We opened up the voting for the first annual Hustle Belt Football Awards earlier this week. If you remember, before this season we decided to create our own series of football awards to honor the best of the best in the Mid-American Conference. Being that the MAC is a mid-major, and thus often looked over on the awards circuit, we felt it was our duty to do so. Well, after a season full of MACtion and four days of voting the results are in.
For a quick refresher the awards were determined via a five-vote system. Hustle Belt contributor Seth Austin, Hustle Belt Football Editor Matt Daley, Bull Run Managing Editor Tim Riordan and myself accounted for four of the votes. You, the readers, accounted for the fifth vote. Winners were determined by the player/coach who received the most votes, but in the case of a tie between human voters, the fan vote was used as the deciding factor.
Enough jabbering though, no one likes those blabber mouth monologues during award shows anyway. So, without further adieu I present to you the 2013 Hustle Belt Football Awards (unanimous winners are marked with an *):
THE Hustle Belt (most outstanding player in the MAC):
Jordan Lynch*, senior quarterback, Northern Illinois—This was a no-brainer. Lynch dominated all-season long en route to several NCAA records, a slew of All-American honors, and a 3rd place finish in the Heisman Trophy race. A dynamic dual-threat quarterback, Lynch burst onto the scene in 2012 with a record-shattering season. He topped himself this season.
He's already broke his own NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, broke the NCAA single-game rushing record by a quarterback—twice—and currently has 4,557 yards, 46 total touchdowns (23 passing, 22 rushing, one receiving) with one game left to go. If he can rush for 119 yards against Utah State he'll become the first player in NCAA history to pass AND rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
The Bob Rowe Award (top defensive player in the MAC):
Khalil Mack*, senior linebacker, Buffalo—Mack terrorized offenses all season long. It started with his 9-tackle, 2.5-sack, 1-pick-six performance in Week 1 against OSU, and culminated in him taking home the NCAA career record for forced fumbles and tying the career record for tackles for loss. Mack was unstoppable and helped lead Buffalo to its second bowl berth in program history. Oh, and he's secured himself a spot as a Top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Mack currently has 94 tackles, 19 for a loss, 10.5 sacks, three interceptions, including a pair of pick-6's, and a slew of All-American honors. He's firmly implanted himself in the memories of Bulls' fans across the globe, but a bowl win would be the perfect cherry on top of a stellar career.
The Future ACC/B1G Coach of the Year Award: (top head coach in the MAC):
Dave Clawson, Bowling Green (formerly)—Clawson is no longer with the Falcons, having taken the vacant Wake Forest head-coaching gig mere days after trouncing NIU in the 2013 MAC Championship Game, but that doesn't matter. Clawson engineered one of the more impressive seasons in recent MAC history.
He replaced his returning three-year starter at quarterback with a green sophomore, and had to move a wide receiver to running back just to fill weak spots in the offense. Those moves made him out to be a genius. The pair of Matt Johnson and Travis Greene gave Clawson a high-powered offense to match his Top-10 defense, and it resulted in a MAC Championship just three seasons after a 2-10 year in Bowling Green.
Lunchables Frosh of the Year Award: (top freshman in the MAC):
Corey Davis, freshman wide receiver, Western Michigan—A season after Broncos' freshman wideout Jaime Wilson took home the MAC's official Freshman of the Year award, Davis followed up with an even better debut season. The younger brother of Central Michigan stuff wide receiver Titus Davis, Corey hauled in 67 receptions for 941 yards, and six touchdowns. He supplanted himself as one the conference's top wideouts, and has given WMU a wealth of talent at the position.
The Roethlisberger Golden Arm (top quarterback in the MAC):
Keith Wenning, senior, Ball State—Wenning is currently fifth in the nation in passing yards (3,933), touchdowns (34), 12th in passer rating (160.0) and led the Cardinals to a 10-2 record in the regular season. He's easily one of the top college quarterbacks in the country this season, but unfortunately was lost behind the video game numbers Lynch put up for rival NIU.
But even with quietly going about his business Wenning has won orchestrated one of the best offenses in the country. With him under center, Ball state averaged an astonishing 486.6 yards-per-game and 40.1 points-per-game, and he did it all after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the weeks leading up to the season. Wenning currently has the Cardinals in an opportunity to get their first EVER bowl win, and has likely worked his way into getting an honest look in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Wasean Tait Trophy (top running back in the MAC):
Brandon Oliver, senior, Buffalo—Oliver has often been considered the most talented running back in the conference over the past few seasons, but injuries have hampered his production. Not this season. After starting off slow, and even missing a game, Oliver put together one of the best seasons in the country. His 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns are both 12th in the nation, and he was a workhorse. Averaging 5.0 yards-per-carry this season, Oliver had a pair of 200+ yard games this season, including a 43-carry performance. Oh, he also had a 185-yard, four touchdown day as well. Simply put, in a conference full of excellent running backs this season, Oliver bulldozed his way to capturing the Wasean Tait Trophy.
The Moss-Jennings Trophy (top wideout in the MAC):
Willie Snead*, junior, Ball State—Snead got screwed when it came to national honors, but that's exactly why we created these awards. All season long he was one of the most consistent receivers in the country. His 1,429 yards and 14 scores are fourth in the country, his 97 receptions are tied for eighth. And, he did it all on a team with another receiver that put up 1,000+ yards and hauled in 10 touchdowns.
Snead was an All-American in every aspect, whether or not the powers that be think so. When it came down to it he always came through. He was an elite wide receiver this season, and clearly the best in the conference. With guys such as Titus Davis and Bernard Reedy in the MAC, that's a real honor.
The Eric Fisher Award (top offensive lineman in the MAC):
Jared Volk, senior, Northern Illinois—I'm not going to pretend to know a lot of stats or anecdotes about Volk's play this season, but I do know this. On the MAC's best offensive line, Volk was a leader. The left guard led a unit that protected the most targeted man in the MAC, Jordan Lynch. Lynch was sacked just nine times this season, and the team produced a pair of 1,000 yard rushers behind Volk and company. Among a unit of top-notch hogs, Volk was the best.
The Bronze Babin (top defensive lineman in the MAC):
Jayrone Elliott, senior, Toledo—70 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five forced fumbles. Those are the final stats for Toledo's senior defensive end this season. Elliott was a force off the edge, and terrorized quarterbacks all season long. He finished in the Top 25 nationally in sacks and tied for second nationally in the FF category.
The best thing about Elliott's performance this season was he shined in Toledo's biggest games. He notched a pair of sacks when the Rockets traveled into SEC country to start the season, notched two on Jordan Lynch (who was sacked nine times all year) and had 14 tackles, including a sack in Toledo's double-overtime win over Navy. When the spotlight was one, Elliott showed up. Every time.
The Lambert Linebacking Award (top linebacker in the MAC):
Khalil Mack*, senior, Buffalo—This was probably the fiercest competition level of any position in the conference. Eight players had more than 100 tackles. CMU's Justin Cherocci, the conference leader in tackles, had 26 more tackles than Mack. But tackles don't make an elite linebacker, and Mack is a living testament to that. No defensive player was more of a stud, which is why he's already appeared on this list once (the only two-award winner). A Top-15 tackler in the conference, No. 1 in sacks, tackles for loss and fumbles forced. Fifth in interceptions and 13th in passes defended. Mack is truly a do-everything defensive player, and clearly the best linebacker in the MAC.
The Martin Bayless Trophy (top defensive back in the MAC):
Jimmie Ward, senior, Northern Illinois—For all of the success of Mack, Ward isn't far behind. The Huskies senior safety, himself an All-American put together a stat sheet that only Mack can rival. No defensive back in the MAC was as consistent as Ward. No. 1 in the conference (sixth in the nation) with six picks, fourth in the conference with 14 passes defended, and he had 89 total tackles.
Ward could take over a game and shut down an opposing offense single-handily, and was equally as polarizing of a layer as Lynch, but is easily overlooked consider he plays defense. Ward will be making a name for himself on Sunday's come next season, but for now he's the best defensive back in the MAC.
The Zinc Zastudil (top special teams player in the MAC):
Zac Murphy, senior punter, Miami—How does a player from arguably the worst team in the country even get considered for an award like this, let alone win it? Well, leading the nation with 3,668 punting yards is how. Sure, Murphy got to punt a lot (79 times to be exact) due to his team's woeful offense, but he made the most of it. His 46.6 yards per average punt are fifth best in the nation. His 84-yard punt is hands down the longest of the season by anyone.
If not for Murphy's skilled leg, and pinpoint accuracy, Miami would have suffered much more this season. Through the power of his leg alone he kept the RedHawks from being blown out in several games this season. Imagine how valuable he could have been on a good team.
★ ★ ★
Well, there you have it. There are your 2013 Hustle Belt Football Award winners. The best of the best from the conference that brings you MACtion.