The Heisman Trophy is in the rearview mirror. So are all the other prestigious college football awards: the Belitnikoff, the Thorpe, the John Mackey and so on.
It’s now time for the newest addition to the college football landscape, the inaugural College Football Weekend Preview Career Achievement Award.
To the best of our knowledge, no one recognizes the performance of a football player over the course of his entire collegiate career, which is where we come into the picture.
The award goes to a senior that has completed his college eligibility and, as the name suggests, has the most impressive performance throughout his career.
The finalists in alphabetical order (congratulations to West Virginia WR Tavon Austin and Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks who were on the watch list)…
Montee Ball, running back, Wisconsin
Ball is the NCAA’s career touchdown leader with 82 trips to the end zone and still one more game to go in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. His 2011 season was phenomenal as he led the NCAA in rushing yards (1,923) and tied the record held by the iconic Barry Sanders for most touchdowns (39) in a single season. For his efforts, Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist and a first-team All-American. In 2012, Ball overcame an assault by a group of assailants before the season and suffering a concussion to become the Doak Walker Award winner given to the nation’s top running back. A two-time winner of the Big Ten’s Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year Award, Ball was also an All-Big Ten honorable mention pick his sophomore season and had over 400 all-purpose yards his freshman year on campus.
Matt Barkley, quarterback, Southern Cal
A starter since his freshman season, Barkley has thrown for over 12,000 yards with 116 touchdowns compared to 48 interceptions for a passer rating of 148.7. Despite a loss of scholarships and being ineligible for the postseason for two of Barkley’s seasons, the USC quarterback managed to throw for over 2,700 yard each year of his career. Barkley was the College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Year his junior year in 2011, his best year in college, when he threw for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns compared to only seven interceptions. He was also the Wuerffel Trophy winner in 2012 as the player who best combines community involvement with on-field and academic achievement.
Barrett Jones, offensive lineman, Alabama
Already a part of two national championship teams in for the Crimson Tide in 2009 and 2011, Jones will be gunning for a third BCS title on January 7 against Notre Dame. Jones was also the Outland Trophy winner as the country’s best interior lineman as a junior in 2011 and the winner of the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center in 2012. Perhaps most impressive is Jones’ versatility and ability to play all over the offensive line: at right guard as a freshman and sophomore, left tackle as a junior and center as a senior. Jones toughed out the entire second half of the most recent SEC championship over Georgia by playing on an injured foot sustained in the first half and needed crutches to celebrate during the post-game. Jones has been a starter since his freshman season and was named a first-team All-American by many outlets his junior and season years.
Manti Te’o, linebacker, Notre Dame
A starter since the fifth game of his freshman season, Te’o has racked up 427 career tackles, 34 for a loss, 8.5 sacks, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Te’o was one of the best stories in all of college football in 2012 as a Mormon from Hawaii that was a major force behind the rise to prominence of a Midwestern Catholic school at Notre Dame. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting his senior season while being a first-team All-American and taking home a host of individual awards including the Lombardi Award, Butkus Award, Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award, Walter Camp Award, Bronco Nagurski Trophy and Lott Trophy.
And the winner is… Barrett Jones
Congratulations, Mr. Jones. We don’t discriminate against non-skill position players here at the College Football Weekend Preview. Here’s your certificate suitable for framing. We fully expect this to be displayed more prominently than your Outland and Rimington Awards.
The Wisconsin Connection
The wait is over.
Wisconsin has hired Utah State Gary Andersen who’s coming off arguably the best season in school history following a victory in the Idaho Potoato Bowl on Dec. 15 over Toledo.
Badgers fans might remember Utah State as the team that came within a missed field goal of beating Wisconsin with six seconds left on the clock back in September, a 16-14 Badgers win.
Utah State’s only other loss was a 6-3 setback to BYU this season but finished the season by going undefeated in the WAC and winning its conference championship.
Conceivably, Utah State was two missed field goals away from beating Wisconsin and BYU and ending up in a BCS bowl game that Northern Illinois qualified for instead.
Utah State cornerback Will Davis, a Senior Bowl invitee, told Cheesehead TV about the 2012 Aggies team, “I definitely think we’re the best to ever come through here. I think Coach ‘A’ is definitely the one to do that.”
The biggest question regarding Andersen, whose pedigree is on defense, is how his offense will operate at Wisconsin. Athletic director Barry Alvarez, the interim head coach for the Rose Bowl, has been insistent that the offense in Wisconsin should not change its style, a pro-style attack predicated upon big Midwestern-bred offensive linemen and premiere running backs.
In 2012 Utah State had perhaps surprisingly placed two running backs in the NFL, Robert Turbin of the Seattle Seahawks and Michael Smith of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That number will grow by one in 2013 when current Aggies running back Kerwynn Williams joins the professional ranks.
Then consider that current Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton has received favorable comparisons to former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, a slightly undersized dual-threat QB. Those skill position trends and cultures will mesh well in Wisconsin.
Quick Saturday Bowl Game Previews
New Orleans Bowl at 11:00 a.m. CT on ESPN
The skinny: For a program that hasn’t had much of a history of playing in the postseason, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns have now qualified for back-to-back bowl games and have been one of the more successful teams in the Sun Belt the past two seasons. Over at East Carolina, second-year head coach Ruffin McNeill has the Pirates back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus. Neither team is great, but considering their level of competition, an 8-4 record at both schools is admirable.
NFL Draft prospect: Louisiana-Lafeyette kicker Brett Baer––It was one season ago when Baer was the hero of this same bowl game. He converted on a 50-yard field goal as time expired, helping the Cajuns win their first bowl game in school history, a 32-30 victory over San Diego State. Baer has connected on 42 of 45 career field goals (.894). Considering the accuracy issues Packers kicker Mason Crosby has gone through this season, Baer is one prospect to keep an eye on.
Prediction: The Cajuns will bring a good crowd to New Orleans for a de facto home game. East Carolina has a bright future, but they’re a little thin on experience to beat a Louisiana-Lafayette team that will rely on veterans like cornerbacks Melvin White and Jemarious Moten to lead them to a win. Cajuns on top, 33-20.
Las Vegas Bowl at 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN
The skinny: Saturday’s game is a matchup of teams that perhaps failed to meet expectations, but both squads will be looking to bring some momentum into the offseason. Boise State relies on a terrific pass defense that’s allowed only three touchdown passes all year long. Washington has some talent at the skill positions, but hasn’t been very good in the trenches on either side of the football. The Broncos and Huskies will meet in next season’s season opener as well.
NFL Draft prospect: Boise State CB Jamar Taylor and Washington CB Desmond Trufant––Both teams feature a cornerback that will be selected on the second day of the draft at the latest. Both are projected to have 4.4 speed or better and are your classic cover corners. Taylor is a big reason Boise State only allowed those three touchdown passes all year. Trufant is the younger brother of NFL players Marcus and Isiah. He helped hold USC wide receiver Marqise Lee to only two receptions for 32 yards earlier this season.
Prediction: Boise State has defeated Pac 12 opponents in this same bowl game the past two years. They’ll keep the streak going by getting a balanced offensive attack that’s just good enough to get by Washington. Boise State wins 24-21.
What Happened Before Saturday
Ball State and offensive lineman Austin Holtz lost to Central Florida 38-17 in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Friday evening. A senior, Holtz’s college career has come to an end. He’s the 43rd ranked offensive tackle in the senior class by NFLDraftScout.com and is our exclusive player interview this week…
Question: Can you address the step forward Ball State took this season by qualifying for a bowl game?
Holtz: It’s big not just for the seniors but for the program in general. It’s just another opportunity to play on TV and let the recruits see us in action. It helps us get nationwide coverage on a nationally-televised game. It just shows the recruits that we’re winning here, we’re going to bowl games, and hopefully they’ll want to come here and carry on the tradition of going to bowl games.
Question: Ball State seemed to have a pretty balanced offense. How much of an emphasis was placed on running and throwing the football equally well?
Holtz: We just do whatever we do. Going into a game, whatever feels right. There were games when we threw 70 times and then there were games when we had 300, 250 yards rushing. So whatever’s clicking at the time, we’ll do the most. I don’t really pay attention to how balanced throughout the game is, but it’s like going with the hot hand. Whatever’s working at the time, we’ll stick with it.
Question: Ball State was among the best in the nation in the fewest number of sacks allowed. What’s been the secret?
Holtz: No secret. We just do what we do, do what we’re coached. When they pick up the blitzes, we just do the basic stuff. Keith Wenning, our quarterback, is great about getting the ball out of his hands. Our backs are great about picking up extra blitzers. And then our receivers, the most important part, they get open. They find the open spots in the zones. They beat man-to-man coverage, whatever. It’s not just the O-line, it’s the whole offense working together.
Question: What is your best quality as a football player? The best thing you bring to the field?
Holtz: I think my best thing would be a mean streak. I come out there and have fun, and I just work hard, do what I got to do. I just play hard and give my best effort.
Question: You’re coming off a knee injury last season. What type of injury was it and how has the challenge been coming back from the injury?
Holtz: The knee injury was nothing too serious. It was just a little bit of tendinitis in my knee, which flared up a little bit. This year, I’ve had no problems with my knees. I haven’t missed any games this year with any injuries, which is huge for me. The knee injury was nothing to be worried about, just a little bit of tendinitis, but we’re all good now.
Question: What was your reaction to being named first-team All-MAC?
Holtz: It was awesome. That was a great accomplishment. I was even more happy, myself getting first-team, but then two other other guys on the offensive line got all-conference honors, that’s three out of five, which is awesome.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.