The 90-player Chuck Bednarik Award watch list was announced yesterday morning by the Maxwell Football Club and included Aztecs safety Tariq Thompson and defensive lineman Cameron Thomas. There were three other Mountain West players selected, them being Nevada’s defensive end Dom Peterson, Boise State’s cornerback Jalen Walker, and Fresno State’s linebacker Justin Rice.
The dynamic duo aided SDSU in finishing the season with a 10-3 record, their fourth campaign with double-digit wins over the past five years. Much of their success was brought on by their defense, as their offense was only able to muster 22.5 points per game, ranked 100th among 130 schools. Out of all FBS defenses in 2019, the Aztecs finished second in points per game allowed at just 12.7.
Thompson recorded the fewest tackles (55 total) in a single season in his career thus far but still proved to be an elite playmaker in the secondary. He snatched 4 interceptions, 12 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and even grabbed 1 QB sack. His play garnered him second-team all-Mountain West honors for the third year in a row.
Tariq has been one of the most consistent aspects of the Aztecs defense since landing in San Diego, California, starting in all 39 games since 2017. From stout run-defense to elite coverage ability, Thompson has everything it takes to remain one of the best defenders in the country. He is returning for his senior campaign and is currently tied for second among active FBS defenders with 11 interceptions and looks to have his best season yet in 2020.
Upfront, Thomas burst onto the scene, racking up 49 total tackles, 9 for loss, 5.5 sacks, and 2 pass deflections. It was his first time seeing significant playing time as he redshirted his true freshman season in 2018. You would not have known it was his first time on a D1 field as he dominated Mountain West offensive linemen.
Cameron notched various postseason accolades upon the conclusion of the 2019 season, becoming the only freshman on the all-Mountain West first-team, as well as being named to the all-American second-team by The Athletic. He is only a 6’5” and 260-pound redshirt sophomore with room to add muscle to his frame.
The Aztecs’ star defensive lineman flashed his stellar move set as a pass rusher and was tremendous at plugging holes in the run game. He has a bit of an issue with tackling but if he can work on that aspect of his game this offseason, there is no reason why he and Thompson can’t be the most dangerous defensive pairing in the Mountain West and even the Group of Five. The sky’s the limit for Thomas and he should improve tremendously in his second year on the gridiron for San Diego State.
Since its inception in 1995, no Mountain West defender has ever received the Bednarik Award. In fact, only one Group of Five player has and that individual was Temple’s linebacker Tyler Matakevich back in 2015. Last year’s winner was defensive end Chase Young of Ohio State.
Semifinalists for the award will be announced November 3rd with the three finalists being unveiled on the 23rd. The victor of the 2020 Bednarik Award will be honored on December 10th as part of the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show. The odds of either Aztec hoisting the trophy are very slim but both players have the raw talent and skill set to have earned being added to the preseason watchlist. Tariq Thompson and Cameron Thomas put the Mountain West on notice last season, it’s now time to kick the door in.