The logical time to hand out postseason awards is before the final games are played, right? Makes as much sense as preseason polls or the Godaddy.com Bowl.
The "Who Saw That Coming?" Player of the Year, Offensive Edition - Keanon Lowe When the Week 1 two-deep was released, the position group that elicited the most surprise from fans were the wide receivers, most notably the inclusion of 5'9" sophomore Lowe. As it turns out, Chip Kelly knows what he's doing. Lowe finished fourth on the team in receiving yards with 244, and second on the roster with six receiving touchdowns. He also added nine tackles and two fumble recoveries on special teams.
The "Who Saw That Coming?" Player of the Year, Defensive Edition - Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Terrance Mitchell established himself as a quality cornerback in 2011, and it was expected that opposing coaches would try and challenge Ifo instead, who was more of an unproven quantity. Ifo rose to the challenge, announcing himself to the country with a standout performance against Arizona, intercepting two and taking one to the house. If there's a knock on Ifo, it's that he plays extremely tight, and drew his fair share of pass interference penalties. But he's only a true sophomore, and his ceiling is very high.
Game of the Year - Oregon vs. Arizona A case could be made for the USC game; more specifically, Kenjon Barner could make a case for the USC game. But the 49-0 win over Arizona was Oregon's most complete win of the year. The Ducks controlled the game on both sides of the ball, for sixty minutes straight, against a Wildcats team that ended with an eight-win season. Arizona scored 34 or more points ten times this season: 39 against USC, 48 against Stanford, 52 against washington, 59 against Oklahoma State, and 49 against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. This is one of the twenty or so best offenses in college football; the Oregon defense kept them scoreless. And while it took the Oregon offense a while to get moving, Oregon held the ball for eleven minutes in the second quarter, and put the foot on the gas in the second half. This was Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's coming out party, Troy Hill added a pick-six, and Marcus Mariota finished 20-35 for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
The Fat Guy Hustle Award - Jake Fisher He scored a touchdown. Wait, let me rephrase: he chased De'Anthony Thomas fifty yards down the field, arrived at the endzone at roughly the same time, and was there to fall on the ball after DAT fumbled at the 1-yard line. That's true fat guy hustle.
The Unsung Hero - Taylor Hart Entering the season, the Oregon pass rush hype started and ended with Dion Jordan. But the 2012 Oregon leader in sacks was the man on the other side, Taylor Hart. The junior got to the quarterback eight times in 2012, and was a reliable force on a defensive line that fought through injury problems throughout the year.
Play of the Year - De'Anthony Thomas' 70 yard punt return vs. Colorado The boxscore says this return began at the 30, but there the Momba was, making three cutbacks inside his own 20. There's no reason why this play should have ended up a touchdown; Kenjon Barner tried something similar against LSU, and it ended up a touchdown...for the other team. Granted, 2011 LSU>>>>>>>>>>>>2012 Colorado, but still. By many measurements, De'Anthony Thomas had a bit of a sophomore regression. But he's still hyper-explosive, and 2013 sets up to be Momba's time to shine.
Defensive Player of the Year - Kiko Alonso Alonso's story reads like something right on the edge of believable; he commits the most poorly-timed DUI in the history of drinking or cars; hits bottom when he gets blackout drunk and barges into a house that isn't his; works his way back onto the team; makes potentially the biggest defensive play in Oregon's first Rose Bowl victory in a gazillion years; then, 2012. Second on the team in tackles, first in tackles for loss with twelve, and tied for first in interceptions with four. Eighteen months ago, he could have been out of football; now, he's a potential NFL draft pick.
Offensive Player of the Year - Marcus Mariota OMG NOT KENJON BARNER? WHAAAAAAT?!??!
That's right! Oregon's offensive player of the year is not the guy that rushed for 1624 yards and 21 touchdowns. That's because Kenjon Barner was not the most important part of Oregon's offensive success. That distinction belongs to redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. After Darron Thomas declared for the NFL draft, many people believed Bryan Bennett, and not Mariota, would start for the Ducks. But Mariota announced his presence in the Spring Game, won the starting job in fall camp, and went on to have one of the best seasons by any freshman quarterback in college football history. His 690 yards rushing was the second-most by any Oregon quarterback, trailing only Jeremiah Masoli's 714 yards in 2008. He led the country in QB yards per carry, and was in the top ten in the country in touchdowns, completion percentage, and efficiency rating, tops among freshmen (including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, bee tea dubs). Three of the last four Heisman trophies have been won by dual threat quarterbacks; could 2013 be the year Marcus Mariota makes it four of five?
As far as Player of the Year goes, I leave that choice to you, dear reader. So drop your vote in the poll, and chat about it in the comments!