College football: Finalists named for Oklahoma City-based Jim Thorpe Award

JIM THORPE AWARD — Fresno State's Phillip Thomas, Alabama's Dee Milliner and Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks named finalists for Thorpe Award.
BY ANTHONY SLATER, Staff Writer, aslater@opubco.com Published: November 19, 2012
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photo - Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson (25) breaks a tackle from Fresno State's Phillip Thomas (16) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison) ORG XMIT: NVCA104
Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson (25) breaks a tackle from Fresno State's Phillip Thomas (16) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison) ORG XMIT: NVCA104

In a historical sense, when looking back at past Jim Thorpe Award winners, Phillip Thomas doesn't fit.

It's not because of his name. All three finalists for the nation's best defensive back (Thomas, Dee Milliner and Johnthan Banks), which were announced by the Oklahoma City association on Monday, are first-timers.

And it's certainly not because of his stats. Thomas leads the nation with eight interceptions, two more than the next highest, and has returned three of those for touchdowns.

But rather, it's because of the school Thomas plays for.

The other two finalists play for SEC stalwarts, Banks for Mississippi State and Milliner for Alabama, locking up opposing wideouts as key forces for imposing defenses.

But Thomas plays for Fresno State, an 8-3 team in the lesser-known Mountain West Conference. Most of his games are played late at night on channels you've never heard about.

And that's what makes his inclusion in the final three of this prestigious award all the more impressive.

His stats and overwhelming production, which has put him on the NFL radar, forced his name into the conversation.

Last season, when Thomas was out with a broken leg, Fresno State went 4-9 and was tied for last in the nation with only nine turnovers. This year, with Thomas starring, the Bulldogs have forced 30 turnovers (nine from Thomas alone), planting them atop the Mountain West standings.

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