USC Football: Three Trojans make 2017 Butkus Award watch list

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

Watch list continues with the unveiling of the Butkus Award watch list, highlighting the nation’s top linebackers. Three USC linebackers made the cut.

Having produced historic USC linebackers like Richard Wood, Junior Seau and Rey Maualuga, and the iconic Club 55, the Trojans are in the Linebacker U discussion.

In 2017, they’ll try and add a Butkus Award at Heritage Hall with three players making the award’s annual watch list: Cameron Smith, Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu.

As a unit in 2016, the Trojans’ linebacker corps amassed a 4.3 percent havoc rate, which ranked 56th nationally. But their biggest impact came with their contributions to stopping the run, where USC ranked 16th in S&P+ and allowed five-plus yards on only 33 percent of carries.

Only a year removed from an ACL tear in his knee, Cameron Smith led USC in tackles last season, and was stalwart at middle linebacker. Wise beyond his age, he’ll be tasked with taking on a bigger role in 2017 following the departure of vocal leader Michael Hutchings.

SEE MORE: Tracking USC Players on 2017 Watch Lists

Porter Gustin registered a team-high 13 tackles for loss in 2016, including 5.5 sacks as the Trojans’ hybrid edge rusher. He’ll be the heart of Clancy Pendergast’s pass rush, and should only continue to improve as he becomes more and more of an athletic freak.

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On the opposite end of the defensive line, Uchenna Nwosu looks to have a big senior season as a hybrid strongside linebacker. He replaced Su’a Cravens admirably in his first year as a starter, recording 7.5 tackles for loss and an impressive five pass deflections.

Despite a long history of producing some of the nation’s best linebackers, only USC’s Chris Claiborne has won Butkus Award. He did it in 1998, following an incredible year in which had 120 tackles, 16 pass deflections and six interceptions.

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Matt Grootegoed, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing were finalists for the award in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Maualuga finished second by Wake Forest’s Aaron Curry but took home the 2008 Bednarik Award instead, given to the nation’s top defensive player.