The 6-8, 306-pound senior established himself as the most dominant force in college football. This was after the Outland Trophy winner tore his ACL in January of 2006. That's right. Thomas had the best season of any player in the country after tearing his ACL in the same calendar year.
When Grobe arrived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2001, the Demon Deacons had a 2-9 record the previous season. At a school with the third smallest enrollment in Division I and known only for its basketball prominence, Grobe build a program that could contend with the elites of college football, going 11-3 this past season, winning the ACC Championship and earning a berth in the Orange Bowl.
Best Play: Fiesta Bowl, 4th and 18, Hook and Ladder
It was actually a rather weak year for individual plays. There wasn't the plethora of top performances like we had last year with Vince Young's heroics and Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro's miracle catch around the head of a defender, but the best play of this season was one for the ages.
In this year's Fiesta Bowl, the Boise State Broncos trailed Oklahoma 35-28 and faced a 4th and 18 in the waning seconds. Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky hit Drisan James at Oklahoma's 35, and James pitched the ball to Jerard Rabb, who raced into the end zone to tie the game with 7 seconds to play.
The Broncos also get the nod for Second-Best Play of the Year as well for the Statue of Liberty play in overtime to give Boise State the 43-42 win.
While there are many exceptional candidates like Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and his spectacular design to take advantage of his team's talents, Meyer gets the nod for the what he managed to do against the SEC the entire season and his dismantling of Ohio State in the title game. He also pulled off one of the most difficult and scrutinized challenges in offensive coaching: an effective two-quarterback system that properly took advantage of each of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow's unique abilities.
I also gave strong consideration to Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton. Facing the loss of starting guard J.D. Quinn and putting together a patch-work line containing three sophomores and a freshman, OU went from getting repeatedly beat up-front by UAB at the beginning of the season, to dominating the Nebraska Cornhuskers physically in the Big 12 Championship Game. Against Boise State, the lack of talent on the offensive front began to show again, but Patton did an amazing job of getting a lackluster unit to play together.
Least Effective Use of Talent: Patrick Nix, Offensive Coordinator, Georgia Tech
Nix publicly stated that wide receiver Calvin Johnson "might be the best player in the country," but his play-calling and design seemed to say he thought otherwise. The offensive play design was indicative of a system that tried to highlight the skills of quarterback Reggie Ball. There were multiple occasions where Johnson stood in the open field waving his arms. This should never, ever happen when you've got a talent like Johnson's. The coup de grace was Tech's 9-6 loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Championship.
Based on Johnson's sheer abilities, he won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top receiver in the country, despite being outgained by other receivers (Johnson had 1,016 yards in the regular season).
Have fun torching NFL defenders, Calvin.
Honorable mention goes to Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione for trying to run an offensive system that, although managed to surprise and confuse a great number of teams (including the Longhorns), didn't match up with his offensive personnel. But in previous blogs I've indicated that I think that Fran is wrecking Stephen McGee, a traditional pocket passer by nature, so that's another discussion for another time.
The classic All-Whites are still the sharpest uniform in college football. Runner-up goes to the Michigan home uniforms.
Worst Uniforms: Oregon Ducks, Any of Them
Oregon in a landslide. I shouldn't have to say why.
Best Student Section: Rice Owls
In an upset, the Owls take home the honor. The combination of the re-energized fan base by the Owls' recent success and the general cleverness of the student body created a group of students that not only showed up to Rice games in great numbers, but were loud and sporting some very amusing signs. However, what truly put them over the top was the consistency of the noise. As the Texas Longhorns smashed the Owls on their second game of the season, the student section never stopped. A large factor was the understanding that their team had little chance in the game and the scoring margin didn't discourage or slow them down. Rice also gets bonus points for the MOB (Marching Owl Band) and their very pointed sense of humor.
Best Post Season Hire: Butch Davis, North Carolina
Davis gives Tar Heels football instant credibility, but the greatest asset he brings his recruiting ability. He took over a Miami team in the mid-90s facing NCAA sanctions that eliminated 31 football scholarship spots and built an elite program. He recruited players that made up the talent-laden 2001 Miami team that won the national title the year after his departure and has already stolen tight end Zack Pianalto from Texas.
Worst Post Season Fire: Glen Mason, University of Minnesota
Since Mason's arrival in 1997, the Golden Gophers have been to seven bowl games, compared to just five previously in the entire history of their program. It should be noted that from 1918-1945, the Big Ten did not allow its teams to participate in bowls and from 1946-1974, only the conference champion was allowed to attend a bowl. Regardless, between 1974 and Mason's hiring in 1997, Minnesota only went to three bowl games.
He took a bottom tier Big 10 school and built them to national respect, holding a 64-57 conference record in his tenure. Without a sensational hire from the athletic department, the Golden Gophers will fade into obscurity once again.
So that's it for the first edition of the Luckies. It was a spectacular season of college football and it's unfortunate that next seasons kickoff is eight months away. I know I'll be counting down the days.