College Football Awards show brings stars to Atlanta

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (4) is among the three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award as college football’s top quarterback. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (4) is among the three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award as college football’s top quarterback. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Twenty-four stars of college football’s 2016 season, including all five Heisman Trophy finalists, will share the spotlight at an Atlanta event Thursday night.

They’ll attend the 26th annual “College Football Awards” show, a two-hour made-for-TV event that will air live on ESPN from the College Football Hall of Fame starting at 7 p.m.

The show, which moved to the Hall of Fame last year after a long run at Disney World, apparently has found a new home: ESPN was pleased enough with the venue to sign a five-year contract to keep the show in Atlanta through 2020.

“The show should be here. It’s the mecca of college football, right?” said John Vassallo, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for the show.

Vassallo, who has worked on the show for 20 years, said the space at the Hall of Fame provided “a tremendous blank canvas” that served the telecast well in last season’s debut there.

“When I look back at the pictures even today … I’m sort of blown away at what our set and lighting guys did in that room,” Vassallo said. “I think it’s a testament to the space and to the cooperation we got from the Hall of Fame.”

For the downtown Atlanta attraction, the show provides invaluable exposure — a four-hour block of live nationally televised programming. In addition to the two-hour awards show on ESPN, a one-hour red-carpet ceremony will air on ESPNU beginning at 6 p.m. and a one-hour post-show on ESPN at 9 p.m., both also originating from the Hall of Fame.

The winners of nine major awards — including the Maxwell Award (player of the year), Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year) — will be presented during the show, which is sponsored by Atlanta-based Home Depot. The three finalists for each of the nine awards are scheduled to attend; three players are finalists for two different awards.

The Heisman Trophy won’t be awarded until Saturday in New York, but the Heisman finalists — Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers — will be at the Hall of Fame as finalists for other awards. Jackson, Watson and Mayfield are the finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback.

Three star running backs will be on hand as finalists for the Doak Walker Award: Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, who is the nation’s leading rusher this season; Florida State’s Dalvin Cook; and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, who is nearing the NCAA career rushing record.

Adding to the star power, the coaches of the four teams in the College Football Playoff also are scheduled to attend the show and hold a joint news conference beforehand: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Washington’s Chris Petersen, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

The only awards finalist at the Hall of Fame from an in-state college will be Georgia Southern’s Younghoe Koo, a candidate for the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top placekicker.

The event will be held on the Hall of Fame’s 45-yard indoor playing field, which doubles as an event space. It will be arranged to seat about 680 people, Vassallo said. Tickets aren’t available to the general public.

The show will be hosted by ESPN’s Chris Fowler, joined on site by the network’s Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Samantha Ponder and Tom Rinaldi.

Before last year’s move to Atlanta, the show was held at the Atlantic Dance Hall on Disney World’s BoardWalk.

TV SCHEDULE

All will be televised Thursday from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta:

• College Football Awards Red Carpet Special, 6-7 p.m. on ESPNU

• The Home Depot College Football Awards, 7-9 p.m. on ESPN

• Championship Drive: CFB Playoff Preview, 9-10 p.m. on ESPN

AWARDS FINALISTS

Finalists for the nine awards that will be presented during The Home Depot College Football Awards show (all finalists are scheduled to be in attendance at the College Football Hall of Fame):

Maxwell Award (player of the year): Lamar Jackson, Louisville; Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan.

Outland Trophy (most outstanding interior lineman): Pat Elflein, Ohio State; Cody O'Connell, Washington State; Cam Robinson, Alabama.

Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year): Jonathan Allen, Alabama; Myles Garrett, Texas A&M; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan.

Doak Walker Award (best running back): Dalvin Cook, Florida State; D'Onta Foreman, Texas; Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State.

Biletnikoff Award (outstanding receiver): Austin Carr, Northwestern; Zay Jones, East Carolina; Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma.

Davey O'Brien Award (best quarterback): Lamar Jackson, Louisville; Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; Deshaun Watson, Clemson.

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back): Adoree' Jackson, USC; Jourdan Lewis, Michigan; Tre'Davious White, LSU.

Lou Groza Award (top placekicker): Daniel Carlson, Auburn; Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State; Younghoe Koo, Georgia Southern.

Ray Guy Award (punter of the year): Michael Dickson, Texas; Cameron Johnston, Ohio State; Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah.

Note: Also recognized during the awards show will be The Home Depot coach of the year (Colorado's Mike MacIntyre), the Contributions to College Football Award winner (Steve Spurrier), the Walter Camp All-America team and others. Several other award winners will be recognized during the red-carpet ceremony.

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