With the majority of Conference USA now officially halfway through their 2021 schedule, it’s time to start seriously considering who the winners of this year’s postseason awards will be. While there may not be many surprises amongst these picks, things can change very quickly in college football.
We may change our minds after next week’s results. College football is wacky like that. So don’t get too wound up if you disagree.
Offensive Player of the Year
Joe Londergan: This one is a tough pick for me as there are several candidates that I would consider deserving. That being said, I think I have to give it to the best offensive player on the team that is currently the frontrunner for the league crown: UTSA running back Sincere McCormick. McCormick leads the league in rushing with 661 yards on 154 attempts with an average of 110 yards per game. That type of consistent performance has helped UTSA’s offensive attack become fantastically balanced on the way to a 6-0 record.
Eric Henry: In the effort of full disclosure, I believe that UTSA’s Frank Harris is starting to play his best football and will have an excellent close the year, winning OPOY. However, with the emphasis on “Midseason Award” I’m taking Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe. This goes contrary to how I feel about rewarding players on the best teams, but Zappe’s 21 touchdowns to only three interceptions is huge, especially when considering the competition they’ve played. Yes, the Roadrunners have spent some time in games playing from behind, but a 7-to-1 TD to Int ratio is incredible, no matter the circumstances.
Jared Kalmus: I’ll be the tie-breaker here and tip the scales for Bailey Zappe. From a sheer production standpoint, no one can hold a candle to Zappe. But he does so much more than just put yards and points in the box score. His ability to freeze the secondary with his eyes, work through his progressions, and squeeze the ball into small windows is unparalleled by any C-USA quarterback in recent memory. However, Western Kentucky is going to have to find a way to reach bowl eligibility in order for Zappe to take home the hardware at the end of the year.
Defensive Player of the Year
Joe: In my opinion, defensive end Praise Amaewhule of UTEP gets this nod. On their way to a 5-1 record, the Miners have received plenty of help from Amaewhule holding opponents to a league-low of 22 points per game. Amaewhule has totaled an impressive four sacks, nine total tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. The former two-star prospect is giving opposing backfields a reason to be afraid this year.
Eric: I think UTEP’s Praise Amaewhule is deserving of the honors. He’s been an excellent player in C-USA for a few years now, but is getting his just due with the Miners’ success in 2021. He’s one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the league and has made plays whether it’s getting to the quarterback, batting down passes or making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Jared: Praise Amaewhule is certainly more than deserving of DPOTY honors, but I’m giving UAB defensive end Alex Wright the nod. Wright has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 24 pass attempts this season, while 17 of his 18 tackles this season have been run stuffs at or near the line of scrimmage. Wright has also missed just two potential tackles this season. The Blazers have played a substantially more difficult schedule than UTEP has, so I’m inclined to give Wright the lead.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Joe: UTSA senior kicker Hunter Duplessis seems like a clear pick for me. Duplessis is second in the league in scoring this year (tied for fourth in FBS) with 60 points on 11 of 15 on field goals and a perfect 27 of 27 on extra points. Duplessis also made the game-winning field goal against Memphis to complete the Roadrunners’ largest comeback in program history. The hometown kid is doing his part in UTSA’s historic run.
Eric: While Joe says it’s seemingly a clear choice, I say not so fast. Hunter Duplessis is having an excellent season and is well-deserving of the recognition. However, UTSA punter Lucan Dean won the award last year by averaging 46 yards per punt, downing 27 punts inside the 20-yard-line and hitting 21 punts for 50 yards or longer. FIU’s Tommy Heatherly and Southern Miss’ Mason Hunt are on pace to best Dean’s numbers. In somewhat of a homer pick, I’ll take Heatherly.
Jared: Joe is right that it’s a clear pick for Special Teams Player of the Year, but Eric is right in that Tommy Heatherly is that guy. His punting numbers are insane, one of the few bright spots for the struggling Panthers.
Freshman Player of the Year
Joe: This one has to go to Marshall redshirt freshman running back Rasheen Ali. Heading into the season, one of the Herd’s chief concerns was replacing the production of running back Brendan Knox, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Ali has stepped up in that regard leading the league in scoring with 78 points off of 13 touchdowns. Through six games, Ali has also totaled 566 rushing yards with an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
Eric: Is it possible to boycott this award? The answer is Rasheen Ali and no slight on him, because he’s having an excellent year, especially considering he’s replacing Brenden Knox. However, he’s a THIRD-YEAR freshman, which we have a ton of due to the COVID-19 eligibility rules.
Jared: Rasheen Ali has looked extremely impressive, coming into week 7 at third place in total rushing yardage in the conference. Marshall definitely has a new feature back to build their offense around.
Newcomer of the Year
Joe: While it’s frustrating to see his team only be able to pull out one win, Bailey Zappe feels like the clear pick. Zappe leads the league in passing touchdowns with 21 in addition to passing for an astounding 447 yards per game with a 70.4 completion percentage. The graduate transfer from Houston Baptist is on pace for the best season a WKU quarterback, or any C-USA quarterback, has ever had all for a 1-4 record...really makes you drink...I mean think.
Eric: A lot of newcomers have had an early impact on teams. FIU’s Tyrese Chambers, Florida Atlantic’s N’Kosi Perry, Charlotte’s Grant DuBose, just to name a few. But the obvious choice is Bailey Zappe — for all of the aforementioned reasons listed as to why he’s my OPOY at this point.
Jared: I don’t like to pick the same guy for multiple awards, so since I have Bailey Zappe as OPOTY, I’ll roll with Tyrese Chambers as my Newcomer of the Year. The FCS transfer has already put up 672 yards through the air this year, with an absurd 33.6 yards per catch ratio.
Coach of the Year
Joe: Based on the way that he has been able to seemingly unlock the full potential of his team, I have to give it to Jeff Traylor. Aside from a frustratingly close call against UNLV, it’s genuinely difficult to nitpick the job that Traylor has done with his UTSA team this year. They have scored more points than anybody else in the league and have the #3 scoring defense in C-USA. It genuinely can’t get much more complete than that for the second-year head coach.
Eric: I think Dana Dimel has done enough to earn the honors here. This isn’t to downplay Jeff Traylor’s job at UTSA. He’s done an incredible coaching job, getting what former Roadrunners’ head man Frank Wilson couldn’t get out of this roster. The 5-1 record is one that few (Shout-out to UDD’s Jared Kalmus ) publicly predicted. The Miners have a real chance to win seven or eight games this year and reinvigorate a prideful fanbase in El Paso.
Jared: In all honesty, I have to call a tie here between Dimel and Traylor. While UTEP has looked drastically more competitive this season than they have in a very long time, the Miners’ schedule is about to really increase in difficulty. We’ll have to see how UTEP can finish out the season after a tough three game stretch against Louisiana Tech, FAU, and UTSA. Meanwhile, it’s tough to not hand the award over to a coach with an undefeated record. UTSA has looked extremely well coached, toppling three solid teams on the road in both high-flying shoot outs and gritty defensive efforts.