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College Football Weekend Preview: AJ McCarron Wins Career Achievement Award

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College Football Weekend Preview: AJ McCarron Wins Career Achievement Award

Former Alabama center Barrett Jones accepts the CFWP Career Achievement Award certificate. Photo by Brian Carriveau of CheeseheadTV.com.

Now that the Heisman Trophy and the rest of the college football awards have been handed out, it's time to name the recipient of the College Football Weekend Preview Career Achievement Award.

Earlier this year, I was proud to present former Alabama and current St. Louis Rams center Barrett Jones with our inaugural award while at the NFL Combine.

Now the time comes to honor our second annual winner, given to a senior that has exhausted his collegiate eligibility at the FBS level for outstanding play over the course of his career.

What follows is a list of our finalists in alphabetical order, their qualifications and accomplishments with the winner named at the end.

And congratulations to those on our "Watch List," all of whom had outstanding careers, including Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, Florida State defensive back LaMarcus Joyner, Texas A&M offensive lineman Jake Matthews, Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews and Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.

Khalil Mack, Linebacker, Buffalo

Credit Sports Illustrated for at least recognizing Mack's talent, naming him honorable mention All-American in both 2011 and 2012. They were one of the few national organizations to do so. It's a shame because Mack is an elite-level talent and didn't get the recognition he deserves because he played in a non-automatic qualifying BCS conference without much media exposure. Just like we don't discriminate against non-skill position players here at the "CFWP" in naming Jones last year's award recipient, we won't overlook mid-major players either. As proof of his dominance, look no further than the pair of of NCAA all-time records Mack set (16 career forced fumbled) or tied (75 career tackles for a loss) with one bowl game left to play. In his senior season, Mack was named first-team All-MAC for the third consecutive year, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, an Associated Press second-team All-American and the Jack Lambert Trophy award winner as the nation's top linebacker from the Touchdown Club of Columbus.

Tajh Boyd, Quarterback, Clemson

Had it not been for Jameis Winston stealing some of the spotlight in 2013, Boyd would have an even more decorated career than he already has, and it's not insignificant. Boyd has been earning All-American accolades for three straight seasons, making honorable mention as far back as a sophomore in 2011 to first-team by the AFCA in 2012 back to honorable mention by the Associated Press most recently in 2013. What he's done in the ACC, however, has been nothing short of remarkable, becoming the conference's all-time leader in career touchdown passes (102), career total touchdowns (127) and second in career passing yards (11, 526). Not surprisingly Boyd was named first-team All-ACC in 2011 and 2012, earning conference Player of the Year honors as a junior. He's led Clemson to records of 10-4, 11-2 and 10-2 the past three seasons.

AJ McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama

McCarron's credentials start and end with two national championships and helping to lead Alabama to a 36-3 record in his three seasons as a starter, an average of one loss per year. Some may argue with that he's surrounded by too much talent not to succeed, but McCarron also lifts the talent level of those around him. A timeline of some of McCarron's individual accomplishments highlights his illustrious career. In 2011, he was named Offensive MVP of the BCS National Championship after throwing for 234 yards on 23-of-34 passing. In 2012, he was a second-team All-SEC performer and a third-team All-American from the Associated Press. And in 2013, in addition to all-conference and all-American honors, he was a Heisman Trophy finalist, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner and recipient of the Maxwell Award given to the collegiate player of the year.

Aaron Murray, Quarterback, Georgia

Murray probably had more success as a freshman than any of the other finalists on this list, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns and being named to almost every All-Freshman team in the nation. Things only got better for the Bulldogs quarterback, who tossed 35 touchdown passes as a sophomore and was named either first-team or second-team All-SEC depending on the awarding organization. He then had his best season statistically as a junior, throwing 36 touchdowns and leading the nation with 10.1 yards per passing attempt. Murray got injured with two games left in the 2013 regular season, but he leaves an indelible mark on the SEC record books, leaving as the conference's all-time leader in passing yards (13,166), passing touchdowns (121) and completions (921).

And the winner is... AJ McCarron

Congratulations, Mr. McCarron. We'll present you with your certificate at the NFL Combine, suitable for framing.

Quick Bowl Game Previews

Need some pro prospects to keep an eye on while you're watching bowl games? We've got you covered. Bring these names up and look smart in conversation with family, friends and co-workers during holiday parties.

New Mexico Bowl, Washington State vs. Colorado State

Kickoff 1:00 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN

The skinny: Washington State coach Mike Leach has the Cougars bowling for the first time since 2003, while Colorado State coach Jim McElwain has the Rams in a bowl for the first time since 2008. Wazzu has attempted more passes (698) than any team in the nation, while Colorado State relies on fantastic sophomore running back Kabri Bibbs, who was second in the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns after racking up 1,572 yards.

Washington State pro prospect: Safety Deone Bucannon––After having so many issues at the safety position in Green Bay in 2013, Bucannon will be a very popular name connected to the Packers in the spring, going no later than the second round and perhaps as high as the first. He's always had a nose for the football with 14 career interceptions, but in going from 193 lbs. as a junior to 215 lbs. as a senior, Bucannon has created believers that he could be the top strong safety prospect in the nation.

Colorado State pro prospect: Tight end Crockett Gilmore––A defensive end for his first two collegiate seasons, this 6-6, 255 lb. prospect translated his skills rather nicely to tight end, catching at least 43 passes and over 400 yards both his junior and senior seasons. Don't sleep on center Weston Richburg either, who projects as a potential Day 2 draft choice.

Prediction: Neither team will be lacking in motivation, but the Cougars should have plenty of success moving the ball through the air against a poor Rams pass defense, while Bucannon will be key in minimizing damage by Bibbs and Gilmore. Cougs win, 35-22.

Las Vegas Bowl, Fresno State vs. USC

Kickoff 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday on ABC

The skinny: Fresno State had its sights set on a BCS bowl bid, but a loss to San Jose State in the regular-season finale dashed those dreams. The Bulldogs rebounded to win the inaugural Mountain West championship game. Meanwhile at USC, Steve Sarkisian takes over next season, but the Trojans are on the second interim coach of the season after Ed Orgeron led the team to six wins in their final eight games since taking over the fired Lane Kiffin.

Fresno State pro prospect: Wide receiver Davante Adams––Two weeks ago we took at look at quarterback Derek Carr in our conference championship preview, so this week it's onto his top receiving target. Adams is just a redshirt sophomore but could declare for the NFL draft after grabbing more than 100 receptions and over 1,300 yards in each of his first two seasons. Highly productive, Adams scored 14 touchdowns as a freshman and an astronomical 23 as a sophomore.

USC pro prospect: Wide receiver Marqise Lee––It's been an injury-filled season for Lee, but if he doesn't return for his senior season, he's a surefire first-round draft choice. Lee caught only 50 passes as a junior, but as a sophomore when he was healthy, he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns and won the Beletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.

Prediction: Even though USC will be without running back Silas Redd and defensive end Morgan Breslin, this is still a team that beat Stanford not all that long ago. As long as Lee is healthy, the Trojans will still have the best player on the field and will get by the the Bulldogs, 38-30.

Potato Bowl, Buffalo vs. San Diego State

Kickoff 4:30 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN

The skinny: The Potato Bowl is not a glamour bowl, but Buffalo is happy to qualify for any postseason game. In a winter climate in Boise, Id., Buffalo will be more acclimated to the weather than San Diego State, which rarely plays in the cold. The Aztecs have beaten Boise State two consecutive seasons, however, so they have that going for them.

Buffalo pro prospect: Wide receiver Alex Neutz––Since we profiled Khalil Mack in our Career Achievement Award section, we'll focus on someone else here. But there's a reason why Buffalo won eight games this season. There's talent besides Mack. Neutz was a first-team All-MAC selection after catching 58 passes for 947 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's a potential late-round prospect.

San Diego State pro prospect: Tackle Bryce Quigley––The Packers like athletes along their offensive line. Not unlike J.C. Tretter, Quigley was a tight end his first two collegiate seasons before switching to tackle. He bulked up to 6-5, 300 lbs., and was a second-team All-Mountain West selection as a senior.

Prediction: Both had 1,000-yard seasons, but Bulls running back Branden Oliver will have more success than Aztecs running back Adam Muema, because Mack will be creating havoc for the Aztecs. Bulls win, 24-20.

New Orleans Bowl, Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Kickoff 8:00 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN

The skinny: Tulane is going bowling for the first time since 2002 behind the strength of an opportunistic defense co-coordinated by former Packers assistant Lionel Washington. The Green Wave will face a Louisiana-Lafayette team that shared the Sun Belt Conference title.

Tulane pro prospect: Wide receiver Ryan Grant––The Green Wave player who shares the same name as a former Packers running back caught at least 70 passes for more than 900 yards in each of the past two seasons and is considered a mid-round draft choice. Also keep an eye on kicker Cairo Santos, who's among the top senior kickers in the nation.

Louisiana-Lafayette pro prospect: Wide receiver Daryl Surgent––The Cajuns are thin on next-level talent, at least among their seniors, but keep any eye on Surgent. In addition to his work on offense, he's been the primary return man on both kicks and punts for each of the last three seasons and has four career touchdowns on returns.

Prediction: If Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway is healthy, the Cajuns stand a much better chance of winning. After all, they won this exact bowl game the past two seasons and will for a third, 27-23.

St. Petersburg Bowl*, East Carolina vs. Ohio

Kickoff 1:00 p.m. CT Monday on ESPN

The skinny: Ohio is just about the least inspiring out of the 70 teams that are playing in a bowl game. At least there's some name recognition in being coached by former Nebraska head man Frank Solich and quarterbacked by Tyler Tettleton, son of former Detroit Tigers all-star Mickey Tettleton. The East Carolina Pirates are a much better team. They rank first in Conference USA rushing defense, allowing just 117.5 yards per game, while ranking second in scoring offense, putting up 40.4 points per game.

East Carolina pro prospect: Safety Damon Magazu––Magazu was named second-team all-conference by league coaches after racking up 75 tackles and grabbing four interceptions his senior year. He has 10 career college interceptions. At best, Magazu is a late-round prospect, but the Packers can't afford to overlook almost any player at the position heading into 2014.

Ohio pro prospect: Cornerback Travis Carrie––Carrie was named just a third-team all-conference performer at cornerback after grabbing four interceptions as a senior, but he was named a first-team punt return specialist. The return ability gives him extra value as a pro prospect and the faster he runs at his pro day, the more his stock will rise. He has nice size at 6-0 and 212 lbs., but he'll probably go undrafted.

Prediction: East Carolina and prolific quarterback Shane Carden shouldn't have trouble putting up points on an Ohio team that lost three out of its last four heading into the postseason. Pirates win, 45-17.

Hawaii Bowl, Boise State vs. Oregon State

Kickoff at 7:00 p.m. CT Tuesday on ESPN

The skinny: Oregon State might be limping into the postseason with five straight losses, but there's enough talent to provide a good challenge to Boise State. For the Broncos, 2013 marked the first time they had at least four losses since 2005. They'll be out to prove they're not slipping even as Chris Petersen has left to coach Washington.

Boise State pro prospect: Offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr.––Leno has started 38 consecutive games for the Broncos, the last 25 at left tackle. He went from earning second-team all-conference honors in 2012 to a first-team All-Mountain West in 2013 as a senior. He's the 11th rated tackle in this year's class by NFLDraftScout.com and a potential mid- to late-round pick.

Oregon State pro prospect: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks––Just a junior, Cooks would have to declare early for the NFL draft, but very likely might do so after becoming the Biletnikoff Award winner following a season in which he caught 120 passes for 1,670 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. If he does declare, Cooks could go as high as the first round.

Prediction: When in doubt, go against the team with the interim coach. Cooks and Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion should bomb away on the Boise State defense and win, 41-33.

*I refuse to call bowl games by their silly corporate names and instead use their former or conceptualized names.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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