It's watch list time.
Yes, this time each year the college football awards send out their incredibly lengthy lists of the players we should be watching during the upcoming season, and this year is no different, with festivities kicking off Tuesday with the watch lists for the Maxwell Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award, going to the best offensive and defensive players in the country, respectively.
Twelve Big Ten players were named to the Maxwell watch list, and another 16 were placed on the Bednarik watch list.
It's a bit of a pointless exercise, considering these watch lists get updated throughout the season and actually have no bearing at all on who ends up winning the award. But as they say in the movie business, it's an honor to be nominated. Or in this case, an honor to be placed on a watch list.
Five Big Ten quarterbacks made the Maxwell list: Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Iowa's C.J. Beathard, Minnesota's Mitch Leidner and Illinois' Wes Lunt. Barrett figures to be the best of that group now that he once again has full control of the Buckeyes' offense. He was spectacular during his full year as the starter two seasons ago, but he was a bit stunted when Urban Meyer insisted on playing quarterback roulette last season. Beathard is coming off leading Iowa to an undefeated regular-season schedule, while Armstrong, Leidner and Lunt are all looking to finally have their strongest seasons at the helms of their respective teams.
Penn State's Saquon Barkley, Wisconsin's Corey Clement and Northwestern's Justin Jackson figure to be the Big Ten's three best running backs and all made the Maxwell list. Barkley had a breakout freshman campaign and looks to have a real monster year as the Lions' primary offensive weapon. Clement's should-have-been-dominant junior season was mostly wiped out due to injury, and he'll be looking to bounce back. Jackson has been the model of consistency at Northwestern, running for 2,605 yards and 14 100-yard games in his first two seasons with the Wildcats.
Pass-catchers Jake Butt (TE, Michigan), Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan), Simmie Cobbs (WR, Indiana) and Chris Godwin (WR, Penn State) rounded out the Big Ten contingent on the Maxwell list. Godwin and Cobbs ranked second and third, respectively, in the conference in receiving yards per game a season ago, trailing only Big Ten Receiver of the Year Aaron Burbridge from Michigan State. Butt caught 51 passes for 654 yards last season and is generally considered one of the best tight ends in college football, one of just two on the Maxwell list. And Chesson caught nine touchdown passes last season, teaming with Butt and Amara Darboh to make one of the top receiving corps in the conference.
As for the Bednarik list, the Big Ten was ever more well represented. Northwestern's Anthony Walker and Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan led a group of five linebackers. That duo ranked third and fourth in the conference in tackles last season and both earned All-Big Ten First Team honors. Walker was the conference's leader in tackles for loss with 20.5. Also on the list were Michigan State's Riley Bullough, who finished with more than 100 tackles and earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors last season; Wisconsin's Vince Biegel, who earned All-Big Ten Third Team honors; and Penn State's Jason Cabinda, who also had more than 100 tackles last year.
Defensive lineman on the Bednarik list included Rutgers' Darius Hamilton, Ohio State's Tyquan Lewis, Michigan State's Malik McDowell, Purdue's Jake Replogle, Illinois' Dawuane Smoot and Michigan's Chris Wormley. That quintet combined for 70.5 tackles for loss last season.
And finally, the Bednarik list contained a star-studded group of Big Ten defensive backs. The Michigan duo of Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers are perhaps as good as any in the nation and both made the All-Big Ten First Team last season. So too did the reigning Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, Iowa's Desmond King, who ranked second in the country with eight interceptions. King and fellow Bednarik list honoree Will Likely of Maryland both also make waves in the return game. And Nebraska's Nate Gerry has nine interceptions over the past two seasons.
Get ready for more watch lists as the week rolls on.