Northwestern: Ah yes, who was it the media picked to win the Big Ten this year? But it was Northwestern, of course. Unfortunately, the Wildcats did nothing to prove they were not just a fluke team last season with surprising come-from-behind victories, while relying on two key offensive players. NU started off 4-1 and was ranked as high as No. 14, but then it hit rock bottom, losing its final six games of the season to end at 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten.
Runner-up: Oregon State: Much was made about the Beavers after their shellacking of Notre Dame in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, especially with then-Heisman Trophy candidate Ken Simonton returning. Unfortunately, Sports Illustrated’s preseason No. 1 team was a flop from start-to-finish in the 2001 season. Their defense was much slower than last season’s 11-1 team and the question marks at receiver loomed large throughout the 2001 campaign. The Beavers started off on the wrong note, getting stomped 44-24 to Fresno State, and the season basically went downhill from there.
Honorable Mention: UCLA, Kansas State
Maryland: The Terrapins were expected to land in seventh place in the ACC, solely because Wake Forest and Duke usually occupy the eighth and ninth spots in the conference. But behind quarterback Shaun Hill and the surprising play of halfback Bruce Perry–a finalist for the Doak Walker award, given to the nation’s top running back–the Terps rolled their way through the regular season, losing their only game at Tallahassee, Fla.–a place where they have never won. But as good as their offense was, their defense was even more spectacular, led by the standout play of linebacker E.J. Henderson.
Runner-up: Colorado: Granted, things could only get better for the Buffs, who ended last season with a 3-8 mark. But no one expected them to defeat Nebraska and win the Big XII North crown, then follow it up with an impressive win against Texas in the Big XII title game. Their offensive line came through in the clutch, creating huge holes and allowing the Buffalo running backs to take over a game. After starting the season with a loss to Fresno State, the Buffs bounced back and now find themselves in a BCS game, most likely the Fiesta Bowl.
Honorable Mention: Washington State, Illinois
Game Of The Year:
Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 53 (seven overtimes) on Nov. 3: The longest major college football game in history was easily the game of the year, if not the game of the last five years. The teams broke two Division I records with 198 total plays and 80 points scored in overtime. Each team mirrored the other’s performance through six overtimes, as they scored touchdowns, missed two-point conversions and converted the two-point tries. Ultimately, it would be the Razorbacks who would prevail, stopping Rebel tight end Doug Ziegler two yards short of the end zone in a two-point attempt to tie the game.
Runner-up: Tennessee 34 — Florida 32 on Dec. 1: So much was at stake in this battle at the Swamp last weekend–winning this game meant a chance at the Rose Bowl. And even more was built up against the Vols, who were 18-point underdogs and had not won at the Swamp in 30 years. Yet, the Vols jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. Florida came right back, scoring the next 20 points. But Travis Stephens continued to break out huge runs, leading Tennessee to an eight-point lead with less than nine minutes left in the game. The Gators punched in a touchdown with less than two minutes left but couldn’t convert on the two-point try. And now it is Tennessee who controls its own Rose Bowl fate this season.
Honorable Mention: Michigan State 26, Michigan 24 on Nov. 3; Oregon 21, UCLA 20 on Nov. 10
Coach of the Year:
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland: He waited 32 years to run his own program until last November, when he was named head coach of Maryland. Since then, Friedgen changed nearly every aspect of the program. He implemented an offense which he used as an assistant at Georgia Tech, and since then his team has piled up big numbers, reeled off a 10-win season and are now playing in the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1946.
Runner-up: Joe Paterno, Penn State: Throughout the first four weeks of the season, critics were saying that JoePa was too old to coach and that he may never win a game again. The Nittany Lions were 0-4 and were looking like the 2001 Chicago Bulls. But JoePa turned his troops around. A coach who usually puts his stock in older players gave freshman quarterback Zack Mills the nod, and Mills helped rally his troops back for a big win against Northwestern at Evanston, Ill. on Oct. 20. It changed the Wildcats’ season for the worse and was a catalyst for a five-win Penn State season. It was Mills, however, who ended the Penn State dream of making a bowl game, as his three interceptions and one fumble were a direct result of his team’s loss against Virginia last week. Nonetheless, JoePa is now the all-time winningest coach in Division I-A history with 327 wins.
Honorable Mention: Mike Price, Washington State; Ron Turner, Illinois
Best come-from-behind Victory:
Georgia 26 – Tennessee 24 on Oct. 6: No lead is safe in college football. And this proved true in the Georgia-Tennessee game in early October at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. Early in the game, it looked like the Vols were going to run away with it, leading 14-3. But Georgia reeled off two touchdowns in the second quarter and went into the locker room with a 17-17 tie. After a Bulldog field goal in the fourth quarter, the Vols scored on a big play, as Travis Stephens made a 62-yard touchdown reception with 44 seconds remaining. Tennessee led 24-20, but Georgia stormed right back, driving 59 yards in 39 seconds, as Verron Haynes trotted in the end zone with five seconds to play, leading to the Georgia victory and the only blemish on the Vols’ record thus far.
Runner-up: Penn State 29-Ohio State 27 on Oct. 27: The Nittany Lions had a flare for the dramatic comeback in the 2001 season. Against Ohio State, PSU trailed 27-9 in the third quarter. Penn State rattled off 18 consecutive points, putting it head 29-27 at the beginning of the fourth. The defense stood tall in the final stanza, as JoePa finally eclipsed Bear Bryant’s record for all-time wins as a D I-A coach.
Honorable mention: Stanford 49-Oregon 42 on Oct. 20
Freshman of the Year:
Kelley Washington, WR, Tennessee: The 22-year-old, 6-foot-4 freshman, who spent four years playing baseball in the Florida Marlins system, will surely be a Heisman candidate in the next couple of years. This season, he had his breakout game against LSU on Sept. 29, in which he hauled in 11 balls for 256 yards and one touchdown. He broke a 35-year school record with his receiving yards that game, and it was the third highest total in SEC history.
Since then, he has been a prime time target for Casey Clausen, as he led his team in receiving with 870 yards.
Runner-up: Anthony Davis, RB, Wisconsin: Davis was easily the brightest part of Wisconsin’s season, with the exception of wide receiver Lee Evans. Davis continued UW’s fine running back tradition, leading the Big Ten in rushing with 133.3 yards per game and ended his season at No. 7 in the land in yards per game. His numbers may have been higher, since he did miss the Oct. 6 game against Indiana. UW will have a bright future with Davis in the backfield.
Honorable Mention: Chance Kretschmer, RB, Nevada
Offensive Player of the Year:
Rex Grossman, QB, Florida: The sophomore quarterback from Bloomington, Ind., didn’t even have a locked starting job coming into the 2001 season. He and Brock Berlin were dueling over the spot in spring practices, and Steve Spurrier ultimately gave Grossman the nod in September. Since then, Grossman has put up fantastic numbers, throwing for over 300 yards in every game but one–against Florida State, when he threw for 290. He leads the nation in total offense with 356.8 yards per game and directed the nation’s best offense, which averaged 408.6 yards per contest. Also, Grossman is leading the nation with a passing efficiency of 170.8. Last week against Tennessee, it was Grossman who kept Florida in the game, as the rushing attack was hardly that with Earnest Graham out of the lineup. His one bad performance this season was against Auburn, when he threw four picks, ultimately resulting in a Florida loss.
Runner-up: Brandon Doman, QB, BYU: Regardless of his team not being invited to a BCS game, Doman and the Cougars had a flawless 12-0 season, which should be worth something. Luke Staley, one of the nation’s leading rushers, who will likely miss the duration of the season with a broken leg, was a product of Doman’s success. Week in and week out, Doman played flawless football, never throwing more than one interception per game, until last week, when he had three balls picked off against Mississippi State. Regardless, Doman currently has 31 touchdown passes on the season and threw the ball to the other team a meager eight times.
The 6-foot-1 senior could even run the ball, racking up over 100 yards in two different games this season.
Honorable Mention: Antwaan Randle-El, QB, Indiana; David Carr, QB, Fresno State
Defensive Player of the Year:
Dwight Freeney, DE, Syracuse: Freeney was all over the field in the 2001 campaign, as he had arguably the best defensive season in college football history. He recorded a NCAA single-season record 17.5 sacks. Also, he set another NCAA single-season record for fumbles forced and recovered in a single season with 11–eight forced and three recovered. He led the Orangemen to an impressive season, going 9-3 and 6-1 in conference. The 250-pound senior has a good chance at being the No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Runner-up: Roy Williams, S, Oklahoma: The best safety in the country proved he was just that after a remarkable season in the Sooners’ defensive backfield. On the season, Williams had 101 tackles, including 73 unassisted and 11 for losses, two sacks, five picks, three fumble recoveries and 22 broken-up passes.
Honorable Mention: Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina; Ed Reed, S, Miami
Boneheads of the Year: DeShaun Foster, RB, UCLA; Steve Bellisari, QB, Ohio State
Upsets of the Year: Oklahoma State 16-Oklahoma 13 on Nov. 24; Auburn 23-Florida 20 on Oct. 13
Most Underrated Players: Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana; Clinton Portis, RB, Miami
Best Single-Game Performances: Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler’s 517 total yards of offense and six touchdowns against N.C. State on Oct. 13; Colorado running back Chris Brown’s 198 rushing yards on 24 carries and six touchdowns in the Buffs 62-36 win over Nebraska on Nov. 23