Cincinnati Bearcats football: Preseason honors

New University of Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Tressel can coach. There's no doubt about that. His bloodline and resume speak for themselves.

But having great players makes any coach's job easier, and Tressel has great players.

Tressel, who UC head coach Luke Fickell recruited in January to replace Marcus Freeman after Freeman left the Bearcats to take over the defense at Notre Dame, inherited a cabinet full of talent. Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, arguably the nation's top cornerback, and Myjai Sanders, an elite pass rusher, are on the cabinet's top shelf.

More:New UC defensive coordinator Mike Tressel 'fired up' to be back 'home' with Bearcats

Gardner and Sanders were both named to the preseason watch list for the Bednarik Award, the Maxwell Football Club announced Monday.

The Chuck Bednarik Award has been presented to the College Defensive Player of the Year since 1995.

UC is one of 11 schools to place two candidates on the watch list. 

Sanders, a senior, is one of two returning 2020 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award, joining Notre Dame junior safety Kyle Hamilton.

Cincinnati Bearcats defensive end Myjai Sanders (21) pumps up the team and the fans in the third quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The Georgia Bulldogs won, 24-21.

Sanders led Cincinnati with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 7.0 sacks last season en route to earning first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors.

Gardner, a junior, was a first-team All-AAC selection last season after ranking second in the conference with nine passes defended and hauling in three interceptions, which tied for fourth most in the American.

Gardner garnered five different All-America honors last season, including first-team honors from the Football Writers Association of America and USA Today, along with second-team accolades from the American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press and the Athletic.

More:Cincinnati CB Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner is back for more after an explosive freshman season

According to Pro Football Focus (, Gardner allowed the third-lowest passer rating in the FBS in coverage in 2020, making more plays on the ball than first downs allowed.

Army Black Knights wide receiver Reikan Donaldson (83) is unable to complete a catch through the ground as Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Ahmad Gardner (12) defends in the first quarter during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

Sanders and Gardner helped lead the UC defense to top-15 finishes in five different categories last season, including tied for third in both interceptions (16) and team passing efficiency (101.26). The Bearcats have forced a turnover in 20 straight games, the longest active streak in the FBS.

Desmond Ridder on Davey O'Brien Award, Maxwell Award preseason watch lists

Fifth-year senior quarterback Desmond Ridder is back for one more season after being named the 2020 AAC Offensive Player of the Year.

Ridder has earned a spot on the preseason watch list for both the 2021 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and the Maxwell Award.

Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) throws on the run in the second quarter of the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. The Bearcats led 14-10 at halftime.

The Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award is presented annually to the nation's best college quarterback, while the Maxwell Award has been presented to the College Player of the Year since 1937.

Ridder, who was a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award a season ago, enters his senior season as the No. 2 passer in school history, throwing for 6,905 career yards, 57 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

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