Picking college football’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year is easy.
It’s Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Heisman runner-up in 2010. Would have been the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft had he left early. Probably the best pro prospect in more than a decade.
Picking the Defensive Player of the Year is trickier.
I recently had to do so in my duties as the college football editor of Lindy’s Football Annuals.
It would be hard to go wrong with Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick (19 sacks in the past two seasons). Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins had 13.5 sacks last season and is the leader of a superb defensive front for coordinator Mark Stoops. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly runs up tackle totals better than anyone in the country. Alabama’s defense is stuffed with All-American talent.
But we ended up going in a different direction … and it’s one that probably won’t make me popular in Tucson.
I’ll tell you that Lindy’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year is Arizona State junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
I’ve had my share of fun mocking his lack of on-field discipline. I’ve shaken my head at the nation’s (unofficial) leader in personal foul penalties.
But nobody ever has denied Burfict’s raw talent, and you can’t name a more feared defender in college football. (And just wait until he shows up in the Sun Devils’ new all-black uniforms).
Why Burfict, why now?
Sometimes you have to make that leap of faith that what appeared to be a more serious, more dedicated player in the spring will be a more serious, more dedicated player in the fall.
He’ll be the leader of what should be one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. He’ll be the face of a program that many will expect — including Lindy’s — to win the Pac-12 South.
As the Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller wrote for Lindy’s:
“Put simply, this is Burfict’s time, his year to trade in potential for domination.”
Said ASU linebackers coach Trent Bray: “If he’s focused and has his mind on something, there’s nothing he can’t accomplish.”
The opportunity is all right there in front of Burfict. Shame on him if he doesn’t live up to that potential.