Eno Benjamin, the record-setting junior running back on the Arizona State football team, will likely find his name added to multiple watch lists for various national honors as we move closer to the start of the 2019 season.
But the big one has already arrived.
Benjamin’s name is among dozens of others from teams across the country that have been included on the Maxwell Award watch list. Since 1937, the Maxwell Award has been given annually to the player considered to be America’s College Player of the Year.
The competition for the prestigious award is plentiful at this point in the preseason and includes last year’s winner, Tua Tagovailoa, a strong-armed quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide who is also a junior this season. The Hawaii native finished runner-up in the 2018 Heisman voting.
There are 12 players from the Pac-12 included on the Maxwell watch list.
But the field of legitimate contenders will be gradually narrowed as the season progresses, with the semifinalists announced on Oct. 29 and the three finalists unveiled Nov. 25.
The early accolades for Benjamin come as no surprise. Despite the fact that he’s only a junior, he’s not going to sneak up on anybody. Last season he was a finalist for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, given to the nation’s top offensive player, and a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award that honors college football’s top running back.
His glitzy stats also shone a bright spotlight on the multi-talented youngster. His 1,642 rushing yards (a single-season school record) topped all running backs in the Pac-12 last season. And he was consistently good, posting nine games of 100 or more yards and averaging 5.5 yards a carry.
Those total rushing yards enabled him to finish the 2018 season ranked fifth nationally in that category and also fifth in yards per game (126.3).
And this season, he will have some help piling up the yardage. It will be a veteran offensive line opening up holes for the 5’10”, 200-pound Texas native. Graduation cost the Devils’ O line a couple of full-time starters from last year’s line-up, left tackle Zach Robertson and guard Alex Losoya, but there are five players returning who either started or got plenty of playing time – all of whom are well-seasoned seniors.
It will be a little more difficult this season for defenses to be able to devote too much attention to Benjamin, since ASU will be able to spread the field with receivers that bear watching. While N’Keal Harry, the Devils’ top receiver last season (1,o88 yards and nine TDs) who departed for the NFL, won’t be available, there is still a core of pass catchers in the line-up that saw considerable time last year. That defense averaged 232 yards through the air per game.
The top three receivers, following Harry, are returning – and all are experienced upperclassmen: seniors Kyle Williams and Brandon Aiyuk and junior Frank Darby. Each contributed between 400-500 yards of offense for a team that finished in second place in the Pac-12 South.
One other thing that could help Benjamin’s bid for the Maxwell will be a better opportunity this year to show his versatility. The offensive game plan this season includes increasing the use of Benjamin as a receiver out of the backfield.
If Benjamin, a preseason All-American, stays healthy, he could help carry the Sun Devils to much greater success this season.
And, at the same time, earn him a spot on that short list of finalists for the Maxwell.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)