Bleacher Report College Football Awards for 2014 Season

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2014

Bleacher Report College Football Awards for 2014 Season

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Unlike bowl games, no one ever says there are too many awards in college football. So what's one more?

    We at Bleacher Report have had our eyes glued to each and every game this season, chronicling the highs and lows for you from late August until this past Saturday's conference championships. All that college football viewing could make us go bonkers, but it also qualifies our staff as experts in terms of who and what were the best of the best in 2014.

    The Bleacher Report College Football Awards were voted on by 20 members of our college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

    Each voter submitted his or her ballots based on observations made throughout the season. For each category, a first-place vote is worth the value of the number of candidates (for instance, if there are seven choices, a first-place vote is worth seven points), and each subsequent spot is worth one less. The top vote-getter wins our award, not to mention endless praise and recognition. 

    Analysis is provided by the voters who singled out the winners and runners-up for their exploits this season.

    Check out who won Bleacher Report's 2014 College Football Awards, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Coach of the Year

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Urban Meyer, Ohio State (85 votes, five first-place votes)

    Urban Meyer has two national championships and has won everywhere he's been, but what he's done at Ohio State this season might put all his other work to shame. The Buckeyes were left for dead in September after losing to Virginia Tech and the season-ending injury to quarterback Braxton Miller, but the work he and his staff did to get this team into the playoff is nothing short of phenomenal.

    "The Big Ten might be mediocre, but its top coach certainly is not," wrote Keith Arnold, Bleacher Report's Notre Dame lead writer. "Perhaps the most impressive season in Meyer's career as a head coach."

    OSU is the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff, but it's also the hottest team in the country because of how Meyer has rallied this group of players.

    Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (82 votes, seven first-place votes)

    His third season at Michigan ended with an unceremonious firing, but at Arizona, it's going to finish with him coaching the Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl. Rich Rodriguez has pulled the Wildcats from the ashes, turning them into a viable contender for Pac-12 titles in a very short time.

    "RichRod took a team that no one expected to make much noise in the Pac-12 this season and helped make it a dark-horse playoff team," wrote Bleacher Report Auburn lead writer Justin Ferguson. "The [Pac-12] championship game loss was all kinds of ugly, but the Wildcats were a team no one wanted to play for most of 2014."

    Arizona has its first 10-win season in 16 years, and the fact that it happened with a team heavy on freshman and sophomore leaders this year could be the start of a long run of strong performances.

    Others considered

    Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

    Gary Patterson, TCU

    Gary Pinkel, Missouri

    Nick Saban, Alabama

Top Assistant Coach

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State (86 votes, 10 first-place votes)

    The job of a coordinator is to combine a scheme with the players available to run that scheme. Tom Herman did that in spades this season with Ohio State, having to weather the loss of star quarterback Braxton Miller in the preseason and then breakout passer J.T. Barrett just before the Big Ten title game.

    "Herman lost not one but two Heisman candidate QBs this season and never once flinched," Bleacher Report college football editor Eric Bowman wrote. "He called a brilliant game in the Big Ten title game."

    Herman is one of the fastest-rising assistants in the country and very soon will likely be running his own program.

    Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama (67 votes, four first-place votes)

    When a head coach gets fired, he often searches for a new job that will take him out of the spotlight so he can get his career back on track. Lane Kiffin, on the other hand, chose to join the staff of the most high-profile college football team in the country, and Alabama is all the better for this move.

    "You might not like him, but you can't deny the influence that Lane Kiffin has had on Alabama's offense," wrote Bleacher Report's Greg Wallace.

    Kiffin helped turn first-time starter Blake Sims into one of the best quarterbacks in the country while also finding ways to creatively use some of the best pure offensive weapons in the game. Defense remains the Crimson Tide's bread and butter, but there's no denying this year's team is in the playoff semifinals because of what Kiffin has done with the offense.

    Others considered

    Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon

    Doug Meacham, co-offensive coordinator, TCU

    Dave Steckel, defensive coordinator, Missouri

Best Offensive Player

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (91 votes, 12 first-place votes)

    The Oregon offense is one that allows for the quarterback to be a star, but Marcus Mariota could have done that all on his own. The redshirt junior is wrapping up one of the best careers in college history with arguably the most flawless season ever, having accounted for 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing, one receiving) while throwing only two interceptions.

    In three seasons, Mariota has an astounding 101-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

    "Marcus Mariota has arguably been the nation’s top offensive player each of the last three years, but this year he took it to another level," wrote Bleacher Report Pac-12 lead writer Kyle Kensing.

    Mariota is going to pick up some far more notable awards in the next few weeks, including the Heisman.

    Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (75 votes, five first-place votes)

    He was already considered one of the best wide receivers in the country before this season, but what Amari Cooper accomplished in 2014 despite being the No. 1 concern of every opposing defense was amazing. He caught 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns, accounting for 42.9 percent of Alabama's receptions, 45.3 percent of its receiving yards and 46.7 percent of the Crimson Tide's TDs through the air.

    "Cooper caught balls over defenders, he ran past defenders and when he had to, he outmuscled defenders to pick up the extra yardage," wrote Bleacher Report college football national analyst Michael Felder. "Just a dominating performance for the Alabama wideout."

    When a "bad game" only results in eight receptions for 80 yards and a TD, you know it's been a stellar season.

    Others considered

    Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

    Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

    Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

Best Defensive Player

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona (93 votes, 15 first-place votes)

    There are a lot of things that make for a great defensive player, and those who can do one or two of those will stand out. Sophomore Scooby Wright does almost all of them, leading the nation in tackles for loss and forced fumbles while also ranking high in sacks and tackles.

    Not bad for a player who was rated as a 2-star prospect by 247Sports coming out of high school.

    "If RichRod had a defensive player this good when he was at Michigan, he might still be there," wrote Phil Callihan, Michigan lead writer for Bleacher Report.

    Though Arizona's offense is what has paced its 10-3 record, without Wright dominating on defense, the Wildcats wouldn't have won the Pac-12 South and been invited to the Fiesta Bowl.

    Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State (68 votes, four first-place votes)

    Before this season began, Ohio State's defensive line had the chance to be one of the best in the country. The loss of one player to suspension nixed that distinction, but Joey Bosa didn't disappoint from an individual standpoint.

    "It's not often that teams are forced to game-plan around just one defensive player, but that's exactly what Bosa's caliber requires," Bleacher Report Ohio State lead writer Ben Axelrod wrote. "Even as the suspension of Noah Spence allowed teams to shift their protections toward Bosa, he remained one of the most dominant players in all of college football."

    Bosa dominated despite constant double-teams, logging 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.

    Others considered

    Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

    Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville

    Hau'oli Kikaha, LB, Washington

Freshman of the Year

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    USA TODAY Sports

    J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (129 votes, 12 first-place votes)

    Only those closely tied to Ohio State knew much about J.T. Barrett back in August, before Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending shoulder injury and Barrett was thrust into the high-profile role as the Buckeyes quarterback as a redshirt freshman. It was a shaky start, but after some early bumps, Barrett put together one of the most prolific seasons ever.

    "I have never seen a player improve so fast while under so much pressure," Bleacher report college football editor Max Rausch wrote. "This was a season for the ages, regardless of the injury."

    Barrett broke his ankle in the Nov. 30 win over Michigan, putting a sad end to an amazing year. Assuming he can recover fully, he'll no doubt continue his growth in 2015.

    Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (100 votes, three first-place votes)

    A highly touted recruit coming into the season, Nick Chubb figured to be slowly eased into the college game as a backup or complement to Georgia superstar Todd Gurley. But then Gurley got suspended—and later injured—and suddenly Chubb was the featured back and hardly ever looked like a freshman.

    "No Todd Gurley? No problem," wrote Bleacher Report SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee. "Here's his clone, Nick Chubb, coming at you to rush for over 1,000 yards in what was the college football equivalent of a long reliever coming in for an injured starting pitcher in the fourth inning."

    Chubb ran for 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 1,057 yards and 10 TDs coming in the last seven games.

    Others considered

    Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

    Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

    Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

    Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

    Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

Breakout Player

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (114 votes, seven first-place votes)

    A good definition for a "breakout" player is someone who comes out of nowhere, performing far beyond even the most ambitious expectations for him. Considering Barrett wasn't even expected to play much this season, he fits this description perfectly.

    At a school that has produced a Heisman winner at quarterback, it's Barrett who holds all the single-season records, accounting for 3,772 yards and 45 touchdowns before breaking his ankle against Michigan.

    Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU (108 votes, nine first-place votes)

    A year ago, Trevone Boykin was a player without a position. As TCU's offense floundered, Boykin spent time in various spots on the field in an effort to maximize his skills, but he got another shot at quarterback this fall in Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie's new offense.

    Four months later, TCU nearly made the playoff as he orchestrated the school's best offensive season ever.

    "Last season, Trevone Boykin was a wide receiver; in 2014, he was one of the most exciting players in the nation and a key component to TCU's outstanding year," wrote David Kenyon, Bleacher Report's Miami (Florida) lead writer.

    Boykin accounted for 4,356 yards and 38 total touchdowns, both school records.

    Others considered

    Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

    Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

    Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville

    Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

    Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

Catch of the Year

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    Jordan Westerkamp, WR, Nebraska (87 votes, 11 first-place votes)

    Some of the greatest catches in football happen because of a mistake, a ball that's either under or overthrown that requires a receiver to make a spectacular play. Perhaps one that calls for him to haul in the pass behind his back?

    That's what Nebraska's Jordan Westerkamp ended up doing in the Cornhuskers' season opener on Aug. 30. What was supposed to be a simple sideline pass became one worth watching over and over on replay, as the ball was tipped by a Florida Atlantic receiver before Westerkamp slowed his momentum and reached behind him with both hands, trapping the ball against his pads as he kept his feet in bounds.

    "When I first saw this, I wasn’t quite sure [of] the physics that went into it," Bleacher Report Pac-12 lead writer Kyle Kensing wrote. "It might require a doctorate to completely grasp how Jordan Westerkamp made this catch."

    While the play itself didn't have much impact on the game—Nebraska led 31-7 at the time, winning 55-7—that didn't make Westerkamp's effort any less spectacular.

    Fabian Guerra, WR, Fairmont State (75 votes, six first-place votes)

    Odell Beckham might be the king of the one-handed catch, something he did often in college at LSU and now in the NFL. But many of Beckham's catches came in practice or without a crowd of defenders around him, unlike the one that Fairmont State's Fabian Guerra made in October in a losing effort.

    "I love everything about this catch, right down to the small-college feel of it all," Bleacher Report Notre Dame lead writer Keith Arnold wrote. "Little school, big-time play."

    We may never see or hear of this player again, considering he's at the Division II level. But we'll always have his YouTube moment.

    Others considered

    Nigel King, WR, Kansas (vs. TCU)

    Canaan Severin, WR, Virginia (vs. Miami)

    Mike Williams, WR, Clemson (vs. Florida State)

Game of the Year

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    TCU at Baylor, Oct. 11 (88 votes, 13 first-place votes)

    It wasn't the best matchup of the season involving Top 10 teams, but it's the one that lingered far beyond the final whistle, all the way up to Sunday's unveiling of the College Football Playoff pairings. Before the season, no one could have expected a mid-October game between defending Big 12 champ Baylor and a TCU team coming off a 4-8 year would have such a lasting impression on the college football landscape.

    Then again, no one also expected to see Baylor behind 21 points at home in the fourth quarter, getting beat at its own up-tempo game, then mount a furious comeback out of nowhere.

    "I'm a sucker for insane offenses and wild fourth quarters," wrote Bleacher Report Auburn lead writer Justin Ferguson. "Other teams may have mailed it in at that point, but Baylor kept swinging."

    Trailing 58-37 with 11:38 left after TCU's Marcus Mallett intercepted Bryce Petty and returned it for a touchdown, Baylor looked left for dead. Instead, the Bears scored three touchdowns in less than seven minutes to tie it. Then, after stopping TCU near midfield, they moved downfield to set up Chris Callahan for a game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired to prevail, 61-58.

    "I just knew, looking at guys' faces, that we were going to come back in that game," Petty told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "With our offense and the way that we play defense, 21 points isn't a big deal for us."

    In the end, neither Baylor nor TCU made the playoff, but that didn't take away from the game itself.

    Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18 (63 votes, five first-place votes)

    It was the defending national champion, Florida State, hosting the nation's most well-known program, Notre Dame. Both teams were unbeaten, with FSU riding a lengthy win streak, and both teams had this game circled on the schedule long before. So did we.

    We got everything we could have asked for in a clash of college football powers, even a controversial ending when Notre Dame threw a touchdown in the final seconds, only to have an offensive penalty be called. That call allowed Florida State to hold on, 31-27.

    "Any game that ends on a properly called offensive pass interference is the best," wrote Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, a former college defensive back.

    At the time, we thought the close result meant Notre Dame was a playoff contender, but the Fighting Irish lost four more times to end the season.

    Others considered

    Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1

    California at Arizona, Sept. 20

    USC at Arizona State, Oct. 4

Most Exciting Offense

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Oregon (89 votes, 13 first-place votes)

    Combine an innovative system, speed at every position and an endless array of uniform combinations, and you've got Oregon. The Ducks averaged 46.3 points per game, including an FBS-leading 80 touchdowns, with presumptive Heisman winner Marcus Mariota serving as the conductor for a unit that hummed like a symphony all season.

    "Marcus Mariota is so good that he's boring, but the Ducks offense is always a must-see," Bleacher Report college football lead writer Ben Kercheval wrote.

    The Ducks offense's "worst" performance came in Oregon's only loss, when it still scored 24 points and had its quarterback catch a touchdown pass.

    Baylor (74 votes, three first-place votes)

    The nation's leader in scoring (48.8 points per game) and total offense (581.3 yards per game), Baylor never lacked in explosiveness when it had the ball.

    "It's like a Texas drag strip on turf," Bleacher Report's Brad Shepard wrote. "From high school coaching legend to director of football's most prolific group, Art Briles is truly one of the game's offensive masterminds, and Bryce Petty is the perfect player to conduct his magnum opus."

    It didn't even matter who was playing, as Baylor dealt with injuries at every skill position yet never scored fewer than 27 points. Even when Petty missed a game with a broken vertebrae in his back, stand-in Seth Russell threw for 438 yards and five touchdowns.

    Others considered

    Georgia

    Marshall

    TCU

Toughest Defense

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Ole Miss (90 votes, 14 first-place votes)

    Sometimes, a unit picks up a nickname and it sounds cute but doesn't really represent what that group is capable of. With Ole Miss, its "Landsharks" moniker was quite appropriate for a defense that roamed the field like predators ready to chomp down on opposing players.

    "The Rebels defense played at a championship level all season and would have made it that far if it weren't for their streaky offense," wrote Marc Torrance, Bleacher Report's Alabama lead writer. "An incredibly talented unit with pass-rushers up front and ball-hawkers on the back end."

    Ole Miss began the season 7-0 almost entirely because of its defense, which forced 28 turnovers and an FBS-best 13.8 points per game.

    Alabama (63 votes, two first-place votes)

    It wasn't the best unit the Crimson Tide have fielded under coach Nick Saban, but even in an off year, Alabama still had a defense that no one would want to face.

    "Despite the ups and downs of the Alabama offense over the past few years, the one thing you can always count on from a Nick Saban team is a stellar defense, and 2014 proved to be one of his best," Bleacher Report Ohio State lead writer Ben Axelrod wrote.

    This year's Tide team ranked 11th in yards allowed, but if you ask the offenses it faced, it would probably finish first in a poll of most-feared and hardest-hitting.

    Others considered

    LSU

    Stanford

    Wisconsin

Biggest Fail

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    Utah's Kaelin Clay drops ball (45 votes, eight first-place votes)

    Utah already had visiting Oregon on the ropes, leading 7-0, when receiver Kaelin Clay broke free over the middle and hauled in a deep pass from Travis Wilson. Most notably a punt returner, Clay used his breakaway speed to outrun the Ducks defense for a 79-yard touchdown catch.

    Rather, that's what it would have been had Clay not let go of the ball just shy of the goal line, allowing Oregon's Joe Walker to pick it up and return it 100 yards for a defensive score.

    "Few mistakes have proved more costly to a player's team than what Clay did," Bleacher Report college football writer Brian Pedersen wrote. "The most ridiculous part of it was that he went to the same high school in California as DeSean Jackson, who made the same gaffe in an NFL game. What are they teaching them at Long Beach Poly?"

    While Clay and his teammates were celebrating in the end zone, Walker fought off a lone Utes player and then had a caravan of Ducks pace him to the opposite end zone for a tying score. Oregon would end up winning, 51-27, and go on to earn the No. 2 seed in the playoff.

    Arkansas State's play-dead fake punt (43 votes, nine first-place votes)

    Sometimes, trickery pays off. Other times, it ends up as a YouTube clip that will live forever.

    When Arkansas State tried to execute a fake punt against Miami (Florida) in September, it was definitely the latter.

    "The Fake Death Fake Punt of 2014 will live forever," wrote Bleacher Report Georgia lead writer Andrew Hall.

    Not only did nobody on Miami even pay the "fainting goat" gunner much attention, Arkansas State's punter ended up throwing an interception on the play.

    Others considered

    Eastern Michigan's cinder block wall entrance

Flop of the Year

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    Jamal Adams, S, LSU (33 votes, 13 first-place votes)

    The flop is a big part of soccer and has become more prevalent in the NBA, where fouls can be called and fines can be levied on players who dramatically fall in hopes of drawing a call on their opponent.

    In football, it just leads to abject humor, especially when players like LSU safety Jamal Adams flop at an Academy Award level.

    "Jamal Adams went straight jello," Bleacher Report college football writer Brian Leigh wrote. "I hate it so much that I love it."

    As obvious as the flop looked to all of us, it still did the trick, as a flag was thrown on Florida's Andre Debose.

    Casey Skowron, K, Arizona (27 votes, seven first-place votes)

    Trailing 28-26 in the final seconds, Arizona had a chance to win it with a field goal from normally reliable kicker Casey Skowron. USC had already successfully iced him once in the game, leading to a blocked kick on the real try, and the Trojans had called a timeout again before this potential game-winning kick.

    Skowron must have known right away his attempt was going to miss, because as soon as he let it fly, he went straight into his best impression of a mortally wounded soccer player.

    "That wasn't even in the neighborhood of possible for roughing the kicker," wrote Erin Sorensen, Bleacher Report's Nebraska lead writer. "Good job, good effort."

    Before becoming Arizona's starting kicker, Skowron spent time as a manager for Arizona's women's soccer team.

Biggest Upset

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    Florida vs. Georgia (87 votes, 13 first-place votes)

    Sitting at 3-3 and no doubt going to be without a head coach when the season was over (if not sooner), Florida limped into its annual rivalry game with Georgia having lost two straight at home. The most recent game was an utter embarrassment, as the Gators lost 42-13 to Missouri despite only yielding 119 yards.

    Georgia was 6-1, riding a five-game win streak and coming off back-to-back road wins that included a shutout victory at defending SEC East champ Missouri. The Bulldogs looked like a major playoff contender.

    So, naturally, Florida won the game. And as major upsets often tend to be, the game was a complete blowout, with the Gators rushing for 418 yards in a 38-20 win.

    "I still don't understand how they blew them out of the water," Bleacher Report college football editor Hunter Mandel said. "Just an amazing win to crush the hopes of Georgia."

    The victory made it seem like Florida coach Will Muschamp might actually be able to save his job. Then a few weeks later, he lost in overtime at home to South Carolina and his fate was sealed.

    Arizona at Oregon (82 votes, six first-place votes)

    Both teams came into this early October Thursday night game with perfect records, but that was where the similarities ended. Host Oregon had more or less dominated its opponents, including beating Michigan State by 19 points, while Arizona had won its previous three by a combined 14 points.

    That included needing 36 points in the fourth quarter, capped by a Hail Mary, to win at home against California.

    It was a far cry from when the teams met the season before, both reeling from disappointing losses, but the result was the same: Arizona managed to thwart Oregon's high-powered attack to pull the year's most shocking upset to that point.

    "Arizona proved its worth over the course of the year, but its upset victory over Oregon came in Eugene, the week after the Ducks enjoyed a bye," Bleacher Report national leader writer Adam Kramer wrote. "This one, especially after the Pac-12 Championship Game, is still hard to wrap your head around."

    Oregon got its revenge, crushing Arizona by 38 points in the Pac-12 final, but both still made major bowl games.

    Others considered

    Mississippi State at LSU

    Ole Miss vs. Alabama

    TCU vs. Oklahoma

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