OMAHA, Neb. — The top defensive tackle on the nation’s current top-ranked team, a standout center from a program with separate finalists in consecutive years and the top lineman on a contender for the Atlantic Coast Conference title are the three finalists for the 2021 Outland Trophy, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America.
Jordan Davis, the persistent force clogging the middle of Georgia’s defensive line, Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa, regarded nationally as the country’s top center this season, and Ikem “Ikey” Ekwonu of N.C. State, an offensive tackle and one of the top run blockers in the country, are this season’s superior linemen.
The 2021 Outland Trophy is awarded annually to the nation’s best college interior lineman on offense or defense. The All-America Committee of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) selected the three finalists from among the six semifinalists announced last week.
The recipient of the 2021 Outland Trophy will be announced on The Home Depot College Football Awards, live on ESPN on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. ET. The official presentation to the winner will be made at the Outland Trophy Awards Dinner sponsored by Werner Enterprises and produced by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee in Omaha, Neb., on Jan. 12, 2022.
Of note is that the three schools represented by the finalists have a combined six Outland Trophy winners in their past. Each of the three finalists will also be a member of the FWAA First-Team All-America team.
Here is a closer look at each of the finalists:
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (#99, 6-6, 340, Sr., Charlotte, N.C.): Simply put, Davis is the most dominant defensive tackle in college football for top-ranked Georgia (11-0). The Bulldogs own the nation’s second-best total defense giving up 236.3 yards per game and with Davis anchoring the interior line own the nation’s second-best rushing defense (77.2 ypg). Georgia is the national scoring defense leader (7.5 ppg) by more than a touchdown above second-place and has not given up more than 17 points in any game. Nobody has been able to run on Davis. Georgia has an Outland Trophy tradition on the defensive front. The Bulldogs’ lone Outland Trophy winner was also a defensive tackle, Bill Stanfill, in 1968 and boasted defensive tackle Andrew Thomas as a semifinalist in 2019. Defensive tackles have won two of the last four Outland Trophies: Quinnen Williams of Alabama in 2018 and Ed Oliver of Houston in 2017.
Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State (#79, 6-4, 320, So., Charlotte, N.C.): Ekwonu has been ranked as the top run blocker in college football by Pro Football Focus and has more than 50 pancake blocks and 17 knockdowns.for the Wolfpack (8-3). He has earned the ACC Offensive Line Player of the Week twice this season. Protecting quarterback Devin Leary at left tackle, Ekwonu and N.C. State are 19th nationally in passing offense at 292.2 yards per game, fifth in the ACC and 11th among Power 5 schools. Leary is tied for 14th nationally in passing yards at 289.6 ypg. “He’s.nasty. He’s athletic. He’s big,” said Tim Hasselbeck of the ACC Network. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic calls him the most feared lineman in the ACC. “Ridiculous strength levels, athleticism and will to finish,” said Jordan Reid of ESPN. Ekwonu is N.C. State’s first Outland Trophy finalist. Jim Ritcher, a center, won N.C. State’s only previous Outland Trophy in 1979 before finalists were designated. Garrett Bradbury, a center, was a semifinalist in 2018. Offensive tackles have won the last two Outland Trophys: Alex Leatherwood of Alabama (2020) and Penei Sewell of Oregon (2019).
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa (#65, 6-3, 290, Jr., Solon, Iowa): Linderbaum is one of the dominant linemen at his position for the Hawkeyes (9-2). He was the Second Team FWAA All-America center a year ago. The junior has started all 32 career games after playing on the defensive line as a true freshman. He moved to the offensive line following the 2018 regular season, and this season has a 94.8 offensive grade among centers by PFF, the best for a center since 2014. Iowa’s run game has improved, as Tyler Goodson became Iowa’s first 1,000-yard-season rusher since 2017 with a 132-yard output last week.
The Hawkeyes have four Outland Trophy winners in their past, most recently offensive tackle Brandon Scherff in 2014, who is also the Big Ten’s last Outland winner. Offensive tackle Robert Gallery (2003), tackle Alex Karras (1957) and guard Calvin Jones (1955) are other winners. Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was a semifinalist in 2019. The last center to win the Outland came in 2005 from the Big Ten, Greg Eslinger of Minnesota.
The Outland Trophy is the third-oldest major college football award behind the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award. Created in 1946 when Dr. John Outland presented the FWAA with a financial contribution to initiate the award, the Outland Trophy has been given to the best interior lineman in college football ever since. Dr. Outland, an All-American at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1890s, eventually took up practice in Kansas City, Mo. An avid outdoorsman, Dr. Outland believed linemen did not get the credit they deserved and wanted an award to recognize them.
The Outland 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 24 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org to learn more about our story.
Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or email@example.com.
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