With 10 wins in their first 11 games, things have gone mighty well for the Michigan Wolverines this season, and the folks in charge of handing out the national end-of-season awards have noticed.
A trio of Michigan stars were among the announced finalists for four different national awards Monday. Do-it-all playmaker Jabrill Peppers was a finalist for the Maxwell Award, honoring college football's best player, and the Bednarik Award, honoring college football's best defensive player. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, honoring college football's top defensive back. And tight end Jake Butt was a finalist for the Mackey Award, honoring the nation's best tight end.
Peppers has starred in every facet of the game for Michigan this season. On defense, he ranks second on the team with 65 tackles and four sacks and leads the team with 16.5 tackles for loss. He's also forced a fumble and is tied for the team lead with eight quarterback hurries. But he also ranks third on the team in all-purpose yardage. He has 305 punt-return yards, 216 kick-return yards, 163 rushing yards and three receiving yards. Plus, he's scored four touchdowns, three rushing and one via a punt return. If Peppers wins the Bednarik Award, he'll become the second all-around Michigan star to do so. Charles Woodson won back in 1997. The last Big Ten player to win the award was Dan Connor, when he made it three straight Bednarik wins for Penn State linebackers. Two Wolverines have taken home the Maxwell Award: Tom Harmon in 1940 and Desmond Howard in 1991. The last Big Ten player to win the award was Penn State running back Larry Johnson in 2002.
Lewis could make it three Thorpe Awarrd wins for Big Ten players in a four-year span. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard won in 2013, and Iowa's Desmond King is the reigning winner. Lewis has been recognized as one of the best cornerbacks in college football over the past two seasons. This year, he has 19 tackles to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Woodson is the only other Wolverine to win the Thorpe Award. He did it back in 1997.
Butt is Michigan's second leading receiver with 38 catches. He also ranks second on the team with 460 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. Butt is the reigning Big Ten Tight End of the Year and seems to be heading toward the award again this season. He'd be the first Michigan player to win the Mackey Award, which has thrice gone to a Big Ten player since it began in 2000: Purdue's Tim Stratton (2000), Iowa's Dallas Clark (2002) and Minnesota's Matt Spaeth (2006).
Michigan's opponent in the all-important regular-season finale Saturday was also well represented among the national award finalists. Ohio State saw punter Cameron Johnston named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which honors the nation's top punter, and center Pat Elflein named a finalist for the Outland Trophy, which honors the nation's top interior lineman. The last Big Ten player to win the Ray Guy Award was a Buckeye, B.J. Sander in 2003. A Big Ten player took home the Outland Trophy just two years ago, when Iowa's Brandon Scherff won in 2014. Four Buckeyes have taken home the Outland Trophy: Jim Parker (1956), Jim Stillwagon (1970), John Hicks (1973) and Orlando Pace (1996).
Additionally, Northwestern's Austin Carr was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which honors the country's top wide receiver. Carr leads the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches and ranks in the top 10 nationally in all three categories, as well. Four Big Ten players have won the Biletnikoff Award since it was first handed out in 1994, though it's been 12 years since the last win for the conference, when Michigan's Braylon Edwards was named the winner in 2004.