Best of the best
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
The official Heisman Trophy and other college football awards have already been given out and bowl season is in full swing, but that doesn't stop me from giving out my own personal awards for the best of the best in college football in the 2006 season.
Call them the Schuvies, if you'd like.
Player of the Year: Brady Quinn, Notre Dame – Let me explain my thought process on this one. First and foremost, this discussion begins and ends with Quinn and Ohio State's Troy Smith. Both are seasoned field generals and seniors who led their teams to successful seasons and both were rewarded for those efforts – Quinn won the Maxwell Trophy while Smith took the Heisman. Personally, I feel that Quinn's performance was slightly more notable this year, for several reasons. First and foremost, Smith was aided by a dominating Buckeye defense that took some pressure off the Ohio State quarterback and the rest of the Buckeyes' offense. Contrast this to Quinn and Notre Dame, which had a defense that allowed 22.4 points per game compared to Ohio State's 10.4 – nearly a two touchdown difference. It's much easier to play sound in the quarterback position when all you have to do is score 11 or more points to win a ball game.
Second, let's look at the offensive lines. Quinn was sacked 30 times during the regular season, while Smith was sacked just 13 times. While Notre Dame's senior quarterback was forced to run for his life throughout the year, Smith was able to stand in the pocket with plenty of time to deliver the throw.
Thirdly, Smith was aided by a rushing game that averaged 4.7 yards per play while the Notre Dame rushing attack averaged just 3.6 yards per play. That number may be skewed slightly by Quinn's sack yardage, but the fact still remains that Smith had a considerable advantage because defenses couldn't cheat against the pass for fear that Antonio Pittman or Chris Wells would snap off a long run. Compare this to Notre Dame's opponents who could blitz and load up the box without fear of being burned by the Irish's sluggish ground game.
The blight on Quinn's resume is a poor performance against Michigan – a game where he threw three interceptions (one off a pass that should have been caught but led to a Michigan TD) and his team lost 47-21. Yet even in his worst performance of the year, he still managed to throw three touchdowns and pass for over 200 yards. Smith had a few stinkers during the season as well, most notably at Illinois (108 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) and Penn State (115 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT). What were Quinn's numbers against that same Penn State team? 287 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT. Quinn also proved his ability in the clutch, helping Notre Dame to comebacks over Georgia Tech, Michigan State and UCLA. In the end, I feel that overall Quinn did more and with a lot less help from his teammates and that is why he is my player of the year.
Runner-up: Troy Smith, Ohio State
Coach of the Year: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma – Yes, Rutgers and Wake Forest had great years and their coaches were a big part of that. But my vote goes to Stoops, whose team met every challenge and adversity it faced during the regular season. The Sooners lost their starting quarterback to scandal before the season began, and had to convert a wide receiver to the position. Then Oklahoma lost its sophomore phenom running back Adrian Peterson for seven games. Then the Sooners were jobbed on the road by a Pac-10 official who blew a call on an onside kick that eventually gave Oregon a 1-point win. The result of all this regular season nonsense? 11 wins, a BCS bowl, and a Big XII championship. Nicely done, Coach.
Runner-up: Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Game of the Year: Rutgers 28, Louisville 25 – The Michigan-Ohio State game was close in score only. The Buckeyes dominated that game from start to finish and proved they were the best team on the field. I'll take this old-fashioned underdog story any day of the week. Down by 18, the Scarlet Knights pulled off a comeback that showed Cinderella exists in football as well as basketball. The best part of the game was Rutgers' kicker Jeremy Ito missed the first potential game-winning field goal but got a second chance because a Louisville player jumped offside. Maybe Rutgers' guardian angel pushed him.
Runner-up: UCLA 13, USC 9
Surprise of the Year: Wake Forest – Rutgers had a good year, no doubt, but I'll admit I wasn't terribly surprised by it. Coach Greg Schiano had already been building a strong program in New Jersey well before this season. I was, however, surprised by Wake Forest. This was a program with six bowls in its history. Not BCS bowls…just bowls of any kind. Its head coach was 26-32 in his first five seasons at the school. The Demon Deacons had gone 4-7 two seasons in a row. And then, out of nowhere, here comes an 11-2 year, a trip to the BCS championship series, and an ACC conference championship. Wake Forest was 11th in the preseason media ACC poll, which just goes to show, there are no experts.
Disappointment of the Year: Iowa – On paper, this should have been a good team. Led by a senior quarterback in Drew Tate and a highly-regarded coach in Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes expected to finish no less than fourth in the Big Ten. But something went terribly wrong in Iowa City this year, particularly head-scratching losses to Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes played a close game against an 11-1 Wisconsin team, but that doesn't change the fact this team finished 6-6 and lost five of its last six games and now faces a tough matchup against Texas in its bowl game. Yuck.
Runner-up: Miami (Fla.)
Off-the-field story of the Year: Clemson's McElrathbey brothers – Ray Ray McElrathbey is a 19-year-old redshirt freshman defensive back on Clemson's team, and he has a special relationship with his 12-year-old brother Fahmarr. He is Fahmarr's guardian. The McElrathbey brothers came from an unstable home in Atlanta where neither parent was a suitable guardian, and Ray Ray asked for temporary custody of his younger brother, supporting him at his off-campus apartment. The NCAA, in a rare instance of actually doing the sensible and right thing, granted Clemson a waiver that allowed the setting up of a trust fund to help Ray Ray and Fahmarr. The Clemson coaching staff has also helped out by helping transport and baby-sit Fahmarr while big brother Ray Ray is busy with football. What an amazing story.
Runner-up: Wake Forest linebacker Jon Abbate wearing his brother's No. 5 to honor him following his death in a car accident