Bleacher Report College Football Awards for the 2017 Season
The conclusion of championship week has effectively wrapped up college football's regular season, and it's time to distribute some electronic hardware.
Five members of Bleacher Report's college football staff—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Greg Wallace—voted on the 15 awards. The voters identified the best individuals, games and moments of the year.
For transparency's sake, a winning nomination was worth two points while a runner-up nod received one point. Each category will feature the final winner and runner-up.
Agree? Disagree? Head to the comments section and share your votes for the 2017 season awards.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Bill Clark, UAB
Last season, the Blazers finished 0-0.
In 2017, UAB posted an 8-4 record during the regular season. Bill Clark did a masterful job navigating the program through a two-year hiatus and having the team ready to play this year. The Blazers defeated three bowl-bound opponents and will play Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl.
Additionally, the program broke several school records. Most notably, UAB clipped the previous single-season high of seven victories.
Clark signed a contract extension in November, and he deserves every accolade that comes his way in 2017.
Runner-up: Kirby Smart, Georgia
Mark Richt's tenure in Athens was overwhelmingly positive, but Kirby Smart has lifted the Dawgs even closer to the brink of excellence.
During his second season at the helm, the former Georgia defensive back guided his alma mater to the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs sealed a spot in the championship tournament by earning redemption against Auburn to win the SEC crown.
Smart helped the Bulldogs end a 12-year conference title drought, and he could snap a 37-year stretch without a national championship soon.
Assistant of the Year
Winner: Manny Diaz, Miami defensive coordinator
One of the lasting memories of the 2017 season will be the debut of the "Turnover Chain." Manny Diaz wanted a prop to reward takeaways, and the result was a 36-inch Cuban link with orange and green stones—and a massive "U."
But the chain wouldn't have mattered without his coaching.
Diaz oversaw a unit that ceded just 19.9 points per game, ranked second in takeaways and forced the seventh-highest rate of red-zone field goals. That defense carried Miami to a 10-0 start and a Coastal Division title.
The combination of creative motivation and on-field success made Diaz an obvious choice for the award.
Runner-up: Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda left Madison for LSU after the 2015 season. His successor, Justin Wilcox, accepted a coaching job at Cal following the 2016 campaign. Current D-coordinator Jim Leonhard probably isn't going anywhere.
And the Badgers certainly aren't looking for him to leave.
Leonhard inherited an experienced defense and helped the unit become even stingier. Wisconsin finished the pre-bowl slate allowing the fewest yards per game, the third-fewest yards per snap and the third-fewest points per game.
Not bad for a first-year coordinator.
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Check out the nation's passing leaderboard, and it won't take but five seconds to spot Baker Mayfield in every major category.
He paced the Football Bowl Subdivision in completion percentage (71.0), yards per attempt (11.8) and rating (203.8) for the second straight year. The senior also finished second in touchdown passes (41) and fourth in yards per game (333.8).
Mayfield, who threw just five interceptions in 369 attempts, chipped in 310 yards and five touchdowns as a runner, too.
Most importantly, he accomplished the extraordinary season and propelled Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff. No player can match the mixture of elite production and team success.
Runner-up: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner came close. Lamar Jackson amassed an FBS-best 4,932 yards of total offense.
He connected on 60.4 percent of his 399 passes, tallying 3,489 yards and 25 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Jackson ended the campaign ranked 11th nationally with 1,443 rushing yards and added 17 scores.
Yes, Louisville's 8-4 record dragged down Jackson's resume, and a major problem was the defense. The Cardinals had the country's eighth-most efficient unit in 2016 but were 66th this year.
However, his contributions simply cannot be ignored.
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
Bradley Chubb amassed 57 total stops with 21.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a junior. That was a precursor to his impressive finale.
The serial towel thief racked up 73 tackles this season, leading all power-conference players with 25 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Chubb tied for seventh overall with 10 sacks, and his 25.5 career sacks set a North Carolina State record.
Chubb was recognized as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and he also secured the coveted Nagurski Award.
Runner-up: Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois
Disruption like this usually doesn't come in the form of a 225-pound former running back.
After registering 15 total tackles in 2016, Sutton Smith nearly doubled that production in tackles for loss alone. The sophomore led the country with 28.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 14 sacks. He also returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
Smith earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which Chubb won.
Freshman of the Year
Winner: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Our unanimous choice for Freshman of the Year, Jonathan Taylor opened the season as Wisconsin's third-string running back. He finished as the nation's third-most prolific player at the position, amassing 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Taylor crested the 200-yard mark three times and scampered for at least 125 yards in six other games. Prior to the Big Ten Championship Game, the only time he failed to reach 80 yards was against Illinois—when he posted 73 in 20 minutes before leaving with an injury.
The 5'11", 214-pound back claimed a ridiculous eight Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, including seven straight to end 2017.
Runners-up: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State; AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
J.K. Dobbins supplanted a returning 1,000-yard back in the starting lineup, and AJ Dillon turned around Boston College's running game.
Mike Weber wasn't healthy right away, but Dobbins wasted no time impressing. He scampered for a season-best 181 yards in his debut and capped a terrific campaign with 174 yards against Wisconsin. Dobbins had 1,499 total yards and scored eight times.
In 2016, Boston College ranked 116th nationally with a meager 3.42 yards per carry. Dillon helped the Eagles soar to 45th in the country while accumulating 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Senior of the Year
Winner: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Despite guiding Oklahoma to three conference championships in three years, Baker Mayfield isn't satisfied.
"The reason I came back was to play for a national title," he said following the victory over TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game, per Spenser Davis of the Dallas Morning News.
Without a doubt, the most impressive part of the run of conference titles is Mayfield propelled a new-look Sooners offense. The unit lost Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook after the 2016 campaign, yet Mayfield led the nation's most efficient attack.
That couldn't have happened without the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.
Runner-up: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Donnel Pumphrey led the country with 2,133 rushing yards last season, but Rashaad Penny quietly racked up 1,866 all-purpose yards as a backup running back and kick returner.
This year, his production drew plenty of attention.
Penny stepped into the starting role and excelled immediately, notching six consecutive 100-yard rushing days to begin the season. He smashed Arizona State for 353 all-purpose yards before guiding San Diego State to an upset of Stanford the next weekend.
Overall, the senior collected an FBS-high 2,027 rushing yards, scored 24 total touchdowns and had the seventh-highest kick-return average.
Transfer of the Year
Winner: Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
A full-year suspension due to performance-enhancing drugs, which occurred in October 2015, resulted in Will Grier's transfer from Florida.
He landed at West Virginia and assumed starting duties in 2017. Before a thumb injury ended his season, Grier steered the Mountaineers to a 7-3 record. He eclipsed the 300-yard plateau in nine games and threw multiple touchdowns in every appearance he completed.
Grier recorded top-10 marks in yards per attempt (9.0), yards per game (317.3), touchdown passes (34) and rating (162.72). Additionally, the Big 12 named him the Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
Runner-up: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
While the rushing attack carried Auburn for most of the season, Jarrett Stidham provided a much-needed upgrade at quarterback.
Stidham transferred from Baylor in the wake of the school's sexual assault scandal. This season, he registered a 66.7 completion percentage and tallied 217.5 passing yards per game, which is the program's highest average since Dameyune Craig's 273.1 in 1997.
The Tigers fell one victory shy of the College Football Playoff, but Stidham went 21-of-28 for 237 yards and ran in the game-sealing touchdown during the 2017 Iron Bowl. Just a sophomore, he'll be remembered fondly in Auburn history.
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Only five teams—Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona State, Navy and SMU—with a less efficient defense than UCLA are headed to a bowl. Josh Rosen put the Bruins on his back this season.
A potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Rosen returned after missing six games in 2016 due to a shoulder injury.
This season, he ranked No. 3 nationally with 337.9 passing yards per game. Rosen completed 62.5 percent of his 451 passes for 3,717 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
By no means was Rosen perfect, and his turnovers occasionally contributed to losses. But it was hard to win when the defense gave up an average of 45 points per loss when Rosen was healthy.
Runner-up: Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Royce Freeman wrecked defenses for 1,365 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman. The next season, he collected 2,184 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2015. Last season was not as kind.
Injuries and inexperience on the offensive line affected his junior campaign, and Freeman—who effectively missed two games—managed just 945 yards rushing.
Under first-year and now former coach Willie Taggart, however, the effectiveness of the running game returned. Oregon also leaned heavily on the ground attack when quarterback Justin Herbert couldn't play because of a broken collarbone.
Freeman totaled 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns as a runner, which were eighth and 12th in the country, respectively.
Group of 5 Player of the Year
Winner: McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF
Though the Knights deserved more respect from the College Football Playoff committee, we have plenty of love for McKenzie Milton.
The sophomore quarterback enters bowl season tied with Mayfield at No. 4 in total offense per game. Milton averaged 357.7 total yards while guiding UCF to a 12-0 record and the AAC crown, securing conference Offensive Player of the Year along the way.
Milton posted the FBS' second-best marks in completion percentage (69.2), yards per attempt (10.5) and rating (184.8). He also scampered for 497 yards and seven scores.
Runner-up: Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois
With a nod to Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary for his 1,796 yards and 29 touchdowns, Smith is the runner-up.
The Northern Illinois sophomore immediately made his presence known with five tackles for loss against Boston College. He also notched 3.5 stops in the backfield during a 21-17 upset of Nebraska. Smith reached three TFL in five games, including a season-high 5.5 opposite Western Michigan.
In 12 appearances, he contributed on at least one tackle for loss 11 times and one sack in nine contests.
Most Exciting Player to Watch
Winner: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Good luck wrapping up Lamar Jackson.
Elusive in the pocket and untouchable in the open field, the electrifying quarterback left several players grasping at nothing but air. Really, it shouldn't even be embarrassing. Defenders will tell future generations about how Jackson made them look silly.
The junior completed six passes of 60-plus yards—tied for No. 5 in the country with Texas Tech's Nic Shimonek—and was all over the list of explosive rushing plays. He ranked third, sixth, sixth and fifth at the 10-yard increments for gains between 10 and 40 yards.
Runner-up: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Stanford fans could always count on Bryce Love to explode for a big gain. In each of his 12 appearances, he notched at least one 30-yard run.
Love paced the nation with 28 gains of 20-plus yards on the ground, 23 of 30-plus, 14 of 40-plus and 12 of 50-plus. It's no wonder he posted 8.3 yards per carry, the third-best clip among players who averaged no fewer than 10 rushing attempts per game.
One of three Heisman finalists, the junior is 27 yards away from 2,000 and just 47 yards away from surpassing Christian McCaffrey (2,019) for Stanford's single-season rushing record. Love has 17 touchdowns.
Best Single-Game Performance
Winner: Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona (vs. Colorado)
During September, Khalil Tate totaled 127 combined passing and rushing yards. Absolutely nobody could've predicted what happened at Colorado.
An early injury to Brandon Dawkins shoved the sophomore onto the field. From that moment on, Tate never left.
He amassed 327 rushing yards—a record for an FBS quarterback—ripping off touchdowns of 58, 28, 47 and 75 yards. Tate completed 12 of 13 passes for 154 yards and another score, propelling Arizona to a 45-42 win and himself into the national headlines.
Runner-up: Khaleke Hudson, S, Michigan
Baker Mayfield's six-touchdown, near-600-yard explosion against Oklahoma State is among the most memorable. Khaleke Hudson's day opposite Minnesota merits just as much attention.
The sophomore, playing the hybrid "Viper" position made famous by Jabrill Peppers, accumulated an absurd eight tackles for loss during the 33-10 triumph. Two more of his career-high 15 stops happened at the line of scrimmage.
Hudson—who also nearly blocked a punt in the victory—gathered three sacks and forced a fumble that led to a Michigan touchdown.
Game of the Year
Winner: Ohio State defeats Penn State, 39-38
In a matchup between No. 2 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State, the most important Big Ten tiebreaker was at stake.
Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff to the house, and Penn State turned a takeaway into a touchdown following Ohio State's first possession. Early in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions took a commanding 21-3 lead on a 36-yard scamper from Barkley.
The Lions held a 28-17 advantage at halftime and extended the lead to 35-20 through three quarters. But the Buckeyes weren't done.
Highlighted by his game-winning touchdown pass to Marcus Baugh with less than two minutes remaining, J.T. Barrett tossed three TDs. Penn State kicked one field goal in the fourth quarter, but its other three possessions resulted in negative-10 yards.
Runner-up: UCF edges South Florida, 49-42
The winner of the War on I-4 would secure a place in the American Athletic Championship Game against Memphis.
South Florida scored first, but UCF rattled off 21 consecutive points before the end of the opening frame. Over the next two quarters, however, the visiting Bulls accounted for 27 of the 34 points and carried a 34-28 advantage into the decisive period.
Milton, our G5 Player of the Year, threw a pair of touchdowns to put UCF back in front. The second score helped give the Knights a 42-34 edge with 2:21 remaining.
But on the first play of the ensuing drive, Quinton Flowers found an uncovered Darnell Salomon for an 83-yard touchdown. After a successful two-point conversion, it was all tied up.
UCF didn't waste time retaking the lead. Mike Hughes returned the kickoff 95 yards, providing the winning score.
Upset of the Year
Winner: Iowa smashes Ohio State, 55-24
Fresh off that Game of the Year victory over Penn State, Ohio State put together a nauseating showing at Iowa.
On the first play from scrimmage, Barrett threw a pick-six. And in five first-half possessions, Iowa scored three touchdowns, kicked a field goal and punted once. The Hawkeyes took a 31-17 advantage into the locker room.
Things didn't much improve for Ohio State after the break.
While the defense gave OSU a chance by forcing two punts, Barrett and Co. went three-and-out twice. Iowa tallied 17 points over the next three possessions, breaking open a huge lead and supplying what would be the dagger to the Buckeyes' playoff dreams.
They just didn't know it yet.
Runner-up: Iowa State stuns Oklahoma, 38-31
One day before Oklahoma hosted Iowa State, news broke that Cyclones starting quarterback Jacob Park was taking a leave of absence for personal reasons. With a first-time starter, Iowa State couldn't possibly upset the No. 3 team in the nation, right?
You know where this is headed.
Kyle Kempt stepped into the lineup and compiled an impressive 18-of-24 line with 343 yards and three touchdowns—all of which remained as season-high marks. That victory sparked a four-game winning streak that locked up Iowa State's first bowl bid since 2012.
Oklahoma recovered to reach the College Football Playoff, but this loss eliminated the team's margin for error down the stretch.
Play of the Year
Winner: Florida's Hail Mary vs. Tennessee
Perhaps the ugliest, most aesthetically unappealing game happened when Tennessee traveled to Florida on Sept. 16. But in true illogical fashion, the rivalry clash featured our Play of the Year.
After three periods, Florida held a 6-3 edge. A football game broke out in the fourth quarter, and the teams traded two touchdowns apiece before a 27-yard field goal from Tennessee's Aaron Medley evened the score at 20 as the clock ticked below 1:00.
With just nine seconds remaining, Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks dropped back, evaded one defender, scrambled right, set his feet and launched a prayer 65 yards downfield.
Tyrie Cleveland had the answer.
Florida's wideout inexplicably sprinted past the Tennessee secondary and reeled in the 63-yard touchdown as time expired.
Runner-up: Juwan Johnson's game-winner at Iowa
Saquon Barkley amassed a monstrous 358 all-purpose yards, but Juwan Johnson silenced the Iowa crowd at the horn.
Akrum Wadley's 35-yard touchdown handed the Hawkeyes a 19-15 advantage with less than two minutes left. Penn State converted a fourth down early on the ensuing drive, setting up three straight 12-plus-yard gains to reach a goal-to-go situation.
Three-yard completion. Incomplete. Incomplete. Fourth-and-goal. Four seconds left. Game on the line.
Trace McSorley dropped back and fired a pass just over the outstretched arms of Iowa safety Amani Hooker, connecting with Johnson for the seven-yard touchdown and a 21-19 PSU win.
Best Moment of the Year
Winner (tie): Iowa Children's hospital wave and Jake Olson's blind snap
College football is filled with traditions, but there might not be a more emotional ritual than the newest one at Iowa.
When the first quarter ends at Kinnick Stadium, the 70,000-plus fans take a moment to wave at the "Press Box" in the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. The tradition, which Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer detailed, started this year.
Between the white lines, the most memorable moment occurred in USC's regular-season opener against Western Michigan.
Trojans coach Clay Helton wanted to give Jake Olson, who is blind, a chance to enter a live game. With the blessing of WMU coach Tim Lester—and an agreement USC would not rush the Broncos' first extra point in return—the coaches made it happen.
Western Michigan hung around longer than many expected, but the Trojans finally started pulling away in the fourth quarter. Following a late touchdown to make it 48-31, Helton sent out Olson for the snap.