It’s been an entertaining year for the American Athletic Conference, one full of plenty of surprises. With the season coming to an end, the conference handed out postseason awards for the 2020 season.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
At one point in danger of getting benched, Ridder took his game to a new level. The junior quarterback threw for 1,821 yards and 16 touchdowns, and also rushed for 526 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns to lead the Bearcats offense.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa
If Collins winning this award surprises you, I would like to know what you’ve been watching.
Special Teams Player of the Year: K Chris Naggar, SMU
Naggar can thank the SMU offense for giving him so many chances to kick, but he also did his part. He made 43 of his 46 extra points as well as 17 of his 21 field goals. Naggar also averaged 39.3 yards per punt for SMU this year as well.
Rookies of the Year: RB Rahjai Harris, ECU; RB Ulysses Bentley IV, SMU
ECU’s offense struggled to get going early in the season, so it turned to the freshman Harris to ignite a spark. He rushed for 624 yards and four touchdowns this season. Bentley went from a contributor in a shared backfield to “the guy” after TJ McDaniel went down with an injury. It’s too bad SMU won’t play in a bowl game, because he had 913 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns.
Coach of the Year: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Not a surprise here, Fickells won 30 games in the last three years, and has the Bearcats playing in a second consecutive conference championship. He turned down Michigan State to come back to Cincinnati, but it will be tougher to keep him around if his team wins out the rest of the season.
- Cincinnati — 17 (8-first team, 7-second team, 2-honorable mention)
- Tulsa — 13 (3, 5, 5)
- UCF — 9 (5, 3, 1)
- Tulane — 8 (3, 4, 1)
- SMU — 6 (3, 2, 1)
- Memphis — 5 (2, 1, 3)
- Houston — 5 (2, 1, 3)
- ECU — 5 (1, 3, 1)
- Navy — 2 (1, 1, 0)
- Temple — 2 (0, 1, 1)
- USF — 1 (0, 1, 0)
- The only unanimous selections were UCF safety Richie Grant and Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins. Desmond Ridder wasn’t a unanimous selection because Dillon Gabriel had a monster year.
- Houston defensive end Payton Turner wasn’t named a first team selection, which is the biggest disappointment.
- ECU finished with the same number of overall selections as Houston and Memphis, two teams that were clearly better than the Pirates.
- Cincinnati wide receiver Michael Young Jr. was a second team selection after having just 23 catches (25th in the conference) for 260 yards (32nd) and three touchdowns (21st). I’m not exactly sure what earned him this selection, but it doesn’t make any sense.
- Tulane having eight selections was the biggest surprise. The Green Wave were a solid team this year, and that number should get fans excited about next year.