In a frustrating year, one player stood out as Louisville football’s most valuable player.
A 4-7 year does not come with many bright spots. But not every player could have been as bad as the record shows for Louisville football… right?
The sky felt like it was falling on the team for the better part of three months, but, no, not every player was bad in 2020.
An MVP award in any sport is typically won by the player with the best stats. That is not how we are going to pick Louisville’s MVP. I am simply going to go off of who I thought was the overall best player on the team regardless of any stats.
Normally offensive linemen would not have any chance of ever winning an MVP. But, in this one, there is at least one candidate worthy of being in the running. The winner of the award is going to go to a position that almost never gets MVP love.
When a team finishes as bad as Louisville did, you can almost guarantee that the quarterback is not the team’s MVP on the season. That makes the award even more fun to give out because it is not a clear-cut winner.
In the spirit of full transparency, Javian Hawkins likely would have won this award had he not opted out of the season in the middle of November. He would have easily eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark and had a very good chance at double digit touchdowns. That is certainly MVP-caliber kind of stuff.
With all of that being said, let’s talk about a few candidates that were considered for the award.
OC Cole Bentley
Hear me out… Cole Bentley was Louisville’s best offensive linemen this season and he really does have a case for being the best overall player on the offensive side of the ball in 2020.
You did not hear the 6’3″ 314-pound senior get his name called very often over the course of broadcasts. When that happens, it means he is probably doing a darn good job up front.
Bentley would finish his primary block and move up to the second level to pancake a linebacker. He was just so good all year and he legitimately deserves first-team All ACC considerations for his performance this season.
He did not play in the team’s final game due to Covid reasons and when freshman Austin Collins came in to take his place, the difference was very noticeable. For the first time all year, the broadcast and fans found themselves talking about the center position more than they had all season prior. That just shows how consistently good Bentley was on a week-to-week basis.
WR Dez Fitzpatrick
He had his best year as a Cardinal in 2020 and he is a widely known fan favorite for this team. The best game he had in his career came against Boston College in the team’s second to last game. It was his finest moment as he went for 8 catches, 182 yards, and a touchdown in the performance.
Fitzpatrick became the team’s featured pass catcher over the course of the year as Tutu Atwell battled injury in the second half of the season.
He finished the 2020 season with 833 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns. Who he was as a leader for the team was very important and, despite a tough year, he always seemed to be an encouraging presence for the locker room when they needed a spark of leadership.
It was an underwhelming year for the offense in a season where the team just could not take care of the football. Fitzpatrick was a glimmering light amongst an offensive unit in complete peril throughout 2020.
LB Monty Montgomery
I debated whether to put Montgomery on this list of candidates. He would have been the clear-cut leader in the clubhouse through the first half of the season. However, a missed game due to Covid reasons in the middle of the year seemed to knock his play down half of a notch when he returned.
The first half of the season, he was a man possessed. Montgomery looked like the makings of a national star against Notre Dame when he racked up 13 tackles and two sacks. He was everywhere against a team now going to the College Football Playoff. Montgomery was a large reason the team had a chance to pull off the monster upset.
Montgomery still had continued production but it was not nearly the insane impact he had through the first half of the season. He also started to make some noticeable mistakes in the last few games before he topped off his junior season with an interception against Wake Forest.
On the year, Montgomery had 49 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and an interception. He does not need to generate a lot of tackles to understand that he is one of the best players on the team.
CB Kei’Trel Clark
Clark was one of Louisville’s most consistent players all year long. He came in from Liberty as a true sophomore transfer and was nothing short of spectacular in his first year with the Cardinals.
It can be hard to notice a true shutdown corner and appreciate them for what they are. But hopefully fans paid attention to just how good Clark was. He was one of the best corners in the country in 2020 with the kind of elite level of play that was on par with Jaire Alexander in his time with the Cardinals.
Comparing Clark’s level of play to Alexander is high praise. But it is deserved. Clark and Alexander have different styles of play at the position, but it is easy to tell an elite corner from any other. Clark is an elite corner.
Need more proof? Check out this chart on ACC defensive backs, courtesy of ESPN’s David Hale.
According to the chart, Clark gave up zero catches over 20 yards this season which is absolute insanity for someone that played as many snaps as he did. He also gave up the lowest yards per target and had the second highest forced incompletion percentage.
His unbelievable season is put in to context by his chart. He truly is one of the best corners in the entire country and he is back in 2021.
2020 Louisville football MVP: Kei’Trel Clark
It was just too difficult to pick anybody else except for Clark. He has a fantastic chance to be a first-team All-ACC selection in a conference full of talented corners. Better yet, Clark was just a true sophomore in 2020 and I believe he would have been taken very high in the 2021 NFL Draft had he been allowed to declare.
I would expect him to return in 2021 and be his same dominant self. He understands the nuances of the position and breaks very well on the football with good athleticism and length. He dropped a handful of interceptions this year or else he would have had a very good chance to be a Jim Thorpe Award finalist.
In 2022, the NFL will be waiting for him. Clark very well could be Louisville’s next first round pick when the time comes.