As the regular season all but ended last Saturday, there was
neither a runaway Heisman Trophy choice nor a unanimous No. 1
team. But the autumn did deliver one sure thing--Northwestern as
this year's clear-cut, feel-good hit. The 10-1 Wildcats had all
the ingredients of a box-office smash: a superb lead actor
(tailback and Heisman candidate Darnell Autry), a talented cast
of supporting actors (led by linebacker Pat Fitzgerald) and a
creative producer (coach Gary Barnett). If our postseason awards
were Oscars, the Wildcats would be this year's Forrest Gump.
Here are SI's other winners.
Top Offensive Player: quarterback Tommie Frazier, Nebraska. He
has neither the glitzy rushing stats of the best running backs,
Ohio State's Eddie George or Iowa State's Troy Davis, nor is he
a pro-style quarterback like Tennessee's Peyton Manning. What
separates Frazier from other offensive stars is his ability to
make the players around him better. Here's statistical evidence:
With 37 points in a shutout victory against Oklahoma last
Friday, the Cornhuskers set a Big Eight single-season scoring
record (52.4 points per game). Also, it has been 36 games and
more than three years since Nebraska lost a regular-season game.
Frazier started 32 of those games.
Most Offensive Player: Chiron Applewhite, Grambling. After the
Tigers scored a touchdown as time expired in their Sept. 30 win
over Prairie View, Applewhite, the Grambling holder and backup
quarterback, took it upon himself to run the ball in for a
two-point conversion. The two points gave Grambling a 64-0
Top Defensive Player: Pat Fitzgerald. At the start of the
season he was not even the most highly regarded defensive player
in a state that included Illinois linebackers Kevin Hardy and
Simeon Rice. But with 130 tackles Fitzgerald became the heart of
a defense that finished with a plus-20 giveaway/takeaway ratio.
Unfortunately, a broken leg will keep him out of the Rose Bowl.
Most Underrated Player: Tiki Barber, Virginia. Before this fall
the distinction of being the Cavaliers' best Barber didn't
belong to Tiki but to his twin brother, Ronde, who was an
All-ACC cornerback in '94 and again in '95. But with a 193-yard
rushing performance in Virginia's 33-28 upset of Florida State
on Nov. 2, Tiki showed why many observers feel he will be one of
the top tailbacks in the country next fall.
Most Improved Player: Chris Doering, Florida. When he came to
Gainesville in 1991 Doering, a wide receiver, had no scholarship
and had to walk on. Four years later he leaves with the SEC
records for single-season (16 this year) and career (30)
Least Improved Player: Scott Milanovich, Maryland. Milanovich,
the 1994 All-ACC quarterback, entered the fall as arguably the
country's best NFL prospect at his position. However, after he
returned from a four-game suspension for gambling, the 4-0
Terps' offense went into complete meltdown, scoring only one
touchdown in the next four games. Milanovich may still be
drafted by an NFL team, but it will likely be as a punter.
Best Player Nobody But NFL Scouts Has Heard Of: Alex Van Dyke,
Nevada. Van Dyke, a wide receiver, hauled in 129 passes for
1,854 yards this fall, an NCAA single-season record, and caught
10 or more passes in each of his last nine games. Says one NFC
scout, "I wouldn't be surprised to see him go late in the first
round of the draft."
Coach of the Year: Gary Barnett. Barnett says he's not
interested in leaving Evanston, but his chances of getting a job
at a bigger power, were he so inclined, wouldn't be all that
great. Only a few good coaching jobs figure to open up during
the off-season. Plum spots at Colorado, LSU, Miami, Michigan
State and Oklahoma became available last winter, but the best
jobs to be found this off-season most likely will be at Georgia
(probable successor: Auburn assistant Wayne Hall) and maybe at
Alabama, where Tide defensive coordinator Bill Oliver is a
virtual lock to replace Gene Stallings if the 60-year-old
Coach of the Year, Runner-up: Steve Spurrier, Florida.
Quarterback Danny Wuerffel made it through the fall without
being benched, talented backup Eric Kresser didn't complain, and
former whipping boy Terry Dean, now in the CFL, said of his
onetime tormentor, "I've got no problem with Spurrier. I don't
know if what he did was wrong." Plus, Spurrier beat two Bowdens
Teflon Award: Terry Donahue, UCLA. He has sent an astonishing
41 players to the NFL, yet in the last seven years the Bruins
are only 43-35-1. Nonetheless he'll be back for a 21st season in
Westwood if he so chooses.
Good Humor Man Award: Coach Lloyd Carr, Michigan. He was solemn
in the months after he replaced longtime friend Gary Moeller in
May--until he surprised the Wolverines by ordering team managers
to start stocking popsicles for the players to consume during
summer two-a-days. "At first, guys were sucking on them pretty
tentatively," says Michigan wideout Amani Toomer. "We thought it
had to be some trick. We were thinking, After we're done, are we
going to have to run a lap or something?"
Good Humor Man Award, Runner-up: Ray Goff, former Georgia
coach. Bulldog athletic director Vince Dooley fought back tears
when he announced on Nov. 18 that he was sacking Goff. However,
when it came Goff's turn to speak at the press conference, he
cheerily said, "I'm running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by
Sam Nunn, and I appreciate y'all coming." It was a subtle dig at
Dooley, who stepped down from his Bulldog coaching in 1988 in
futile pursuit of a senate seat.
Boldest--and Worst--Prediction: Howard Schnellenberger, Oklahoma.
He needed a shoehorn to extract his foot from his mouth after
delivering one ill-advised statement after another. His worst?
Five days before the Sooners were thumped 38-17 by Colorado on
Sept. 30, Schnellenberger, the first-year Oklahoma coach, said
he wished that Buffalo quarterback Koy Detmer were not injured
because "we don't want a damn asterisk behind it when we beat
Touche Award: Rick Neuheisel, Colorado. Two days after pasting
Oklahoma, Neuheisel, the cherubic rookie Colorado coach,
one-upped Schnellenberger by saying, "I take great joy in
kicking anybody's asterisk."
Brainlock Award: North Texas special-teamers. While attempting
to punt from their own 18-yard line in the second quarter of a
51-10 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 23, the Eagles snapped the ball
out of their end zone. The reason? North Texas punter Toby
Gowin, thinking the Sooners had recovered a fumble on third
down, remained on the sideline. That escaped the notice of Eagle
up man, Kelly Ramsey, who thought he had counted 11 men on the
field and called for the snap. Said North Texas coach Matt
Simon, "I have a center who has a 1,300 [SAT score] and a punt
protector who has a 1,280. That's called a very high
intelligence factor and a low common-sense factor."
Bad Luck Award: Sam Valenzisi, Northwestern. Valenzisi, the
Wildcats' kamikaze kicker and punter, enjoys sticking his helmet
in the sternums of opposing kick returners and has made 13
tackles in the last two years. His season abruptly ended,
though, when he landed awkwardly and tore his left knee
ligament--while celebrating after a kickoff pinned Wisconsin deep
in its own territory on Oct. 21.
We'd Rather Buy a Time-Share Award: Arizona State fans. Shortly
after Arizona governor Fife Symington filed for bankruptcy on
Sept. 20, the state auctioned his four season tickets to Sun
Devil games. The only people to show up for the bidding--Arizona
State was 2-3 at the time, en route to a 6-5 season--were 13
journalists and one woman who refused to identify herself.
Nobody bid on the tickets, which were later given to a charity.
Fine Whine Award: Coach Larry Smith, Missouri. After losses to
Kansas State (30-0) and Kansas (42-23), Smith stalked off the
field without shaking hands with the Wildcats' Bill Snyder and
the Jayhawks' Glen Mason, and later accused them of running up
COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL Fitzgerald, who had 130 tackles for Northwestern, is our choice as the year's top defensive player. [Pat Fitzgerald]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Unfortunately for Schnellenberger, his Sooners couldn't back up his boastful oratory. [Howard Schnellenberger]