Each year, the Jim Thorpe Award is given to the nation’s top defensive back. Except in 2012, it wasn’t.
No disrespect to Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, who was named the winner, but Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas was clearly the best defensive back in America this season.
Thomas dominated this season like no Bulldog defensive back in recent memory by leading the NCAA in interceptions and tying Stanford’s Ed Reynolds in interceptions returned for touchdowns.
He finished the season with 82 total tackles, including 12 for losses; four sacks; 12 passes defended; eight interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns; and four forced fumbles.
Those statistics are All-America caliber stats, for which Thomas has been named to four different All-America teams including the prestigious Walter Camp and American Football Coaches Association All-America teams.
Banks, who was also named to numerous All-America teams, didn’t have nearly the numbers that Thomas had.
Banks finished the season with 59 total tackles, including two for losses; no sacks; 11 passes defended; four interceptions, none of which were returned for a touchdown; and one forced fumble.
Fine statistics for sure, but not fine enough to justify winning the award over somebody as dominant as Thomas was this season.
Thomas’ level of production and play was Ed Reed-esque, while Banks may not even be the best corner in his conference. Some may say that distinction would go to Alabama’s Dee Milliner.
Thomas, on the other hand, not only was clearly the best at his position, the Mountain West Conference awarded him the 2012 conference Defensive Player of the Year award, recognizing him as the conference’s most devastating player on defense.
While it is true that Banks plays in the Southeastern Conference, the toughest conference in college football and that is possibly why his statistics aren’t as impressive as Thomas’, it is also true that Thomas did exactly what you’d expect him to do in a weaker conference. He dominated week in and week out even having one of his better games against Oregon, which possesses perhaps the nation’s best offense.
The fact that Thomas plays in a non-major conference may ultimately be what doomed him. A player outside the major conferences has not won the Jim Thorpe Award since the Western Athletic Conference did so in 1995 with Colorado State’s Greg Myers.
An award should not be handicapped by what conference a player plays in. A dominant player is a dominant player, regardless of what conference he plays in. This should be evident to those who hand out awards, especially given the success that non-major conference teams such as Boise State have had in BCS bowl games against some of the nation’s biggest names.
Thomas was an absolutely dominant player for the Bulldogs this year. He played like the best defensive back in America and deserved to be recognized as such.
According to The Jim Thorpe Association, winners of the Jim Thorpe Award are those who display tremendous athletic ability, dominance on the football field and outstanding character. Phillip Thomas exemplifies all of those qualities. It’s disappointing that the best defensive back didn’t win the award.