December 20, 2010
Revisiting the best (and worst) of the season. Today: The year's most unsung heroes.
5. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas.
The Razorback ground game was always destined to toil in the long shadow of quarterback Ryan Mallett, but Davis turned a crowded backfield into a one-man show by midseason, complementing his QB's prolific arm with five 100-yard efforts on the ground in the last six games. Altogether, he averaged 154 total yards per game over the last eight – all but one, the 65-43 shootout loss at Auburn, in Razorback wins – and finished just 15 yards behind South Carolina freshman Marcus Lattimore for the SEC rushing crown (non-Cam Newton Division). Still, Davis was passed over by league coaches for a first-team All-SEC nod.
4. Sam Acho, DE, Texas.
Under normal circumstances, a senior Longhorn pass rusher who turns in eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles for the Big 12's No. 1 defense is almost bequeathed an automatic slot on the year-end All-America teams. Acho's numbers, in fact, were right on par with predecessors Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle, who were not only first-team All-Americans in their senior seasons, but finalists for a slew of postseason awards.
The difference: Orakpo and Kindle played for teams with high-powered offenses that lifted the 'Horns to a 26-2 record and a pair of BCS games in 2008-09. Acho's turn in the spotlight was obscured almost entirely by a woebegone offense that killed a solid-as-usual D with a nonstop barrage of turnovers that left UT languishing in last place in the Big 12 South. He was still good enough for the rest of the conference to take notice, but was shut out completely on the national level.
3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia.
Murray got more airtime this year as Nick Fairley's personal punching bag than as a breakout passer, which is understandable for a redshirt freshman whose team opened 1-4 in a conference that also featured the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, a future top-10 draft pick and a would-be Rhodes Scholar with a BCS championship ring at the same position. But Murray was usually good, even when Georgia was bad: He passed for at least 250 yards with an efficiency rating of at least 130 (a hair above the national average) in four of the Bulldogs' six losses, and delivered three touchdown passes in each of the high-scoring defeats against Colorado, Florida and Auburn.
For the season, he finished with multiple touchdown passes in seven of the Bulldogs' last eight games, the ninth-best efficiency rating in the nation and a firm grip on the starting job for the next three years.
2. Brandon Bair, DT, Oregon.
The Ducks' hyperdrive offense earned the headlines (and deservedly so), but Oregon probably wouldn't be playing for the BCS title without its underrated D, which led the Pac-10 and finished in the top 15 nationally in rushing defense and tackles for loss. Bair was the main cog on both of those fronts, helping stuff the middle and finishing second in the conference with 15.5 TFLs, while also getting his 6-foot-7 frame in front of quarterbacks often enough to swat down eight passes. His reward for anchoring the best front seven in the league: Being selected second team all-conference.
1. Damaris Johnson, WR/KR, Tulsa. Johnson is 104 yards away from breaking DeAngelo Williams' Conference USA record for all-purpose yards in a career, and 295 away from breaking the NCAA record, both of which could fall Friday night in the Hawaii Bowl – the last game of his junior season. The diminutive speedster easily led the nation in all-purpose yards for second year in a row (including 208 with two touchdowns in the Golden Hurricane's Oct. 30 upset at Notre Dame), after finishing fifth nationally as a true freshman in 2008. He was 1 yard against East Carolina away from becoming the only player this season with two 300-yard games on the year, after turning in three 300-yard efforts as a sophomore.
If you've heard of Johnson at all, though, it's not from the All-America teams: He was shut out of a first-team nod for the second year in a row. Maybe they're just waiting for the payoff next year, after he's reduced every all-purpose record in the book to a tiny pile of dust.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.