Just in case the chip on the shoulders of two of the Big Ten’s best cornerbacks wasn’t already big enough, wide receivers across the league can thank the Thorpe Award committee for making it even bigger.
Preseason watch lists may not be worth anything more than stirring up debate and helping pass the time in a football-less summer, but that doesn’t mean they all go unnoticed by players -- particularly by those who would justifiably feel snubbed. And anybody that doesn’t believe Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun have earned that right heading into this season hasn’t been paying attention.
Maybe they have both brushed it off and ignored it. Perhaps defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel has no interest in printing out the list of 42 players and hanging it in their lockers. There’s even a chance that it will never become a topic of conversation between Murray, Boddy-Calhoun and Sawvel at all, though it seems pretty unlikely that a position coach as clever with his motivation and as fiercely proud of his players would miss a chance to slip in a few mentions during training camp.
Whether the Gophers use the oversight as fuel or simply brush it aside, it’s yet another reminder that the program still has work to do to shape its perception as a perpetual underdog. Coincidentally, there’s a massive opportunity collectively to bury it when the season opens in September with a primetime showdown against TCU that will have no shortage of attention. And individually it could turn into a showcase for a couple defenders who were bypassed in favor of four defensive backs from the Sun Belt and four more from the MAC.
The fact the Big Ten had only three representatives on the list means Minnesota’s secondary isn’t the only that is probably feeling slighted, but it’s hard to understand exactly how Boddy-Calhoun and Murray were missed.
Boddy-Calhoun’s case is easy to make with his five interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, and he also showed a knack for delivering some of his finest work in the clutch. Typically a stats sheet like that makes it easier for voters to single out a player and offer some awards.
Murray’s lack of individual numbers might help explain his absence from the list since he had just a single interception last season, but that doesn’t even begin to explain his impact on a game for a team that at times bases its entire defensive scheme around Murray’s ability to lock down a target in man-to-man coverage. His lack of interceptions hasn’t kept scouts and gurus from tabbing him as one of the top prospects at his position for next year’s NFL draft class nor did it keep coaches from naming him a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season.
And while it’s not like the two are working in total anonymity after being named to both the Nagurski and Bednarik lists honoring the best overall defenders in the nation, it seems odd that the position-specific award wouldn’t include either Murray or Boddy-Calhoun. Though even if Sawvel happens to mention it in the coming weeks, odds are neither one of his cornerbacks really needs much more fuel for the fire anyway.
“All those guys really care about is finding a way to make each other better,” Sawvel said during spring practice. “The good thing about coaching those guys is there there’s no ego.”
If the two Gophers can do the kind of job they’ve done in the past, eventually more award voters will have no choice but to take notice.