Jackson, Watson among winners at College Football Awards show

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback. (Photo by Tyler Smith / Getty Images)

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback. (Photo by Tyler Smith / Getty Images)

The four head coaches in the College Football Playoff were together Thursday evening, gathered around the national championship trophy for an Atlanta news conference.

“I’m the rookie up here,” Washington coach Chris Petersen immediately observed. “So I’m just kind of eyes wide open, echoing what they say, what they do.”

Indeed, the other three coaches who were on stage at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta — Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer — are veterans of this playoff stuff.

Although college football’s four-team playoff is in only its third year, Saban’s team is in it for the third time, Swinney’s for the second time and Meyer’s for the second time.

“I’m going to talk to all three of them after this meeting right here and see if they’ll tell me anything,” Petersen said. Then, after rattling off a few generalities about how the Huskies plan to prepare, he added: “That’s our plan — unless these guys will give me something that they’re holding out on.”

Saban and Petersen will be back in Atlanta later this month as No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Washington meet in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, one of the playoff’s semifinal games. No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State will meet in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., the other semifinal.

The playoff teams’ coaches were in Atlanta on Thursday to attend the College Football Awards show at the Hall of Fame, a two-hour made-for-TV event that aired live on ESPN. Twenty-four stars of the 2016 season, including all five Heisman Trophy finalists, were on hand for the presentation of individual awards.

The Heisman Trophy won’t be awarded until Saturday in New York, but three of the Heisman finalists — Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook — collected other awards in Atlanta.

Jackson received the Maxwell Award as college player of the year, while Watson beat out Jackson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, another Heisman finalist, for the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback.

“It’s a great honor,” Watson, from Gainesville, said after winning the O’Brien award for the second consecutive year. “It was something special just sitting there and hoping my name would get called. It was a relief off my shoulders. Felt good to bring it back home.”

Jackson was similarly excited about winning the Maxwell.

“Winning this award means a lot,” Jackson said. “To be the first one to ever win it at the Univerity of Louisville, I’m shocked right now.”

The other Heisman finalist to collect an award Thursday, Westbrook, won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s outstanding receiver.

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen won the Chuck Bednarik Award as defensive player of the year, beating out Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers of Michigan and Myles Garrett of Texas A&M.

The most emotional moment of the night was the presentation of the Disney Spirit Award, recognizing the most inspirational player, to Pittsburgh running back and cancer survivor James Conner.

In other awards presented during the show, D’Onta Foreman of Texas won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s premier running back, Cam Robinson of Alabama won the Outland Trophy as the most outstanding interior lineman, Adoree’ Jackson of USC won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back, Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top placekicker, and Mitch Wishnowsky of Utah won the Ray Guy Award as punter of the year.

At the pre-show news conference, Washington’s Petersen probably gleaned few helpful hints from the veteran playoff coaches.

“I think each year we’ve learned a little bit more about how much do you need to practice, how much time do you have to give your players off, what do you do on the turnaround if you happen to win the first game and get a chance to play in the next one,” said Alabama’s Saban, coach of the only team to make the playoffs in each of its three seasons.

“Some of those things we managed well; some we’ve not managed so well,” Saban said. “I think every time we do it, we learn a little more. And hopefully we’ll do it a little better each time.”

Ohio State’s Meyer said he “was very skeptical to begin with” about the idea of a college-football playoff. But that changed when the Buckeyes reached — and won — the inaugural playoff in 2014.

“It was a great experience for all involved,” Meyer said.