Brennan: Looks like we are starting with an easy one. Think the folks from the Maxwell Award are feeling a bit dim right now for including the Big Ten's Drew Stanton (Michigan State), Laurence Maroney (Minnesota) and Brian Calhoun (Wisconsin) on their list of semifinalists but not Penn State's Michael Robinson, who (along with his teammates) clobbered the aforementioned athletes on the field. Robinson was by far the best offensive player in the conference and one of the top four in the nation. The Maxwell people are usually on the ball, but weren't very smart this year when they turned a blind eye to a great player in their own backyard.
Harrington: As much as I typically hate to agree with you, Mark (I kid, I kid), there is no other logical choice to go with than Michael Robinson. For years, fans have been scratching their heads wondering where the praise for Robinson originated from, like his nickname Superman and the fact Joe Paterno called him the best player in college football. Well, this year Robinson showed the Nittany Nation and the college football world that he in fact has super-human abilities on the football field and helped Penn State roar back into the national spotlight.
Harrington: There are several candidates here who played integral roles within a great defensive unit this season. Paul Posluszny and Alan Zemaits both showed why they are the captains of this team. Thanks to their leadership and abilities they continually gave the Lions a boost week in and week out. However, I have to go with Tamba Hali. Hali was a force on the line and created consistent pocket pressure which put quarterbacks and offenses on edge and took them out of their game plan. This forced bad decisions which led to mistakes, which Penn State capitalized on time and again. Posluszny and Zemaitis deserve tremendous praise, but Hali is my defensive MVP this year.
Brennan: The tough thing about these types of exchanges is if I disagree with you, it seems like I'm ripping the player you support. That is not the case. I'm simply ripping you, because you are way off here. Hali is great, but in my view he is not even the most important defensive lineman on the team - that honor goes to Scott Paxson, who did the dirty work inside that allowed Hali and Posluszny to do their respective things. My defensive MVP, however, is Posluszny, who leads the team in tackles and, with his combination of speed and aggression, has come to exemplify the new-look PSU defense the past two seasons. If Jack Ham says Posluszny is the best linebacker in school history, then that is enough of an endorsement for me to tab him as the best defensive player on this team.
SPECIAL TEAMS MVP:
Brennan: I'll go with rookie kicker Kevin Kelly, who set a PSU freshman record for scoring with a team-best 93 points after making 15 of 20 field goals and 46 of 47 PATs. He also showed good athleticism for his diminutive size by grabbing a bad snap and running it in for a two-point conversion and making a couple of strong hits on kickoffs. An area on which to improve: Kelly only had 16 touchbacks on 73 kickoffs.
Harrington: Kelly had an outstanding season and showed the fans why he was recruited as a scholarship kicker (a rarity for PSU). He is on his way to a phenomenal career in blue and white. But my special teams' MVP is Ethan Kilmer. An unknown senior who received consistent praise in the off-season, Kilmer became a force on kickoff coverage thanks to his speed, aggression and tackling. His big plays helped keep several teams at bay in the battle for field position.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Harrington: Another award which has several candidates this season - like practically the entire wide receiver corp. I have to go with Kelly, though. Kelly came in as a true freshman and was tossed to the lions, so to speak. He has brought a consistency to the kicking game which mirrors Penn State of old and has put countless PSU fans' minds to rest on field goals and extra points.
Brennan: Except in the Michigan game. As tough as Kelly was (see my special teams MVP above), to me Deon Butler was THE impact rookie in a year when the Lions had several great ones. And who would have expected it? After playing defensive back while redshirting last season, Butler was moved to receiver in the off-season. He paced Penn State in catches (36) and his 18.8 yards per grab were by far the best among the Big Ten leaders. He averaged an amazing one TD per every four catches.
PLAY OF THE YEAR:
Brennan: Call me a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but I'd imagine Chad Henne's last-second, fourth-and-goal TD pass that led Michigan's rally for a victory over Penn State in Ann Arbor will be remembered as THE key moment from this season. The decision to kick off to Steve Breaston, Lloyd Carr lobbying (and surprisingly receiving) those key extra seconds from the officials, Mario Manningham finding a soft spot in PSU's zone defense -- all culminated in a heartbreaking loss. The fact that the Lions followed that crusher with four straight wins says a lot about their character.
Harrington: Man, the team goes 10-1 and you pick the one lowlight of the season!? The defining play of the 2005 season is hands down the fourth-and-15 conversion at Northwestern. Questions are swirling around Penn State and the nation is expecting the Lions to lose yet another Big Ten game and spiral back into the bottom half of the conference. If Robinson's pass is dropped by Isaac Smolko the team loses some faith, doubts start to creep in and they have to overcome the loud roars that Penn State is back to being mediocre. The fact that Robinson made that completion with time running down and the game on the line showed exactly what this team is about and showed the players what determination and fortitude can transform into. A huge moment in the 2005 season, which I believe will end up being a great moment in Penn State's amazing history.
Harrington: Well, I have been singing the praises of Tony Hunt most of the season, so I will go with BranDon Snow. Snow not only paved many a lane for Hunt on runs and showed off his great blocking ability, but became a force in short-yardage situations. He has nine carries this season and three touchdowns. Without him, Hunt may not have broken the 1,000-yard barrier.
Brennan: You singing the praised of Tony Hunt, huh? I was wondering what the awful sound was. I'm looking in a different direction, to the most unlikely big-time contributor on the team. Could anyone have possibly imaged Kilmer having more TD catches than Derrick Williams this season? And could anyone have imaged Kilmer having more tackles than Justin King? Yet he did both of those things, emerging as an unlikely and underappreciated multipurpose threat.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR:
Brennan: Penn State brought in a top-flight recruiting class that made an immediate impact. The program's recruiting coordinator? Mike McQueary. The Nittany Lions' young wideouts emerged as one of the top groups in the Big Ten. The program's receivers coach? Mike McQueary. Kelly was dependable as a rookie. The program's kicking coach? Mike McQueary. I'll go with Big Red on this one.
Harrington: Ron Vanderlinden was removed as the head coach of Maryland and the Terps went on to have some great seasons - with the players he recruited. Now that most of those players are gone, look where Maryland is now. He has rebuilt Linebacker U. with Posluszny, Shaw, Connor and Sales, and has filled out the depth chart with Lee, Hayes and Ridenhour, among others, yet has received very few mentions for the incredible role and impact he has had on the program.
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