The 49-player Jim Thorpe Award watch list was announced early on Monday and included Aztecs safety Tariq Thompson and cornerback Darren Hall. There were two other Mountain West players selected, them being Boise State’s cornerback duo of Jalen Walker and Kekaula Kaniho.
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.
His defensive back counterpart, Hall has been a starter over the past seasons for the Aztecs. He has been stellar at wrapping up, missing just over a hand full of tackles in both years combined. He also proven to be extremely disciplined, even in an era where most rules are in favor of the offense, having been called for a measly 2 penalties since 2018.
Although he was solid in his redshirt sophomore season, he really grew into his role in 2019 and became one of the best a lockdown corners in the Mountain West. Darren recorded 49 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, an interception and a country-high-tying 16 pass breakups. Like Thompson, Hall has the talent and experience to piece together his most fruitful season yet.
Since the award was first handed out in 1986, only one Mountain West defender has ever received the Jim Thorpe, the one being Colorado State safety Greg Myers all the way in 1995. Not only was he the first and last MW defender to hoist the trophy, but he was the first and last Group of Five athlete to do so. Last year’s winner was LSU’s star safety Grant Delpit who is now a Cleveland Brown.
Semifinalists for the award will be announced November 2nd with the three finalists being unveiled sometime later in the month. The victor of the 2020 Jim Thorpe 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 slim simply based on the amount of times a Group of Five player has won. Despite this, both SDSU defenders have the skill and raw physical ability to put their names further in the conversation.