Only the Army-Navy game remains in college football’s regular season, so it’s time for bowl predictions, season recaps and award ceremonies. Here’s a look at the superlatives in a super year of college football:
Coach of the Year
Brady Hoke, Michigan. Semi-finalists: Les Miles, Bill Snyder
Hoke resurrected Michigan football and beat Ohio State in his first year. Took the Wolverines from 7-6 to 10-2 and earned a Sugar Bowl berth
Oregon honorable mention: Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to their third straight conference title despite a roster that featured just 10 seniors, and despite losing All-American Cliff Harris to disciplinary issues. Oregon went 11-2, remarkable when you consider standout starters Michael Clay, John Boyett, Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff all missed games with injuries. In years past, the loss of any ONE of those players would have wrecked a season, but Kelly has built depth on his roster and created a culture of no excuses.
Offensive Player of the Year
Montee Ball, Wisconsin. Semi-finalists: Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck
Ball boatraced college football with 38 tds, 1759 yards rushing, an utterly phenomenal season in spearheading one of the most powerful, dangerous offenses in the country. If he’d played for a team in the South, he would be the runway Heisman winner, an award most prognosticators say will go to Griffin, Baylor’s prolific quarterback.
Oregon honorable mention: LaMichael James, who set a record as the only player in conference history to rush for 1500 yards or more in three straight seasons, darting for 1646 yards and 17 touchdowns, while leading the nation with 149.6 yards a game.
Defensive Player of the Year
Tyrran Mathieu–a runaway choice, absolutely no other candidates.
The Honey Badger lived up to the cool nickname week after week with big plays, turnovers and key returns. He shook off a mid-year suspension to become a factor in the Heisman race, one of only a handful of defensive players ever to earn an invitation to New York.
Oregon honorable mention: Michael Clay, junior linebacker, 8.9 tackles per game; John Boyett, who led the Ducks in tackles for the second time in three years, posting 91 total stops, and defensive end Dion Jordan, 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Punter Jackson Rice, one of the national leaders in net punting and a Ray Guy award semi-finalist, 45.8-yard average, 16 punts inside the 20 with just two touchbacks all season.
Coordinator of the Year
John Chavis, LSU.
Chavis took a rebuilding defense, which lost a star at each level (defensive line, linebacker and secondary) including Jim Thorpe Award winner Patrick Peterson, and molded it into the heart of the #1 team in the country, the nation’s only undefeated team.
Semi-finalists: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin, Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Helfrich called the plays for an offense that scored more than 600 points and averaged over 500 yards a game for the second year in a row.
Game of the Year
Wisconsin versus Michigan State I, which came down to a Hail Mary at the end of the game. Semi-finalists: USC at Stanford, Baylor-TCU
Oregon honorable mention: trailing USC 38-14 late in the third quarter, the Ducks mounted a furious comeback, recovering a fumble with just over two minutes to go in the game and driving to the USC 18, missing a field goal on the last play to lose 38-35.
Freshman of the Year
De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon, 16 touchdowns, 1921 all-purpose yards, and an offensive td once every six touches. Semi-finalists: Marqise Lee, USC, Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Oregon honorable mention: Terrance Mitchell, cornerback who improved steadily when given the difficult assignment of replacing All-American Cliff Harris at corner in a conference full of elite receivers and quarterbacks. Hroniss Grasu, who started every game at center as a redshirt freshman, replacing departed senior and three-year starter Jordan Holmes.
Comeback Player of the Year
Case Keenum, Houston. Semi-finalists: James Rodgers, Oregon State, Sam Montgomery, LSU.
Out for the season last year after a knee injury suffered against UCLA in the season’s third game, Keenum passed for over 5099 yards, completing 71.7% of his passes for 45 tds and just 5 interceptions, while leading the Cougars to a 12-1 record.
Oregon honorable mention: Kiko Alonso, who returned from a season-long suspension in 2010 to record 41 tackles, a sack and an interception. Kenjon Barner, knocked out of several games last season with a severe concussion against Washington State, bounced back this season with 909 yards rushing.
Most Improved Player of the Year
Trent Richardson (sophomore year 700 yards, 6 tds, this season, 1583 yards, 20 tds). Odd to call a great player “improved.” but Richardson more than doubled his yards, and more than tripled his tds, taking over as the feature back from the departed Mark Ingram.
Oregon honorable mention: Eddie Pleasant, safety. Maligned in some quarters for his cover skills in 2010, Pleasant made first-team all-conference as a senior, leading the Ducks with three interceptions. He also had 60 tackles and 8 pass breakups.