The semifinalists for this year’s Lott IMPACT Trophy have been announced, and it is quite an impressive short list of some of college football’s finest defensive talents. Among the semifinalists for the award are Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and Iowa linebacker Josey Jewel. The Pac-12 leads all conferences with three semi-finalists.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy honors the nation’s best player that exhibits the qualities of former NFL All-Pro Ronnie Lott; integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community, and tenacity.
In addition to three players from the Pac-12, this year’s semifinalists include two players from the Big 12, and one player each from the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC. Notre Dame is also represented by safety Drue Tranquill. A Big Ten player has won the award each of the past two seasons with Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib winning the award in 2015 and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers receiving the award last season.
The 2017 Lott IMPACT Trophy Semi-Finalists
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Malik Jefferson, DE, Texas
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia
Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma
Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford
Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Drue Tranquill, S, Notre Dame
WHO: No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
WHAT: The 38th Holiday Bowl
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
WHEN: 10:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 30 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: At one point this season it looked as though USC could have imploded. The firing of Steve Sarkisian five weeks into the season could have made for a messy season, but Clay Helton has managed to keep the Trojans going and made sure they played for the Pac-12 championship they were chosen to win back during media days. It was quite a roller coaster to get there that saw back-to-back losses in a coaching transition, a blowout win of Utah, a blowout loss at Oregon and a dominating victory against UCLA to clinch the Pac-12 South. Although USC went 0-2 against Stanford this year, the Trojans proved to be a dangerous team with Cody Kessler throwing 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions thrown and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster racking up 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior linebacker Su’a Cravens and freshman linebacker Cameron Smith showed the legacy at the position should continue to thrive after the two led the team in tackles this fall.
USC will look for its third straight bowl victory, and second under Helton. To do that the Trojans must take out Wisconsin from the Big Ten. The Badgers have had a rough time in bowl games played in California since the turn of the century. Wisconsin lost three straight Rose Bowls from 2010 through 2013. Now they move to San Diego this postseason looking to buck that trend. In year one under Paul Chryst, the Badgers turned in a sneaky decent season with a 9-3 record on the strength of one of the top defensive showings this season. Wisconsin allowed just 97.9 yards per game on the ground and 169.2 passing yards per game. That helped fuel Wisconsin’s defense, anchored by senior linebacker Joe Schobert, allowing just 13.1 points per game to lead the nation.
Running the football tends to be the recipe for success in Madison, but the status of top running back Corey Clement is a concern. Clement is working through a sports hernia injury and hopes to play a key role in Wisconsin’s game plan against the Trojans. If Clement is not able to carry the football much, the Badgers still have Dare Ogunbowale to help out after rushing for 769 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Wisconsin may have won nine games, with close losses to Iowa and Northwestern, but what happens against one fo the most athletic teams they have faced this season? Alabama steamrolled Wisconsin in Week 1. USC won’t do that, but the Trojans may have a chance to make some plays even against this solid Wisconsin defense.
THE PREDICTION: USC 26, Wisconsin 23
Get ready to start hearing arguments about USC being Linebacker U, because the Trojans have quite the stable of linebackers just in the Class of 2015 alone. A class that already included four-star talents Cameron Smith (an early enrollee, No. 7 inside linebacker in the nation) and Osa Masina (No. 3 outside linebacker in the nation) became just a little bit better Tuesday on the eve of National Signing Day.
Porter Gustin, a five-star recruit and the nation’s top-ranked inside linebacker according to Rivals, committed to USC at a live press conference at Salem Hills High School in Utah. Gustin chose USC over Ohio State and new Pac-12 rivals Arizona State and Utah. Gustin’s father, who made some opening comments before Porter announced his decision, said his son did not make a decision on where he was going until 3:15 a.m. mountain time today. Here’s hoping Gustin did not feel pressure to make the announcement and make the decision without giving it enough thought. Whatever the case, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian should be ecstatic about the class that is coming together for the Trojans.
USC is a traditional recruiting powerhouse and can usually have whatever top recruits out west it chooses. As things stand now USC trails only Alabama in the recruiting rankings, but the Trojans an amazing pool of talent joining the program. Of the 21 players currently committed to USC, 17 are four-star recruits. Gustin is the first and only five-star player on the board for right now. USC is in the mix for another five-star linebacker as well.
Outside linebacker John Houston of Gardena, California has USC in the top five heading to signing day, and USC was the destination for the last official visit (and only visit in January). Houston will announce his decision live on ESPNU at 2 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Rivals