NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State
Dec 30, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; A Michigan Wolverines football helmet sits on the field prior to the game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Michigan Wolverines at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year when preseason watch lists for notable college football awards are being announced. These are all players that one should be looking at little bit closer at their respective positions throughout the season.

The Chuck Bednarik Award has been given to college football’s top defensive player since 1995. And among the 80+ players listed in this year’s watch list are a pair of Michigan Wolverines up front – defensive linemen Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst.

Gary, the No. 1 overall recruit from the Class of 2016, played in 12 games last season for head coach Jim Harbaugh. Gary racked 23 total tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss, adding half a sack to his stat sheet.

Hurst meanwhile enters the 2017 season as the most experienced personnel member on the Michigan defense, after the Wolverines saw eight players from last year’s team get drafted in this year’s NFL Draft. Hurst last season logged 33 tackles, including 11.5 for a loss, which was a career-best for him. He sacked opposing quarterbacks five times, also a personal-high for Hurst.

Over his first three seasons, Hurst has totaled 71 tackles (19 for loss) and eight sacks.

The Wolverines will be relying heavily on Hurst and Gary to create pressure up front and lead the way in developing what will largely be an entirely new defense for Michigan in 2017. But they are hopeful that another loaded freshman class featuring highly-touted players on defense can speed up that development process some.

Last year’s recipient for the Bednarik Award was former Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen, who turned into a first-round selection for the Washington Redskins. Should Gary or Hurst win the award, they’d join Charles Woodson as the only Michigan players to earn the honor.

The Michigan tandem make up two of 14 players from the Big Ten appearing on this year’s watch list for the Bednarik Award. Ohio State leads the way with four players listed.