Calijah Kancey and Israel Abanikanda were not ranked on ESPN’s Top 100 list back in August, but after All-American campaigns, both now comfortably sit inside the Top 40.
Kancey is the highest-ranked defensive tackle (checking in at No. 21) while Abanikanda is the sixth-ranked running back (slotting in at No. 37).
Jordan Addison, for reference, checked in at No. 9 on ESPN’s preseason list. He sits at No. 44 in the postseason edition.
Addison’s Heisman-winning quarterback Caleb Williams is the No. 1 player on the list, and he’s followed by Georgia’s Jalen Carter, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Texas’ Bijan Robinson to round out the Top 5.
College Football Top 💯 @ESPN
Neither made the preseason list…
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) January 13, 2023
Tenessee’s Jaylin Hyatt, TCU’s Max Duggan, Alabama’s Will Anderson, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Michigan’s Blake Corum rounded out the Top 10.
North Carolina’s Drake (18) is the ACC’s highest-ranked representative, followed closely by Kancey.
But let’s focus on our Pitt honorees.
Calijah Kancey — No. 21
Kancey became Pitt’s first unanimous All-American this season since Aaron Donald in 2013.
With 31 tackles (17 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this season, Kancey finished second in the ACC in tackles for loss and third in sacks as an interior defensive lineman — despite missing a game and a half.
In his Pitt career, through three seasons, Kancey recorded 91 tackles (52 solo), 34.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
“Calijah has been absolutely outstanding all season long and is highly deserving of this honor,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a release earlier this season. “As both a run stopper and rushing the passer, he has been tremendous. On behalf of our entire program, I want to congratulate Calijah on receiving this award. He has absolutely earned it.”
Kancey earned the ACC Defensive Player of the Year honor this season, was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski and Outland Trophies and College Football Network’s Defensive Tackle of the Year.
“I’ve heard some guys tell me second round, somebody told me three or four weeks ago he’s a poor man’s version of Aaron Donald,” PFN’s Tony Pauline said. “He has been very productive the past two seasons, and someone I spoke with earlier today said, after he released that thing that he wasn’t gonna play because of the injury, they said his draft stock is never gonna be any higher because he’s not gonna grow three inches taller and be able to put on 30 pounds, which is very true.”
The Donald-Kancey comparison is obvious, considering the alma mater. But it goes way beyond just wearing the same jersey. Donald was listed at 6-foot, 285 as a senior at Pitt. Kancey is listed at 6-foot, 280 this season.
Kancey is the first Pitt defender to win ACC DPoY since Donald in 2013, and he can become the first Pitt defender since Donald to win the Nagurski and Outland Trophies later this year. Kancey hasn’t been quite as productive as Donald during his Pitt career, but Pat Narduzzi has said that when it comes to defensive linemen during his time at Pitt, Kancey is the clear No. 1.
Israel Abanikanda — No. 37
It’s not unfair to say that Izzy carried Pitt’s offense this season.
Abanikanda finished fourth in all-purpose yards (1,805 yards) and second in all-purpose yards per game (164 yards) in college football this season, and he led the nation in total touchdowns (21).
He rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022, averaging six yards per attempt, and he added 146 receiving yards and 228 kickoff return yards. It was a campaign with few historical rivals.
In his Pitt career, Abanikanda rushed 390 times for 2,177 yards and 28 touchdowns, caught 38 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns and returned 19 kickoffs for 434 yards and a touchdown.
Abanikanda’s junior season ranks as the eighth-best single-season effort in Pitt history, and his 320 yards and six touchdowns against Virginia Tech broke and tied, respectively, single-game records.
His 28 career touchdowns also rank eighth in team history, while he’s just one of four Pitt players to rush for at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.
The next step for both Kancey and Abanikanda, after the NFL Combine in the spring, is the NFL Draft. Look out for both on Sundays in the fall.