USC football has three players on Nagurski Trophy watch list for 2020

USC football defensive end Drake Jackson. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC football defensive end Drake Jackson. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

USC football’s Drake Jackson, Talanoa Hufanga and Jay Tufele were named to the Nagurski Trophy watch list for 2020.

The annual search for the best defensive player in college football officially began on Tuesday with the release of the 2020 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Three Trojans made the cut this year, including freshman end Drake Jackson, junior safety Talanoa Hufanga and redshirt junior tackle Jay Tufele.

The trio was named along with 95 other players from 65 different programs.

USC football has defensive standouts to lean on in 2020.

USC’s defense was largely a disappointment in 2019, but that was despite the efforts of Jackson, Hufanga and Tufele. Those three were among the defenders who could come out of last season with their heads held high.

Jackson started 11 games and led the Trojans with 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He also batted down three passes, forced a fumble and recorded a safety. As a result, he was named a Freshman All-American first teamer by 247Sports.

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That first year was just a taste of what Jackson appears capable of. His sophomore season in Todd Orlando’s defense could put him on a national level in terms of recognition.

USC got exceptional play out of Hufanga as well. Despite missing three full games because of injury, the safety finished second among Trojans with 90 tackles. He added 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three deflections and two forced fumbles.

Hufanga enters his junior season with hopes of taking the next step towards All-American acclaim. If he stays healthy, he has the talent to manage it.

Tufele similarly brings serious ability to the table. Already receiving potential first-round draft buzz for next year, the redshirt junior is coming off an All-Pac-12 first-team season in 2019. He was named USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year for the second time with 41 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a deflection.

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Watch lists may not mean much, but the presence of three gifted Trojans on the Nagurski watch list shows what kind of potential USC’s defense has going forward. The hard part is taking advantage of it on a team level.

From an individual perspective, the next Trojan who wins the Nagurski Award will be the first since its inception in 1993.

Familiar faces who are in contention for the award from the Pac-12 and elsewhere include Stanford DB Paulson Adebo, Oregon DB Jevon Holland, DT Jordon Scott and DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Colorado LB Nate Landman, Washington DB Elijah Molden, DT Levi Onwuzurike and LB Joe Tryon, Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and LB Drew White, Oregon State LB Hamilcr Rashed Jr and Washington State LB Jahad Woods.

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