CuseNation Awards: Most Improved

CuseNation.com recognizes the fact that Syracuse football took a step back in 2011. However, some players had standout campaigns – and they will be recognized in the 2011 CuseNation football awards. Next up is the Most Improved Player of the Year.

Despite all of its struggles, the Syracuse football team had some players step up to the plate and outshine expectations in 2011. The list was short when it came down to narrowing down the best of the bunch, but it was supremely tough to choose a winner for the team's Most Improved Player of the Year.

Nominees: Nick Provo, Ryan Nassib, Antwon Bailey, Dan Vaughan

Provo burst onto the scene last season with 33 catches and a solid 365 yards to his name along with a touchdown, but he made those numbers look pedestrian in 2011. The senior set the team record for career catches by a tight end (96) as well as the single-season mark (51). His seven touchdowns led the team and his 537 receiving yards was second only to Alec Lemon's 834. Provo improved seemingly by the game as a blocker as well, something that may help him earn a spot on an NFL roster come Draft weekend.

Nassib, who dealt with the most pressure and scrutiny of all the nominees, rarely made the same mistake twice in 2011. He was solid in 2010 across the board, but he out-shined all of those numbers this season on the way to finishing fourth in the Big East in both pass efficiency and total offense. The redshirt junior showed supreme toughness game after game, and he amassed 22 touchdowns against just nine interceptions on the way to the school record for yards in a season (2,685) and completions (259).

Bailey had never carried the ball more than 114 carries in a season coming into the year, with 214 totes through his first three seasons combined. In 2011, the 5-foot-7, 201-pound Bailey carried the ball 240 times for 1,051 yards. He added 201 yards on 27 receptions, proving he could carry the load and then some despite a smallish stature. The senior represented the fourth-straight season that an SU ball carrier achieved the 1,000-yard mark. Bailey had seven total touchdowns and six 100-yard rushing games to his name, too.

Vaughan had five total tackles in each of the last two seasons, before getting a chance to start at linebacker in 2011. He sure made the most of it, tallying 72 total tackles to go along with 6 ½ for loss and a sack. Vaughan also notched a pair of forced fumbles and pass break-ups in the campaign, providing steady support as the senior member of the otherwise young linebacking corps.

Winner: Nick Provo

Vaughan was a close second because of the numbers and consistency, but Provo may have played his way into the NFL Draft. His impact was the only consistent threat in the passing game until Lemon got hot down the final stretch. With defenses knowing he would be the focal point of the passing game, Provo still managed to re-write the record books while providing good enough support as a blocker in the meantime.


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