Now that the regular season has come to a close, it is time for the hardware to be handed out. The burden of awarding the first annual 'Freedies' (a play on my last name) college football awards has been placed on me. There are many deserving players, but only a select few will be named winners. I did attempt to contact the winning participants. However, my phone calls were not returned. That is okay, as we are still in year one. By year five, the award show will be broadcast on ESPN. They, however, have not returned my calls either.
Linebacker Of The Year
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State - The linebacker of the year award is going to a sophomore? Stick with me on this one. Laurinaitis was the quarterback of the second best scoring defense in the country. He led the team in tackles and interceptions; only two linebackers in college football had more interceptions than Laurinaitis. He led an Ohio State defense that was supposed to have an off year with the loss of nine starters, but instead, you could say the defense improved. Laurinaitis was the reason why, making him the best linebacker in the nation. Look for him to have a huge game when Ohio State plays Florida in the BCS Title Game.
Defensive Back Of The Year
Reggie Nelson, Florida - The Gators' free safety ended the year with six interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. The junior is the leader of a talented defensive backfield that allowed only seven passing touchdowns prior to the SEC championship game. I could give this award to the defensive back with the most interceptions, but I cannot say that I witnessed all these interceptions. How do I know that half of the interceptions were not tipped at the line and were gifts for the defensive back? However, I have seen Reggie Nelson play all year. It is evident to me that he is the most dominant defensive back in college football. Ask Houston Nutt, Phillip Fulmer, and Bobby Bowden for clarification.
Defensive Lineman Of The Year
LaMarr Woodley, Michigan - Not only is the Michigan defensive end the lineman of the year, he is also my defensive player of the year. The senior forced and recovered four fumbles. He led the Big Ten in sacks (11), and he was second in tackles for loss (15). Woodley had 2 sacks in 5 different games this year. He was a dominating inside presence, leading Michigan to the number one run defense in college football, and he will make one NFL general manager very happy next year.
Wide Receiver Of The Year
Jarrett Dillard, Rice - Calling all cars, calling all cars. Calvin Johnson has been robbed. Who is Jarrett Dillard? He is the Rice wideout who led all receivers in touchdowns with twenty scores, and he was sixth in receiving yards and receptions per game. Dillard and his Rice teammates overcame the death of former Rice defensive back Dale Lloyd, and after starting 0-4, they won 7 of their last 8 games. He came up biggest when an automatic bowl bid was on the line, going for 145 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns for the Owls in a win over SMU. And I forgot to mention, the kid is only a sophomore!
Running Back Of The Year
Darren McFadden, Arkansas - Well, he is more of a quarterback/running back/wide receiver/kick returner, but we will classify the stunning sophomore under running back for now. McFadden averaged 119.85 yards rushing per game and led the SEC in rushing yards as well as touchdowns by a running back. He returned a kick for a touchdown against Mississippi State as well. The multi-talented player also threw for three touchdowns as the centerpiece of the 'Wildcat' offense. He is the most electrifying player in college football and should be at the top of everyone's Heisman list for 2007.
Offensive Lineman Of The Year
Justin Blalock, Texas - The senior showed great class and integrity sticking around for his final year of eligibility. Blalock would have been a first round pick, but he stuck around in hopes of another national title. He did not get that, though he has raised his draft stock. Blalock also set a school record for consecutive starts (50). He even moved from tackle to guard midway through the year, showing his unselfishness. Texas has been a rushing powerhouse for the four years he has been starting, and Blalock earns this award not only due to his outstanding blocking ability, but also because he is a great person off the field.
Quarterback Of The Year
Troy Smith, Ohio State - No surprise here. The Heisman lock has led his team to a Big 10 Championship and the BCS Title Game. Smith has a 6-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. His stats may not be as impressive as Colt Brennan's, Brady Quinn's, or John Beck's, but the Buckeyes are 12-0. He has avoided mistakes and made the big plays when he was called upon. He is also 3-0 against Michigan. That earns you a giant bronze statue in Columbus, Ohio. It also earns you quarterback of the year.
Special Teamer Of The Year
Garrett Hartley, Oklahoma - The "Boomer" Sooner was the most accurate kicker this year, making 17 out of 18 field goal attempts. His only miss was a blocked kick against Oregon. In that game, Hartley was 4 of 5. He also handled the kickoffs for OU, and the Sooners' opponents managed a weak 17 yards per return, with a long of 34. Watch for his foot to play a factor in the Fiesta Bowl against underdog Boise State.
Disappointment Of The Year
Miami (FL) - The only reason Miami is getting the award over rival Florida State is because the coach wasn't fired, and the Seminoles won the head-to-head matchup. "The U" came into the season with national title hopes. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit even picked the Hurricanes to go to the title game. That did not quite work out like he planned, though, as the .500 Hurricanes just barely snuck into a bowl game. They should have declined a bowl invite after the on-field brawl against Florida International. Miami fell out of the AP top 25 for the first time since 1999, and all of this led to the firing of Larry Coker. All of a sudden, the Miami job is not as sexy as it used to be.
Coach Of The Year
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest - No one picked Wake Forest to win the ACC. And if you did, I am sorry that you were made fun of in the preseason. Jim Grobe's Deacons set a school record with 11 wins en route to an ACC title. Last year, George Mason made it to the Final Four. This year, it is Wake Forest making it to the Orange Bowl. He will have to work some magic if they want to beat Louisville, though, I think this game is oozing upset. Watch out Cardinals.
Underrated Player Of The Year
Kevin Kolb, Houston - The senior quarterback led the Cougars to a Conference USA title. He also led them to a 6th place ranking in total offense (team) and a Liberty Bowl bid. Kolb finished the year with 3,423 passing yards and 27 touchdowns compared to just 3 interceptions. He was 7th in passing efficiency and 10th in total offense (individual), and he will be able to show the scouts what he is made of when Houston plays South Carolina on December 29th.
Game Of The Year
Rutgers 28, Louisville 25, November 9th - Everyone got behind one team as they pulled off the biggest upset this year. Rutgers hosted highly ranked Louisville, who had a clear path to the national title game, and late in the 2nd quarter, UL was cruising 25-7. Running back Ray Rice then scored on a 4-yard run for the Knights, giving Rutgers momentum going into the half. The Knights continued to "chop wood" until they tied the game late in the 4th. After Louisville's offense dominated the 1st half, Rutgers shut down quarterback Brian Brohm along with the rest of the UL offense in the 2nd half. Rutgers drove down the field late in the game, giving kicker Jeremy Ito a chance to win it for the underdog Knights. He missed his first attempt wide. Overtime, right? Wrong. UL jumped offsides. Ito connected on his next attempt, locking up a Rutgers win. The students stormed the field, and every college football fan at home cheered on Rutgers.