The Outland Trophy has been handed out every year dating back to 1946 when Notre Dame’s George Connor picked up the hardware given to the nation’s top interior lineman on either side of the line of scrimmage.
If the 2020 season is played, there is a good chance Oregon’s Penei Sewell — the reigning Outland Trophy winner — will join Nebraska’s Dave Rimington (1981-82) as the only player to win the award twice.
Sewell headlines the 85-player preseason Outland Trophy watch list released Tuesday by the Football Writers Association of America.
The 6-foot-6, 330-pound junior became the third unanimous first-team all-American in Oregon history last season, joining LaMichael James (2010) and Marcus Mariota (2014).
Sewell, who finished his sophomore season as the top-graded offensive lineman in Pro Football Focus’ six-year history of evaluating all players, is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
"Long after I’m retired, I’ll be telling my kids I played with that guy," former Oregon left guard Shane Lemieux, who was drafted by the New York Giants, said of Sewell last season. "The best player in the country is who the (Heisman) is given out to, and this year he was the best player in the country, in my opinion."
Sewell’s teammate, Jordon Scott, is also a candidate for the Outland Trophy. The senior defensive tackle has started 37 of the last 38 games over the last three seasons for the Ducks.
Scott will enter his senior season with 95 career tackles (11 for losses, three sacks) in 40 games.
"Once I found out my brothers were coming back, I felt it would be the right thing to go one more time," Scott said in January after announcing he was returning to Oregon instead of entering the NFL draft. "The biggest goals for me, on and off the field, are to take my life more seriously in terms of football. I’m going to look into some master’s classes."
Scott, junior defensive back Jevon Holland and sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux are on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the national defensive player of the year.
Oregon State offensive tackle Brandon Kipper is also on the Outland Trophy watch list and the Beavers are represented on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list by linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr.
Two Heisman Trophy voters included Sewell on their ballot last year. Even though the hardware’s namesake, John Heisman, played center, tackle and end at Brown (1887-1888) and Penn (1889-1891), an offensive lineman has never won the award.
Before the Ducks caped a 12-2 season with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, Sewell was asked about possibly being in the 2020 Heisman discussion.
"Right now, I’m not even thinking about that," Sewell said. "But shoot, if that happens, crazy."
Justin Herbert’s replacement at quarterback can take comfort in the fact that Sewell — the only returning starter on the offensive line — has allowed just one sack over 1,376 snaps the past two seasons.
Sewell is also dominant in the run game, which was evident as the Ducks rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns against Utah’s top-ranked run defense in the Pac-12 championship game.
"Even people that are novice football fans watch and are like, ‘Man, who is 58?’" Oregon offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said of Sewell’s star power. "It’s because he plays to the echo of the whistle, he plays with a tremendous amount of passion, and then he just has a sixth sense where he sees things that you can’t coach."
The other Pac-12 players on the Outland Trophy watch list are California offensive tackle Jake Curhan, Stanford center Drew Dalman and offensive tackle Walker Little, USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele and offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, Washington defensive tackle Levin Onwuzurike and Washington State offensive tackle Abraham Lucas.
The other Pac-12 players on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list are Colorado linebacker Nate Landman, Stanford defensive back Paulson Adebo, USC defensive ends Talanoa Hufanga and Drake Jackson, Washington defensive back Elijah Molden, linebacker Joe Tryon and Onwuzurike and Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods.
Oregon players on other preseason watch lists are Holland (Thorpe Award, Bednarik Award), Thibodeaux (Bednarik Award), senior cornerback Thomas Graham (Thorpe Award), junior linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia (Butkus Award), senior tight end Hunter Kampmoyer (Mackey Award), senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson (Biletnikoff Award) and junior running back CJ Verdell (Doak Walker Award).
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.