Posted by Jerry Hinnen
It's one of those stories that would be edited out of a film script for being "too heavyhanded," but happened in real life Wednesday night anyway: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, playing the past two seasons under the tutelage of his school's last winner of the Lombardi Award, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, became the school's newest winner of the same award . It's not irony, but it's close enough that Alanis Morrisette would think it is.
In any case, the award's voters -- "a distinguished committee of nearly 400 of America's most prominent college football coaches, football writers, sports broadcasters and previous Rotary Lombardi Award winners and finalists," charged with selecting the nation's best lineman or linebacker -- weren't voting based on the headlines; Fairley was arguably the nation's most disruptive defensive force this season, leading the SEC in tackles for loss with 21.5 (for comparison's sake, one more than Ndamukong Suh totaled in 2009) and finishing second with 10.5 sacks. But Fairley's penchant for brutal hits on opposing quarterbacks -- a handful of which straddled the line between fair play and unnecessary roughness, and earned him something of a villain's reputation in some quarters of the conference -- meant his impact was felt even beyond his imposing statistics.
All that said, the Lombardi committee couldn't have gone wrong with the equally beastly Da'Quan Bowers, the Clemson defensive end who leads the nation in sacks and was one of three other Lombardi finalists (with the others Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn and TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick ). Bowers won the Nagurski Trophy over Fairley, setting up a kind of rubber match vote with the Bednarik Award , given to the nation's best defensive player later today.
Whether Bowers or Fairley triumphs in their little one-on-battle on the awards circuit (the Bednarik could also declare an effective tie by honoring LSU corner Patrick Peterson ), the real winner here is the NFL draft, which assuming Fairley declares, looks poised to have an outstanding class of defensive linemen on its hands this April.
Follow along with all the postseason college football honors at the CBS Sports Awards Watch .