Handing out the hardware
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
This year's NCAA football season saw everything from the rebirth of major programs to the dominance of a dynasty to the unbelievable athleticism of an unbelievable athlete. The official awards have already been given out, but that's not going to stop me from giving my own opinions on what was the greatest moments and players of the 2005 season.
Player of the year: Reggie Bush, USC – I wasn't completely a believer in Bush until I saw him cut through my beloved Irish defense like a hot knife through butter. The man's not the strongest looking player on the field, nor is he blessed with considerable height or size, yet he's cat-quick and one of the smartest players to ever play the game. Even when there's not a hole, Bush finds one. Although I'll never personally forgive him for pushing Matt Leinart into the end zone, I still think he deserves all the accolades for being the most exciting college football player in years.
Runner-up: Vince Young, Texas
Coach of the year: Tommy Tuberville, Auburn – Here's my thought process on this one. I didn't want to give it to Mack Brown or Pete Carroll, because they merely met the expectations for their team. I didn't want to give it to Joe Paterno, because the only reason Penn State looks good this season is because it was so bad in previous years…when Paterno was its coach. In my mind, that narrowed my list down to two, Tuberville and Charlie Weis of Notre Dame. I finally decided on Tuberville, because his team took what was supposed to be a rebuilding year and turned it into a 9-2 season and a trip to a top-tier bowl. If they win that bowl game, expect Auburn to be ranked in the preseason top five for 2006.
Runner-up: Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Game of the year: USC 34, Notre Dame 31 – This one was a classic from the very start, and featured everything you'd want from a great football game. There was dazzling special teams play (Zbikowski's punt return for Notre Dame); there was outstanding athletic efforts (Bush's touchdown runs); there were heroic comebacks (Brady Quinn's drive to give the Irish the lead late followed by Matt Leinart's game-winning drive); and of course there was controversy. Oh, there was controversy. This was a classic that will be talked about for years to come.
Runner-up: USC 50, Fresno State 42
Surprise of the year: Penn State – I refuse to give Paterno too much credit for the Nittany Lions' success. In fact, I figure one of the reasons they were so successful this year was because JoePa got out of the way and let his assistants coach and his players play. And boy, did they play. Penn State, picked in the middle of the pack or worse by most prognosticators, finished with the Big Ten championship and was mere seconds away from being in the Rose Bowl picture. Michael Robinson and Paul Posluszny were the leaders of a team that overachieved and made for a great story in 2005.
Runner-up: Notre Dame
Disappointment of the year: Purdue – The Boilermakers certainly had company in this category – Tennessee and pretty much the entire Big XII North come to mind – but I'm going to give this "award" to Joe Tiller and his boys from West Lafayette. Tennessee at least played a good brand of defense, while Purdue couldn't do much of anything right. The Volunteers also never had a six-game losing streak like the Boilermakers. Tennessee lost its six games by a total of 50 points and four of its losses came to top-10 teams at the time; Purdue lost its six games by a total of 79 points and none of its losses were to top-10 teams at the time. Boiler up.
Off-the-field story of the year: "Pass right." – Okay, maybe I'm a little biased on this one, but this was still a great story. In summary, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis goes to see a little boy suffering from cancer, and agrees to let that boy call the first play in Notre Dame's game against Washington that weekend. Before the game against the Huskies, the little boy dies. Notre Dame gets the ball on its own 1-yard line, but Weis still calls the boy's play – "pass to the right" – with a perfectly run play-action rollout pass to tight end Anthony Fasano for 13 yards. Weis' actions on that day are a testament to real character and honesty and remind us of the things that are good in sports.
Runner-up: Coaches George O'Leary and Mike Price get a second chance