The Iowa defense entered the season with a glaring void from the departure of star defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa, who declared the NFL Draft. Because of that, prior to the season, I expected Iowa to be worse at pressuring the quarterback.

Well, I’m not too proud to admit I was completely wrong.

Iowa has remained a force defensively and rejuvenated its season in large part because of a player who has transformed into the best defender in the B1G.

Iowa (5-2) isn’t going to make the B1G title game, but junior defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon deserves a serious look at some lofty individual hardware.

Iowa announced that Nixon is a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy. The Chuck Bednarik Award goes to the nation’s top defensive player, while the Outland Trophy is designated for the nation’s best interior lineman.

Nixon is the only defensive lineman on the list for the Outland Trophy. Nixon is the anchor of an Iowa defense that ranks third in the B1G in scoring defense (17.3), total defense (326.4) and rush defense (115.0), as well as fourth in pass defense (211.4). Iowa’s 21-game streak of holding opponents to 25 points or fewer is the longest active span in the Power 5.

Nixon has amassed 41 tackles and leads the B1G with 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Nixon has also added a 71-yard pick-6 and a forced fumble.

Nixon’s size, strength, and athleticism makes him a nightmare for opposing offenses.

The clutch fourth-quarter pick-6 vs. Penn State is the perfect snapshot for those qualities in the 6-3, 305-pound Nixon. On the play, Iowa blitzed Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who threw in Nixon’s direction. The big DT immediately licked his chops. The nifty Nixon managed to cross up Clifford in the process. The dynamic play perfectly encapsulated Nixon’s instincts and agility.

Nixon has made a major leap coming off of a sophomore year in which he tallied 3 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.

Nixon showed enough promise last season to warrant some hope of improvement, but this uptick is gargantuan. Nixon is an absolute menace as an interior rusher. Nixon is explosive and has an uncanny sense for avoiding blocks. Nixon’s burst on the line of scrimmage is elite.

Nixon isn’t a one-trick defender and is versatile enough to excel in a variety of schemes.

Nixon isn’t just showing out on game day. Nixon does yeoman’s work during the week and constantly demonstrates the kind of leadership characteristics that coaches rave about and players feel inspired by.

Iowa has resoundingly answered the call by defensive line coach Kelvin Bell prior to the season about being a good teammate.

For as impressive as Nixon’s been, one of his best attributes is his humility. Nixon astutely realizes the requisite cohesion needed for the defense to continue to thrive.

“You can’t do everything on your own,” he said. “Coming off that Michigan State game, a lot of people were texting me, calling me and saying it was a great team win. I felt good because as much as I want to go out there and try to make every play on the field I can, I got to be able to do my assignment to let other people make plays as well. You got to share the wealth and share the love. I need my team to have my back and they do.”

Nixon’s ascent is one of the best individual stories in Iowa history. Nixon has gone from a serviceable role player to a bona fide superstar all in the matter of one year. Nixon is grateful to be able to make such an individual impact and his motivation comes from a specific source.

The 0-2 start lit a fire under Nixon to elevate his game to another level. As one of the leaders on the team, Nixon knew he had to step up vocally and with his actions. Five wins in a row later, Nixon is rightfully emboldened and has no intentions of letting up.

“I don’t like losing, I hate losing, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves,” Nixon said. “When you have that drive and that love for the game to never lose, you can’t be stopped.”

In the past two decades, just 7 defensive linemen have won the Outland Trophy. No Iowa player has ever captured the Chuck Bednarik Award. Both awards will be revealed on Jan. 7 during The Home Depot College Football Awards show on ESPN.

If Nixon can register one more sensational showing in the regular season finale vs. Wisconsin, he’ll solidify his resume as being as worthy as anyone in the nation.