Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Nagurski Trophy is handed out annually to the nation's best defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America , and if there's no slam-dunk choice for the FWAA this year like Ndamukong Suh in 2009, it's hard to argue -- depending on how you feel about the under-fire Nick Fairley -- that any of the five finalists for the award wouldn't be entirely deserving. They are:
Da'Quan Bowers, End, Clemson, 6-4, 275, Jr. (Bamberg, S.C)
Nick Fairley, Tackle, Auburn, 6-5, 298, Jr. (Mobile, Ala.)
Justin Houston, Linebacker, Georgia, 6-3, 258, Jr. (Statesboro, Ga.)
Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College, 6-3, 235, So. (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU 6-1, 222, Jr. (Pompano Beach, Fla.)
You know Bowers as the nation's leading sackmaster with 13.5 takedowns of opposing quarterbacks, but he's also added 22 tackles-for-loss, second in the nation; Fairley as the SEC 's most purely disruptive defender (with possible apologies to Houston and LSU tackle Drake Nevis ), and his 18 tackles-for-loss rank first in the country amongst defensive tackles; Peterson as the nation's consensus best cover corner, the absolute prototype for the next level with his combination of size and breathtaking speed; and Houston as the SEC's leader in both sacks (11) and tackles-for-loss (18.5) from his position as a rush linebacker in Georgia 'a new-for-2010 3-4 defense.
But you may not know Kuechly at all, and not without reason; when you share not just a team or a defense but a linebacking unit with an incredible story like fellow Eagle Mark Herzlich and his recovery from cancer, it's hard to get noticed in the national press no matter what you do on the field. But as the nationa's most efficient, productive tackling machine, what Kuechly has accomplished has been no less impressive than the achievements of any of the other four Nagurski finalists. He leads the nation in both total tackles with 146 (or 14.6 per game ) and solo stops with 83; no other player in college football has yet crossed the 80 threshold. Kuechly is also the only player in the country to make 20 or more tackles in one game, and has done so twice: once against North Carolina State and again against Duke this past Saturday, when he also added two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and recovered fumble just for good measure.
So even if the most under-the-radar finalist for the Nagurski goes home with the hardware, complaints should be kept to a minimum. Though anyone other than Suh would have been a mistake a year ago, this year the FWAA cannot go wrong.