University at Buffalo senior Khalil Mack has broken through the “mid-major” barrier in being named one of 12 finalists for the collegiate Butkus Award presented annually by the Butkus Foundation to the top linebacker in the country.
Mack is the only player from a non-BCS conference to make the list and would be the first player outside the elite conferences to win the award, which dates to 1985. He recorded his 25th career sack Saturday, setting the UB career mark. On a national scale, he’s tied for first among linebackers with three interceptions and, among all positions, ranks tied for 14th in sacks (11.0) and tied for 16th in tackles for loss (11.0).
The other Butkus finalists are:
Anthony Barr, UCLA; Lamin Barrow, LSU; Chris Borland, Wisconsin; Khairi Fortt, California, C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Denzel Perryman, Miami; Trevor Reilly, Utah; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Shayne Skov, Stanford; Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut; and Kyle Van Noy, BYU.
Mack is bidding to become the fourth linebacker to win the Butkus having played for Lou Tepper, UB’s defensive coordinator. Alfred Williams won at Colorado in 1990 and Tepper was head coach at Illinois for Dana Howard (1994) and Kevin Hardy (1995).
The Butkus winner is selected by a 51-person panel comprised of scouts, coaches and journalists.
Being named a Butkus semifinalist made it a MegaMonday for Mack. He also was named the Mid-American Conference East Defensive Player of the Week after Saturday’s 41-21 win at Kent State in which he had 10 tackles, a sack and an interception.
What’s more, his close friend and longtime workout partner, running back Branden Oliver, was named the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week after springing for 185 yards and a career-high four touchdowns against the Golden Flashes.
UB has received eight player-of-the-week honors this season and at least one in each of the last five weeks. Mack (Week One) and Oliver (Week Six) join Bulls linebacker/safety Adam Redden as two-time recipients. Defensive end Colby Way and kicker Patrick Clarke also have been cited.
Other Week Nine POWs:
East: Special Teams – Ohio U. kicker Josiah Yazdani is 6-for-6 on the season after making field goals of 24 and 33 yards in Saturday’s 41-16 win over Miami.
West: Offense – Ball State receiver Jordan Williams caught 12 balls for 124 yards and a touchdown as the Cardinals beat Akron, 42-24. Defense – Toledo linebacker Junior Sylvestre produced 12 tackles and three sacks in the Rockets’ stirring, 28-25 win over Bowling Green. Special Teams – Western Michigan kicker Andrew Haldeman made a 36-yard field goal and ran his PAT streak to 42 in a 31-30 victory at Massachusetts.
Calm before storm
UB is one of six MAC teams with at least nine days off as the conference shifts some games to Tuesdays and Wednesdays to garner ESPN exposure. UB will play the first of three straight Tuesday games when it hosts Ohio U. at 8 p.m. a week from today. Bowling Green plays at Miami that same night, while Ball State faces Central Michigan on that Wednesday.
“We backtrack it off of the game-day schedule,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said of UB’s prep for Ohio. “We got a couple days in here before we really hit game week so we’re going to take a tremendous amount of time to get focused in on our academics. … We’re not going to start practicing until the middle of this week as a Monday. Wednesday and Thursday we’ll really start the beginning of game week.”
UB’s six-game winning streak is the longest since the 8-1 1959 team ended the season with six straight wins. UB had a seven-game winning streak spanning the 1958-59 seasons and nine-game winning streaks spanning the 1946-47 seasons, the 1896-97-98 seasons and the 1898-99 seasons.
This is rare territory. As Quinn said on Monday’s MAC coaches teleconference, “We’re not where we want to be or where we need to be but we certainly are not where we used to be.”
Bowling Green rallied from a 21-0 deficit to a 25-21 lead against Toledo on Saturday only to surrender the winning touchdown on an 11-yard, fourth-down pass with 1:22 remaining. BG’s loss left UB as the MAC East’s lone unbeaten.
“We’re going to need to move past this one,” said BG head coach Dave Clawson, the Youngstown native, former Lew-Port quarterback and former UB assistant. Notable
Quinn had no update on the condition of Adam Redden, who left the Kent State game with an apparent right knee injury. Redden (St. Francis) entered the game as UB’s leading tackler. … UB QB Joe Licata has thrown a TD pass in all eight games. … Ball State QB Keith Wenning threw five TD passes for the second time in his career in the victory over Akron and became the 11th quarterback in conference history to surpass 10,000 career passing yards. … UB’s national statistical rankings after Week Nine: No. 2 in turnover margin and turnovers lost, No. 4 in fumbles lost, No. 7 in turnovers gained, No. 8 in interceptions, No. 12 in sacks, No. 13 in sacks allowed and No. 14 in fumble recoveries. … The MAC already has four bowl-eligible teams in UB, Northern Illinois, Ball State and Ohio, with Bowling Green and Toledo on the cusp.