Midseason Awards: Honoring the best (and worst) plays from the first half of the 2015 college football season.
We’re halfway there. We’re halfway through a season that has been every bit as good as advertised, that has seen countless highlights and monumental mishaps, and that is no closer to making sense now than it did in early September. Is Ohio State really worthy of being ranked No. 1? Can LSU ride Leonard Fournette to an SEC title? Will an unbeaten Group of Five team shake up the College Football Playoff landscape?
That all remains to be seen. Still, as we embark into the great unknown, it’s time to look back and appreciate some of the moments that made the first seven weeks of the 2015 season great. From the good to the bad to everything in between, here are 15 awards honoring the best (and worst) plays from the first half.
1. Best spin move
Winner: Braxton Miller, Ohio State. Let’s start with an obvious one. The first can’t-miss moment of this season came on Monday, Sept. 7, with Virginia Tech hosting Ohio State in Blacksburg. The Buckeyes led 21–17 late in the third quarter when Miller lined up under center and handled a direct snap. He ran left and proceeded to pull a Tasmanian Devil-like spin move en route to a 53-yard score.
Watching the replay, it’s hard not to feel a little for Hokies defensive tackle Corey Marshall. Miller’s move was perfect. The 6’ 2”, 266-pounder never stood a chance.
2. Best catch
Winner: Francis Owusu, Stanford. With apologies to Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge, Louisville’s James Quick and Michigan’s Amara Darboh, nothing came close to this catch. The Cardinal were already well into their 56–35 rout of UCLA on Oct. 15 when the junior made one of the best receptions you’ll ever see.
Stanford ran a reverse pass in which quarterback Kevin Hogan launched the ball deep downfield. Owusu leaped into the air before, inconceivably, pinning the ball to Bruins sophomore Jaleel Wadood’s back. The expression on typically stoic Stanford coach David Shaw’s face says it all.
3. Best tip drill
Winner: Quincy Adeboyejo, Ole Miss. TCU tailback Aaron Green’s last-second grab to beat Texas Tech finished in a close second, but this play was too bonkers to not win this category. Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly barely controlled a wild snap, blindly chucked the ball toward the left side of the field and then benefited as it deflected off Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick’s helmet and into the waiting arms of junior receiver Adeboyejo, who sprinted 66 yards to the end zone.
This play still doesn’t make sense. It's also a reminder of what it takes to beat the Crimson Tide, especially in Tuscaloosa.
4. Best carry
Winner: Kalen Ballage, Arizona State. LSU’s Fournette—who unquestionably has been the nation's best tailback over the first seven weeks, and who straight up terrorized Auburn during their game on Sept. 19—and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, who had a beautiful 74-yard scamper in a 34–14 win over USF, both provided terrific options for this category. But the first half’s best carry belongs to Ballage, for a run that has to be seen to be believed.
With the Sun Devils up 31–23 in the final minute of an Oct. 3 game against UCLA, Ballage took the handoff and charged up the middle. After running into traffic, he carried approximately eight bodies (no hyperbole) as he barreled for a 23-yard touchdown. This was the equivalent of running full speed into Rockefeller Center on the night of the Christmas tree lighting and somehow making it to the other side.
5. Best Hail Mary
Winner: Tanner Mangum, BYU. How could it not be Mangum? After starter Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending injury in the Cougars' opener, Mangum burst on to the scene as a miracle worker, as the freshman's late-game heroics in back-to-back weeks spurred BYU to an unlikely (and amazing) 2–0 start.
Though the sequel against Boise State was terrific, nothing could compare to the original, a 42-yard bomb that gave the Cougars at 33–28 win at Nebraska. The success of Mangum's desperation heave also reinforced the notion that Hail Marys in Lincoln have an approximately 100% success rate.
6. Best backward pass intended to go forward
Winner: Jeremy Johnson, Auburn. There’s not much to explain about this one, other than it happened during Auburn’s clash with LSU, and, well, yeah.
Honorable mention goes to East Carolina's Blake Kemp, though.
7. Best forward pass intended to go backward
Winner: Britain Covey, Utah. This may actually be more inexplicable than the play in the category above, because this, for whatever reason, was intentional.
Of course, the most notable part about this whole turn of events may have been that the referee signaled for a safety by using the universal symbol for chill out. Arizona State coach Todd Graham responded to the screw-up accordingly.
8. Best spike attempt gone wrong
Winner: Montell Cozart, Kansas. The competition for this category was stiff, as Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano spiked the ball on fourth down in the waning seconds of an Oct. 10 loss to Michigan State. But the winner is Cozart, as his play sealed a loss that perhaps exemplifies the past few years of Jayhawks football.
On Sept. 5, Kansas had rallied back from a 31–7 deficit against South Dakota State and was only behind 41–38. The Jayhawks had moved to the edge of field goal range, and Cozart was set to spike the ball to set up a last-second kicking attempt. Instead, he fumbled the snap, dropped to the turf to recover the ball and watched the time run out. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the debut first-year head coach David Beaty had in mind.
9. Best act of punter athleticism
Winner: Riley Dixon, Syracuse. What, you thought Utah’s Tom Hackett had this category all locked up? While Hackett turned a few heads by elevating to corral a bad snap before scampering for a 33-yard gain at Oregon, that play falls just short to Dixon’s on Sept. 26 in which he hurdled LSU cornerback Kevin Toliver II.
You read that correctly. Dixon, the lanky 6’ 5”, 221-pound Blossvale, N.Y., native, hurdled a former five-star prospect and current SEC standout. He then got so excited that he nearly punched Tigers safety Jamal Adams in the face.
10. Best Fat Guy TD
Winner: LaQuan McGowan, Baylor. Here you go, Internet. A good, old-fashioned crowd-pleaser. McGowan, the 6’ 7”, 390-pound offensive lineman-turned-tight end, made the second touchdown catch of his career in a 66–7 blowout of Kansas.
Jayhawks safety Michael Glatczak, who tried to stop McGowan at the three-yard line, is 5’ 10” and 173 pounds. His tackle attempt went about as you’d expect.
11. Best two-point conversion
Winner: Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech.This is the choice for two reasons. One, the play is run out of the muddle huddle, which isn't used often enough for my liking. And two, it got Clark—all 6' 6" and 308 pounds of him—across the goal line.
12. Best accidental onside kick
Winner: Ryan Nuss, Western Kentucky. Sure, this isn’t how most onside kicks are drawn up, but the result was wildly effective. Late in the second quarter of a 58–28 win over Middle Tennessee on Oct. 10, Nuss kicked off after a Hilltoppers touchdown. Only the ball rocketed off his foot as a low line drive, going on to strike Derek Barnes—who was standing on the first line of Middle Tennessee’s kick coverage team—before bouncing back into Nick Newton’s fortuitous hands.
Lucky? Yes. But if this strategy attempted in the future, you know where it started.
13. Best sideline dance
Winner: Steven Reese, Northwestern. Fine, so this isn't truly a play. But what midseason awards post would be complete without Northwestern's dancing punter?
There is a lot to process here, but three things stand out. Reese's flowing, blond locks. His seamless transition from the Macarena into his hip thrust. And the fact that Reese may not even be the best dancer in the Wildcats' program.
14. Best excuse to play dead
Winner: Mike Minns, Bowling Green. O.K., so this isn’t as good as the Fainting Goat play from Arkansas State last year, but this sequence is still a classic. With Bowling Green trailing 14–3 in the first quarter of its Week 1 game at Tennessee, Minns found his cleat in his hand instead of on his foot. Naturally, he reacted in the way anyone would: by collapsing to the turf with Oscar-worthy theatrics.
Fake injury aside, the best part of this may really be the reaction from Volunteers quarterback Josh Dobbs. Simply fantastic.
15. Best game-winning touchdown
Winner: Jalen Watts-Jackson, Michigan State. This was the most unbelievable ending to a game since the Kick-Six in 2013. It still doesn’t seem real.