Minter leads LSU’s awards candidates

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU linebacker Kevin Minter (46) crunches Arkansas wide receiver Javontee Herndon as LSU safety Ronald Martin watches in the first half Friday, Nov. 23, 2012.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU linebacker Kevin Minter (46) crunches Arkansas wide receiver Javontee Herndon as LSU safety Ronald Martin watches in the first half Friday, Nov. 23, 2012.

The college football award season has begun, and LSU junior safety Eric Reid was named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America first team Wednesday.

Reid figured to be a strong awards candidate before the season, but when the all-Southeastern Conference teams are released next week, the Tigers’ representation could be much different from what it was on the preseason teams.

Three of the Tigers’ seven first-team picks are no longer on the team, and one of their three second-team picks missed most of the season because of injury. In addition, some of the most-decorated players coming into the season didn’t match their statistics of a year ago, and another player — linebacker Kevin Minter — greatly exceeded expectations.

Minter, a junior who became a full-time starter for the first time this season, leads the team and is tied for third in the SEC with 111 total tackles. His team-leading 13.5 tackles for loss rank fourth in the conference.

A junior who also has three sacks, one interception, five pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and one forced fumble, Minter is one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. That will be handed out next week as well.

“There’s a guy that had plenty of natural ability, came on, worked up through the program, continued to improve and really became a confident, confident player really through the last two years,” coach Les Miles said. “I think he is very worthy of any national award or any other award consideration.”

Minter has strong competition for the Butkus Award. Half of his competitors are playing in the SEC Championship game Saturday — Jarvis Jones of Georgia and C.J. Mosley of Alabama. The other two finalists are Manti Te’o of No. 1 Notre Dame and Dion Jordan of Oregon.

A few of Minter’s teammates have the advantage of preseason expectations. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo could add a postseason selection to their first-team preseason nods, but their statistics aren’t as impressive as they were last season.

Montgomery, a first-team all-SEC pick a year ago, has 32 tackles, including 12 for loss (tied for eighth-most in the SEC) and seven sacks. Adjusting those numbers to account for LSU (10-2) playing 14 games a year ago, he still falls short of his numbers from 2011 (49 tackles, 13.5 for loss and nine sacks).

Mingo, a second-team all-SEC pick by The Associated Press last season, has 33 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, four sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. Last season, he had 46 tackles, including 15 for loss, eight sacks and 11 hurries.

Reid, another first-team preseason selection, exceeded last season’s stats. He has 81 total tackles — five more than he had in 14 games last season. He matched his two interceptions from last season and doubled his breakups from three to six.

Linebacker Lamin Barrow, like Minter a full-time starter for the first time this season, is second on the team and tied for seventh in the conference with 92 total tackles.

Punter Brad Wing, a second-team all-league pick by the coaches as a freshman last season and a preseason first-team pick this year, hasn’t been as consistent this season but has had a standout season nonetheless. He’s fourth in the league with a net average of 44.8 yards.

Other Tigers who weren’t recognized in the preseason but who are among the conference leaders include running back Michael Ford, who’s third in kickoff return average (25.4 yards), and cornerback Tharold Simon, who’s tied for third with four interceptions.

Kicker Drew Alleman was a preseason second-team selection, but his statistics don’t measure up to last season, when he was 16-of-18 on field gaols. This season, he has made 20-of-28 but finished strong, making seven of his past eight, including a career-long 49-yarder in the regular-season finale against Arkansas.

Sophomore wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., like Alleman, is a preseason second-team pick who finished strong. Beckham returned a punt 89 yards for a game-turning touchdown against Ole Miss two weeks ago and had 112 yards on four catches in the finale.

Offensive tackle Chris Faulk was a second-team selection, but he was lost for the season with a knee injury in the second game. Running back Spencer Ware, a third-team preseason selection, is fourth on the team with 358 yards and a 3.9 average. He’s fifth with 15 receptions and has one touchdown rushing and another receiving.

Tyrann Mathieu was selected as a first-team cornerback and return specialist shortly before he was kicked off the team Aug. 10. Tackle Alex Hurst also was a first-team pick, but he left the team at midseason for personal reasons.

Recruits reconsider

Two recruits have withdrawn their commitments to LSU: WR Chuck Baker (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) of Salmen High School in Slidell and FB Kennard Swanson (6-0, 250) of Lake Gibson High in Lakeland, Fla. The Tigers have 22 commitments for 2013.