November 12, 2007

It's Monday fun day, baby. So welcome to this week's Dean's List -- all the fun of the Monday Awards, but less emphasis on everyone's least favorite day of the week.

The Team of the Week has to go to Illinois for knocking off former No. 1 Ohio State in convincing fashion, 28-21. OK, I know the score doesn't sound that convincing, but the Illini, nursing a seven-point lead, held onto the ball for the last eight minutes of the game by simply running over the Buckeyes. Rumbling for 260 yards on the ground, Illinois became the first team since 2001 to rush for more than 200 yards against OSU. We, here at the Monday Awards, like a good dose of Juice to start off the week.

It's got to suck to lose by 37 to a conference rival (76-39), especially when your coach is already basically fired and your team is ranked last in state popularity. It probably makes you want to hang up the cleats and take on a day job. That's why the performance of Nebraska's Joe Ganz (in only his second start) warranted the Player of the WeekAward. Ganz returned to the field after last week's humiliating defeat at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks to throw for 510 yards and 7 touchdowns in the Cornhuskers' 73-31 shellacking of Kansas State. I know they probably won't admit this in Nebraska but the kid's got some chutzpa.

We live in strange times when a couple of basketball players can be suspended from the opening game of their season for ... (wait for it) ... playing basketball. The What Were They Thinking Award goes to Maryland's James Gist and Landon Milbourne, who had the nerve to participate for one day in the Maryland state five-on-five tournament. No, they did not get paid, but they did violate NCAA bylaw 14.7.2, which prohibits student-athletes from playing in unsanctioned basketball games outside their universities. Now these two troublemakers will be punished. They will not be able to participate in the Terrapins' opener against North Florida. So remember, kids, when you're about to Hoop It Up, think twice, or you, too, could end up the victim of bylaw insanity.

If you've never been to Macon, Ga., you'll probably never go. And you know what? Unless you're big into cherry blossoms or the Civil War, you're not missing a whole lot. Oh, except for a surprisingly good college basketball squad that recently upset the No. 18 team in the country. Mercer University earned this week's Mayo Clinic Award by soundly beating a much-hyped USC team 96-81 Saturday. It was Trojan guard O.J. Mayo's college debut, and while the freshman phenom, wearing black sleeves on all his appendages, managed to rack up 32 points, he couldn't shake the Bears' pesky defense and can't-miss shooting percentage. What I'm saying is one man can't win a basketball game.

I've got this buddy who's been asking me to give Kansas football coach Mark Mangino an award for months now, but I've been holding out, just waiting for Kansas to lose. Well, the Jayhawks can't seem to lose so I'm done waiting. This week's Neck Pillow Award goes to Mangino, who's led his team to their first 10-0 start since 1899. OK, so the guy probably can't tie his shoes and definitely can't find the garden hose when he's got to water the lawn, but he's one hell of a coach and Kansas is No. 3 in the nation ... in football. Plus, they're fun to watch, mainly because every time the TV cameras show Mangino lumbering up and down the sidelines, you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Or maybe that's just me.

You don't just win two consecutive Monday Awards. You've got to do something to really earn them, like beat a team for the first time in 43 years one week and then the following week score 74 points in another victory. The Best Offense Is a Good Offense Award goes to Navy, which clinched a bowl berth Saturday by outscoring North Texas 74-62. The final score set a Division-I record for most combined points in a game. Navy also set a school record for most rushing yards in a game with 572. No word yet on whether they'll cancel classes in Annapolis.

Football for most colleges is like candy for kids. They want it if they don't have it and if they already have it, they want more of it. Hey man, it brings in the dough and if there's one thing people like more than candy, it's money. Well, there's one school who doesn't buy into this whole "football = cash" theory -- San Diego State. Last Tuesday, the SDSU Senate held a vote on a resolution to abolish the Aztec football program and therefore laid claim to this week's Forget Football Award. The resolution was unanimously defeated, but still, if there are that many people on campus who believe football sucks and should be abolished, well maybe they deserve an award ... or a brief stay at an insane asylum. Fine, we'll just give them the award.

I know, it's not like you need another reason to hate the Dookies (that's how my cousin, an ardent UNC fan, refers to Duke students.) They're just so annoying and, apparently, poor losers. The Once Is Enough Award goes to the Blue Devils for canceling on a multigame game contract to play Louisville in football after only one game. The two schools had an agreement to play each other four times before 2009. In 2002, they played the first game and the Cardinals ran away with a 40-3 victory. Now the Blue Devils are tapping out. In a lawsuit filed in Kentucky, Louisville claims Duke terminated their contract and has failed to either find "a suitable replacement" or pay financial damages incurred through breach of the agreement. Truth be told, if I got blown out by 37 points, I'd plead no más, too.

"Put your money where your mouth is." That's what my dad always used to tell me when I'd talk myself up before a big game. I think of that advice a lot as I'm driving around looking at these minivans with "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers plastered on the back. Are these folks just posturing or are they really supporting the war effort? Regardless, we know one thing, Notre Dame sure supports our armed forces. By losing to Navy and Air Force on consecutive weekends, the Fighting Irish have won the War Effort Award. And they did it in style, allowing Air Force to amass 285 yards on the ground en route to a 41-24 drubbing that wasn't even close in the second half.

The sport media machine can be relentless on an athlete, especially one who's just an amateur. Look at the way Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy defended his quarterback from what he perceived as an unfair attack by the press. That's what makes the Good Press Award so unexpected, the media actually made a college athlete look undeservedly good. Tennessee football center Josh McNeil is the proud recipient of this honor after the police showed up at his apartment last week to investigate a possible burglary. Turns out, McNeil didn't break the law, but the media ran with the story anyway. Why? The police report stated McNeil was in bed with not one, not two, but three intoxicated women. Amazing, the sports blogs crowed. This guy's a pimp. And so McNeil's status as an American sports legend was cemented in the mind of the public. Of course, the truth was far less exciting. One of the girls was his girlfriend and the other two were her out-of-town friends who were sleeping on the floor. A freaky foursome? Sure, run with it.

Go ahead and say it -- student-athlete. Sure, it's a compound noun, but it makes sense. These football players might be hitting each other on Saturday, but during the rest of the week, they're hitting the books. As testimony to the academic accomplishments of NCAA athletes, we're giving the Rhodes Scholar Award to Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon. The Heisman hopeful might not only lead his team to a national championship this fall, but he could also get straight A's. Dixon maintains a rigorous course schedule of billiards and, nope, that's it, just billiards. To his credit, billiards is a game of angles and those can be hard to understand.

Last thought before we go: if Lance Armstrong takes Ashley Olsen out on a bike-ride date, do they go tandem, does she ride solo or can she sit in his basket? OK, that's it. We're out.

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