The offensive side of the ball is almost a no brainer for MVP/POY, but there are compelling candidates for the defensive side of the ball that makes it much less cut and dry. I am compiling a list of five candidates I believe most would vote for as defensive POY. I will make the case for each and leave it up to you guys in the poll to determine the winner. Of course, like in "Whose Line is it Anyway" the points don't matter, but it will be out there in the internet world just the same. Highlights courtesy of the ACCDN, Harris Highlights, and In My Prime Productions.
Candidate 1: Shaq Lawson, Defensive End: 60 tackles, 25.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery. Big Shaq came through with a monster junior (and final) season at Clemson making numerous All-American teams and taking home All-ACC honors. Lawson led the nation in tackles for loss and had to face at least two future first round draft pick tackles along the way as he did it. Lawson also sustained a shoulder injury he battled the latter part of the season as well as a tweaked knee that kept him out of most of the Oklahoma game. Dabo Swinney told people Lawson may be even better than first round pick Vic Beasley and Shaq did nothing to disappoint.
Candidate 2: Kevin Dodd: Defensive End: 62 tackles, 23.5 TFLs, 12 sacks, 1 PBU, 6 QB hits, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered fumble, 1 blocked kick. It is insane how good Kevin Dodd got as a junior and he got better by the week during the season. All the work Dodd put in culminated with a one man destruction of Alabama's right side in the National Championship Game. Even Joey Bosa didn't work the Alabama OL the way Dodd did in Arizona. Dodd not only put up ridiculous numbers but provided some of his biggest plays for crunch time. His sack in the Louisville game took the Cardinals out of a chance to tie the game with a field goal. Dodd went from a no name to a potential first round pick in one season.
Candidate 3: B.J. Goodson: Linebacker: 108 tackles, 14 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 PBUs, 3 QB hits, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble. Like Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, B.J. Goodson was totally ready for his season in the spotlight as the general of the Clemson defense. Goodson was a tackling machine and had his hand in some of the biggest stops of the season for the Tigers. I really thought we would miss Stephone Anthony pretty badly, but Goodson made it seem like Anthony was still in orange much of the season with his consistent production. You could argue that losing Goodson would have hurt the defense more than any other player. Thankfully the Tigers never had to deal with that situation. Click here for some Goodson highlights courtesy ACCDN.
Candidate 4: Ben Boulware: Linebacker: 82 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 PBUs, 10 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles. Boulware probably symbolizes this team more than any other player. He isn't always perfect and it isn't always pretty, but he is full tilt all the time and causes serious havoc. Ben did have a couple of bad games but much of that was due to his having to play with one functional arm due to a shoulder injury. The fact he was out there banged up as much as he was testifies to how important Brent Venables felt Boulware was to the defense. Ben was in on two of the crucial plays of the season against Notre Dame on the 2 point conversion and against Florida State on the fourth down attempt. Unlike the others on this list, Ben will be back next year for an encore in orange.
Candidate 5: Mackensie Alexander: Defensive Back: 23 tackles, 2 TFLs, 5 PBUs. Mack's numbers don't come close to the others on this list. The lack of stats is probably the biggest testament to Alexander's impact on the defense as anything else. He was absolutely crucial in the Notre Dame game taking away Will Fuller. Teams usually just avoided Mack completely. There was a reason San Francisco and Dallas paid top dollar to get Deion Sanders to fuel Superbowl runs back in the 90s: If you take away one side of the field or the other team's top WR, your defense can become a championship unit. Many comments about the Championship game point to Alexander's injury as perhaps the biggest factor in the loss.