College football’s various individual awards will be handed out this week to the outstanding players and coaches of the 2016 season. The biggie, obviously, is the the stiff-armed statuette bestowed Saturday night.
But we’re going to beat everyone to the Heisman Trophy ceremony – as well as the Home Depot Awards show Thursday night – by naming our top players and coaches of our own:
Top defensive player: Jonathan Allen, Alabama – The most dominant player on the most dominant defense of the year should get this honor. There’s not a whole lot to debate about this. Besides anchoring a nasty defensive line, Allen even took two fumbles back for touchdowns.
Top defensive back: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan – While teammate Jabrill Peppers gets much more publicity and even an invitation to New York as a Heisman finalist, it’s Lewis who plays a shut-down corner for the Wolverines’ suffocating defense.
Top linebacker: Reuben Foster, Alabama – The senior linebacker is the workhorse of the Alabama defense, leading the top-ranked Tide with 94 tackles, including 12 for a loss and four sacks.
Top punter: Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah – His predecessor Tom Hackett was a legend, but Wishnowsky picked up right where the two-time Ray Guy award winner left off by leading the nation in net punting (44.9 yards) and knocking 34 punts inside the 20.
Top kicker: Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State – The Sun Devils senior is NCAA’s all-time leading scorer among kickers and he capped off his final collegiate season by hitting 23 of 25 field goals, including a career-best 59-yarder.
Top lineman: Cam Robinson, Alabama – With a young offense piloted by a true freshman quarterback, Robinson led the line that allowed Jalen Hurts to navigate out of trouble as the Tide rolled to a 13-0 regular season and a third straight playoff.
Top tight end: Jake Butt, Michigan – After deciding to return for his senior season, Butt proved to be the Wolverines’ most reliable pass-catcher, becoming the school’s all-time leading receiving tight end with a 43-catch, 518-yard season and four touchdowns.
Top receiver: Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma – He is one of the difference-makers in the potent Oklahoma offense that rolled to a perfect 9-0 record in the Big 12. Westbrook caught 74 passes for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Top running back: D’Onta Foreman, Texas – San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is set to become the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, but Foreman had a better year against better competition despite Texas’ disappointing 5-7 season.
Top quarterback: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma – The bad news for OU’s Big 12 foes is that Mayfield intends to return for his senior season, instead of opting for the NFL Draft. In his second season with the Sooners, Mayfield completed over 71 percent of his passes and racked up 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
Most versatile player: Adoree Jackson, USC – Again, Michigan’s Peppers was more touted for his all-purpose prowess, but Jackson actually made the bigger plays in the biggest games for the Trojans. Besides primarily being USC’s top cornerback, Jackson also returned kicks and punts and caught passes on offense. His signature moment came when he scored a TD each on a punt return, kickoff return and a pass reception against Notre Dame.
Assistant coach of the year: Don Brown, Michigan – In his first season in Ann Arbor after coming over from Boston College, Brown upgraded the Wolverines’ already stout defense into something even more ferocious. Statistically only Alabama’s defense is better than Michigan’s, but the Wolverines played better competition, going 3-1 against teams in the AP top 10.
Coach of the year: Mike MacIntyre, Colorado – Picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South once again, the Buffaloes instead won it, marking a spectacular turnaround from their first five years in the conference. In his fourth year in Boulder, MacIntyre has finally restored a once-proud program that had been in the dumps ever since the early 2000s.
Most inspirational player: James Conner, Pittsburgh – When you beat cancer, you’re already plenty inspirational. But on top of that, Conner came back to rush for over 1,000 yards (1,060, to be exact) and score 20 touchdowns. The Panthers were the only team to defeat two Power 5 conference champions (Clemson and Penn State) and Conner had his best games in these upsets, rushing for over 100 yards in each.
Player of the year: Lamar Jackson, Louisville – Though the Cardinals sputtered late in the year, there’s no denying the spectacular season that Jackson had on his way to collect the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback amassed nearly 5,000 yards of total offense with 51 touchdowns. Jackson will become Louisville’s first Heisman winner, something even Johnny Unitas was not able to claim.