Each year, the Maxwell Award is awarded to the best player in college football. Won recently by players like A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Andrew Luck of Stanford, there is a high amount of prestige that goes along with being dubbed the best player in the country.
In a stretch from 1999 to 2002, three Big 10 players took home the award, but the conference has been in a drought ever since. The 2014 watch list consists of 10 players from the Big 10, including Northwestern Wildcats running back Venric Mark, who has an opportunity to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2013 season and make a run at the Maxwell Award.
Mark was part of Northwestern’s embarrassing 2013 season, but it wasn’t because of a lack of performance, as went the story for the rest of the team. Mark played through only three games last season with an ankle injury before hanging up the cleats for the final six games of the season.
But if you take a look back at his 2012 season, you can clearly see where the real potential lies. His 1,366 yards on 226 carries let the country know that Northwestern had a big-time playmaker in its backfield, and shame on anyone who may have forgotten since.
Mark is a dark horse candidate because he isn’t even the best running back in the Big 10 right now. That honor either belongs to Wisconsin‘s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska‘s Ameer Abdullah. However, Mark has the perfect opportunity in front of him to explode through this 2014 season with some mind-boggling numbers.
Northwestern will have one of the best run blocking units in the country with 99 combined career starts on the offensive line, including three seniors who proved in 2013 what they’re capable of doing in the run game. That is going to help Mark tremendously as he attempts to bounce back for a healthy 2014 campaign.
And while everyone wants to see quarterback Trevor Siemian make something of himself in the Northwestern offense, quarterback protection has been a big problem for the Wildcats in recent years. Mark will often be the best option for Northwestern.
Even at full health and full capacity, though, Mark will likely be limited to working on the ground. It would be nice to see him become more of a threat out of the backfield in the passing game, but that hasn’t really been the case during his time at Northwestern. It isn’t a make-or-break sort of deal, but it would potentially be able to set him apart from other top competitors if he reaches that status this season.
There are quite a few “ifs” right now concerning Mark and what he’ll look like this season, but if he is able to bounce back completely and build off a spectacular 2012 performance, this guy is going to be in the discussion for many awards come the end of the season, including the Maxwell Award.