2013 Preseason Award Projections: Outland Trophy

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Outland Trophy is given to the best interior lineman in college football. Last year’s winner was Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel.

Outland Trophy Winner:

Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Many were surprised when Alabama moved Barrett Jones from left tackle to center prior to the 2012 season. After all Jones was just named an All SEC selection and the Outland Trophy winner as the best offensive lineman in college football. He had a great season as blind side protector for Alabama in 2011. The reason that Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban moved Jones to center was because of Kouandjio.

As a sophomore Kouandjio didn’t disappoint and had an excellent 2012 season. By the end of the season he was a superb run blocker and rock solid as a pass protector. Kouandjio had some early mistakes, but improved steadily. Alabama averaged 224.6 yards per game on the ground and 439.1 yards of total offense.

Kouandjio finished the season in impressive fashion with excellent outings against Georgia and Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide won their second straight National Championship and quarterback A.J. McCarron had a clean blind side thanks to the work of Kouandjio and left guard Chance Warmack.



Now that Kouandjio has a year of experience I think he is going to be dominant as a junior. Kouandjio doesn’t have a tough slate of a lot of double digit sackers. However the SEC is the best conference in college football, so he is going to see a quality opponent in almost every game of his conference slate. Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith and Auburn’s Dee Ford will provide a nice test.

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio is extremely quick and athletic to negate speed rushers. He also is very strong at the point of attack and is a superb run blocker. He has the skill set to dominate and as the blind side protector for A.J. McCarron, Kouandjio is not going to go unnoticed. I think the Outland Trophy will come down to Kouandjio and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews with Kouandjio coming out on top.



Outland Trophy Runner-Up:

Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

Matthews the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews had a lot to live up to when he arrived at Texas A&M to play for head coach Mike Sherman. After three seasons at College station, Matthews is well on his way to meeting the lofty expectations.

During his freshman season Matthews broke into the starting lineup at right tackle. Texas A&M’s sacks allowed per game went down dramatically in 2010 after Matthews was firmly in place on the strong side. In 2011 Matthews was very good at protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Matthews was excellent at opening up holes in the ground game for running backs Cyrus Gray and Christian Michael.

In 2012, Matthews (6-5, 305) formed the best tackle tandem in the college football with left tackle Luke Joeckel. He was a strong pass-protector for Johnny Manziel and Matthews was phenomenal at opening up holes in the ground game. Manziel was able to role out to his right frequently because Matthews could seal the edge to give Manziel room to make plays on the run.

Matthews played well against Auburn as Texas A&M had a game of pure domination. He had the biggest test of the season a week earlier taking on LSU’s speed-rusher Barkevious Mingo. Matthews had some great blocks in the ground game, including some plays where he took care of Mingo and another defender on the second level. Mingo didn’t beat Matthews for a sack and only had one pressure after Manziel scrambled into Matthews while blocking Mingo.

Against Alabama, Matthews played very well to help lead the Aggies to an upset win. His protection for Manziel was superb against the Crimson Tide. Matthews saw a nice test to start the year from some of the young Florida pass-rushers and did well. He was excellent in run blocking throughout 2012. Matthews concluded his junior year in flawless fashion against Oklahoma.

As a senior Matthews will move to left tackle with Joeckel in the NFL. Matthews doesn’t have a tough slate of a lot of double digit sackers. However the SEC is the best conference in college football, so Matthews is going to see a quality opponent in almost every game of his conference slate. Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith and Auburn’s Dee Ford will provide a nice test. The best test of the season for Matthews will come against Alabama. Matthews should have some plays against Alabama outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard and defensive end Ed Stinson. If Matthews plays well against Alabama, that could be the exclamation point on a season that lands him the Outland Trophy.



Outland Trophy Dark Horse:

Antonio Richardson, Tennessee

In the beginning of the 2012 season when watching Tennessee’s offensive line for senior guard Dallas Thomas, Richardson made me stop and say who is that guy? Richardson was the reason the Volunteers moved Thomas inside to guard. I watched a lot of Tennessee and every time I came away impressed with Richardson. He did a superb job of protecting Tyler Bray’s blind side.

As a sophomore Richardson was rarely beaten in pass protection while being a good run blocker. Richardson also held his own going against South Carolina superstar Jadeveon Clowney. Throughout the game Richardson was getting the better of the matchup but late in the fourth quarter with South Carolina clinging to a lead Clowney got a sack-fumble to deep in Gamecocks territory to seal the win. It spoiled an otherwise impressive game from Richardson.

In 2012 Richardson led the way for Tennessee’s offensive line that only allowed eight sacks in the entire season. The Volunteers had a disappointing year, but it wasn’t because of the play of Richardson and the Tennessee offensive line.

In the rematch one would bet Tennessee will let Richardson take on Clowney in some one-on-ones. If he does well in those plays that could be huge for Richardson. At 6-foot-6, 332-pounds Richardson has good size for a left tackle with surprising quickness and agility. Not a lot of people project him as one of the top linemen in the nation, but if he can beat Clowney without help a lot of people will take notice. If Richardson plays well against Clowney and the rest of his challenging SEC schedule he could end up stealing the Outland Trophy.



Honorable Mentions: Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, LSU guard La’el Collins, Florida State guard Tre Jackson, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, Alabama guard Anthony Steen, Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix, UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, Stanford guard David Yankey, Stanford offensive tackle David Yankey, Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin, Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, Cal defensive tackle DeAndre Coleman, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, Ohio State tackle/guard Andrew Norwell, Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson, Oklahoma guard/center Gabe Ikard, Florida State center Bryan Stork, North Carolina center Russell Bodine, Tennessee center James Stone, Florida center Jonotthan Harrison and Arkansas center Travis Swanson.











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