B/R's College Football Awards for the 2022 Season

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 8, 2022

B/R's College Football Awards for the 2022 Season

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    Max Duggan
    AP Photo/LM Otero

    Heisman Trophy finalists Caleb Williams and Max Duggan headline the list of recipients for Bleacher Report's awards from the 2022 college football season.

    Altogether, B/R is handing out 13 honors as determined by our college football panel of David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard. Each writer cast a vote for every category, and plurality ruled.

    The topics range from traditional awards, such as Head Coach of the Year to Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. But we also featured the Group of Five Player of the Year and Most Exciting Player.

    As you can imagine, several of the players are repeat recipients after also landing B/R All-American recognition.

Coach of the Year

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    TCU head coach Sonny Dykes celebrates with his players after TCU scored a touchdown against Oklahoma during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 55-24. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
    AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

    Gary Patterson is a program legend. The former TCU boss shepherded the Horned Frogs from the WAC and Conference USA to the Mountain West and Big 12, winning a record 181 games in his 21 full seasons.

    But as 2021 ended, it was time for a change. TCU had stagnated, posting a 23-24 record in the previous four years.

    Sonny Dykes, then the head coach at SMU, had served as an offensive analyst at TCU in 2017. Before then, he'd overseen some prolific offenses as the head coach at Louisiana Tech and California. Dykes was well-respected, but high-level immediate success wasn't expected.

    Well, joke's on us.

    Dykes and his staff orchestrated a handful of dramatic second-half comebacks en route to a 12-0 regular season. Although the Horned Frogs fell a yard short in the Big 12 Championship Game, they secured the program's first-ever trip to the College Football Playoff.

    As Oklahoma and Texas prepare to leave for the SEC in 2025, TCU is positioned exceptionally well to thrive in a new-look Big 12.

Assistant of the Year

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    College Football: Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter looks on vs Ohio State at Ohio Stadium. 
Columbus, OH 11/26/2022
CREDIT: David E. Klutho (Photo by David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) 
(Set Number: X164248 TK1)
    Set Number: X164248 TK1

    One way or another, the recognition would be headed to Big Ten country. Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters also received multiple votes from B/R's panel.

    But the honor goes to Michigan's Jesse Minter.

    A first-year defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor, he'd served as Vanderbilt's DC last season. Before that, though, Minter had been an assistant with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens—who, as you might know, are led by John Harbaugh, the brother of Michigan boss Jim Harbaugh.

    Minter arrived with a massive challenge: Restock a defense that needed to replace six of its seven top tacklers, as well as key edge-rusher David Ojabo. (Although linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green returned for 2022 along with Junior Colson, he's been sidelined with an injury.)

    The result? A unit ranked third nationally in both yards allowed per play and per game, fifth in scoring defense and served as an overwhelming strength for a Big Ten-winning team.

Offensive Player of the Year

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws the ball during a college football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the USC Trojans on November 26, 2022, at United Airlines Field at The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Caleb Williams' season ended on a sour note as USC fell to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The letdown also caused the Trojans to drop out of the Top Four and miss the CFP.

    However, that disappointment should not overshadow what was otherwise a stellar year from Williams.

    The transfer from Oklahoma posted a slew of top-10 national marks as a passer, throwing for 4,075 yards (fourth) at 9.1 per attempt (sixth) with 37 touchdowns (T-first). He added 372 yards and 10 scores on the ground, recording an FBS-leading 47 total touchdowns.

    Williams guided the Trojans to an 11-2 record in head coach Lincoln Riley's debut season in Southern California, and the duo will likely enter 2023 with the expectation of taking USC to the College Football Playoff.

Defensive Player of the Year

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    FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 01: Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) is blocked by Arkansas Razorbacks offensive lineman Dalton Wagner (78) during the college football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Arkansas Razorbacks on October 1, 2022, at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Last year, it was impossible to not focus on Will Anderson Jr. while he chased the single-season sack record. Alabama's path to the College Football Playoff only fueled the stories.

    The tone changed in 2022, sure. Anderson didn't dominate the headlines, partially because Bama faded in the CFP race.

    But his excellence remained.

    According to Pro Football Focus, the edge-rusher totaled 59 pressures during the regular season—the nation's fourth-highest total. Among his 51 total tackles, the junior produced 17 for loss with 10 sacks. Anderson added one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.

    Provided he declares for the NFL draft as expected, Anderson will likely be a top-five pick.

Freshman of the Year

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    CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 29: Drake Maye #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second half of their game at Kenan Memorial Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 42-24. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Yes, the season ended disappointingly for North Carolina with three consecutive losses. But the Tar Heels still reached the ACC Championship Game because of Drake Maye's ascent.

    The brother of UNC royalty Luke Maye, Drake replaced record-setting quarterback Sam Howell.

    So, uh, no pressure!

    The younger Maye lived up to every billing imaginable, throwing for a program-high 4,115 yards with 35 touchdowns. He also scampered for 653 yards and seven scores while carrying the Tar Heels to a 9-1 start. Six consecutive ACC wins meant North Carolina had already clinched the Coastal Division in mid-November.

    Maye, who redshirted in 2021, has quickly become a respected prospect for the 2024 NFL draft cycle.

Senior of the Year

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    TCU quarterback Max Duggan (15) reacts after TCU made a first down against Texas Tech during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
    AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

    If you prefer Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, that's justifiable. He was the most important reason for UT's success.

    TCU, however, is headed to the College Football Playoff behind an improbable breakout from Max Duggan.

    Despite his three seasons of starting experience, Duggan lost the quarterback job to Chandler Morris. But when an injury sidelined Morris in the opener, Duggan rejoined the lineup and emerged as a powerful, efficient dual-threat force who propelled TCU to 12-0 and the program's first spot in the Big 12 Championship Game since 2017.

    Duggan threw for 3,321 yards at a terrific 9.0 yards per attempt, tossing 30 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He rushed for 404 yards, six more scores and bulldozed more than a few defenders.

    It's safe to say that nobody believed Duggan would be a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2022. Yet here he is.

Transfer of the Year

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    EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 12: Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies passes against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
    Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    When it doubt, let Michael Penix Jr. air it out.

    That basically served as Washington's philosophy in 2022, and it produced a highly entertaining year.

    Penix led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 4,354 passing yards, including an FBS-high 173 gains of 10-plus yards. He threw 29 touchdowns, added four rushing scores and catapulted Washington to a surprise 10-2 campaign while reconnecting with a familiar face.

    First-year Washington boss Kalen DeBoer arrived from Fresno State but served as Penix's position coach and play-caller at Indiana in 2019. Penix dealt with injuries that season yet finished 5-1 as a starter.

    The reunion put Washington on the brink of a Pac-12 Championship Game just one season after a tumultuous 4-8 year.

Comeback Player of the Year

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 12: Mohamed Ibrahim #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers scores a touchdown against the Northwestern Wildcats in the first quarter on November 12, 2022 at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    Back in 2020, Mohamed Ibrahim was a third-team AP All-American. He earned the Big Ten's Running Back of the Year honor, rushing for 1,076 yards and 15 scores in the seven-game season.

    Last season, however, a leg injury in the opener against Ohio State sidelined Ibrahim for the remainder of the year.

    So, yeah, his recovery went well!

    Ibrahim scampered for 1,594 yards and 19 touchdowns, which ranked fourth and second, respectively, in the nation. The senior crested the 100-yard mark in 10 of his 11 appearances, helping the Golden Gophers notch at least an eight-win record for the third straight full season.

    After setting the program's career rushing record in late November, Ibrahim needs only 36 yards against Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29 to break the single-season mark.

Group of 5 Player of the Year

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    Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) plays during an NCAA college football game against East Carolina, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
    AP Photo/Jeff Dean

    The short version: Ivan Pace Jr. found his way to the football.

    Also a strong candidate for Transfer of the Year, he left MAC program Miami (Ohio) for AAC power Cincinnati. The tenacious linebacker made 12 tackles in his debut and barely slowed down from there.

    For the season, Pace registered 120 tackles—tied for 10th nationally—with 19.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. The latter two stats checked in third and 14th, respectively. Pace also tallied 53 pressures, which ranked seventh in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Pace rounded out his impressive campaign with four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Most Exciting Player

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    EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 22: Quarterback Bo Nix #10 of the Oregon Ducks runs to pass the ball against the UCLA Bruins during the first half at Autzen Stadium on October 22, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
    Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    Bo Nix completely reshaped his perception in 2022.

    After an overall disappointing three-year stretch at Auburn, the one-time prized quarterback headed to Oregon. The good news was he reunited with offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who oversaw Nix's most productive year as a freshman in 2019. The bad news was Nix hadn't developed into the game-changing player Auburn had hoped.

    Nix's debut with Oregon hardly could've gone worse. He mustered 4.7 yards per attempt on 37 throws with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in a horrid 49-3 loss to Georgia.

    Suddenly, he practically became unstoppable.

    Nix unleashed a dual-threat prowess that he'd never showed. He propelled Oregon to an eight-game winning streak that included 40-plus points in every game. Nix accounted for three-plus touchdowns in all eight contests, including a quartet of five-score outings.

    Unfortunately for the Ducks, an ankle injury hampered Nix's mobility and perhaps cost them a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. That does not diminish his breakout year, though.

    He closed the season with 3,388 passing yards and 504 yards on the ground, also catching two passes for 36 yards.

    Most impressively, he totaled 42 touchdowns—27 passing, 14 rushing and one receiving—which far exceeded his 34 scores from the previous two seasons combined.

Best Single-Game Performance

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    How do you halt a 15-game winning streak? Having a receiver catch five touchdowns is a pretty good start.

    Tennessee entered the mid-October showdown with Alabama as the underdog but looking to make a statement. The college football world soon heard Jalin Hyatt loud and clear.

    Hyatt reeled in six passes for 207 yards and five touchdowns, becoming the first wideout to hang a handful of scores on a Nick Saban-coached team. The junior receiver had a pair of 60-yard touchdowns and caught what proved to be the game-tying score late in the fourth quarter.

    Because of his productive year, Hyatt would've been a memorable player in Tennessee anyway. He finished with 67 receptions for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

    But it was at this moment Hyatt became a program legend.

Play of the Year

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    We had last-second game-winning touchdowns like Appalachian State's improbable Hail Mary against Troy. We had clutch moments in key games and signature moments that altered championship races.

    And we also had an insignificant third-down conversion in a blowout that is simply preposterous.

    In a matchup with Indiana, Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. leaped near the sideline to snag a pass from C.J. Stroud. The challenge was Harrison still needed to drop a foot inbounds while absorbing contact, and any normal human being wouldn't have a chance.

    Harrison is special, though.

    The combination of mental sharpness and body control it required to hover his left foot and smack his right foot into the turf is outrageous. Just look at how Harrison falls to the ground in a wildly contorted way.

    Again, the context of this moment pales in comparison to other candidates. But there is no denying the absurdity of the catch.

Game of the Year

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    Hyatt's performance headlined the 52-49 Tennessee win at Neyland Stadium. However, the game itself was absolutely wild.

    Tennessee jumped out to a 28-10 lead, but Alabama steadily closed the gap. After watching the Crimson Tide eradicate hope for 15 years, you couldn't be faulted for believing that little problems would haunt the Vols.

    Alabama scored 18 points to even the score at 28. Tennessee answered immediately, but Chase McGrath missed an extra point. Alabama responded with a go-ahead touchdown.

    Tennessee again jumped ahead, but Bama waltzed down the field for a 42-all deadlock. And then, disaster: A miscommunication led to Tide defender Dallas Turner picking up a fumble and jogging into the end zone.

    Alabama pulled ahead 49-42. Goliath could not be beaten.

    On the ensuing drive, a false start on 4th-and-1 stung Tennessee. That's it, right? Alabama intercepted the fourth-down throw. Yes, it's over. Wait! A flag for pass interference saved the Vols. Soon enough, tie game! Until the Tide calmly moved into field-goal range, setting up Will Reichard for a winning 50-yard kick with 15 seconds left. Good effort, Vols.

    But he missed! Armed with two timeouts, Hendon Hooker completed two clutch passes to set up McGrath's 40-yarder as time expired. He converted. The crowd went bananas.

    And the uprights ended up in the Tennessee River.

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