By Tom Luicci
Conference championship weekend proved to be a microcosm of the regular season, from the sublime (Alabama’s comeback win over a Not-So-Smart Georgia and UCF outscoring Memphis 35-3 in the second half to remain unbeaten) to the ridiculous (was that modern football Washington and Utah played? Did we really need to see a six-loss Pitt team get crushed by Clemson?).
With only the bowls left – and Army-Navy on Saturday – it’s time to honor the winners and losers with the first annual TMG (The Tommies) Awards, which are a little different than most awards.
PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants were too busy to lend any manpower, so all accounting was handled internally. The Dufresne family has certified the balloting. So here goes (hold the applause until the end):
Hate to start with a negative (okay, not really) but Wisconsin was coming off a 13-1 season, was ranked in the preseason Top 5 or 10 by most polls and has a soon-to-be 2,000-yard rusher in Jonathan Taylor – yet finished a wobbly 7-5. The Badgers practically screamed bust in game three when they lost at home to BYU. QB injuries aside, it’s surprising Wisconsin was this mediocre in one of the worst divisions in the Power 5
Best Feel-Good Story
A year after reinstating football, after it was dropped for budgetary reasons in 2014, UAB finished 10-3 and won the Conference-USA title. Pretty remarkable.
Most Consistent Coaching Job
For now it’s a tie, with a bowl game result pending. Iowa lost at least four games for the eighth time in the past nine years under Kirk Ferentz. But Boston College’s Steve Addazio can wrest away the honor if the Eagles lose their bowl game. That would make BC 7-6 in five of Addazio’s six years on the job. That’s the definition of consistency.
Worst Play Call
No surprise here. James Franklin’s bizarre shotgun handoff call to Miles Sanders on fourth and five at the Ohio State 43-yard line with Penn State trailing the Buckeyes 28-27 with 1:22 to play provided a new definition for dumb play calling. How many other coaches take the ball out of the hands of their best playmaker (QB Trace McSorley) with the season on the line? Uh, none. As in: Zero.
Most Entertaining Game
This one was a unanimous choice from our esteemed panel of judges: Texas A&M 74, LSU 72 in seven overtimes. The twists and turns – starting with the overturned A&M interception at the end of regulation that set the stage for OT – were beyond crazy. An all-time classic.
Quietest 10-Win Season
Only 15 teams have won 10 games or more to this point. Fresno State went 11-2 and won the Mountain West Conference by beating Boise State on the snow-covered blue turf in OT. Two years ago – Jeff Tedford took over as head coach last season – the Bulldogs were 1-11.
Worst Division Winner (maybe ever)
Pittsburgh won the ACC’s Coastal Division but could finish 7-7. The Panthers were blown out by Penn State, UCF, Miami and Clemson. Northwestern won the Big Ten’s West Division but could wind up with six losses, one of which was to 4-8 Akron.
Plenty of candidates, but Old Dominion’s stunning 49-35 victory over Virginia Tech earns top honors. Yes, the Hokies had a down year (6-6). But ODU came into the game 0-3 and as 28-point underdogs – and dominated. The Monarchs finished 4-8.
Colorado started 5-0 and earned a spot in the Top 25 – and proceeded to lose its next seven games. Now the Buffs are looking for a new head coach. That earned the nod over USF, which opened 7-0 and lost its final five games.
Most Misleading 10-Win (Or More) Season
Had to be Michigan. The Wolverines played their two biggest games in their opener (Notre Dame) and finale (Ohio State) and lost both. In between they beat up on 10 teams. In the end, that meant another disappointing year for Jim (Colonel Sanders) Harbaugh.
Most Dubious Historic Achievement
Imagine allowing more points per game and more yards per game than any FCS team in modern history. Connecticut managed to do just that during a 1-11 season. But if you’re going to be bad you might as well be historically bad, right?
Top 2019 Hot Seat Coaching Candidate (Power 5 Category)
Hard to believe that in Year 2 at Florida State that Willie Taggart will be on shaky footing, but the Seminoles led the nation in penalties and saw their 36-year bowl streak snapped during a 5-7 campaign in Taggart’s first year in Tallahassee.
Best Performance During Football Season By A Basketball School
Kentucky (9-3) gets the award by a slight margin over Syracuse (9-3). In a season of firsts, the Wildcats won nine games during the regular season for the first time since 1977. The Orange rebounded from a 4-8 season in 2017, with two of their three losses by four points to Clemson and Pitt, the ACC’s two division winners.
Worst Conference Championship Game (Maybe Ever)
Blowouts are never fun to sit through. There were enough of those last weekend. But Washington’s 10-3 victory over Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, with neither offense producing a touchdown, was unwatchable. Is it water polo season yet (actually, it is. It’s NCAA Tournament time for the sport).
Most Exciting Player
Statistics are only a part of this evaluation. You could not take your eyes off Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray when the Sooners’ high-powered offense was on the field. Baseball’s gain will be college football’s loss. He’s a generational talent.
Best Individual Season That No One Knows About
UMass’ Andy Isabella led the nation in receiving yards with 1,698 but try finding a dozen avid college football fans who have ever heard of him. The senior hard 102 receptions and 13 TD catches in 12 games.
Worst Officiated Conference
It’s a rare five-way tie among the Power 5 leagues. What has happened to college football officiating? There’s inconsistency over pass interference, there were more blatantly missed call in key junctures than ever and no one can figure out how to apply the targeting rule. Bad officiating was the rule not the exception this year.
What’s In A Name Award
Put UCF’s name on Notre Dame’s schedule and results. Are the Knights in the playoffs right now? You know the answer. It’s no. The Irish beat one team of consequence (Michigan in the opener) and played one of the softest schedules in school history – without a conference championship game -- but still wound up making the four-team playoff. UCF or any other non-Power 5 school would not have done so with the same credentials.
Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.
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