Who: Cassanova McKinzy
Watch Lists: Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy
At the end of the 2014 season, things looked pretty bleak for the Auburn defense. Coach Johnson was let go after the Iron Bowl, and we were (not) patiently waiting to hear if Will Muschamp would return. Word also came that Cassanova McKinzy was evaluating his options.
Eventually, Muschamp was announced as the new defensive coordinator and through no coincidence, McKinzy announced he would stay. In the time since, he's gone on to land on just about every watch list for defensive players.
McKinzy is nominated for the Bednarik Award given to the defensive player of the year. He is also one of three Auburn players nominated for the Nagurski Trophy awarded to the best defensive player in college football. No Auburn Tiger has won the award, but McKinzy, Jonathan Jones and Carl Lawson all have a shot.
The Butkus Award is given to the nation's top linebackers. Again, no Auburn player has ever won, but there are three players on the list--McKinzy, Lawson and Kris Frost.
The Lombardi Award is a very specific award given to "down linemen, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, or linebackers who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimage." Auburn boasts two former winners of the Lombardi Award: Nick Fairley and Tracy Rocker. McKinzy and teammate OL Avery Young made the list.
McKinzy started 12 of 13 games last season and was second in tackles in 91. He has an impressive 189 career tackles.
Heading into the season
McKinzy is by far one of the most experienced players on defense, and under Muschamp, he has the real potential to be a star. He has learned both inside linebacker positions for Muschamp's defense, making him more versatile and interchangeable with Frost. Traditionally great against the run, the defense will look to McKinzy to also be a playmaker in pass coverage.