The Tar Heels are now within three weeks from the start of the highly anticipated 2021 Tar Heel football season. Throughout the past month, college football award committees have been releasing their preseason watch lists and it has had plenty of Tar Heel flavor. Eight Tar Heels have been placed on a combined thirteen watch lists so far this preseason, as has coach Mack Brown on the coach of the year watch. With all of these preseason watch lists officially being revealed, we give you a look at the awards that we think Tar Heel players and coaches have the best chances to take home.
Joshua Ezeudu- Outland Trophy
Ezeudu is the anchor of the veteran Tar Heel offensive line and is recognized as one of the top offensive linemen in the conference, but this would be a miracle, to say the least, if he took home the award. Only twice since 2000 has an interior offensive lineman taken home the award and he may not even be the best interior offensive lineman in the ACC season with Alec Lindstrom’s return to Boston College. Being recognized on the preseason list is a nice honor for Ezeudu, though.
Raymond Vohasek- Nagurski Trophy
The fact that Vohasek is even on this list as a preseason nominee for an award that recognizes the defensive player of the year in college football is an amazing accomplishment for him. At this point, it’s debatable as to whether or not Vohasek is even amongst the top five players in the ACC, so it just doesn’t seem likely that he be able to get anywhere close to an award that Tar Heel legends like Julius Peppers and Dré Bly couldn’t win.
Jeremiah Gemmel- Bednarik Award
Gemmel is poised for a big season in the middle of the Tar Heel defense, but much like Vohasek, this award spreads too wide of a net to be confident that he can take it home. Like the Nagurski Trophy, this is an award given to what the committee determines is the best defensive player in the country. Gemmel is currently not seen as one of the top linebackers in the ACC as the preseason voting showed, so this would be a steep climb for him to win one of the most prestigious awards in the sport.
Raymond Vohasek- Outland Trophy
While the defensive tackles have had more success when it has come to winning this award, the group of winners includes some of the elite of the elite, especially in the past fifteen years. Vohasek has a chance to be one of the ACC’s top defensive tackles this year, but much like Ezeudu, he might not even be the best defensive tackle in the conference this season with Bryan Breese and Tyler Davis returning to Clemson. Vohasek winning wouldn’t be nearly the shock that Ezeudu winning would, but it would take an absolutely tremendous season rivaling some of the best from defensive tackles in the past few years.
Garrett Walston- Mackey Award
Walston will almost certainly be a bigger part of the Tar Heels passing game this season, but this is going to be extremely tough to accomplish. Eric Ebron couldn’t even take this award home back in his sensational 2013 season, and it’s hard to see Walston getting near those numbers this year to rival some of the nation’s best tight ends such as Charlie Kolar of Iowa State or Michael Mayer of Notre Dame.
Ben Kiernan- Ray Guy Award
Kiernan has certainly had a nice start to his career, but he isn’t quite on the same level as some of the top punters in the country. His numbers are good, but to win this award, they’ll have to be some of the best in the country, which would be a pretty significant jump, to get to that range. While there is a chance that could happen, he will likely continue to remain behind some of the nation’s best in terms of average yards per punt.
Ty Chandler- Doak Walker Award
There is no denying that Chandler has a chance to have plenty of success in this system, one that produced the nation’s best running back tandem a year ago. Many writers feel like Chandler has a chance to earn first-team All-ACC honors at season’s end and the rest of the country isn’t exactly loaded from top to bottom with talent. However, there are guys like Iowa State’s Breece Hall and Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim that are back this year. The fact that neither Javonte Williams nor Michael Carter could take the award home last year makes this a tough one to be confident about.
Beau Corrales- Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award
This is one of the lesser-known awards in college football, as it has only been handed out since 2013 and is specific to college football players who played their high school football in the state of Texas. Corrales is expected to take over as the Tar Heels top receiving threat this year and he may have a pretty good shot to be voted one of the semifinalists for the award if he can expand upon the numbers that he put up as a junior back in 2019. However, with names like D’Eriq King (Miami), Bijan Robinson (Texas) and Isaiah Spiller (Texas A&M) headlining the list, it’s tough to feel confident in his chances to win the award in the end.
Jeremiah Gemmel- Butkus Award
As we mentioned above, Gemmel has a chance to have a fantastic season with Chazz Surratt’s departure. Gemmel may not be a member of the preseason All-ACC linebacking corps, but he has the potential to be a member of that first-team group by season’s end, especially if he can get to the 100 tackle mark, which looks very plausible. If he is one of the top linebackers in the ACC, he’ll have a great chance to be one of the finalists for this award considering that the ACC might have the most talent at the position in the preseason of the five power conferences.
Sam Howell- Maxwell Award
This is where we start to look at awards where the Tar Heel representatives enter as one of the preseason favorites. Both of the next two awards on this list are usually closely tied with the Heisman Trophy. While Howell’s odds to win the most prestigious award in the sport may not quite be where Tar Heel fans think it should be, there are plenty in the media that think he has some of the best chances to take home the award as arguably the best quarterback in the nation. As we’ve seen in the past with both of these awards, you can win this award if you don’t win the Heisman, but you need to at least make it a close race. Howell has the capability to do that and more.
Sam Howell- Walter Camp Player of the Year
[see Maxwell Award]. The only difference, and the reason it feels like there may be a better chance for him to win this award, is he was named to Walter Camp’s preseason All-American first team at the quarterback position.
Mack Brown- Dodd Trophy
Brown has to come in as one of the favorites for this award heading into the season. If the Tar Heel can live up to expectations and reach double-digit wins, he’ll without a doubt be a finalist. If the Tar Heels can head into the ACC Championship Game with a College Football Playoff berth on the line, it’s hard to imagine a situation where he wouldn’t be the favorite to win it entering the ceremony.
Sam Howell- Davey O’Brien Award and Manning Award
These two awards have gone hand-in-hand in all but three years since they have both been given out and have been won by the same quarterback in each of the last twelve seasons, so we’ll lump them together. Howell is almost unanimously regarded as one of the nation’s top two quarterbacks. Heading into the season, he might be the favorite to take home both of these awards and if he does, recent history would tell you that he would be in the driver’s seat for the Heisman.