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Announcing the 2014 Hustle Belt Football Awards' Watch Lists

Each day for the next 11 days we'll be releasing a watch list of the Top 5 preseason candidates for each Hustle Belt football award this fall, as determined by a panel of Belt staffers. We'll revisit these lists at some point in the season, but for now let us kick things off with a look back at the inaugural Hustle Belt award winners.

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MACtion. You know it, you love it, but unfortunately unless there's some super-human performance coming out of one of our Mid-Western stadiums in early November, the national media doesn't pay attention to it, or the fantastic players who make MACtion a thing.

The MAC has produced back-to-back Top 5 NFL Draft picks, and in 2013 had a player finish in the Top 3 of the Heisman voting. Some of the best players in college football play on weeknights in the MAC. But come December, when the college football awards season is in full swing, the MAC and its stars vanish from the national spotlight. We routinely have some of college football's best individual performances (Roosevelt Nix's 2010 season) but rarely do they receive recognition from a group of awards that show an unabashed bias towards Power 5 conference players.

All of that got us thinking this past fall: Why not make our own awards to honor the best of the best from around the MAC? Armed with the MAC's career stats and a love of alliteration we created 12 awards that together formed the inaugural Hustle Belt Football awards in 2013.

In December we let you, the MAC fans, help us name our winners and because of the success we're bringing them back for this fall. Starting tomorrow, every day for 11 days we'll reveal our Top 5 favorites for each award, as determined by a panel of Belt staffers.

Let's take a quick look back at the 2013 winners (with the day to look for the 2014 watchlist in parentheses next to the award name).

THE Hustle Belt (8/21/2014):

Named in honor of our illustrious website, THE Hustle Belt (if you see "The" drop 'em) serves as our Player of the Year award. Technically it's open to both offensive and defensive players, but it went to the great Jordan Lynch in 2013. The Huskies signal-caller set several NCAA records and until the meltdown in Detroit and had NIU poised for a return trip to the BCS. His list of accomplishment is too long to rattle off, but if you saw one minute of his performances last fall, you know why he got this.

The Bob Rowe Award (8/20/2014):

Surprise, surprise, Khalil Mack won this honor—named after one fo the most successful defensive players in MAC history—after terrorizing opposing offenses all season. When he single-handedly wrecked OSU's offensive line to open last fall, we all knew it was his award to lose. Mack doesn't lose.

The Future ACC/B1G Coach of the Year Award (8/19/2014):

We figured since whoever wins this award will most likely be poached away, we may as well go ahead and give them the title of the ACC/B1G coach of the year. Low and behold, the honor went to BGSU's Dave Clawson, who had already left for Wake Forest by the time the voting ended. Clawson turned BG around from a 2-10 season three years before to a MAC Champion in 2013, and parlayed that into a payday in North Carolina.

The Roethlisberger Golden Arm (8/18/2014):

No explanation needed for this award's name. In 2013 the top quarterback in the MAC, in terms of pure quarterbacking, was Ball State's Keith Wenning. He was one of the nation's top passers in several categories (yards, passer rating and touchdowns). He had the Cardinals a field goal away from winning their first-ever bowl game, and now he's off in the NFL backing up the richest quarterback in NFL history. I'd say it pays to earn this honor.

The Wasean Tait Award (8/17/2014):

In the mid-1990s Wasean Tait tore up the Mid-American Conference for the Toledo Rockets. His 2,090 yards in 1995 are the most by any MAC back in a regular season. In 2013 MAC fans voted Brandon Oliver as the best back in the MAC. It's hard to argue with that either. Fully healthy in his final season as a Bull, the man they call Bo ran for 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns as one of the top performing backs in all of college football this past fall. I hear he's doing pretty well in the NFL preseason.

The Moss-Jennings Golden Hands (8/16/2014):

"Randy Moss is dope. Greg Jennings is dope. Let's use a hyphen." — Seth Austin. Those were the words used to explain our naming of this award last fall. After a slight modification to the award's name in the offseason, it's back and doper than ever.

Willie Snead beat out some fierce competition in 2013 for this recognition. He was left off of national honors (see, this is why we made these awards) but his 97 receptions for 1,429 yards and 14 touchdowns were too much for our fans to ignore.

The Eric Fisher Award (8/15/2014):

Named after the only MAC player to ever be taken No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, the Eric Fisher Award honors the MAC's top offensive lineman. Northern Illinois' Jared Volk was that man in 2013. He held down one of the most productive lines in all of college football, helping pave the way for Jordan Lynch's historical season, and a 1,000+ yard rusher in breakout back Cameron Stingily.

The Bronze Babin (8/14/2014):

Alliteration is great, isn't it? Jason Babin is a fantastic MAC player, but there were plenty of people this award could have been named after based on merit alone. Ultimately it was Babin's name that gave him the edge. Jayrone Elliott took home the award in 2013. He amassed 70 total tackles, 12 for loss, nine sacks and five forced fumbles. He was an absolute monster off the edge for Toledo in 2013, and anchored a ridiculously productive front seven.

The Lambert Linebacking Award (8/13/2014):

Named after Kent State and Pittsburgh Steeler great Jack Lambert, it was only natural that Khalil Mack—possibly the best linebacker to come out of the MAC since Lambert—earned this honor in 2013. Enroute to racking up several program career records, and a few NCAA records, Mack dominated in 2013. He was one of the conference's top tacklers, led the league in sacks, and a top five player in the MAC's interceptions leaderboard, Mack was an absolute stud.

The Martin Bayless Award (8/12/2014):

Named after former BGSU great Martin Bayless, the inaugural Martin Bayless Award went to a then-future first round NFL Draft pick in NIU's Jimmie Ward. Ward was outstanding in 2013. He led the MAC with six picks, and had 14 passes defended and 89 total tackles to his name. Ward may have lost to Bayless' alma mater in the MAC Championship, but going to San Francisco at No. 30 overall is a nice consolation prize.

The Zinc Zastudil (8/11/2014):

Named after former Ohio Bobcats punter Dave Zastudil, it was only right that the first recipient of our special teams player of the year honor went to a punter. Miami's Zac Murphy was a damn All-Star in 2013. Arguably the best performer on the RedHawks' in 2013, Murphy was on pace to shatter the NCAA's single-season punting record at one point, but still wound up leading the nation after slowing down late in the season. This award is given out to the best special teams player in the MAC. Yes, that includes returners.


EDITOR'S NOTE: We won't be releasing a preseason watch list for our Freshman of the Year award (we're looking for a new name for this honor, suggestions are welcome), because there's too many unknowns before the season begins. When we do our mid-season updates, we'll do a watch list for the honor (which hopefully has a new name by then). In case you're interested, Corey Davis of WMU.