Friday October 26th, 2007

Heisman fatigue, anyone?

Me, too.

Especially when there's so much more hardware out there for the taking in college football. Let's embark, in that case, on a rundown of the other 14 trophies -- all the while acknowledging that that number is pitifully inadequate.

Where, after all, is the love for the Best Gunner on punt team, the Trustiest Defuser of on-side kicks on the "hands team"; the most selfless, uncomplaining human cannon fodder helping make up the kickoff-return "wedge"? Are they not men? Do they not sleep, eat, breathe and crave an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, like other men?

Until these and other awards find proper names and corporate backing, we'll make do with the precious few awards available to us:

Bronco Nagurski Trophy, for the "nation's outstanding player on defense" -- as opposed, for instance, to the player out standing around, (half of Michigan's defense) watching Dennis Dixon fake the Statue of Liberty, then score, vs. the Wolverines on Sept. 8. Should come down to one of these three:

• LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, last seen being helped off the field following a cheap shot cut block by Auburn. Get well soon, Putt.

• Kansas cornerback/wide out Aqib Talib: three picks, five TDs, a major reason upstart Jayhawks are undefeated, and ranked 5th in total defense.

George Selvie. South Florida defensive end -- a recent convert from center -- leads nation in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (21.5).

Butkus Award, to nation's top linebacker. Finalists (according to me): Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. The Animal's boy has 64 tackles, 5 ½ for a loss; four sacks and two picks for what could be the country's top defense. That said, Illinois fans recall that Laurinaitis was outplayed last year by their J Leman, who had 19 tackles, a forced fumble and an eight-yard sack in a 17-10 loss to the Buckeyes. This year, Leman leads the Big Ten with 89 tackles. Colorado's Jordon Dizon has better numbers than both of them: his 101 tackles lead the nation.

Chuck Bednarik Award. The Maxwell Club honors the "defensive player of the year" -- not to be confused with the Nagurski's similarly non-specific "most outstanding defensive player." Paul Posluszny of Penn State won it for the second time last season, despite whispers that Poz wasn't the best linebacker in his own huddle in '06. By that logic, this year's Bednarik will be won not by speedy, productive USC linebacker Keith Rivers, but by fellow Trojan 'backer Rey Maualuga, whose penchant for overrunning plays and being out of position is often overshadowed by YouTube-caliber hits.

Davey O'Brien Award. This important trophy, bestowed on the "nation's outstanding quarterback" -- helps fill what had been a tragic gap in college football awards. As we all know, star quarterbacks get nowhere near the adulation and acclaim they deserve. Still wide open, I'd say, between Tim Tebow, Andre Woodson, Dennis Dixon, Chase Daniel, Matt Ryan. O'Brien, incidentally, is the only TCU Horned frog ever to win the Heisman. (John Heisman, for his part, failed to win the Davey O'Brien, having died in 1936).

Doak Walker, given each year to the "the nation's premier running back." Does "premier" mean, like, most expensive? Certainly, that's how Lloyd Lake would describe Reggie Bush, your 2005 Doak winner. Darren McFadden won last year, but could get knocked off by Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (whom the Washington Huskies have yet to tackle, I believe), or sawed-off warrior Mike Hart, the Wolverine MVP who's all but single-handedly salvaged Michigan's season.

Biletnikoff Award, goes to nation's best receiver. Right now that might be Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, the ex-high school quarterback and current Red Raider wideout who's tallying 165 yards per game. The redshirt freshman has also launched one of the season's most distinctive T-shirts (Got Crabs?). So what if he's the product of a passing system? Those are serious numbers. I also think Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman (50 grabs, 800 yards, six TDs, countless double-teams) is a freak.

Heisman. Please. Some other time. Not now.

Jim Thorpe, for the nation's best defensive back. How about Boston College -- checking in with two front-runners! Shutdown corner DeJaun Tribble has four picks -- that's one fewer than Jamie Silva, the Eagles' hair farmer and free safety. That said, the most talented defensive back in college football looks to be Aqib Talib, the Kansas Jayhawk who had six picks last season and has three more in '07. Florida International coach Mario Cristobal described him in the New York Times as a combination of Rocket Ismail, Devin Hester and Charles Woodson.

John Mackey, for the best tight end. I spent last Saturday in Columbia, Mo., so forgive me for nominating two Tigers. Senior Martin Rucker (47 catches for 525 yards and four TDs) and junior Chase Coffman (37, 394, three) are but two of Chase Daniel's weapons at resurgent Mizzou, where the guys in the locker room, Rucker told me, have finally "changed the paradigm for the program." I'll give the nod to Rucker, on the slender margin of seniority and vocabulary.

Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given annually to the nation's outstanding senior quarterback. Also known as the Johnny-Olson-Fabulous-Parting-Gift- Award, in that it has served as a consolation prize, five of the last six years, for a guy who came close but didn't win the Heisman.

Lou Groza Award, best kicker. In addition to booting one of the longest field goals of the season, Colorado's Kevin Eberhart made its most clutch kick, the 45-yarder to beat Oklahoma as time expired. Honorable mention: Jeremy (the Judge) Ito, Rutgers. I could list additional candidates, or I could tell you about the time my brother, then a defensive tackle at Boston College, directed a remark at the dinner table to a guy my sister Amy had brought home. Rob Woods was a kicker at West Virginia. "I've always felt that instead of putting the kicker's actual name on his jersey," Mark mused, "it should just say, 'kicker.' You know -- like 'batboy.'" Rob is now our brother-in-law.

Ray Guy Award, best punter. What, you're going make me look this up? How about, instead, we review the news from Greeley, Colo., where earlier this month ex-Northern Colorado backup punter Mitch Cozad was sentenced to seven years in prison for stabbing a rival in what prosecutors described as a cold-blooded attempt to win the starting job?

Stabbee Rafael Mendoza, by the way, has recovered and is having a nice season -- indeed, a busy season -- for the winless Bears. He's averaged 39.5 yards on 61 punts, with a long punt of 56 yards. Thus I dub the resilient Mendoza as my sentimental pick to win this year's Guy.

Rimington Trophy, best center. "Center is a very difficult position to evaluate, and of course play," says former all-cosmos center Dave Rimington, with what I'm willing to bet was false modesty, in a preseason release from the RT. I liked UNC big man Tyler Hansbrough's chances this season, but have been told this award is restricted to football centers. In that case, I'll jump on the Jonathan Luigs bandwagon. Luigs, of Arkansas, is the only guy on the Rimington's 54-center "watch list" (why not just include all 119 D-I starters, and have it done with?) who was a finalist a year ago. Besides, Whoo-Pig-Luigs! has a nice ring to it.

Ted Hendricks Award, for nation's best defensive end. Numbers don't lie. Converted center Selvie of South Florida leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. Yet he must be haunted by the knowledge that if he'd stayed at his old position, he might've made the Rimington Watch List ... (Keep an eye, also, on Oklahoma's Auston English -- kind of a cool name, no? -- and Virginia's Chris Long, son of famed Radio Shack pitchman Howie.)

Vince Lombardi Award, goes to the offensive or defensive lineman who, in addition to kicking butt, "best exemplifies the discipline of Vince Lombardi" -- who demonstrated that legendary discipline, incidentally, by smoking like a chimney. Unclear: whether candidates are required to submit evidence of discipline (A log of of wee-hours wakeup calls, perhaps? Completed workout forms signed by a strength coach?) Either way, this one has Dorsey's name written all over it. Dark horse: Oklahoma's aptly named, sun-eclipsing OT, Phil Loadholt (6-8, 350).

Walter Camp Award, given annually to college football's Player of the Year. Consolation prize for a non-Heisman winner. Voted on by sports info directors, meaning a nice guy -- Mike Hart? Chase Daniel? Colt Brennan? -- will finish first.

For a copy of Austin Murphy's latest book, Saturday Rules, click here.

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