November 20, 2012 11:04:39 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks was named Monday one of three finalists for the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award.
Banks joins former Bulldogs defensive back Fred Smoot (2000) as the only players in school history to be named a finalist for the award, which is given annually to the top defensive back in college football.
"Johnthan Banks is the best defender in pass coverage in the SEC," Auburn wide receiver Emory Blake said. "He's just so long and fast. That's not what you want to go up against."
Banks, who was named a midseason All-American by six media outlets, is tied for third in the Southeastern Conference with four interceptions and tied for fifth in the league in passes defended.
"The past few weeks guys have been going away from him," MSU senior defensive back Corey Broomfield said last week. "We are trying to give a chance to get the ball in his hands."
The former East Webster High School standout ranks in the top 10 in Football Bowl Subdivision among active players in career interception return yards (first, 320), career interceptions (tied for third, 16), interceptions returned for touchdowns (tied for sixth, three), and career pass breakups (eighth, 25).
"I do whatever," Banks said last week. "No matter what coach wants meet to do, I'm willing to do it. Whether it's playing linebacker, nickel, corner, or whatever. I just want to be involved."
According to most NFL draft projections, Banks is considered a mid-to-late first round draft pick in the 2013 draft.
University of Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and Fresno State University cornerback Phillip Thomas are the other finalists. Thomas leads the nation with eight interceptions, and Milliner, a projected first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, has broken up 14 passes. ESPNU will highlight the players during its The Home Depot College Football Awards Nomination Special at 5 p.m. today.
ESPN will reveal the Jim Thorpe Award winner during The Home Depot College Football Awards at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney's BoardWalk at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
"(Banks) came back this year with the mind-set of 'I want to be a great player and I want to lead this team and leave my mark on the program and do great things for the program,' " MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "That's where he's really stepped up and he backs it up with his performance at practice. He backs it up with how he carries himself and his work ethic in the weight room in training. He backs it up with his performance on game day."
Mullen continues with Egg Bowl trash talk
In his weekly media teleconference, Mullen addressed the perception he was being more respectful to the University of Mississippi, which he refers to as "the school up north." The Bulldogs' fourth-year head coach responded with his classic chastising of Ole Miss.
"Not on purpose," Mullen said. "I don't have any more respect for them now than I did last year and the year before or the year before that. Maybe they haven't just changed their mascots or given me the layup to poke fun at them like years past."
Mullen can become the first MSU coach since Allyn McKeen from 1939-42 to win four straight games against Ole Miss when the teams meet at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) in the annual Egg Bowl matchup. When asked if he had any advice for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in his first rivalry game, Mullen went back to practice week leading up to the 2009 upset of the Bulldogs in Starkville.
"I hope they have as bad a week of practice as we did in 2009," Mullen said. "I left the practice on Thursday going to Thanksgiving thinking we were going to lose by 50. I guess it showed how that worked out, too. I think he understands it. One of the things coming in here, whether he understood it interviewing for the job, when they named him the head coach I'm sure a lot of people made him understand the importance."
In the summer, Freeze presented a mixed line of thinking toward the Egg Bowl.
"I don't see that as necessarily a priority today," Freeze said July 19 in Hoover, Ala. "I'm sure there will come a time when that happens again. I give credit to coach Mullen's staff and his kids for being able to capture the momentum. Our kids understand the importance of that game, I assure you."
Russell named SEC Offensive Player of Week
After becoming the first MSU quarterback in five years to throw four touchdowns in a SEC game on Saturday against the University of Arkansas, Tyler Russell was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week, the league announced Monday.
With his second weekly honor this season (week two vs. Auburn University), Russell is the fourth player in school history to earn the honor twice in a season.
Russell led MSU (8-3, 4-3 SEC) to a 45-14 victory against Arkansas, finishing 19 of 32 for 274 yards and a career-high tying four touchdowns. The 45 points were the most MSU has scored against Arkansas, while the 31-point victory was MSU's largest margin of victory in the series.
One of five quarterbacks in the country with more than 20 touchdowns
and less than five interceptions, Russell extended his single-season school record for passing touchdowns (21). He also broke the single-season school records for completions (201), yards (2,523), and 200-yard passing games (seven). The Meridian native also moved into second all-time at MSU for touchdowns responsible for in a season (23) and total offense for a season (2,553), and moved into third all-time with 333 pass attempts in a season.