Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Let the debates begin.
On Monday, the National College Football Awards Association released its first two award watch lists for the upcoming 2014 season - the Bednarick Award (given annually to the nation's top defensive player) and the Maxwell Award (given to the college football player of the year).
The two watch lists opened a long string of NCFAA preseason recognitions that will be announced through July 18.
Notable awards that will have their watch lists made public in that time include the Biletnikoff (most outstanding receiver in college football), the Jim Thorpe (the nation's top defensive back), the Butkus (college football's top linebacker) and the Walter Camp (player of the year).
Obviously, there are quite a few names that stand out on the first two watch lists, but each is pretty extensive in terms of inclusion. There are 76 names found on the Bednarick Award Watch List, which will eventually be whittled down to a select few semifinalists, then finalists and an eventual winner. There are also 76 names found on the Maxwell Award Watch List.
For the Bednarick Award, it's hard not to look at standout defensive players like USC defensive end Leonard Williams and TCU defensive end Devonte Fields as possible favorites to garner the defensive honor.
Williams played a strong season with the Trojans in 2013 despite the fact he likely wasn't 100 percent following surgery for a torn labrum. A junior this year, he is healthy and looking to build on his 13 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in his two years at USC.
Fields is in a bit of a similar situation to Williams, having had his 2013 season derailed due to injury.
In early October, TCU coach Gary Patterson announced the Horned Frogs would shut down Fields for the remainder of the season so he could undergo surgery on his injured foot. But it was his freshman campaign in 2012 that showed what the D-line bookend can do.
Fields racked up 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss with two forced fumbles as a newcomer. He was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and was a first-team selection to the All-Big 12 team.
Other players around the nation who very easily could earn the Bednarick Award are cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon and Vernon Hargreaves III from Florida, linebackers Myles Jack of UCLA and Trey DePriest of Alabama, and defensive linemen Vic Beasley of Clemson, Shilique Calhoun of Michigan State and Randy Gregory of Nebraska.
The Maxwell Award, similar to the Walter Camp Award, will be a highly contested decision for the nation's top offensive player. There are dozens of deserving offensive specialists, but it will all come down to what type of season they each have.
Assuming more impressive campaigns for the top quarterbacks, names like Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota will be tossed around quite frequently.
Last year, Alabama's A.J. McCarron took home the Maxwell honor, while the redshirt freshman Winston won the Walter Camp Award. He will look to become the fourth player in college football history to win the award twice.
McCarron taking home the Maxwell Award in 2013 guaranteed a new winner this December. Winston's name appears on the watch list released Monday, as does Mariota's. Other notable nominees include Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, new Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker along with his teammates Amari Cooper (wide receiver) and T.J. Yeldon (running back), Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
The Maxwell and Camp awards take the top skills position players and pit them against each other, although the Biletnikoff, Davey O'Brien and Doak Walker awards are given to the nation's top receiver, quarterback and running back, respectively. So the lists for both are extensive, but the selection committees for the awards will have their hands full picking one player from the talent pool.
Winston took home the Davey O'Brien Award in 2013 as the nation's top quarterback and will certainly look to repeat this season. But he'll have Mariota, Hundley, Marshall, Coker, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Marshall's Rakeem Cato as competition.
The Doak Walker Award committee will have the same level of selection difficulty, taking players like Yeldon, Georgia's Todd Gurley, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Florida State's Karlos Williams and trying to choose a winner from those names, among others.
Winston was the big NCFAA winner a year ago and he's poised to do it again with another strong season assuming he can maintain his success. For Winston, who possesses an extreme amount of football talent, playing at a high level shouldn't be much of an issue. It will be whether he can avoid off-the-field trouble that will determine his 2014 season. If not (and assuming he likes the recognition via awards), there are plenty of others who will be happy to take over the role of college football's most decorated player.
The awards will be judged by a panel of sports writers, broadcasters and NCAA head coaches after the season. The Walter Camp Award is selected by NCAA head coaches and sports information directors under the Walter Camp Football Foundation.