The award committee released 36 players for the watch list, one that included four Big 12 defensive backs, but again, no Carrington Byndom. Granted, award watch lists are totally arbitrary, and I would venture to guess that it isn't rare for a finalist to come from outside of the players named. David Amerson of NC State became a finalist just last year without making the preseason list.
But Byndom isn't Amerson, a sophomore in 2011 who started nine games the year before, and who showed up as a finalist after picking off a whopping 13 passes. He's not somebody who is essentially coming out of nowhere, as Amerson did.
Yet Amerson's lightning-quick emergence reveals the problem with making these sorts of lists: it takes interceptions, or a colorful anecdote from an opponent, for somebody to get there. Look at the two Big 12 cornerbacks who did make it. Nigel Malone led the Big 12 with seven passes intercepted. Brodrick Brown was tied for second with five. Byndom — who was rarely tested the second half of the season — had two.
The anecdotes were slow to come as well. Shoot, early on, teams legitimately tried to test Byndom as if he were the weak link in the Texas secondary. Oklahoma threw at him multiple times in the end zone when he was on Kenny Stills. Oklahoma State threw at him a whopping 10 times trying to get the ball to Justin Blackmon.
That two-week stretch served to define Byndom as the best cover cornerback in the Big 12. While Byndom was only credited with one pass broken up against Oklahoma, he actually had a hand in two other incomplete end zone passes. Stills caught four passes for 37 yards against Byndom, but the bulk of that — a 19-yard touchdown — came on a busted coverage, not a man-to-man effort. Other than that one pass, Byndom held Stills largely quiet, to three catches for 18 yards.
For his efforts, Byndom was named the Texas Defensive Player of the Week. But his work on Stills was just foreshadowing for his masterpiece. After a bye week, Byndom took on Blackmon, the country's top receiver and Biletnikoff winner. And out of the 10 times that quarterback Brandon Weeden threw the ball to Blackmon while Byndom was on him, Blackmon caught just four passes for 48 yards. Byndom wound up with four passes broken up, and his second-straight Defensive Player of the Week honor.
And though both receivers caught passes on other Texas players to up their statistics in those games, it's worth noting that both Stills (51 yards) and Blackmon (74) wound up significantly below their season-long averages (77.2 for Stills, 117.1 for Blackmon).
After two games of rigorous testing against two of the league's top receivers, people just decided to stop trying. Byndom had 10 passes defended in the first six games, then just seven in the final seven. And even that was somewhat inflated … he had four in one game against Texas A&M, holding up well and returning an interception for a touchdown.
Yet for whatever reason, while other coaches admitted that he was a strong player, the praise never really gushed forth. In a way, it was fitting. Cornerback is a notoriously cocky position — and rightfully so, in that no position in football is as terrifying — but Byndom made his plays with a quiet confidence, never gesticulating and never drawing attention to himself. He was a silent assassin for receivers across the league.
Therein lies the issue with cornerback play: there isn't a great statistic to gauge a player's talent. Interceptions, the most-parroted figure to prove a player's dominance, don't occur when a cornerback has lock-down coverage and isn't tested. And even more advanced metrics like targets and receptions allowed don't take into account the overall coverage. For instance, maybe a cornerback has outside leverage, and pushes the receiver into the middle — as the defense calls for him to do — where he catches a slant pass because a linebacker didn't make his drop quickly enough.
Maybe there isn't a numerical figure to assign to Byndom, nothing to drum up excitement. But the Thorpe Award picked a number this week, listing 36 of the top defensive backs in the country as contenders to watch as the nation's top players. And it's hard to believe that there are 36 defensive backs better than Byndom. In the Big 12, there might not be any.