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This is a sponsored post brought to you by Sonic. The topic was left sufficiently open-ended, so I decided to focus on BC standout Luke Kuechly. It was the perfect opportunity to delve into a question I've had on my mind for a week or two -- whether Kuechly can win the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.
For his performance last week against Clemson -- 14 tackles (10 solo, 4 assists), 1 INT, 0.5 TFL -- BC's super sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly earned ACC Defensive Lineman Player of the Week honors. It's the second week that Kuechly has won an ACC Player of the Week award this season, and the fifth of his career.
This got me thinking. Could Kuechly actually win this year's ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, making him just the third Boston College Eagle to take home ACC Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year honors (Matt Ryan and Mark Herzlich being the others)?
HD seems to think so. Here's her recap of Kuechly's ACC DPOY resume with just one-third of the regular season to go:
"He leads the ACC and the nation with 111 tackles (is No. 2 in the country with 66 solo tackles) and is averaging 13.9 tackles per game. He had 14 tackles, an interception, and half a tackle for loss in the win over Clemson."
It's not simply that Kuechly has led the nation in tackles for most of the season. Or the fact that he's 30 tackles clear of the second-best tackler in the ACC (Duke's senior LB Abraham Kromah). Or that he's gone over the 10 tackles mark in an absurd 17 straight games. More than anything else, Kuechly has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak season for the Eagles, and has anchored another solid, Top 25-ranked defense for BC.
The Eagles defense currently ranks third nationally in rushing defense, 33rd in pass efficiency defense and 16th in total defense. The BC defense has limited some very good running backs, including Clemson's Andre Ellington (14 carries, 42 yards), Maryland's Da'Rel Scott (9 carries, 19 yards) and Virginia Tech's David Wilson (16 carries, 67 yards) and Darren Evans (14 carries, 30 yards). As a unit, the BC defense is giving up a mere 83.88 yards per game.
I think Kuechly's main competition will come from Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, who has been an absolute monster on the Tigers defensive line. Bowers had a relatively quiet day against BC -- recording just two tackles -- but already has 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, both good for second in the country.
I would imagine, though, that both players will be somewhat limited by their respective team's performances this season. Guys like Kuechly and Bowers have been impressive and have started to separate themselves from the rest, but their teams just aren't winning enough to really be noticed. Bowers probably had the inside track on the award before last week; that is, before the Eagles beat the Tigers 16-10.
Both BC's 3-5 record and Clemson's 4-4 record can't inspire much confidence in the voters, but the Eagles have a much easier stretch run (at Wake Forest, at Duke, Virginia, at Syracuse) than Clemson does (N.C. State, at Florida State, at Wake Forest, South Carolina). My guess is the Tigers will wind up with the same record, if not worse, than the Eagles when it's all said and done. That will hurt Bowers' chances.
Two other things seem to be working against Kuechly. One is the relative weight / importance placed on the individual defensive statistic of tackles. Kuechly is a tackle machine, but some might think this is an overrated statistic. Voters could wonder whether Kuechly gets so many tackles because his unit is always on the field. Those individuals might look at stats like sacks and TFLs as more impressive (read: game-changing) than mere tackles, which clearly favors Bowers and other candidates like Florida State's Brandon Jenkins. The fact that Kuechly is just a sophomore also probably hurts his chances. Bowers is a junior, while Jenkins, like Kuechly is a sophomore.
Of course, winning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award as a linebacker wouldn't be unprecedented. In the last five years, the ACC DPOY has gone to two linebackers and three defensive ends. Maryland's D'Qwell Jackson (2005) and BC's Mark Herzlich (2008) are the two linebackers to have won the award in the last 5 years. Here's Herzlich's final 2008 stat line compared to Kuechly's projected final 2010 stat line:
Herzlich (2008): 14 games, 110 tackles (81 solo), 11 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 6 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 TDs
Kuechly (2010): 12 games, 166.5 tackles (99 solo), 12.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 0 fumble recoveries, 0 TDs
The only thing really missing is all the interceptions and the touchdowns. Other than that, Kuechly blows Herzlich's 2008 statistics out of the water.
If you assume that BC becomes bowl-eligible and plays in a bowl game this year, Kuechly's projected line becomes almost unbelievable:
Kuechly (2010): 13 games, 180 tackles (107 solo), 13.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 0 fumble recoveries, 0 TDs
So what do you think? Does Kuechly have a realistic shot at earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors? With four regular season games left, if not Kuechly, who ya got winning the ACC DPOY award?