Mike Sorensen: With the local season nearing an end, it's time to give out state college football awards
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY —
The college football season isn't quite over, with Utah State playing its bowl game in Idaho this week and BYU set to play in San Diego next week. Still, we've got the bests, worsts, mosts and other awards from the local collegiate season.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Utah State was this close to a perfect season. The Aggies took a 14-3 lead at halftime over Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin, but couldn't quite hold on. They had a chance to win in the final minute, but a 37-yard field goal try was wide right by inches. Then a month later in Provo, the Aggies had their chances, but missed a 38-yarder that could have forced overtime.
Utah' defensive lineman Star Lotulelei didn't have big numbers, being double and triple-teamed all year, but he made some spectacular plays when he broke free. He also wins the prize for most mispronounced name.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who had a passer rating of 156.7, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards and 27 touchdowns, while leading his team to a best-ever 10-2 record.
MOST EXCITING PLAYER
Utah's Reggie Dunn, who set an NCAA record by returning four kickoffs from over 100 yards for touchdowns — on just 10 tries.
BEST ONE-GAME CAREER
OK, he played in other games, but James Lark's six-touchdown passing game for BYU against New Mexico State came in his only start. Sure the Aggies are terrible, but Lark will always have Las Cruces.
Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher and BYU receiver Ross Apo. On the heels of two seasons when he led the team in receptions, Christopher caught about half as many passes as the previous two years and was only fourth on a pass-poor team in catches. Apo has never lived up to his hype and was just fourth on his team in receptions and scored just one touchdown.
WORST DECISION I
Bronco Mendenhall's rash decision to go for two points in loss to Boise State when a PAT kick would have sent the Cougars to overtime against a Bronco team that hadn't scored on offense all night.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN II
Four of BYU's losses came by a touchdown or less, including a three-pointer to possible national champion Notre Dame.
MOST DANGEROUS NAME FOR ANNOUNCERS
Utah defensive end Nate Fakahafua
WORST DECISION II
BYU coaches letting quarterback Taysom Hill run around the end in the final minute of a 6-3 victory over Utah State. The Cougars could have taken a knee, but instead Hill had his knee taken out and missed the rest of the season.
MOST OVERLOOKED VICTORY
Southern Utah's 30-27 upset of defending FCS champion and No. 1-ranked Eastern Washington in early November.
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Weber State linebacker Anthony Morales. He had 108 tackles, more than double the next player on the Wildcats, and he did it in just nine games. He also ranked third in the FCS in tackles per game and had 23 against Montana.
BEST DEFENSIVE STAND
BYU's defense, the best the state has seen in years, stuffed Boise State on four straight plays from the one-yard line in a memorable goal-line stand that made the normally staid Bronco Mendenhall act giddy as a schoolgirl.
WORST DECISION III
Colorado coach Jon Embree allowing his team to kick to Utah's Reggie Dunn in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Who knows, maybe Embree would still be employed if he'd kept the ball away from a guy who had already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in the previous month.
BEST FLASHBACK PLAY
Utah's Jake Murphy faking a run up the middle on a two-point conversion like he'd done in two previous games, but instead stopping and lobbing a pass to a wide-open David Rolf to tie the score against Colorado. It was a near-carbon copy of Ben Moa's pass to a wide-open Matt Hansen in a 2003 victory over Air Force.
MOST PUZZLING ASPECT OF USU'S AMAZING SEASON
How the Aggies could only muster 17,001, 17,222 and 19,350 fans, respectively, for the final three home games of their best season in history. I know there aren't a lot of people in Cache Valley, but c'mon, this was the best Aggie team since the days of Merlin Olsen.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN III
Southern Utah lost all four of its FCS games by a touchdown or less. Win those games and the T-Birds could have been Big Sky champs and gone to the FCS playoffs.
ALEX SMITH WHAT-DID-I-DO-WRONG? AWARD
Utah quarterback Jon Hays. The guy won six of nine games as a starter the year before, including a fourth-quarter comeback in the Sun Bowl. Then this year, filling in for injured Jordan Wynn, he beat BYU, before being benched following a 10-point loss to USC in favor of freshman Travis Wilson. The Ute coaches were clearly looking toward the future, but if the Utes had stuck with Hays, they'd likely be playing in a bowl game for the 10th straight year.
WORST TREATMENT OF AN ATHLETE
Some of the things written about BYU quarterback Riley Nelson on fan websites and said about him on talk radio were simply appalling. Perhaps Bronco Mendenhall was overly loyal to his senior quarterback and should have made a change earlier. But Nelson isn't making millions a year — he's just a college kid who busted his butt every time he got on the field. No one deserves to be beat up like he was.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, LOUIE SAKODA?
The six placekickers used by BYU, Utah, Utah State combined to make just 29 of their 48 field goal tries this year (60.4percent). Compare the 19 misses to Sakoda, who missed nine field goals total in three years at Utah, going 57 for 66 (86.3 percent).
SUU's Colton Cook, who made 19 of 22 field goal tries this year after going 14 of 19 the year before. Not bad for the former Viewmont soccer star, who never played football in high school.
GUTSIEST DECISION BY AN A.D.
Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee making interim coach Jody Sears the permanent coach. Not many ADs would be brave enough to do that after a 2-9 season, but Bovee was impressed enough with Sears to keep him around. And he doesn't have to worry about him running off to Arkansas or somewhere and taking another job anytime soon.
BEST DECISION BY A COACH
Utah State's Gary Andersen announcing he would stay in Logan and not pursue any job offers he was sure to get after a 10-2 season. Andersen showed loyalty seldom seen in sports these days and did it without demanding a bunch of more money.
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