With the 2008 regular season finally in the books, it's time to hand out some more postseason awards:
Offensive Player of the Year: Tim Tebow
I'll be frank, I get tired of the Tebowners as much as anyone else, but at the end of the day we should all admit that Tim Tebow is indeed that good and then some. He runs like a freight train, is a very underrated passer, a great decision-maker, perhaps the best natural leader I've seen in years, and the fact that he didn't win the Heisman again only shows you how much of a waste of time that entire award is in its modern form. You may find Tebow annoying, and no I don't imagine he'll have much of a future in the NFL as a quarterback, but we might as well be honest with ourselves... at the collegiate level, this is probably the most productive player you'll ever see line up under center.
Runner Up: Matthew Stafford
I think most of you know that I've been somewhat critical of Stafford in the past, criticizing him as a prized recruit with a huge arm that really never put up the level of production needed to justify the media hype. However, that all changed in 2008, as Stafford threw for over 3,000 yards, completed over 60 percent of his passes, averaged over nine yards per attempt, and threw more than twice as many touchdowns as he did interceptions. Bottom line, Stafford finally put up the production to justify the hype, and Dawg fans should be quite happy with that, because without that they are probably 7-5 right now.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rashad Johnson
If you think you can find any single player that was more of the heart and soul of a unit than Rashad Johnson, then good luck trying because you'll need it. Clearly the leader of Alabama's defense on and off the field, Johnson not only kept the rest of the defense in line, but he also made countless big plays throughout the year for the Tide's defense. All told, the former walk-on was probably the most productive safety we've had since George Teague, and though we return almost everyone on defense next year, no Alabama fan possessing even the smallest iota of rational and sober thought should think for one second that replacing Johnson won't be near impossible.
Runner Up: Brandon Spikes
The Florida offense got all of the hype, but the defense was an elite unit in its own right, and Spikes led the way. He was the best linebacker in the conference, and he too was clearly the leader of the Florida defense. Just like with Alabama trying to replace Johnson, Florida will find replacing Spikes almost an impossible task if he decides to leave early for the NFL Draft.
Best Offensive Lineman: Andre Smith
Simply put, the Outland Trophy winner effectively dominated every poor sap unfortunate enough to come across his path in 2008, and honestly the only bad thing you can really say about his entire performance this season was a ticky-tack holding call in the LSU game that negated the John Parker Wilson touchdown run. Aside from that, Smith was simply dominant, annihilating defenders at the point of attack in the running game and finally reaching his peak as a pass blocker. The truth of the matter on Andre Smith is that he lived up to every bit of the unbelievable recruiting hype placed upon him, and he may very well be the best offensive lineman the Crimson Tide has had since John Hannah.
Best Defensive Lineman: Terrence Cody
Mount Cody has been on the receiving end of plenty of hype this season, and it has been justified. He came in as a junior college transfer, and played much more than anyone could have expected, all the while dominating opposing centers and guards in the process. He proved to be the perfect nose guard for the 3-4 scheme, and he moonlighted as quite a nice lead blocker in goal line situations as well. Even though he fought a lingering knee injury down the stretch, it's hard to argue that any lineman is more deserving than The Legend.
Most Overrated Player: Knowshon Moreno
If you heard Verne Lundquist tell it, Knowshon Moreno is what would happen if God and Bo Jackson had a child, but the production simply doesn't live up to the hype. Moreno had a good season, to be sure, but he wasn't near the once-in-a-generation back that he was hyped to be, and more importantly he was a complete non-factor in Georgia's two biggest games of the year. Simply put, Moreno is the perfect example of a good player who is just not that good.
Runner Up: Trindon Holliday
To continue on the procreation theme, to hear the talking heads tell it Holliday is so fast that he must be the lovechild of Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna. And he is unbelievably fast, but so what? As a player, Holliday just isn't much. He's very fast, but he's so small that even a good fart will bring him down. And beyond that the production just isn't there. As a receiver he's non-existent, with a big two catches on the year, and his 20 rushes for 102 yards is about as impressive as a '78 Datsun. And he's not even one of the best returners in the conference, and Miles and company generally won't even put him deep on punts that are likely to go deep in their own territory. Again, he's hyped to be a game-changer, but in reality he's not even a player who posts anything near average production.
Most Underrated Player: Rolando McClain
It's hard to imagine a player as good as McClain, someone who should be a first round draft pick in either 2010 or 2011, as being underrated, but that's the case. When the talking heads talk about the Alabama defense, it almost always consists of (1) Nick Saban, (2) Terrence Cody, or (3) Rashad Johnson, and McClain generally gets short shrift. Hell, most of the time the announcers couldn't even get his name right... I mean really, who in the hell is Orlando McCain anyway? Either way, McClain was probably the best linebacker in the conference this side of Brandon Spikes, and he should be recognized as such.
Runner Up: Greg Hardy
It goes without saying that Hardy had a rough year, missing much of the season with foot injuries and never really being healthy. However, even in his limited form, Hardy was likely still the best pass rusher in the conference. The injuries he suffered, and the rise of Houston Nutt and Jevon Snead, really kept some of the publicity around him on the lowside, but Hardy, all things considered, was as good as ever.
Most Disappointing Player: Demetrius Byrd
If you'll recall, I sang Byrd's praises to the high heavens at the end of the 2007 season, and went on the record saying that he was the best wide receiver in the conference. Everyone, myself included, expected him to have a huge season in 2008 on the way to being a first round draft pick, but sufficed to say it never materialized. He was never able to build upon the strong finish to the 2007 season, and quite frankly he had more big drops than he did catches. Poor quarterback play certainly hurt his case, but he did his own part to contribute to LSU's struggles in the passing game as well.
Runner Up: Jonathon Crompton
I said for months that replacing Erik Ainge was going to be very tough, but even I never expected Crompton to have the struggles that he did. The former highly-touted five-star quarterback recruit barely completely 50% of his passes, threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and quickly lost his starting job on down the stretch. Could it have gone any worse? No it could not.
Freshman of the Year: Julio Jones
With all due respect to A.J. Green, freshman of the year honors go to Julio Jones. Green compiled slightly higher numbers, but he also had a lot more balls thrown his way, a much better quarterback throwing him the football, and was less of an important factor in his offense. Julio Jones, on the other hand, didn't have a relatively high number of balls thrown his way, had to work with a game-manager quarterback, and was literally the only playmaker we had on the outside, but even so he put it all together and had an incredible season. Suffice it to say, Julio Jones even exceeded the great expectations that were set for him prior to arriving at the Capstone, and if he can stay healthy he will go down as the greatest wide receiver in Alabama football history. Enjoy him while you can, folks, he's probably only got two years left... This young man has top ten pick written all over him.
Runner Up: A.J. Green
In most years, Green's performance would have enough, but not with Julio Jones in his freshman class. Either way, Green is an incredible player in his own right, and if Matt Stafford returns for his senior season, Green will likely put up huge numbers as a sophomore. Just like Jones, enjoy him while you can Georgia fans, he won't be around much longer...
Coach of the Year: Nick Saban
Perhaps the only award that could be more crystal clear than Tim Tebow as player of the year is Nick Saban as coach of the year. It's simple... Saban took a team full of Mike Shula recruits and true freshman, and led them to an undefeated season and to the very brink of a national championship berth. Can you honestly think of one coach who has done more with less? Not only is this the best coaching job of the season, the performance Saban had in 2008 is probably the best we've seen in the entire country for years on end. As high as the expectations were when Nick Saban's plane first touched down in Tuscaloosa, the ol' Nicktator has surpassed all of them.
Runner Up: Houston Nutt
Everyone knew that Ole Miss was looking for a surge in performance given the amount of talent on the roster and a competent coach at the helm, but even so Nutt's performance in Oxford is highly impressive. He overcame some costly fumbles that cost them a couple of games early, plus having his best defensive player banged up, and nevertheless still guided Colonel Reb to an 8-4 season and a New Year's Day berth in the Cotton Bowl. In any other year, Nutt's performance would have been good enough to win it all, but not this season.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Jim McElwain
Coming into the Alabama OC job, Jim McElwain faced many obstacles, but he didn't let any of them slow him down. There were no proven playmakers at the receiver position or at the tailback position, John Parker Wilson was looking to be a game-manager even on his best day, and of course you had the swinging gate on the right side of the offensive line. But somehow, someway, McElwain made it all work. He found a solution at right tackle, relied on a strong running game, and simplified the passing game greatly, just letting Julio Jones beat opposing defenses to a pulp with his physical play. Despite all of the obstacles in his path, McElwain's Alabama offense averaged more points per game in conference play than any Alabama offense since the days of Bear Bryant.
Worst Gameday Coaching Decision: Les Miles v. Alabama
After spending two timeouts to challenge an obvious catch near the end of regulation -- the ruling on the field was, not surprisingly, upheld -- Miles and company started the overtime period with a quick halfback dive right in the A-gap that netted almost six yards. Terrence Cody was clearly struggling with injuries, and LSU was able to run the ball very well all afternoon. Yet, inexplicably, on second down, instead of just gashing us up the middle again with Charles Scott, Miles went to the Wildcat and tried to run wide, which we had success against all day, and we stuffed it for about a four yard loss, thus brining up third and long. On third and long, he went to the well one too many times, trotting out the QB rollout play for about the fifth time in LSU's last two drives. Nick Saban and company, though, had prepared... It was a two-man route, and Marquis Johnson jumped on the short out route, while Arenas played LaFell deep, and Rashad Johnson came all the way across the field from his free safety spot to snag the ball out of the air like a center fielder, effectively ending the game. Instead of just doing the simple and smart thing and shoving it right down our throats, Miles got cute in the Wildcat, and then went to the well one too many times, and the couple of dumb playcalls handed us the victory.
Runner Up: Les Miles v. Arkansas
Not to try to beat up on the ol' Mad Hatter, but... After getting the ball at the Arkansas 46 thanks to a big return, trailing by one with three timeouts and 21 seconds remaining, instead of trying to get a few yards to get a good field goal try -- all the while completely avoiding any running play or passing play to the middle of the field -- LSU runs two passing plays looking for a big play that ultimately result in two incomplete passes. And as if that weren't bad enough, with two seconds left, LSU finally uses a timeout, but what they do? Do they throw up the Hail Mary into the endzone and let their plethora of 6'4+ receivers try to outjump the undersized Arkansas defensive backs? No, Miles and company decide to do the rational thing... trot out Colt David for a 63-yard field goal try going directly into a 15 mph wind. Predictably the kick ends up a good ten or fifteen yards short, and Arkansas wins. Miles defends his decision after the game in Uncle Rico fashion by saying, "I've seen Colt David kick a field goal from 65 yards."
Worst Game of the Year: Tennessee at Auburn
Now this is bound to be a terrible game for any true Alabama fan, but even by our standards this one was unbelievably bad. Bottom line, this game was about as ugly as you could get on both sides. Neither could throw the football, with Crompton averaging a whopping 2.9 yards per attempt, and neither could run the football. There were plenty of penalties, and both squads ultimately combined to go 10-34 on third down. At the end of the day, the two best players on the field were the punters. And fittingly enough, the game was ultimately decided by a fumbled hand-off in the end zone, which Auburn fell on to emerge "victorious." Simply put... Worst. Game. Ever.
Runner Up: Georgia at LSU
This was supposed to be a match-up of two elite teams, but it really didn't work out that way, as the two teams ended up combining for eight losses on the season. And judging by how this game played out, that probably shouldn't have been too surprising. Jarrett Lee started the game with an interception returned for a touchdown, and that essentially set the tone for the day. Both teams scored a lot of points, but it was a lot of sloppy play on both sides, and frankly I haven't seen two teams do a worse job of tackling all season long.
Best Game of the Year: Alabama at LSU
The ol' Nicktator's return to Baton Rouge had been highly-anticipated for almost two years, and it ultimately didn't disappoint. LSU actually showed up to play with some heart and intensity, which was about the only time that happened in 2008, and Alabama executed pretty poorly throughout the night, and Terrence Cody's injury struggles didn't help things. At the end ot the day, it was just a physical, hard-fought game that went right down to the very end, with Julio Jones and Rashad Johnson finally taking over for the Tide in the overtime period. CBS only wishes that every game they broadcast were this good...
Runner Up: Ole Miss at Florida
Most expected this game to be a blowout, hence the Raycom broadcast, but it turned out to be a great contest. Ole Miss stayed alive early, and then roared back late to get the win thanks to a fourth down stuffing of Tim Tebow as the Gators were driving to get in field goal range. Though the Gators did play pretty sloppy -- several turnovers, a blocked extra point, and a blown coverage that resulted in an 85-yard touchdown pass -- it was nevertheless a hard-fought game that went back and forth between two very good teams.