Blalock, who has not given up a sack in his last 26 games, becomes the third Longhorn finalist for the award since it began naming three finalists in 1987. He follows OT Leonard Davis in 2000 and OG Dan Neil in 1996. Texas has had three winners, including DT Brad Shearer in 1977, G Tommy Nobis in 1965 and T Scott Appleton in 1963. Offensive lineman Joe Thomas of Wisconsin and C Dan Mozes of West Virginia join Blalock as finalists. Blalock has made an NCAA-leading 49 consecutive starts which ties the Longhorn record. He will eclipse Dan Neil's mark with an anticipated start Friday against Texas A&M. Already named a 2006 Lombardi Award finalist, Blalock was named a preseason first-team All-American by Lindy's, Playboy and The Sporting News.
"Justin has been unbelievable," said Texas head coach Mack Brown. "From the first day he stepped into the lineup until now, 49 games later, he's been a guy you can count on to play at an unbelievably high level on every snap. He has everything you want in a lineman:- strength, quickness, power, explosiveness and he's as technically sound as anyone I've ever coached. He's also a great leader who is really tough and competitive. You won't find anybody in our program that doesn't have the greatest respect for Justin Blalock. I'm happy that the folks at the Outland Trophy recognized how well he's playing and how important he is to our team."
Aaron Ross joins Leon Hall of Michigan and Reggie Nelson of Florida awesome of three finalists for the Thorpe. Ross has 71 tackles, 18 PBU, 23 passes defended and 10 takeaways (five INTs, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries) in 2006 are tops among the group. He also has three TFL, one sack and has scored two TDs. Ross has been involved in nine takeaways in the past eight games, and Texas has scored 38 points off of those (five TDs/one FG), including a fumble that he returned for a TD.
It is the second consecutive year a Longhorn has been named a finalist. Former safety and current Oakland Raider Michael Huff was tabbed a finalist last year and went on to become UT's first winner of the award. Ross is the third Texas defender to be named a finalist along with Huff and Quentin Jammer (2001).
"I'm kind of speechless," Ross said. "It's a great honor to be a Thorpe Award finalist. When you look at the guys like Charles Woodson and our old teammate Michael Huff that have won it and all the great DBs around the country that are up for it, it's humbling to be picked a finalist. I can't take all of the credit, though. I'm blessed enough to have great coaches and teammates that have helped put me in this position, and now it's my job to continue to play well enough to try to win it for everyone in the Longhorn program."
This season against Oklahoma, Ross played a key role in halting any hopes of an Oklahoma fourth-quarter comeback attempt in UT's 28-10 victory. His three takeaways (two interceptions/one fumble recovery) in the fourth quarter were the most ever in a quarter by a UT player. His forced fumble with little more than two minutes remaining at Nebraska set up Texas' game-winning FG in the closing seconds.
Ross is also one of the top punt returners in the nation, having returned 71 career punts (No. 6 on UT's all-time list) for three TDs (T-No. 1 on UT's all-time list) and 875 yards (No. 5 on UT's all-time list) for a 12.3 ypr average (No. 4 on UT's all-time list). Through 11 games in 2006, Ross has returned 18 punts for 222 yards for a 12.3 ypr average (17th NCAA).
"Aaron has had a tremendous year thus far and continues to be one of the leaders of our team," said Brown. "With all of the injuries we've had on defense, we've leaned heavily on him and he's really stepped up and unselfishly done whatever we've asked of him and with great success. He's not only making game-changing plays, but he's also been one of the most consistent players for us all year. He's definitely deserving of strong consideration for the Thorpe Award. I can't imagine there's another DB in the country that is doing as much for their team as Aaron Ross."
Blalock and Ross will attend the nationally televised ESPN College Football Awards Show on December 7. The winner will be announced during the live presentation while recipients will receive their trophies at formal banquets in early 2007.