McGee’s midseason awards: From Chase Brown to Mike Leach to John Daly

  • Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and
  • 2-time Sports Emmy winner
  • 2010, 2014 NMPA Writer of the Year

Making the turn. Yes, that’s a golf term. But today, it is also apropos as it pertains to college football. For, as evidenced by all the teams with records of something-and-something that add up to at least a half-dozen games played, and as proven by the fact that the leaves in the trees are now the same brown and red hues as Nick Saban’s face at Neyland Stadium last weekend, the 153rd season of the greatest sport on Earth has just crossed over the halfway point.

Whenever someone makes the turn on the links, they usually swing through the clubhouse and the 19th Hole, where a group of Judge Smails-looking gentlemen are leaning on the bar, overserved, watching college football and declaring who is the best, worst and in between that the game has to offer. They have those conversations amid shelves of dusty trophies commemorating member-guest tourney champs, closest-to-the-pins and holes-in-one.

So, with that true making-the-turn spirit in mind, allow us to pour a glass of amber liquid and hand out some brass and particle board hardware from the local trophy shop, as we present our 2022 Midseason College Football Awards.

The Peyton Manning October Heisman Award

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee. No one ever had a bigger lead in the midseason Heisman Trophy race than the original Tennessee Sheriff did in 1997, but as we know now, Manning finished second in December, just as fellow Vols Hank Lauricella, Johnny Majors and Heath Shuler did before him. Hooker outdueled reigning stiff arm king Bryce Young in Neyland Stadium, but when the ballots are cast at season’s end, Hooker will still have to overcome Vols’ Heisman history and also the recent history of guys winning the game but losing the trophy. See: Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson (Clemson 42, Louisville 36 in 2016). Then again, Hooker and his team would 100% take Watson’s ’16 consolation prize right now. Celebrating a natty in January.

Side note: Hooker should receive bonus points because he wrote a children’s motivational book with his brother, NC A&T QB Alston Hooker, during the offseason. Side note No. 2: Could someone please remove all the energy supplements from RGIII’s kitchen cabinet?

Honorable mentions: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Caleb Williams, Blake Corum, Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

The Guy You’d Most Want With You in One Those Weird Mall Escape Rooms Award

Tre’Shaun Harrison, WR, Oregon State. Harrison only has three touchdown receptions this season, but whenever he hauls one in, it’s a big one, the latest being the game winner vs. Stanford two weeks ago. But his best effort was a 17-yard screen grab against Fresno State when he managed to emerge from eight would-be Bulldog tacklers like he was Boba Fett emerging from the Sarlacc pit.

Honorable mention: The back judge and field judge from the Alabama-Tennessee game.

The David Blaine ‘Now You See Me, Now You Don’t’ Award

Texas A&M. The Aggies started the season ranked sixth in the AP Top 25 and have since vanished quicker than my brother-in-law when the waitress puts the dinner check on the table. That exit from the poll began Week 2 after A&M was stunned at home by Appalachian State and the Aggies are now 3-3, spared a 2-4 record only by way of a doinked end cap would-be game-winning field goal by Arkansas back in Week 4. The Aggies’ disappearing act comes with so much power that it even rubbed off on the team that derailed them.

Honorable mention: Appalachian State. The Mountaineers beat A&M, hosted College GameDay and won a last-second thriller over Troy but have been 2-2 since and are mired in the middle of the Sun Belt East. Still, they are ahead of Marshall and Georgia Southern, both of whom have battled the .500 line after knocking off Notre Dame and Nebraska on the same day App State beat A&M.

The Cole Trickle ‘Remember Me?’ Award

TCU. As A&M has dropped out of the preseason top 10 like a brick on a pile of molten marshmallows, it has been replaced in those lofty rankings by a former Southwest Conference rival in the Horned Frogs. TCU received precisely zero preseason AP Top 25 votes and was picked to finish seventh in the 10-team Big 12. Now it is 6-0, ranked No. 8 and, according to ESPN’s FPI machine, has a 23.6% chance to win the conference, second to only Texas at 55.1%. The Frogs travel to Austin on Nov. 12.

Honorable mentions: Tennessee, Syracuse, Illinois (wow, wearing orange seems to be working well, doesn’t it?), the Pac-12, Tulane, Chip Kelly.

The Donnel Pumphrey Offensive Player We Should Be Making a Bigger Deal Out of Than We Are Award

Chase Brown, RB, Illinois. Named for the former San Diego State running back who in 2016 set the NCAA FBS single-season rushing mark and somehow everyone figured out a way to cheapen and/or ignore it. The 6-1 Fighting Illini are receiving plenty of props for their defense and another Big Ten running back, Michigan’s Blake Corum, is garnering the Heisman hype. But Brown is the nation’s only 1,000-yard back, with 1,059 yards over seven games, and has yet to be held under 100 yards in a game.

Honorable mention: Kyle Vantrease, QB, Georgia Southern. Dude has thrown for 2,512 yards, second only to Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. Quick reminder: These aren’t your granddad’s triple option-running Eagles. Clay Helton is in charge in Statesboro and he brought his USC offensive playbook with him.

The Jaylon Ferguson Defensive Player We Should Be Making a Bigger Deal Out of Than We Are Award

Jackson Mitchell, LB, UConn. Named for the former Louisiana Tech defensive end who in 2018 set the NCAA career sacks record and everyone, again, somehow figured out a way to ignore it. Chances are you haven’t been paying attention to the turnaround that’s happening in Storrs, but the Huskies have three wins, which already matches the combined total from their past two seasons. The anchor of that effort is Mitchell, who has 88(!) tackles. He has four double-digit efforts in eight games and a combined 35 over three weeks against a triumvirate of AP Top 25 teams in Syracuse, Michigan and NC State.

Honorable mentions: Jason Henderson, LB, Old Dominion (84 tackles) and Eastern Michigan DL Jose Ramirez, tied with USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu with an FBS-best seven sacks.

The Ricky Bobby ‘I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands’ Sideline Interview Award

Mike Leach on weddings. The Pirate has had the Mississippi State Bulldogs moving up and down the field all season, sitting 5-2 and spending most of the year ranked. But everyone knows that Leach’s best work is when he is in a football situation and doesn’t actually talk about football. Anyone who has ever gotten married and/or has kids who are getting married knows that there are zero lies in what he had to say to SEC Network’s Alyssa Lang after MSU’s huge Week 5 win over Texas A&M.

Honorable mention: Sam Pittman, man of the people.

The Tim Gunn Rock the Runway Best Special Uniform Award

BYU vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 8. This has been the season of blackouts when it comes to one-off uniforms, from North Texas flipping the Mean Green and UCF’s “Space U” to Oklahoma’s “Unity” threads and Rutgers with the “Dark Knights.” But no one has pulled off the combination of complementing its school’s signature look with a swath of black like BYU did when it countered Notre Dame’s all-white Shamrock Series fit for their matchup in Vegas. The Cougars even employed a UFC fighter and a magician to help with the reveal.

Honorable mentions: Yale’s 150th season celebration throwbacks, Texas State Bobcats embroidering “Eat ’em up” across their backs and “Come and take it” inside their collars.

The Bugo Hoss/Guiccy Knock-off Clothing Brand Award

Gardner-Webb. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are an Under Armour school and have always had an underrated look. Trust me. I grew up there. When they go all-white on the road it looks amazing. But during their Week 3 showdown with Mercer, at least one player appeared to be wearing some Blunder Armor britches picked up at the outlet mall in nearby Gaffney, South Carolina.

Honorable mention: The Indiana fans who were ripped on social media for misspelling their school’s name in the stands, but were actually paying tribute to that glorious day in 2021 when the Hoosiers took the field as Indinia University.

The Col. Miles Rick Quaritch Tree Wrecker Award

Eugene PD. With the Cardinal down 45-17 at Oregon, I swear if you listen closely enough you can hear the googly eyed “Charlie Brown Christmas Special”-looking Stanford Tree saying to this Eugene, Oregon, police officer, “I know y’all love trees around here, but please, just put me out of my misery already.”

The Bette Midler ‘But Enough About Me. Let’s Talk About You. What Do You Think of Me?’ Award

John Daly on ‘Marty & McGee’. I co-host this little show Saturday mornings on SEC Network and we got off to a tipsy start during Week 1 and we’ve been stumbling along ever since. Plus, this clip brings us back to the making the turn/19th Hole theme we started with. Enjoy the second half of the season y’all.

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