From controversy to outstanding performances to surprises, this
season had it all. As the BCS computers overheat, we give you our
choices for the major awards, and throw in some categories of our
HEISMAN: Pittsburgh sophomore receiver Larry Fitzgerald stumbled
in the Panthers' regular-season finale, catching only three
passes in a 28-14 loss to Miami. But he was still the best player
in the nation and had the statistics to back it up: 87 catches
for 1,595 yards and an NCAA record of at least one touchdown
reception in 18 consecutive games. That's why Fitzgerald gets the
nod in a close race over Oklahoma quarterback Jason White.
DOAK WALKER (BEST RUNNING BACK): After rushing for just 26 yards
in an early loss at Oregon, Michigan senior Chris Perry got
stronger as the season wore on. Along with 1,589 rushing yards,
Perry chipped in 42 catches.
OUTLAND (BEST INTERIOR LINEMAN): Despite losing four starters
from its offensive line, Iowa still produced a 1,000-yard rusher,
thanks in (very) large part to 6'7", 320-pound senior tackle
Robert Gallery, who also carries a 3.22 GPA in elementary
NAGURSKI (BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER): The most outstanding player on
the nation's No. 2 defense, LSU senior tackle Chad Lavalais
caused nightmares for opposing passers; he had 20 quarterback
hurries and 15 tackles for loss.
THORPE (BEST DEFENSIVE BACK): Arguably the best athlete in the
college game, Miami junior free safety Sean Taylor almost beat
Florida State single-handedly. For the season he had nine
interceptions (he returned three for TDs) and 73 tackles.
BUTKUS (BEST LINEBACKER): Oklahoma senior Teddy Lehman finds his
way into every play; this season he had 109 tackles, including 16
for loss, and an interception.
COACH OF THE YEAR: All LSU'S Nick Saban has done is lead his
defensive-minded team to a 12-1 record, a spot in the
national-title game and a second SEC title in three years. And by
cornering the market on Bayou-area talent, the program should
only keep rising.
BEST ASSISTANT: What do Southern Cal sophomore quarterback Matt
Leinart and his Heisman-winning predecessor, Carson Palmer, have
in common? Offensive coordinator Norm Chow, whose dazzling game
plans have enabled the Trojans to score 40 or more points eight
times this season.
BEST COMEBACK: In changing his life, Michigan State senior
quarterback Jeff Smoker helped lift his team. Smoker, who was
sidelined by a substance-abuse problem in 2002, returned to lead
the Spartans (4-8 last season) to an 8-4 record.
BIGGEST TURNAROUND: After beginning the season 1-4, West Virginia
won seven straight to finish 8-4 and earn a share of the Big East
BIGGEST SURPRISE: In just its second season in Division I-A,
UConn finished 9-3 and beat teams from the ACC, the Big East and
the Big Ten.
BIGGEST STATEMENT: From Northern Illinois's explosive start to
Miami of Ohio's mighty finish, the Mid-American Conference made
people realize that MAC teams can play with the big boys.
BEST GAME: Was anyone surprised that the battle between Florida
State and Florida on Nov. 29 ended in fisticuffs? The two bitter
rivals swapped the lead four times in the fourth quarter before
Seminoles quarterback Chris Rix hit P.K. Sam on a 52-yard scoring
strike with 55 seconds remaining to give Florida State a 38-34
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Taylor (top), SI's Thorpe pick, was dominant in Miami's victoryover Florida State.