A GRIP ON SPORTS • Early December always seems to have a couple early Christmas gifts to open for successful college football programs. The time between the end of the regular season and the bowls is aptly described as awards season, when everyone and their brother are handed a trophy.
• Tonight, the only college trophy – non-team division – that matters, is handed out in New York City. Heck, it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when the Heisman Trophy was the only one even awarded.
That was then. This is now. And every position has a piece of hardware on the table. There is a trophy for the best offensive lineman. And the best on the other side of the ball. There is a trophy for the best receiver. And for the folks covering them. There is a trophy for the best punter. And the best kicker. And the best holder.
Wait, that last one isn’t in play. Yet. Wait a couple years. It will be added. Along with the best “get-back” coach, which will be awarded to whatever guy can grab their head man’s belt fastest before he tries to run on the field in a key game.
Fast-food price inflation is so yesterday. Awards inflation, that’s hip. And hopping.
Problem is, the awards don’t go to the “best.” Never have. Never will. All the awards, from the Heisman on down, end up in the hands of the most-hyped players. Sometimes that coincides with the “best,” whatever that means. Not always.
We have voted on one of these awards many times in the past. Were asked to vote again this season. Having no skin in the game anymore, we decided to try to lend a non-biased view and vote for the actual “best” receiver for the Biletnikoff Award. Even though we knew it was a lost cause.
As soon as Gus Johnson began calling Marvin Harrison Jr. “Maserati Marv,” we knew it. After all, the son of a Hall of Fame receiver has an advantage going in. Playing for a top program that is on national TV all the time doesn’t hurt either. But a catchy nickname like that is destined to put him over the top.
Still, we followed our due diligence. We watched the three finalists, Harrison, Washington’s Rome Odunze and LSU’s Malik Nabers, when we could (and a bunch of others, of course, as we didn’t know who the finalists would be until the season was almost over). The best?
When we went to vote, we examined the stats. After all, it’s possible to compare and contrast everything from touchdowns to targets to YAC (yards after catch) these days. And the choice was simple. The best was either Nabors or Odunze. They were one or two in almost every category. Harrison? He was a distant third. From there it was all about which stat you valued the most. And one other thing.
In the games we watched, Odunze was a beast at times blocking. He seemed to care about it more than the others. And that, which highlights the commitment to winning, became our deciding factor.
We knew it wouldn’t make a difference. Harrison was winning. But we decided to make our last college award vote mean something. To us, anyway.
• Jayden Daniels is going to win the Heisman today. The former Arizona State quarterback headed to the SEC a couple years ago for just this opportunity. It worked out for him. Just as transferring helped Bo Nix re-invent himself for NFL scouts. Or Michael Penix Jr. play for a national title.
It’s those last few words that would have swayed us. Playing for one of the nation’s best programs, LSU, Daniels’ stats didn’t lift the Tigers into the playoffs. Neither did Nix with Oregon. Or Ohio State’s Harrison, the fourth finalist. It happened for Penix.
And there is little doubt the Huskies would not be playing in the semifinals without him. He was their engine. The guy with the target every game. Literally. Heck, the Ducks were not shy about wanting to knock him into oblivion before the Pac-12 title game. They knew that was their best shot to win. At times people blitzed him with everything they had. Or dropped eight into coverage.
Nothing worked. The Huskies’ offense was good enough every week to win. Because, in large part, of Penix and his powerful, accurate left arm.
It won’t be enough to post another win tonight, but it should be.
WSU: There is a basketball doubleheader today in Pullman, with the 21st-ranked women opening Pac-12 play against undefeated Washington at 1 and the men meeting Grambling State at 5. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner has a mailbag in the Mercury News in which he explains the Liberty situation (and other items). He also passes along a recruiting update. … Yep, Oregon faces the Flames in the Fiesta Bowl, though the Ducks will be missing some players. But not Bo Nix, who feels an obligation to be there – and is in New York right now. … It looks as if the Ducks have picked next year’s quarterback from the portal. … Oregon State is really going to be handicapped for its bowl appearance. As will Utah. … USC will start Miller Moss at quarterback in the Holiday Bowl after Caleb Williams opted out. Speaking of Williams, he still is the top quarterback prospect for the NFL in what is a deep class. … One of those is Washington’s Penix, whose history is worth learning. … Kalen DeBoer won the coach of the year award as the Huskies prepare for Texas. … A former UW quarterback, Jake Browning, is enjoying his time in the NFL spotlight. … The newest high-profile recruit to end up with Colorado is an important addition for Deion Sanders and the Buffs. … Arizona’s left tackle won’t play in the Alamo Bowl. … In basketball news, Utah has a chance to knock rival BYU from the undefeated ranks tonight. And set the tone for next season, when both will be in the Big 12. … The best game of the day, however, is in Tucson, where the top-ranked Wildcats will host No. 23 Wisconsin. … Colorado has one of the conference’s best point guards. And KJ Simpson is playing even better than last season. … UCLA travels to Villanova today. … Oregon State’s women are undefeated, with player improvement fueling the season-starting streak. … The same process is in play in Boulder. … Arizona State fell to local rivalry Grand Canyon last night. … Oregon defeated Idaho to snap a two-game slide. … Finally, Oregon State fell 1-0 to Notre Dame in the College Cup semifinals.
Gonzaga: You’ll have to stay up late tonight to watch the Bulldogs take on in-state foe Washington. The game begins at 8 p.m. in Seattle, which translates to 11 p.m. in Orlando or New York. Which means, no matter the outcome, poll voters who didn’t watch will look at the score, figure it’s Washington and dock Gonzaga points no matter what. That won’t be the correct thing to do, as Jim Meehan explains here in his preview. He also has his key matchup. … Elsewhere in the WCC, a pair of former Santa Clara alums had an NBA reunion recently.
Idaho: It’s been a long time since the Vandals have won 10 games in a season. Or made the FCS semifinals. Both could happen tonight, if they can get by defensive-minded Albany in the Kibbie Dome. Colton Clark has a game preview which includes a history lesson. There will be a quiz after. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, second-seeded Montana answered all the questions Furman threw at them last night to advance to the FCS semis with a 35-28 overtime victory. … Weber State’s men will face Cal Poly in a key basketball game today. … The Northern Arizona women have been on a roll. One in particular.
EWU: After two years and quite a few points, Eastern football coach Aaron Best has decided it’s time to make a change on the defensive side of the ball. He fired coordinator Jeff Copp on Friday. Dan Thompson has the story.
Preps: When the season is over, there is a great chance Mead’s Teryn Gardner will be the GSL girls’ MVP. She showed why in last night’s first non-league matchup of two GSL schools, helping the visiting Panthers past Gonzaga Prep 47-43. Dave Nichols was there and has this story, which also cover the later boys game, won by Prep 56-49. … Dave also has this roundup of other GSL action.
Chiefs: Portland scored early and often, topping visiting Spokane 8-5 last night. The Chiefs haven’t won in a quite a while.
Kraken: There is one Seattle player who just can’t stay on the ice.
Seahawks: Seattle may not have quarterback Geno Smith available on Sunday. It does look, however, as if the Hawks will be OK at running back. … If you missed this earlier, we pass along the Jamal Adams contract story again today as it ran in the S-R. … The 49ers have a winning game plan against the Hawks. At least recently.
Mariners: We can report Shohei Ohtani was not in Spokane yesterday. At least where we looked.
• Let’s see. We have coffee stockpiled. A nap probably is in order. And maybe a piece of chocolate or two just before tip. We’ll be glued to our big-screen TV tonight at 8 when the Zags and Huskies tip it off from Hec Ed. Then we will have our TV Take ready to go as close to the end as possible. Until later …