USC football stars Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith and Marvell Tell were named on the Bednarik Award Watch List for 2018 on Monday as some of the nation’s best defenders.
Expectations are high for the USC football defense in 2018 and the beginning of “watch list season” has only reinforced those expectations.
On Monday, three Trojan defenders were named as preseason candidates for the Chuck Bendarik Award, which is given to the Defensive Player of the Year: outside linebacker Porter Gustin, inside linebacker Cameron Smith and safety Marvell Tell.
That matches Alabama, Clemson and Michigan in a tie for the most Bednarik watch listers going into 2018.
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Gustin was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2016, his last full season on the field for the Trojans, leading the team with 13 tackles for loss. Expected to make a potential All-American leap as a junior, his rise was put on hold because of injury. He played just four times in 2017 and opted to return for another shot at reaching his potential as a senior.
Smith earned semifinalist recognition for the Butkus Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy last year. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and a third-team All-American pick by Phil Steele and CollegeSportMadness.com. He’s led USC in tackles each of the last two years and was a knee injury away from doing the same as a freshman in 2015.
Another All-Pac-12 first team player, Tell came alive as a junior starter after two previous seasons of promising contributions. At safety he made plays all over the field, coming third on the team in tackles will adding 2.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions, returning two of those for touchdowns.
USC has one Bednarik Award winner already on the books. Rey Maualuga took home the award in 2008. But the Trojans have not had a finalist before or after. One of Gustin, Smith or Tell could certainly change that.
They’ll have to beat out some familiar faces first. USC will face a number of other Bednarik watch listers including Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney and defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, Stanford cornerback Alijah Holder and linebacker Bobby Okereke, Texas linebackers Breckyn Hager and Gary Johnson, Utah cornerback Julian Blackmon and defensive end Bradlee Anae and Washington State safety Jalen Thompson.