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And then there were four

8/21/2004

ESPN analyst Bill Curry hands out awards for the Division I-A independent teams:

And the winner is ...
No one

Not only is there no conference, there are almost no independents. And then there were four. Four! Gone are the days when Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Boston College battled for supremacy of the lone warriors. Where have they gone? All the way to the bank, that's where.

However, out of respect to our intrepid college football editors, we will hazard a guess and bravely select...Navy and Notre Dame. I know, I know, not very courageous. Picking an entry is hedging, especially if the race is just a four-horse affair. The rapidly dwindling ranks of independents have slackened our resolve.

Most Valuable Player ...
Kyle Eckel, FB, Navy
I love watching this pulverizer mash linebackers. He is the prototype triple option fullback at 6-foot-0, 240 pounds with a 4.55-second 40 time, a 415-pound bench press and a 5.3 ypc average. Last year he ran for 1,249 yards, the first Navy back to break 1,000 since Napoleon McCallum. He is a load.

Most Important Player ...
Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame
This one is easy. The pressure on the sophomore signal-caller in South Bend this year will be indescribable. He simply must measure up, show drastic improvement and lead the chosen ones out of the wilderness.

Coach of the Year ...
Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic
Howard gets the lifetime achievement award for showing up. Amos Alonzo Stagg only coached until age 94. Howard is closing fast and showing no signs of slowing any time soon.

Assistant You Should Know ...
Bernard Clark, Florida International
Bernard, who starred for the talent laden, dancing, winning Miami Hurricane teams of the late eighties, is Don Strock's fascinating choice for defensive coordinator. He bears watching because he is bright, spirited and charismatic.

Player I'd pay to watch ...
Victor Abiamiri, defensive end, Notre Dame
With seven starts as a true freshman, Victor should come into his own as a dominating player. I also like his teammate, linebacker Derek Curry. There is just something about the nameā€¦

Toughest Place to play ...
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Navy
When I as an assistant at Georgia Tech, we played at Navy and our head coach, Pepper Rodgers said, "Remember, when these guys play football on Saturday, it will be the most fun they have had all week!" Also, the hallowed grounds at Notre Dame were trashed by USC and Florida State last year to the tune of a 68-0 score in a span of seven consecutive quarters. The magic is missing at present.

Game of the Year ...
Notre Dame at Navy, Oct. 16
Need I say more?

ESPN college football analyst Bill Curry coached for 17 years in the college ranks. His breakdowns for marquee matchups appear each week during the college football season.