A Dash through the award lists
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making postseason news in college football (statuettes sold separately):
Time To Hand Out The Hardware
This week we get down to the business of distributing the spoils of individual excellence for 2004. Most of them will be given out Thursday night in Orlando at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show. Then the biggie, the Heisman Trophy, is presented Saturday night.
Naturally, The Dash could not let this moment pass without weighing in.
Ray Guy Award (Best Punter)
Finalists: Michigan State's Brandon Fields (1), UCLA's Chris Kluwe (2), Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda (3).
Dash's pick: Hard to pass up a seven-syllable punter from Baylor -- the Bears make these lists so rarely -- but we're going with Kluwe. He averages a nation's-best 48 yards per punt despite kicking into the smog-thickened air of Southern California.
(Editorial addendum: The award is named for the greatest punter ever. When will the NFL Hall of Fame wake up and induct Ray Guy? It's not like punters aren't part of the game.)
Lou Groza Award (Best Place-Kicker)
Finalists: Boise State's Tyler Jones (4), Ohio State's Mike Nugent (5), Eastern Michigan's Andrew Wellock (6).
Dash's pick: Nugent. He was producing nearly half of the Buckeyes' points during the first half of the season, helping keep a tottering offense afloat. And he's been good in the clutch throughout his career.
(Editorial addendum: Colorado's Mason Crosby wasn't a finalist, but the single most impressive kick The Dash saw all season was his 55-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of a close game against Colorado State. The Dash swears on a stack of Russell Erxleben autographs that the kick would have been good from 70.)
Biletnikoff Award (Best Receiver)
Dash's pick: Stubblefield, in a down year for wideouts -- at least compared to the embarrassment of riches in 2003. Edwards was more flashy but also had some key drops at bad times. Stubblefield, the Big Ten's career leading receiver, had 15 touchdown catches -- and when he struggled during midseason, so did quarterback Kyle Orton.
Doak Walker Award (Best Running Back)
Finalists: Cal's J.J. Arrington (10), Texas' Cedric Benson (11), Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson (12).
Dash's pick: Peterson. You might see his name pop up elsewhere on this list, too.
Thorpe Award (Best Defensive Back)
Finalists: Miami's Antrel Rolle (13), Auburn's Carlos Rogers (14), Michigan's Ernest Shazor (15).
Dash's pick: Rolle. Shazor had slightly better individual statistics and Rogers was part of a better defense, but The Dash loves Rolle's combination of physical tackling and ability to cover. He was huge in the Hurricanes' nailbiter victory against Florida State way back in early September.
Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman)
Finalists: Michigan's David Baas (16), Oklahoma's Jammal Brown (17), Florida State's Alex Barron (18).
Dash's pick: Brown. Opened truck lanes for Adrian Peterson and pass-blocked for Jason White with the same consistent dominance. Nimble, lean and mean is a nice package for an offensive tackle.
Davey O'Brien Award (Best Quarterback)
Dash's pick: Smith. All three are terrific. So, for that matter, are Louisville's Stefan LeFors, Auburn's Jason Campbell and Cal's Aaron Rodgers. But Smith was the indisputable driving force in Utah's offense. With USC and Oklahoma, it could be argued that both teams had better running backs than quarterbacks. Sure, Smith had a play-making wide receiver in Steve Savoy, but he was clearly the man who made Utah's spread offense move.
Bednarik Award (Best Defensive Player)
Finalists: Wisconsin's Erasmus James (22), Texas' Derrick Johnson (23), Georgia's David Pollack (24).
Dash's pick: Toughest of the bunch to select. The Dash would happily give the award to all three, but if forced to choose will go with James. The fast and relentless defensive end missed all of 2003 with an injury but simply could not be blocked this year.
Coach of the Year
It has already been announced that this award goes to Urban Meyer (25) of Utah. Frankly, The Dash could not agree more. From the undefeated season to his hotly publicized change of address, he was college football's leading personality in 2004.
Maxwell Award (Best Overall Player)
Finalists: Leinart, Peterson and White.
Dash's pick: Peterson. This is a difficult call, but give the freshman credit on two fronts: He not only had the numbers -- second nationally in total rushing yards, sixth in per-game average -- but also he scored points on artistic merit. Peterson consistently produced the kind of jaw-dropping, jump-to-your-feet runs that you remember. So did Reggie Bush of USC, but Bush didn't have the overall production. Meanwhile, quarterbacks Leinart and White had the production without the flair for the spectacular. The Dash digs artistry, so The Dash votes for Peterson -- for the Maxwell Award, and for the Heisman Trophy.
The Dash's Heisman Ballot
1. Peterson. Rushed for 1,843 yards. Had an NCAA freshman-record 11 100-yard games. Produced 225 yards in Oklahoma's centerpiece game against Texas and 249 more in a battle with Oklahoma State.
2. Smith. Threw for 2,624 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. Ran for another 563 yards and 10 scores. And the junior's record as a starter now stands at a gaudy 20-1.
3. LeFors. Better than Leinart or White? That's certainly open to debate. But consider this: He's on course to set the NCAA single-season pass efficiency record, and his 9.13 yards-per-play average dwarfs anyone else among the nation's total-offense leaders. (Auburn's Campbell is the only other player in the top 100 to average more than 8.) Imagine what the senior's numbers would be like if he didn't have to give up significant playing time to backup Brian Brohm. And if you want a solid citizen to be the face of college football, you could do a lot worse than LeFors.
Those are the official awards. Next up, in an unapologetic burst of self-indulgence, we present The Dashies. Lacking a cool statue of any kind to give away, The Dash will instead offer all winners autographed pics of Adriana Lima (26). (Seriously now, which would you rather have?)
Game of the Year (As seen in person)
Finalists: Colorado 27, Colorado State 24 (27). Ended with a Buffaloes' goal-line stand and torn-down goalposts. Pretty fun.
Miami 41, Louisville 38 (28). Spectacular game filled with big plays, reversals of fortune and last-minute drama.
USC 23, Cal 17 (29). Brilliant game plan from the Golden Bears pushed the Trojans to the brink -- but they wouldn't give in.
Dash's pick: USC-Cal, owing to its direct impact on the national picture.
Flop of the Year
Finalists: Missouri (30). Began the year in some magazines' top 10. Lost to Troy in early September. Lost five more times in conference play -- in a row. Nice breakthrough season.
Kansas State (31). The Wildcats went 4-7, surrendering a minimum of 20 points to every I-A opponent. Darren Sproles must have spent the entire season wondering why he didn't go pro last year.
Nebraska (32). Good thing the Corn People got rid of that bum Frank Solich, huh? Who needs a coach who went 9-3 (he was ousted before the Huskers won No. 10 in the Alamo bowl) when you can get Bill Callahan and post the school's first losing record in four decades?
Dash's pick: What do these teams have in common? They all play in the Big 12 North (33), which earns the award en toto.
Surprise of the Year
Finalists: Auburn (34). Nobody has had a more sublime 12 months than Tommy Tuberville.
UTEP (35). Miners won eight games in their first year under Mike Price -- or two more than they won the previous three years combined.
Virginia Tech (36). In their first year of ACC membership, the Hokies were supposed to take a step back. Predictions called for finishing as an also-ran behind Miami, Florida State and even Virginia. Instead they won their last eight games, won the ACC, beat five bowl-bound opponents and will play in the Sugar Bowl.
Dash's pick: Auburn. Not even the wildest "War Eagle!" yeller could have envisioned 12-0.
Top National Storyline
Finalists: BCS finds creative new ways to screw up (37). Congratulations on going 12-0 in the SEC, Auburn. Now please report to the consolation bracket. And 10-1 Cal? Scram.
Here come the Little Guys (38). Utah crashes the BCS party. Boise State and Louisville invade the top 10. Football's upper tier hasn't been this diverse in years, if ever.
Notre Dame loses it (39). By firing Tyrone Willingham after three years, the Golden Dome relinquished any hold on the moral high ground. By failing to get Urban Meyer and a host of others, the Golden Dome showed how much prestige it has lost. By the bitter words of school president Monk Malloy and the sick look on the face of athletic director Kevin White, the Golden Dome showed that, like so many other football factories, the boosters with the money matter most.
Dash's pick: In a concerted effort to look on the bright side, we salute the Little Guys. Congrats on your success in the Land of the Giants.
Barbecue Joint of the Year
No Dash would be complete without a nod to the top 'cue ingested during a season of chin wiping and wet naps. The champions of porcine cuisine remain Dreamland Barbecue (40) in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Birmingham, Ala., -- but basketball season promises a whole new slew of contenders.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.