- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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I'm a bit conflicted when it comes to college football awards and all the hollow hype they generate.
Many college football fans love the awards. They enjoy reading preseason watch lists, midseason watch lists, two-thirds-of-the-way-through-the season watch lists, quarterfinalists, semifinalists and the like. It's why we post a decent amount of the lists on the blog. But the selections often make me want to bang my head against the wall. Although some award committees are better than others, it's very easy to see who is paying attention and who isn't.
The recent announcement of the 25 quarterfinalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award -- given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker -- struck a chord. Looking at the list ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland? Check. ... Purdue DT Kawann Short? Check. Like many of you, I kept searching for Penn State LB Michael Mauti. You know, the National Defensive Player of the Week for Week 5, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week winner, the leader of the nation's 15th-rated scoring defense and a Penn State team that has rebounded from an 0-2 start to win four in a row. When we put together our Big Ten midseason review Monday, Mauti earned Defensive MVP honors.
But he wasn't on the Lombardi list. Less deserving players were, including some from the Big Ten.
"There's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said Tuesday. "... If there's a linebacker, defensive lineman award, whatever the awards are, I would imagine ‑‑ I can't imagine that there's that many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys."
There certainly aren't many FBS linebackers playing better than Mauti right now. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Jarvis Jones ... that's about it. Hill and Hodges also are performing well and could have been included on the Lombardi quarterfinalists list, but Mauti is the glaring omission.
O'Brien added that he doesn't even know which awards are which and that midseason watch lists don't make much sense.
"Can we not wait till the end of the season?" he said. "I think it would be a shame that we've got some guys here who are playing good football and they don't get recognized."
It would be especially shameful if Mauti and the others aren't recognized because they play for Penn State. If Mauti had the same first half for a team that didn't spend the offseason in the national headlines and didn't get hit with severe NCAA sanctions in July, would he be on the Lombardi list?
It's a fair question to ask, especially given the PR-driven nature of these awards. If the answer is yes, the awards are completely bogus. Punishing Mauti and his teammates for being associated with Penn State -- while disregarding what they're doing on the field this season -- is disgraceful. It's possible to separate the Penn State sex-abuse scandal from this season and these players.
Is the Penn State stigma keeping players out of the awards race?
"I don't believe that at all," O'Brien said, before adding, "I certainly would hope that's not the case."
There's no definitive answer. All we can do is wait and see if deserving Penn State players like Mauti get their due when the postseason awards are handed out.
If not, there's no need to rant and rave. Just don't pay attention. The awards aren't worth your time.