Promoting Brigham Young Cougars For Individual Awards

The Brigham Young Cougars 2011 Football Prospectus lists 12 players as Honors Candidates. Foremost among them is Matt Reynolds who has been included on the Outland and Lombardi Trophy watch lists. Jameson Frazier is on the Lott Trophy watch list, as well.

At BYU, this is a regular occurance.
Every year, two, three, or more Cougars find their way onto the watch lists for the nation’s most prestigious awards. Rarely, however, does a BYU Cougar actually win one of these awards. Luke Staley is the last Cougar to win a national award, and that was 10 years ago. When Staley won the Doak Walker Award in 2001, he was the clear cut choice. He had such an exceptional season no other candidate stood a chance.

Staley’s dominant season that made it almost impossible for voters not to select him appears to be a common factor in BYU players and national awards. The same could be said for Jimmer Fredette this season. Jimmer made it happen. BYU didn’t roll out any special Naismith or Wooden Award campaign. Jimmer made himself a household name and got his face all over the internet. Then BYU made an effort to promote him.

The BYU Athletics Department did not respond to BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL’s inquiries about the school’s overall philosophy regarding promoting players for individual awards.

I would love to see Matt Reynolds win the Outland Trophy this season. Even if he has the best season by an interior lineman, he faces an uphill battle. He probably can’t win that battle without BYU making a concerted effort to promote him to voters. Recent history indicates that a concerted effort is not a BYU specialty.

Case Study #1
In 2008 and 2009, Dennis Pitta was considered one of the best tight ends in the nation. He had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2008 and was the consensus All-American tight end in 2009. Pitta made it as far as a Mackey Award finalist. He lost to Aaron Hernandez from Florida. At the time of the award, Pitta had more touchdown receptions (7 to 4), more receiving yards (784 to 739), and averaged more yards per game (65.3 to 56.8). Two other important facts: 1) Hernandez had the benefit of playing one more game than Pitta (the SEC Championship game), in which he had 8 receptions for 85 yards, and 2) Pitta put up his bigger numbers while sharing the tight end spot with Andrew George (30 receptions, 408 yards, 5 TD), but Hernandez was the only tight end to catch a pass for Florida.

A strong campaign from BYU could have made the difference. Something that emphasized how every opposing defense made Pitta the focal point in their design to stop the BYU passing game. Show the highlight of Pitta finding the opening in the Oklahoma defense, on 4th down, and then rumbling 20 more yards. Point out how Pitta got so much attention, that BYU’s wide receivers were left wide open all over the field.

Case Study #2
In 2009, Harvey Unga was coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. Not a small feat for any running back. Yet, when the watch list for the Doak Walker Award came out, Unga was nowhere to be found. Unga found his way to another 1,000 yard season in 2009, and found his way to the top of the BYU record books, but he couldn’t find himself among the 45 running backs on the Doak Walker Watch List.

Case Study #3
In 2008, Austin Collie led the nation in receiving yards. By the end of the year, he held three NCAA records. Collie could be found catching passes all over the field. One place he wasn’t found was on the list of finalists for the Fred Biletnikoff Award. Here is how Collie compared to the three finalists:

Austin Collie, BYU: 106 receptions, 1538 yards, 15 TD
Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State: 87 receptions, 1480 yards, 19 TD
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri: 102 receptions, 1260 yards, 13 TD
Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech: 97 receptions, 1165 yards, 19 TD

How did Maclin get in over Collie? Overcoming the bias towards Crabtree to win the award would have been very difficult, but Collie should have easily been a finalist. He put up these impressive numbers against some very good defenses. TCU and Utah were both top 10 teams that year, and Collie had 116 and 104 yards, respectively, on 16 total receptions. Collie wasn’t just a playmaker, he was a highlight maker. A good promotional campaign and he easily makes it as a finalist.

I do remember BYU promoting players in the past—Rob “Freight Train” Morris and Brandon “The Domanator” Doman come to mind. Others should have been promoted, but weren't. John Tait was the first lineman (offense or defense) taken in the 1999 NFL draft. Why didn’t Tait get any attention for the Outland Trophy?

Perhaps one of the biggest signs that BYU isn’t pushing players for individual awards is that no Cougar since Ty Detmer has received votes for the Heisman Trophy. After nine players finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting during the 1970s and 80s, Detmer won the award in 1990. Zero Cougars have finished in the top 10 since 1991. In 1996, Marcus Harris, Wyoming, and Beau Morgan, Air Force, received votes for the Heisman Trophy, but Steve Sarkisian did not. Staley won the Doak Walker award, but didn’t get any Heisman love, in a season that lacked a strong Heisman frontrunner.

That leads to the question: why does BYU have the “Honors Candidates” section in the Prospectus if BYU isn’t going to help them win some honors? BYU is embarking on independent status this year, largely to get more exposure for the school. While winning games is the best way to get exposure, the second best is having your star players in the hunt for national awards late in the year. The players would appreciate some help getting voters’ attention.

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