Here we go once more. Fifteen years of honoring the best in college football, the Lott IMPACT Trophy launches another campaign as college football is about to kick off all across the country.
From Clemson in South Carolina to the Stanford Cardinal in California, a record 129 schools will play Division I college football in 2018.
Candidates for the annual Lott Trophy come from 38 different schools with Ohio State, Washington, Clemson and USC each having two nominees on the 2018 Watch List.
Clemson, regarded by most pre-season prognosticators as the team most likely to challenge perennial power Alabama for the national title, has a pair of formidable defensive linemen in Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence on the Lott list. Wilkins is a 300-pound wrecking ball but takes a back seat in size to teammate Lawrence, who checks in at 340 pounds. But then again Wilkins has much going for him – he’s an academic star who has graduated from college in less than three years and he wears the most coveted number in Lott history – 42, Ronnie Lott’s number.
Clemson opens with a yawner Sept. 1 against Furman. Furman!
Week Two provides a better test on the road against Texas A&M, but from there on it is clear sailing through a pedestrian schedule for a defensive-loaded Clemson team.
A CLASSY CLASS
The three finalists from the inaugural class of the Lott IMPACT Trophy were from different parts of the country, played different positions and all have had great success over the past 14 years – but in very different arenas.
Winner David Pollack, the All-American defensive end from Georgia, was a first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals but suffered a neck injury and retired early. He has become one of the most popular and respected sportscasters in the country, currently a standout on ESPN.
Runner-up Derek Johnson, a star linebacker for Texas, is still playing in the NFL – 13 years with the Kansas City Chiefs and last season with the Raiders.
Runner-up Jim Leonard, a decorated safety from Wisconsin, played 10 years in the NFL despite being undrafted. He got back into the game, coaching at his alma mater and quickly moved up the ladder, being named Defensive Coordinator in only his second season with the Badgers.
Washington’s Huskies appear to be the elite of the downtrodden PAC-12. The Huskies have Safety Taylor Rapp and Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, both academic standouts. Rapp sports a tattoo with a Chinese proverb (his mother is Chinese) that translates to “You should make an impact.” Who could be a better choice for the Lott IMPACT Trophy award!
Unlike Clemson, though, the Huskies open the season in the national spotlight playing Auburn, who has its own Lott nominees in Linebacker extraordinaire Deshaun Davis, in Atlanta on Sept. 1. The Tigers are projected to be a 10-win team again.
There’s plenty of big games on the schedule for Week One. In addition to Washington-Auburn, there’s Michigan-Notre Dame, Miami-LSU, Alabama-Louisville and Florida State-Virginia Tech (on Monday, Sept. 3).
The new coaches who will be watched with the most interest are Scott Frost in Nebraska and Herm Edwards at Arizona State. Frost, a favorite son, returns home to take over a Cornhusker team that sank to four wins in 2017. He rides into town as the conquering hero having taken unknown Central Florida to a 13-0 record and a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Expectations are high in Lincoln.
Linebacker Dedrick Young, the leading tackler for Nebraska and a Lott nominee, anchors the defense.
Not so much in Tempe where Edwards was the surprise choice to replace Todd Graham, who was a consistent winner (46-32 in six seasons). Edwards has no collegiate coaching experience. He will have Koron Crump, a disruptive linebacker and Lott nominee, to lead the defense.
Edwards, at 64, is old for a rookie coach, but by no means the oldest coach working in 2018. That would be the venerable Bill Snyder at Kansas State, who is 78 and just received a five-year contract extension.
And let us not forget the heavyweight champion of college football, Mr. Nick Saban, who turns 67 in October. Doubt that social security check will make a difference in his lifestyle since he’s the highest paid coach in the land at $11.1 million per year!!!
Each week during the season, the Lott IMPACT Trophy will select a Player of the Week. The winner will be announced each Tuesday on the Lott website (www.lottimpactrophy.org) and on NBC Sports Radio.