They started out as good things, as badges of honor, as notices of real recognition, as hallmarks of promise.
And then, they became college football’s version of quack grass.
Their roots spread. They got out of hand. They popped up in places they shouldn’t. And they choked out authentic anticipation for what might come next.
They’re everywhere. They’re too many places. They’ve simultaneously broadened the parameters of where star players begin and where they end and they’ve cheapened the definition of what a real star is. It’s gotten to the point where if a player isn’t on a watch list for one award or another, what the hell’s wrong with him? The awards, themselves, have multiplied, too.
Trophies a go-go: there’s the Heisman, the Outland, the Bronco Nagurski, the Harlon Hill, the Lott, the Rimington, the Sammy Baugh, the William V. Campbell, the Wuerffel, the Burlsworth, the Gagliardi. And the awards: the Butkus, the Lou Groza, the Doak Walker, the John Mackey, the Jim Thorpe, the Maxwell, the Buck Buchanan, the Chuck Bednarik, the Chic Harley, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, the Jerry Rice, the Walter Payton, the Ted Hendricks, the Fred Biletnikoff, the Ray Guy, and more.
There are awards and/or watch lists for interior linemen, for linebackers, for receivers, for running backs, for tight ends, for defensive backs, for quarterbacks, for kickers, for punters and for players who started out as walk-ons. There are awards for good citizens, for charitable involvement and for players in smaller divisions. There might be a trophy for the player with the best mustache and the best culinary skills.
What’s next … the Aaron Hernandez Trophy, hardware given annually to the college player who’s charged with committing the most heinous crime?
Who’d be on the watch list for that? Already, everybody’s in the pool.
You’d think it pretty cool that two of the state’s starting quarterbacks — Chuckie Keeton and Taysom Hill — are on the Davey O’Brien Award watch list, right? They’re a couple of the more exciting college QBs and it seems a sweet deal for them to be included in that group of preseason honorees.
But there are 39 of them.
They’re like planes stacked up at LaGuardia.
How bad do you have to be not to make the list?
It is a requirement that all the O’Brien nominees had to start at least one previous game, so there’s that high bar to make the early cut.
Everyday, the messages roll into the inbox.
So-and-So, So-and-So and So-and-So from Such-and-Such a school are on somebody’s list. Just in the last couple of weeks, they’ve arrived in bunches.
BYU’s Jamal Williams is on the Doak Walker watch list. He’s one of 53. He’s also on the Maxwell watch list, and the College Football Performance Awards Running Backs watch list, and he’s reaped Phil Steele Preseason All-Independent First Team honors.
BYU’s Hill has been named to lists for the Heisman, the Maxwell, the CFPA Quarterbacks Trophy, the AFCA Good Works Team. He’s been honored with the Phil Steele Preseason All-Independent First Team, the Sporting News Top 25 and as a Touchdown Club of Columbus player to watch.
Cougars Craig Bills and Alani Fua are two of 81 players on the Bronko Nagurski watch list, and Michael Yeck made the Outland list.
USU’s Keeton is on about a thousand lists, including a couple for the Heisman, and is a preseason first-team All-MWC selection by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports.
Utah State’s Joe Hill is on the Doak Walker watch list. Brian Suite is on the Jim Thorpe watch list. Kyler Fackrell is on the Nagurski list.
Utah’s Dres Anderson has made the Biletnikoff and Maxwell watch lists, while Andy Phillips is on the Lou Groza list and Tom Hackett the Ray Guy.
All of those players, along with more not mentioned here on other lists, are terrific at what they do. This is not meant to make fun of them. It’s meant more to ridicule the watch-list bonanza, the inclination not just to honor the supposed best at their positions, but to honor 81 or 39 or 53 players at their positions — before the season even starts. It’s like T-ball. Everybody gets a ribbon. Thanks for playing.
On the other hand, those organizations also issue these lists to drum up publicity for their awards. And, yeah, we’re talking about them here. But college football has more than its share of preseason conjecture and hype. Sometimes, it suffers from regular-season and postseason fluff and fiction. What it needs more of is reality and truth.
Beyond that, it’s a team sport. Individual awards inside that kind of group effort are almost always overblown. If voters and football clubs, organizations and outlets want to hand out player awards after they’ve been earned, go ahead, if it must be done. Still, you have to wonder, at times, if they’re trying to honor the honorees or honor themselves.
The trophy inflation is already too much, but the ballyhoo and hullabaloo of watch lists are like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind, sullying a yard that would be a whole lot better without them, without the hype.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson