Football season is just a couple months away, which means it’s time to start keeping our eyes on certain players. Four Illini football players were recently named to national award watch lists, announced by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). Junior linebacker Jonathan Brown and senior defensive end Michael Buchanan are both candidates for the Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top defensive player, while senior center Graham Pocic and junior defensive tackle Akeem Spence are both up for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best interior lineman in college football.
Brown was a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the media in 2011 after he ranked sixth in the nation in tackles for loss per game with 1.63 (19.5 total). He led the Big Ten in TFLs (14.5) in conference games and ranked second in tackles (11.9 per game), pacing the Illini with 108 stops. Brown has already been named to the 2012 Bednarik Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy watch lists and is a preseason All-American by Phil Steele.
Buchanan also had a big 2011 season playing opposite first-team All-American DE Whitney Mercilus. Buchanan was a second-team All-Big Ten selection, recording 64 tackles and ranking fourth in the Big Ten in sacks (7.5) and ninth in TFLs (13.5). Buchanan is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.
Pocic enters 2012 having started 26 consecutive games at center for the Illini. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection in 2010 when he helped pave the way for the top rushing offense in the Big Ten and 11th-best in the nation. Pocic is also on the Rimington Trophy watch list, which goes to the nation’s top center.
After being named a freshman All-American in 2010, Spence followed up with an even better year in 2011. He posted 69 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks during his sophomore campaign, while helping anchor the seventh-ranked defense in the country.
The Nagurski Trophy is named for former Minnesota fullback/defensive tackle Bronko Nagurski, who dominated college football from 1927-29. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly won the award in 2011, while former Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus was a Nagurski finalist last season. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists on Nov. 15. The winner will be announced Dec. 3 at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, N.C.
The Outland Trophy, presented annually since 1946, is named after the late John Outland, an All-America lineman at Penn and Kansas at the turn of the century. This year’s winner will be announced on The Home Depot College Football Awards on Dec. 6 on ESPN. The 2011 Outland winner was Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones.
In all, four Illini have been named to eight different watch lists so far this summer.
Illini 2012 Preseason Honors & Watch Lists (as of 7/12)
• Jonathan Brown, LB – Nagurski Trophy (Def. POY), Bednarik Award (Def. POY), Lott Trophy (Def. POY), Phil Steele All-American (fourth team)
• Michael Buchanan, DE – Nagurski Trophy (Def. POY). Bednarik Award (Def. POY)
• Graham Pocic, C – Outland Trophy (Interior line), Rimington Trophy (C)
• Akeem Spence, DT – Outland Trophy (Interior line)