During the college football doldrums, between the end of spring practices and the start of fall camp, there isn’t much noteworthy news to stir a fan’s excitement. Scant information trickles out about offseason workouts or coaching tweaks, and the days seemingly crawl — slowly, torturously — toward August.
Perhaps that’s why we put so much stock into preseason watch lists in July. An annual rite of passage of sorts, the lists signify another season is just around the corner. And so, college football enthusiasts pay close attention to every player on their favorite teams that make the cut and celebrate the achievement.
At Wisconsin, the reaction was no different, with four players being named to various watch lists: running back Melvin Gordon (Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award, Walter Camp Award), right tackle Rob Havenstein (Outland Trophy, Lombardi Trophy), quarterback Joel Stave (Davey O’Brien Award) and center Dan Voltz (Rimington Trophy).
It’s no doubt a nice honor for players to be mentioned alongside the best in the game. But let’s get real here. What does being named to these watch lists really mean? A whole bunch of nothing.
For starters, there is no delineation between the top caliber players and those who are just simply good. Gordon, for example, is a likely frontrunner to win the Doak Walker Award for nation’s best running back. But there are 52 other tailbacks on the list from 45 teams — representing more than one-third of the FBS — including players from Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Michigan, among others. Everyone is simply lumped into one big block, and the number of players on the lists are borderline outrageous.
The Maxwell Award, given to the college football player of the year, has 76 players on the list, as does the Bednarik Award for top defensive player. Stave, meanwhile, is on the O’Brien Award watch list with 38 other quarterbacks despite the fact there is no guarantee he’ll even be Wisconsin’s opening-game starter.
And what are the criteria for making these lists? According to the Maxwell Football Club, the candidates come from a "selection committee, which analyzes both past performance and future potential. The Club reserves the right to make additions and deletions to these lists as the 2014 season unfolds."
In other words, appearing on that preseason watch list or others is not a requirement for a player to win any of these awards — which renders them even more meaningless.
Consider that last season, the Walter Camp Foundation announced the names of 50 players to its annual watch list for nation’s best player on July 19. Five months later, a player not mentioned on a single watch list — Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston — won the award.
Winston’s Florida State teammate, kicker Robert Aguayo, won the Lou Groza Award for nation’s best kicker after being omitted from the preseason watch list, which included 30 kickers.
Winston also won the Davey O’Brien Award despite not being among the 34 players on the list before the season, which included four quarterbacks from the Atlantic Coast Conference. And in 2012, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the O’Brien Award (and the Heisman Trophy) without making the 34-quarterback preseason watch list as well.
Whatever value exists for preseason lists takes a hit every year someone unknown enters the fray and obliterates the competition. The beauty of sports is the unpredictably of it all, so creating lists that fluctuate each week of the season makes little sense.
Here’s a suggestion: Let’s enjoy the college football season and make determinations about players once the year nears its conclusion. We should simply watch — not create and celebrate watch lists.