tops among linebackers along with two others – one of which he returned 96 yards for a touchdown in overtime for the winning score against Tulane, and another that was a game-clincher against then-No. 19 SMU. In Tulsa’s opening games against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State and the following week’s No. 11 UCF, he combined for 7.5 TFL’s, 3.0 sacks and a tackle for a safety. Collins is Tulsa’s first Nagurski Trophy finalist. The American Athletic Conference has Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich as a former winner in 2015, and Collins is the AAC’s fourth all-time finalist, the most recent being Houston tackle Ed Oliver in 2017.
Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina (6-2, 260, Sr., Aiken, S.C.): Jackson leads the Chanticleers’ defense with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss and is fifth on the team with 44 total tackles with 15 quarterback hurries. He is a three-time Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week, spearheading a defense that has a nose for the ball with 32.0 sacks (fifth nationally) and 66.0 TFL’s this season. Teams run to the other side away from this team captain who is Coastal’s career leader in sacks (26.5), TFL’s (43.0) and hurries (31) as well as yards lost from those stops. The 10-0 Chanticleers’ rise to their first national ranking, first division championship, first wins (two) over nationally-ranked teams and first 10-win season has his footprint on it, as do opposing backfields. Jackson is Coastal Carolina’s first Nagurski Trophy finalist and the first in Sun Belt Conference history. Jackson, together with Collins, gives Group of Five schools six all-time Nagurski Trophy finalists; it’s also the the first time that two non-Power 5 finalists have been so recognized in the same season.
Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa (6-3, 305, Jr., Kenosha, Wis.): Nixon is the rare playmaker tucked in the middle of Iowa’s line. He has broken through consistent double-teams to lead the Big Ten with 5.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in just seven games in his first season on the Iowa front. His 36 tackles are tied for the most among Big Ten defensive linemen. Nixon opened the season with seven tackles at Purdue and then posted a career-high 11 against West Division champion Northwestern, and his 71-yard interception return for a touchdown at Penn State remains a national season highlight. Iowa has not had a Nagurski Trophy winner but linebackers Josey Jewell (2017) and Pat Angerer (2009) are recent finalists. A Nixon win would give the Big Ten consecutive honorees after not having a trophy winner since 2006 and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. Ohio State defensive end Chase Young won last year.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame (6-1, 215, Sr., Hampton, Va.): A top linebacker and one of the country’s best ball hawks, Owusu-Koramoah leads the unbeaten and second-ranked Irish in tackles (49 with 32 solos) and tackles for loss (9.0) along with 1.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Listed as a rover linebacker, Owusu-Koramoah earned the Bronko Nagurski Trophy Player of the Week (Nov. 7) following the Irish’s win over No. 1 Clemson, posting nine tackles, two TFL’s, a half-sack in overtime that helped stall Clemson’s final possession, and the first touchdown of his career on a 23-yard scoop-and-score early in that game. Notre Dame has one previous winner, linebacker Manti Te’o in 2012, while cornerback Shane Walton was a finalist in 2002. An Owusu-Koramoah win would give the ACC two of the last four winners (N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb in 2017) and five of the last 11.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (6-2, 202, Jr., Plantation, Fla.): Surtain is regarded as the nation’s top cornerback and presents a consistent wall out on the edge, having allowed 25 yards or fewer in eight of nine games this season. Teams have targeted him only 36 times with 14 completions over nine games and he has allowed only one touchdown this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 50.2 when targeting Surtain in coverage, fifth-best in the FBS. Against pass-happy Mississippi State, Surtain was targeted once in 47 attempts, and the junior turned it into a 25-yard pick-six. Top-ranked Alabama has had one Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, defensive end Jonathan Allen in 2016. The Crimson Tide has had a finalist in nine of the last 10 seasons, most recently nose guard Quinnen Williams (2018), safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (2017) and linebacker Reuben Foster (2016). Going back to cornerback Antonio Langham in the award’s first year in 1993, five of Alabama’s 12 all-time finalists have come from the secondary. A Surtain win would give the SEC three of the last five honorees (Allen in 2016, Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen in 2018).
The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football then became a star for professional football’s Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw “Bronko” Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org and @NCFAA on Twitter to learn more about the association.
Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,300 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Charlotte Touchdown Club
The Charlotte Touchdown Club is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 for the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional football in the Charlotte, N.C., region. The club’s activities and services focus community attention on the outstanding citizenship, scholarship, sportsmanship, and leadership of area athletes and coaches. Since 1990, the club has raised more than $2 million to benefit area high school and collegiate athletics. For more information, contact John Rocco (704-347-2918 or email@example.com). The official website of the Charlotte Touchdown Club is touchdownclub.com.
About LendingTree, Inc.
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- All-time Bronko Nagurski Trophy winners, finalists
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