amateur sports 2011 ncaa awards

by Prez Ro, Matteson, IL

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Now that the problematic reality of a playoff-less postseason once again has outflanked the fractured logic of the BCS, we’re left with an upcoming final weekend of games that is about as vital to the outcome of the season as spring practice. Way to go, BCS. You’ve found yet another creative way to dissatisfy the nation.

Nonetheless, it’s time for our end-of-the-season awards... some are national... some are conference-by-conference... but one thing is for sure, all  are priceless!


National awards
Player of the Year: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor.
Tough, tough call among as many as eight strong candidates: RGIII, Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Matt Barkley, Case Keenum, Montee Ball, Kellen Moore and Tyrann Mathieu. So why does Griffin win out? Three reasons:

Production: He’s second in the nation in pass efficiency, barely behind Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. He’s second in the nation in total offense at 390 yards per game, barely behind Houston’s Keenum. He’s second in the nation in yards per play at 8.7, also barely behind Keenum. And that’s after missing a lot of what would have been a stat-friendly rout of Texas Tech on Saturday with a concussion.

Dramatics: Griffin captivated the nation Sept. 2 by shredding TCU early, then leading the winning drive late. He bookended that with another daring drive to beat Oklahoma on a touchdown pass with eight seconds left Nov. 19. Heisman voters tend to look for memorable performances, and both of those certainly qualify.

Transformative powers: Last season, Griffin led Baylor to its first bowl appearance since 1994. This season, he has led Baylor to its highest win total since 1991 – with two games left to play. If the Bears win one of them (against Texas on Saturday or their bowl game), they’ll have 16 victories in two seasons – the most since 1985-86. In other words, Griffin has helped take Baylor to heights it has not seen in a long time.

Coach of the Year: Les Miles, LSU.
Simply put, there is no denying the quality of work the occasionally wacky “Hat Man” has done this season. He spent most of August putting out fires and plugging holes – offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe had to relinquish play-calling duties because of Parkinson’s, starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended after being arrested on assault charges and starting wide receiver Russell Shepard was suspended by the NCAA. The Tigers overcame it all with shocking ease, rolling through a rigorous September (three ranked opponents, all away from home), cruising through October, then winning the Game of the Year at Alabama (and all the rest of their games) in November. Damn strong coaching job.

Freshman of the Year: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson.
The physically and mentally mature Watkins is fourth nationally in all-purpose yardage, racking up 175 yards per game receiving, running and returning kicks. He became so important to Clemson’s offense so quickly that when he was hurt at the end of the season, the Tigers bogged down. Watkins missed the game against North Carolina State, and Clemson scored just 13 points in an upset loss. He was not 100 percent against South Carolina on Saturday, and Clemson again scored 13 in another loss.

Defensive Player of the Year: CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU.
At 5'9" and 180 pounds, he's a combination of all of the best defensive players currently in the NFL... for example, he’s a pocket Polamalu. He’s Ed Reed with a little less speed, yet he’s one of the most impactful defensive backs college football ever has seen. “The Honey Badger” is tied for second among all active players in forced fumbles, with 11 and he’s a sophomore who has played only 24 games. He’s scored three touchdowns this season and ranks seventh nationally in punt returns. He leads a star-studded defense in tackles. He takes what he wants, and he’s taken LSU to the verge of the BCS championship game.

Game of the Year: Michigan-Notre Dame.
There probably were better-played games this season, but none more entertaining and dramatic. The first night game in Michigan Stadium history ended with three touchdowns and three lead changes in the final 72 seconds, the last of which was the winner for the Wolverines with two seconds left. The Sept. 10 thriller would help define the arc of the season for both teams – Michigan on the way to 10 wins for the first time since 2006, Notre Dame on the way to an error-prone 8-4 disappointment.

Bust of the Year: Florida State.
The Seminoles were another 8-4 disappointment, but it was worse for them. They entered the season in the top five in the polls (which never should have happened) and got everyone worked up for a September showdown with Oklahoma. FSU dropped that one 23-13 to a Sooners team that would end up a disappointment in its own right, then dropped its next two, to Clemson and Wake Forest. Even after snapping out of that tailspin, the ‘Noles threw in a home loss late in the season to Virginia. They scored just six touchdowns in their final three games – only four of them by the offense.

Collapse of the Year: Illinois.
From 6-0 to 6-6. That’s how coaches get fired, right Ron Zook? The first-half record was inflated by five consecutive home games to start the season, but that doesn’t fully explain the atrocious offensive performance in the last six games. Illinois never scored more than 17 points in the second half of the season and averaged just 11 points per game in that losing streak.

Conference Awards

Theme: More of the same – and the same isn’t good enough. The Florida schools that were supposed to turn this into a football league stumbled through another bad season, with Florida State and Miami combining to go 14-10. Clemson turned into a pumpkin after an 8-0 start, with the only victory in its last four games coming on a last-second field goal. Virginia Tech was gifted with its easiest schedule in years but still found a game it could lose (at home to Clemson, by 20) to knock itself out of the national title hunt. At least the Hokies and Tigers should put a rare good crowd in the stands at the ACC title game.

Big 12
Theme: Transition game. Two schools left last year, reducing the league to 10 and eliminating a championship game. Then two more announced their departure during this season, sending the league into a panic. In the meantime, the state of Oklahoma has seen Little Brother (Oklahoma State) rise up for a chance to win an outright conference title for the first time since 1948 – but it will have to beat disappointing Big Brother on Saturday to do it.

Big East
Theme: Last one out, turn off the lights. The season has been overshadowed by the announced defections of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU (before it even got there) and West Virginia. Meanwhile, the Big East has spent the fall rummaging through the remainder bin trying to restock its membership. The good news is that all the off-field drama took attention away from another uninspiring season on the field.

Big Ten
Theme: Big additions, bigger subtractions. The Big Ten joined the modern world with 12 teams, two divisions and a championship game. But it lost a massive amount of prestige when coaching giants Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno were forced out of their jobs amid scandal and shame. The product on the field hasn’t been good enough to offset those terrible developments.

Conference USA
Theme: Houston, we have a contender. The one lost Cougars are still the best team out of C-USA since Louisville went 11-1 in 2004. In a league burdened by a vast and apathetic lower class, it’s good to have someone at the other end of the spectrum bringing in some positive attention.

Theme: Offense wins. The five teams with winning records in the league also happen to be the five teams at the top of the MAC in scoring. Toledo (42.3 points per game) is 8-4. Northern Illinois (39.6) is 9-3. Western Michigan (35.6) is 7-5. Ohio (31.9) is 9-3. Temple (30.1) is 8-4. So that stuff about defensive winning championships? It may apply in the SEC but not in the mighty MAC.

Mountain West
Theme: A lovely parting gift. On its way out of the league, TCU won it thanks to a missed Boise State field goal at the gun. That’s despite the league changing the game to Boise when it originally was scheduled to be in Fort Worth. That definitely cost the Broncos an undefeated season, and it might have cost them a shot at the BCS championship game.

Theme: Feast or famine. It was a great season for USC, Oregon and Stanford. It was a fire-your-coach season for UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and possibly Washington State. (Nothing, apparently, happens quickly on the Palouse.) The end result is a feast-or-famine championship game matching the Ducks against the Bruins, who announced Monday that they’re firing Rick Neuheisel. It’ll be a terrible game.

Theme: The West is the best. As in, best ever. There’s never been a division like the SEC West, with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas having outstanding seasons. Only once has an entire conference had this much power at the top (the Big Eight in 1971 had Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3). That’s why the SEC will have the BCS championship game market cornered. (Don’t ask about the SEC East, which has fallen and cannot get up.)

Sun Belt
Theme: New blood wins big. The top three teams in the league were Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette. Their combined league record: 20-3. The combined years of FBS head-coaching experience for those three schools coming into the season: one. Congratulations to those schools for making astute hires in Hugh Freeze (Arkansas State), Willie Taggart (WKU) and Mark Hudspeth (ULL). Change – intelligent change – is good.

Western Athletic
Theme: Post-Boise blues. With the Broncos gone to the Mountain West, there was little reason to pay attention to this league. That never changed all season.
  Congratulations everyone and for most of you, we'll see you in the post-season!  

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