Preseason watch lists are about as meaningful as the Spring Game - they're more for fans and media than actual indications of who the season's stars will be. Nonetheless, some Northwestern players are catching the attention of the award-givers. Here's our on-going summary of the preseason Watch Lists (a few lists have yet to be released).
Rimington Trophy - C Brandon Vitabile
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Brandon Vitabile is the rock of the Northwestern football team. He has started 38 straight games...meaning there's never been a game that he played in which he didn't start. He's gone through quarterback changes, from Dan Persa to Kain Colter to Trevor Siemian, plus the dual-quarterback experiment. There are few stats to track a center's success but the testimonies of his coaches and teammates speak for themselves. "Everyone looks to him," right tackle Paul Jorgensen said. "He's learned what it takes to be the leader of the O-line, and he's used that and added his own touch."
Biletnikoff Award - WR Christian Jones
Best wide receiver
Northwestern has struggled with some underperforming wide receivers in recent years (cough Prater cough) but Christian Jones has been a fairly consistent staple at the position. He was the team's leading receiver last season with 668 yards - 9th best in the Big Ten - and four touchdowns. He'll start the season with a streak to continue: he's caught at least one pass in 17 straight games, dating back to 2012. So far, he's gotten better every year, and there is every reason to believe that that trend will continue in 2014.
Jim Thorpe Award - S Ibraheim Campbell
Best defensive back
Ibraheim Campbell proved the moment he stepped on the field his redshirt freshman season that he was going to be a leader. He finished as the team's leading tackler his rookie season and has steadily become the secondary's most reliable player, garnering honorable mentions from the Big Ten coaches and media for the past two years. Now, as a senior, he'll anchor one of NU's better units, and he'll be tasked with leading a defense that was overwhelmingly inconsistent last season. If anyone's up for the challenge, it's him.
Maxwell Award - RB Venric Mark
College player of the year
Venric Mark entered last season as a Heisman hopeful, but things quickly went downhill when he got injured in the first game of the season against Cal. Since he only played in three games, he was granted a medical hardship waiver, so he will be allowed to play a 5th year. That's good news for Northwestern, whose most dynamic runner of the past four years, Kain Colter, graduated. Interestingly, Mark was named to the Maxwell watch list but not the list for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's best running back. With the injury, Mark didn't even crack 100 yards last season, but he 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012.
Outland Trophy - C Brandon Vitabile
Best interior lineman
Rotary Lombardi Award - LB Chi Chi Ariguzo
Best lineman or linebacker
Chi Chi Ariguzo, no doubt the leader for best name on the team, has also proven himself to be a leader of the Wildcats' offense. He followed up a breakout sophomore campaign with an even better junior season. His 106 tackles last year were second-best on the team, plus he added four interceptions. With Damien Proby graduating, Ariguzo will be one of the new leader of NU's defense.