SEC Football: 2012 Midseason Award Winners
We've reached the mid-way point of the 2012 college football season, which means that it's time to hand out some mid-season awards.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has burst on to the scene with his dual-threat capabilities, but will the redshirt freshman take home mid-season offensive player of the year honors?
Will Muschamp has his Florida team right in the thick of the national title hunt, but Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze have exceeded expectations. But have they succeeded enough to be the mid-season coach of the year?
We hand out some SEC mid-season awards in this slide show.
Offensive Player of the First Half: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Just six games into his college career, Johnny Manziel has made Texas A&M football games "appointment television."
"Johnny Football" is the most exciting dual-threat quarterback the SEC has seen since—well—Cam Newton. Granted, Newton's Heisman season was only two short seasons ago, but Manziel has electrified the Aggie offense and grabbed the attention of Heisman voters—as a freshman.
He leads the SEC in total offense with 392.7 yards per game, leads the SEC in rushing with 112.67 yards per game, has thrown for 1,680 yards, tossed 14 touchdowns and only thrown three interceptions.
Those, my friends, are video game numbers.
The only decent defense that Manziel has faced over his first six games is Florida, which is currently ranked No. 13 in total defense. The Gators limited Manziel's impact, and we will see if stout defenses like LSU, Alabama and Mississippi State can do the same in the second half of the season.
So far, so good for Manziel though.
Defensive Player of the First Half: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been a monster so far this season for the Gamecocks.
The true sophomore from Rock Hill, S.C. is second in the SEC in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (15) behind Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.
While Clowney doesn't litter the stat sheet like Moore, he is extremely disruptive and has allowed the rest of the Gamecock defense to shine in 2012.
He only had four tackles and one sack in South Carolina's 35-7 win over Georgia in early October, but if you watched that game, you saw Clowney make his presence felt all over the field by disrupting plays for the entire 60 minutes.
He has stepped up his game stopping the run and has established himself as one of the nation's premier defensive football players.
And he's still got at least one more season in South Carolina before he turns pro. That's frightening.
Special Teams Player of the First Half: Missouri PR Marcus Murphy
With apologies to South Carolina's Ace Sanders and Texas A&M's Dustin Harris, neither of those two special teams studs has played anywhere close to the level of Missouri's Marcus Murphy this season.
Murphy leads the punt return average with 18.88 yards per return, returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown vs. Alabama, and has scored four touchdowns on special teams—a Missouri single-season record.
For perspective, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu averaged 15.59 yards per return and only scored twice all of last season—and he was a Heisman finalist.
That's strong, really strong.
Murphy is one of Missouri's lone bright spots in its transition season to the SEC.
Freshman of the First Half: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
If you get named the mid-season offensive player of the year, then you have to be SEC mid-season freshman of the year, right?
Manziel has been an absolute stud for the Texas A&M Aggies, and the fact that he's a redshirt freshman that wasn't named the team's starting quarterback until Aug. 15 makes his early-season performance even more impressive.
He is accurate through the air, keeps his eyes downfield as he is buying time and knows when it's appropriate to take off on the ground.
Some of the success that Manziel has enjoyed so far this season is directly due to Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's ability to adjust the air raid offense to fit the skills that Manziel possesses.
"Johnny Football" has been the talk of the SEC in 2012, and the conference will be lucky to have him around for the next few years.
Coach of the First Half: Florida Head Coach Will Muschamp
Rebuilding year or not, you can't go 6-6 in the regular season like Will Muschamp did in his first season in Gainesville and stay employed for very long.
Muschamp has rebounded with a vengeance, leading the Gators to a 6-0 record and the No. 2 spot in the first edition of the 2012 BCS Standings.
Plus, he's using an old-school approach to football—running the ball and playing defense.
Mike Gillislee has emerged as a stud at running back for the Gators, rushing for 102.5 yards per game which is tops in the conference among running backs. The added threat of quarterback Jeff Driskel running the ball has only compounded issues for opposing defenses, who have to respect his dual-threat ability.
And then, there's the Gator defense, which currently ranks fourth in the SEC in total defense (297.2 YPG) despite having to overcome several key injuries before the season and after it started.
Most Surprising Team: Texas A&M Aggies
Remember last season when Texas A&M was the punchline of every joke and kept throwing away lead after lead in the second half?
Apparently that was a Mike Sherman problem, because Kevin Sumlin has come to College Station and fixed that problem with relative ease.
The Aggies are 5-1, with the only loss being of the three-point variety to the Florida Gators, which currently sit in the No. 2 spot of the most recent BCS Standings.
As mentioned earlier, he has adjusted the style of the offense to fit his personnel, which isn't always the easiest thing to do in the toughest conference in America. "Getting the ball in the hands of playmakers in space" always seems to be the mantra of coaches that employ the spread, but the method of delivery has to vary based on players.
Sumlin knows this, recognized it and adjusted.
Most Disappointing Team: Auburn Tigers
Has there been a more disappointing team in recent SEC memory than the 2012 Auburn Tigers? Two years removed from a national title, Auburn currently sits at 1-5 with the only win coming in overtime over Louisiana-Monroe.
Once regarded as a team that plays strong for a full four quarters, this Auburn team has been outscored 62-3 in the final period this season, and has lost its four SEC games by an average of 14.3 points per game.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has been a disaster on the Plains. The Tiger offense has become more of a punchline than a joke, averaging 287.5 yards per game, which ranks 120th out of 124 teams in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Auburn's ineptitude has landed Chizik firmly on the hot seat, and unless things turn around, it could be a long road back for the Tigers.
Game of the First Half: Florida 14 LSU 6
With apologies to the Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Tech shootout from Saturday night, the LSU at Florida game in the Swamp on from October 6 was what SEC football is all about.
Old school, grown man football at its finest.
It was a game that you would expect from these two SEC juggernauts, and it lived up to expectations.
Florida's defense—led by safety Matt Elam—was stout all game long, while LSU's defense—led by linebacker Kevin Minter—matched them blow for blow.
It was LSU that tapped out first, getting out-manned by a vicious Florida ground attack and running back Mike Gillislee. Gillislee finished the game 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns and the Gators didn't run a single passing play after taking a 7-6 lead with 5:15 to go in the third quarter.
It was ugly. It was physical. It was old school.
Everything SEC football should be.
Best Play: South Carolina PR Ace Sanders' Punt-Return for TD vs. Georgia
Ace Sanders' 70-yard punt return for a touchdown against Georgia highlighted a frantic first quarter that saw the Gamecocks jump out to a 21-0 lead an never look back in a 35-7 win over the Bulldogs.
Not only did Sanders quickly recover after dropping the ball at his own 30-yard line, but he made several moves to find space and then ran away from Georgia's kick coverage down the left sideline for the score.
It wasn't quite up to par with Joe Adams' punt return for a touchdown last season for Arkansas, but it will still be hard to top this season.
Every time you look up, it seems like Sanders is breaking away for a big punt return. The junior from Bradenton, Fla. has been a big part of South Carolina's success in 2012.