Tennessee's coaching vacancy ranks among college football's most attractive. (Getty Images)
RATING THE JOB OPENINGS
With coaches being whacked right and left, The Dash created a desirability pecking order for the open major jobs. There are regional considerations here (a coaching candidate from the West may like Colorado a lot more than he'd like Boston College) but in general, this is the Dash breakdown, best to worst:
Tennessee (1). The Dash initially had this as No. 2 behind Arkansas until consulting with some college football insiders, who cited facilities, larger stadium, superior tradition and softer side of the conference as factors in the Volunteers' favor. The drawback is in-state recruiting – most years the best talent is six hours away in Memphis, an SEC free-for-all city. (In more ways than one.)
Arkansas (2). Showed with Bobby Petrino they will pay big money to the right coach, and the athletic department is on solid footing with Jeff Long. Razorbacks also own the entire state when it comes to fan loyalty. Drawback: Like Tennessee, there isn't a lot of home-grown talent. Unlike Tennessee, Arkansas has to bang heads with LSU and Alabama every year – and here comes Texas A&M on the rise.
North Carolina State (3). The right guy can win here – only Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech are more committed to football. The league isn't the least bit daunting – at least competitively. The daunting part might be concerns over what will happen to it via conference realignment, if Maryland sets off an exodus to other leagues.
Auburn (4). This should be the top job on the list in terms of absolute institutional commitment to football, recruiting area and fanatical following. But there's the ongoing NCAA investigation, and questions about whether heavy-handed booster involvement is still an issue for whoever is the next coach. Dysfunction is the Auburn norm – sometimes it's a workable dysfunction, but sometimes it's not. Right now, this job has hazard lights flashing all around it.
California (5). Always nice to have a home-state recruiting edge in a place like California, plus a prestigious school and a newly renovated stadium to recruit to. But being football coach at Cal has never been like being football coach at USC or UCLA when it comes to institutional support. And with Stanford rolling across the Bay, the pressure to keep up with the archrival will be present.
Purdue (6). A school that has operated on the cheap is now sending signals that it's ready to spend like a contender. If that's true, this could be a place to win fairly quickly. With Penn State due to dip and Wisconsin wobbling a little, second place in the Big Ten Leaders Division behind Ohio State is not an impossible dream.
Boston College (7). There is a recent history of success (12 straight winning seasons from 1999-2010, under three different coaches), but momentum is going the other way at a place that doesn't have the natural resources to reload quickly. New athletic director Brad Bates is well-regarded, which should help draw decent candidates. And the ACC is hardly the SEC.
Kentucky (8). Word is the school is talking a good game to prospective coaches about getting serious about football, but talk is cheap. UK hasn't been able to fund facility upgrades in the recent past, and basketball has never devoured a bigger portion of the athletic budget than it is now. The new guy will get SEC pay, but he'll also be expected to win SEC games. Precious few coaches in program history have ever left happily and voluntarily.
Colorado (9). Former power program is in shambles, riding a seven-year streak of losing records. Bottom fell out this year in a 1-11 disaster that forced the ouster of second-year coach Jon Embree. Worst thing is, nobody in the administration seems to know how to fix it. Colorado has one of the most beautiful campuses and stadiums to sell to recruits, but fundraising is difficult and resources are way behind. With UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State all freshly respectable, upward mobility in the Pac-12 South won't be easy.
With assistance from presenting Dashette Elsa Pataky (10), we're handing out the annual end-of-season awards, both nationally and by conference. First, the big picture:
National Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel (11), Texas A&M. The Dash isn't ready to put his name on top of a Heisman Trophy ballot yet – at least not in ink. That will require some additional deliberation after all precincts have reported this weekend, plus a re-examination of the Manziel vs. Manti debate. But 4,600 yards of offense and 43 touchdowns on a team that improved from 6-6 last year to 10-2 is a pretty solid resume.
Coach of the Year: Brian Kelly (12), Notre Dame. First coach in the BCS era to take a team from outside the AP preseason top 25 to No. 1 at year's end. Kelly's ability to shrink a daunting schedule to a week-by-week journey has been masterful. His instincts with his quarterbacks have been unerring. His upgrade of the defense shows that he's not just a great offensive mind – he can build a complete program. Lots of great candidates for this award, but he's the clear choice.
[Related: SEC rout of Notre Dame not a given]
Trend of the Year: Eggheads rule (13). Notre Dame is No. 1 and will play for its first national title since 1988. Stanford should win the Pac-12 for the first time since 1999. With a bowl win, Northwestern would have 10 victories for the first time since 1995. Vanderbilt has won eight games for the first time since 1982 – and could win nine for the first time since 1915. Duke is bowl-bound for the first time since 1994. Last time all five of those academically elite institutions went bowling in the same season: Never. Amid all the troubling trends in college sports, this is one to celebrate.
Freshman of the Year: Manziel. See above.
Bust of the Year: Southern Mississippi (14). Golden Eagles plummeted from 12-2 last year – the program's 18th straight winning season – to 0-12 this year, its first season under Ellis Johnson. That's not just the bust of this year; it's the bust of any year.
Upset of the Year: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 (15). Didn't ruin the Crimson Tide's season, but the loss at home as the nation's unanimous No. 1 to the SEC newcomer Aggies was a shocker. Most amazing of all was seeing A&M blitz the defending national champions 20-0 in the first quarter.
Shocking Score of the Year: Fresno State 48, Colorado 0 (16). After just 22 minutes and 14 seconds of play. A Pac-12 team should never be 48 points behind a Mountain West team in a quarter and a half. Ever. Now you know why Embree only got two years in Boulder.
Educational Moment of the Year: Learning that footballs must be inflated to between 12½ and 13½ pounds of pressure per square inch. Thank you, USC (17), for helping us learn this fact.
Now on to the conference awards…
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
What kind of year has it been: Lousy. Two teams ineligible for postseason (North Carolina, Miami). A 6-6 team in the ACC championship game. Another punking at the hands of the SEC in rivalry games. Florida State overrated again. Maryland walking out after 60 years. But, hey, at least Notre Dame is (sort of) a member.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tajh Boyd (18), Clemson. Fourth nationally in pass efficiency and eighth in total offense while leading the Tigers to a 10-2 record. Only major downside was a second annual poor game against rival South Carolina.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bjoern Werner (19), Florida State. He's third nationally in sacks per game, and even when he doesn't get to the passer in time he's still disruptive – Werner has seven batted passes and five quarterback hurries on the season.
Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke. It's been a long, arduous climb to respectability for the Blue Devils, but Cutcliffe has gotten it done in his fifth year on the job. A lot of people thought it would never be done.
Bust of the Year: Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer hadn't won fewer than 10 games since 2003, and hadn't won fewer than seven since 1992 – until now. If the Hokies weren't 2-0 in overtime games, they'd have their first losing record in 20 years.
Psycho Team of the Year: North Carolina State. Scored 48 points in a loss and 10 in a win. Stunned unbeaten, third-ranked Florida State. Also lost by 27 to a bad Virginia team. Unpredictability of performance helped cost Tom O'Brien his job.
BIG 12 CONFERENCE
What kind of year has it been: Wild and entertaining, but largely defenseless. Kansas State lost its national title bid when it was blitzed by Baylor Nov. 17. Oklahoma has given up 97 points the last two weeks – and won both games. Texas was a sieve from mid-September through mid-October. There has been plenty of good football in the Big 12, but it will take a team with a better defense to play for a national title.
Offensive Player of the Year: Collin Klein, Kansas State. Probably won't win the Heisman and definitely won't win the national title, but Klein has carried the Wildcats as far as he could – and a lot farther than most thought they'd go. The lone multi-interception game of his career (three against Baylor) is the only blemish on a remarkable season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. Tough call here, but The Dash sympathizes with any cover guy who takes on the pyrotechnic passing attacks of the Big 12. Colvin has broken up 11 passes, intercepted four others and added two sacks Saturday against Oklahoma State. He's also made 49 total tackles, including 10 against Notre Dame.
Coach of the Year: Bill Snyder (20), Kansas State . How do you take a moderately talented team and go 10-1? By mastering the details. The Wildcats don't beat themselves (nine turnovers and 39 penalties on the season, both in the top five fewest in the nation). They win hidden yards (K-State leads the nation in both punt returns and kickoff returns, and have surrendered just 15 yards in punt returns). They take advantage of opportunities (just 55th in total offense, but 11th in scoring), and make the other team work for every point (40th in total defense, but 22nd in points allowed). Masterful work by a crusty septuagenarian.
Bust of the Year: West Virginia (21). All the pretty offensive plays and explosive skill-position players don't mean much if you can't cover or tackle. The slide from 5-0 to 6-5 should give the Mountaineers plenty of lessons to learn heading into year two in the Big 12.
[Also: Surprise team joins BCS list]
Psycho Team of the Year: Baylor. Not sure how a team could lose to TCU in Waco by four touchdowns one month, then beat No. 1 Kansas State by four touchdowns in Waco the next, but the Bears did it.
BIG EAST CONFERENCE
What kind of year has it been: A year without West Virginia and TCU. A year with two unbeaten teams seven weeks in, and one unbeaten nine weeks in. A year with nice wins against the ACC (Louisville over North Carolina, Cincinnati over Virginia Tech) and bad losses against the state of Ohio (Youngstown State over Pittsburgh, Toledo over Cincinnati, Kent State over Rutgers). Ultimately, a year when the league hasn't done enough to convince anyone it has earned its place at the BCS big-boy table.
Offensive Player of the Year: Teddy Bridgewater (22), Louisville. At a school that has produced a lot of great quarterbacks, he's the best since Johnny Unitas. Ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency and continually bailed out a leaky defense by leading clutch scoring drives. Also as tough as they come: played the second half against UConn Saturday with a broken wrist. True sophomore should be a legit Heisman contender in 2013.
Defensive Player of the Year: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. Tackling machine leads the league in stops and is tied for third in sacks. He's also forced six fumbles, made two interceptions and broken up five other passes.
Coach of the Year: Kyle Flood, Rutgers. Rookie head coach was elevated from defensive coordinator and hasn't let the product suffer since program architect Greg Schiano left for the NFL. Scarlet Knights rank among the national top 20 in most major defensive statistical categories. They'll play Louisville Thursday in search of their first outright Big East title and BCS bowl berth.
Bust of the Year: South Florida. For a while, the 3-8 Bulls lost the close ones: three games by four points or less. Now, they're not even coming close: the last two losses are by a combined 48 points. Skip Holtz has gone from hot coach to hot seat in a hurry.
Psycho Team of the Year: Pittsburgh (23). Team that opened the season with a two-touchdown loss to Youngstown State also came the closest of anyone to beating No. 1 Notre Dame, and ripped a ranked Rutgers team last week.
BIG TEN CONFERENCE
What kind of year has it been: Everyone was out of national championship contention by the end of September – which, if you're scoring at home, isn't too good. The undefeated team is on postseason probation. So is the league's most resilient team. The dean of coaches had his worst season since 2000. The answer to the ongoing football malaise: Add Rutgers and Maryland. Swell.
Offensive Player of the Year: Braxton Miller, Ohio State. He wasn't Johnny Manziel or Collin Klein, but Miller definitely was the guy who made the unbeaten Buckeyes go. His production was vital in the first half of the season as Ohio State searched for a grasp on its new offensive identity, then he finally got some help from Carlos Hyde and others in the second half of the year. Will be a prime Heisman contender next year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Michael Mauti (24), Penn State. His 96 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles only begin to tell the story. Inspirational leader whose impact was so profound, they put his number on the side of the Nittany Lions' helmets when he was injured and unable to play on Senior Day. Won't soon be forgotten in Happy Valley.
Coach of the Year: Bill O'Brien, Penn State. Not many coaches have ever been dealt a tougher hand to start a career than O'Brien, who was broadsided by massive NCAA sanctions and key player defections right before practice started. That was followed by an 0-2 start, and some folks wondered whether the Nittany Lions would win a game. They won eight of them, helping restore pride and unity in a divided and disillusioned fan base.
Bust of the Year: Michigan State (25). At least the games were close – three wins and five losses by four points or less. But a 6-6 record is not what anyone had in mind when the Spartans opened the season ranked No. 13 in the nation.
Psycho Team of the Year: Purdue. Scored 48 or more points four times, but also 17 or fewer four times. Had Ohio State all but beaten in Columbus, but also trailed Minnesota by 37 in the third quarter before losing by 16. Plenty of reason for a coaching change in West Lafayette.
What kind of year was it: According to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the league went 1-23 against teams from the big-six conferences, and 7-35 against FBS opponents in non-conference play. No more need be said.
Offensive Player of the Year: Rakeem Cato, Marshall. Wins it on sheer volume alone. Trigger man on the nation's No. 1 offense in passing yards per game (365), and his 37 touchdown passes is tied for second-most in the nation.
Defensive Player of the Year: DeAundre Brown, Tulsa. Senior linebacker made an impact all over the field, racking up 77 solo tackles, nine sacks and eight pass break-ups. Was at his best in big victory over Central Florida, in a prelude of the rematch this week for the league title.
Coach of the Year: Bill Blankenship (26), Tulsa. Second-year coach has the Golden Hurricane playing its best defense in years. Also successfully implemented Nebraska transfer Cody Green to run the offense, and led Tulsa to C-USA's only non-conference victory of note – a one-pointer over Fresno State.
Bust of the Year: Southern Mississippi. See above.
Psycho Team of the Year: SMU (27). Nobody went from horrible to great in a week's time like the Mustangs. After losing to lousy, winless Tulane, they hung 72 points on Houston five days later. After losing by 22 points to Rice, they stunned Tulsa the following week to earn bowl eligibility.
What kind of year has it been: One of the best in the league's modest history. While the Big Ten is moaning about changing demographics hurting its football, the other league in the Midwest is bucking for its first BCS bowl bid ever. Kent State and Northern Illinois are both 11-1 and ranked, and several other schools have scored big victories as well.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jordan Lynch (28), Northern Illinois. Close call over Kent State scatback Dri Archer. But you have to go with Lynch, who has Manziel-like numbers (4,361 yards total offense and 39 total touchdowns).
Defensive Player of the Year: Dan Molls (29), Toledo. Finds the football. Senior linebacker leads the nation in tackles per game, including at least nine games with 13 or more total tackles.
Coach of the Year: Darrell Hazell, Kent State. In his second year, Hazell has led the Golden Flashes to their first winning season since 2001 and the most victories in school history (11, with two games to go). Keep an eye on this guy in the future.
Bust of the Year: Western Michigan. Broncos' 4-8 record, their worst since 2004, cost Bill Cubit his job. Closing the year with losses to Eastern Michigan (2-10) and Buffalo (4-8) didn't help.
Psycho Team of the Year: Ohio. More like the tailspin team of the year. Started with that huge upset of Penn State in Beaver Stadium, climbed to 7-0, then lost four of its last five when the competition got tough in MAC play.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
What kind of year was it: Transitional, with so many schools coming and going. Boise State didn't dominate, and that was a surprise, even in an obvious rebuilding year for the Broncos. Despite all the change, one thing remained constant: a sharp divide between the haves and have-nots. This was a league with three good teams, two pretty good and five outright bad.
Offensive Player of the Year: Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada. Junior running back made an emfphatic impact, ranking second nationally in rushing (1,564 yards) and third in scoring (21 touchdowns). Didn't maintain his torrid September pace, when he had a seven-touchdown game against Hawaii and a 247-yard rushing game against Northwestern State, but who could?
Defensive Player of the Year: Phillip Thomas, Fresno State. Thorpe Award finalist led the nation in interceptions with eight, and returned three of them for touchdowns. He also forced four fumbles, recorded four sacks and had 64 solo tackles.
Coach of the Year: Rocky Long (30), San Diego State. Close call between Long and Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter, but give it to the guy whose team has won seven in a row and slayed the Boise beast. Long had to replace 1,700-yard rusher Ronnie Hillman, who is making an impact with the Denver Broncos, and has done that quite well.
Bust of the Year: UNLV (31). It's no surprise that UNLV is terrible yet again. But when you lose by 38 points to last-place Hawaii to end the season, that's a bust.
Psycho Team of the Year: Wyoming. Cowboys certainly had the psycho coach, Dave Christensen, whose profane meltdown on Air Force coach Troy Calhoun earned him a one-game suspension. But beyond that, Wyoming had one of the league's best losses (by three to Toledo) and one of its worst wins (overtime against Idaho).
What kind of year was it: Very good, even with the follies and foibles of Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach, and the disaster at Colorado. UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona all scored unexpected non-conference triumphs on the way to bounce-back seasons. Stanford remained stronger than most anticipated. Oregon was in the national title discussion until the latter stages. USC was the big letdown, but in the zero-sum game of conference play, one team's flop is another team's opportunity to move up. That happened.
Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee (32), USC. In a league with the best running backs in the nation (Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin, Stepfan Taylor, Ka'Deem Carey, Bishop Sankey), The Dash is going with a wide receiver. Lee is third nationally in all-purpose running, averaging a fat 17 yards per touch. If he weren't a true sophomore, you'd have to think he'd be a top 10 NFL pick. Instead, USC gets him for another year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Chase Thomas, Stanford. So many studs on the Cardinal defense, it's difficult to choose just one for this honor. But senior linebacker Thomas (61 total tackles, 5½ sacks, 12½ tackles for loss) has been the most productive.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford. In 2011, The Dash wondered whether the Cardinal could win after Harbaugh, and it went 11-2. The Dash wondered whether the Cardinal could win after Luck, and it is 10-2. The Dash wonders no more. Shaw can do the job.
Bust of the Year: USC. You start the year ranked No. 1 by the AP and end it 7-5, with losses to your two biggest rivals? Yeah, you're a bust.
Psycho Team of the Year: Washington (33). Heavyweight at home, lightweight on the road. The Huskies were 5-1 at home, including upsets of top 10-ranked Stanford and Oregon State. They also were 2-4 on the road, including three losses by more than 30 points and a humiliating upset at Washington State to close the season.
What kind of year was it: The champion will play for the league's seventh straight national title, and six teams are ranked in the BCS top 10. In other words, the usual.
Offensive Player of the Year: Manziel. See above.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jarvis Jones (34), Georgia. Quarterbacks' worst nightmare has racked up 10½ sacks and six forced fumbles in only 10 games. Single-handedly destroyed Florida in the Bulldogs' most important win with 12½ tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. NFL scouts drooling uncontrollably over him.
Coach of the Year: Kevin Sumlin (35), Texas A&M. He's 45-19 in five seasons as a head coach, but it took a 10-2 debut season in the SEC for Gridworld to fully appreciate him. Sumlin inherited Manziel from the previous staff, but his offense is the perfect fit for the quarterback's talents. And he should be a load to deal with on the recruiting trail as well.
Bust of the Year: Auburn. All kinds of competition for this award, but the complete collapse on the Plains has been breathtaking. Not only were the Tigers winless in the SEC for the first time since 1950, but six of the eight losses were by at least 17 points. Move over Larry Coker, Gene Chizik is now the Worst Coach Ever to Win a National Title.
Psycho Team of the Year: Vanderbilt. Nobody was really that erratic in the SEC, and the Commodores had a great season. But they also lost a league game by 45 (to Georgia) and won a league game by 40 (against Kentucky). You don't see that all the time.
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
What kind of year was it: A blocked punt short of the best year in the league's brief and inglorious football history. If Louisiana-Lafayette could have held a late lead against Florida and not given away a tie game on a blocked punt return in the final seconds, the Sun Belt would have its biggest skin on the wall ever. Even without that, there were big upsets of Arkansas (by Louisiana-Monroe), Georgia Tech (by Middle Tennessee) and Kentucky (by Western Kentucky).
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky. The nation's leader in all-purpose running was tireless and ubiquitous: He ran for more than 1,600 yards, had more than 400 in receiving, returned punts and returned kickoffs. His 355 plays from scrimmage were the second-most touches of any back or receiver in the country to Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell – and Andrews averaged almost twice as much per touch.
Defensive Player of the Year: Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky. The national leader in sacks per game is not Jadeveon Clowney, not Jarvis Jones, not Bjoern Werner. It's Smith, who had 12½ in 10 games before getting injured. He's also fourth nationally in tackles for loss, for good measure.
Coach of the Year: Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State. Rookie head coach has the Red Wolves playing Middle Tennessee at home Saturday for the Sun Belt title. They've won six straight games, gradually mastering Malzahn's no-huddle spread offense and scoring at least 34 points every game during the winning streak.
Bust of the Year: Florida International (36). Life is hard without T.Y. Hilton. The Golden Panthers won 15 games the last two seasons but have slid back whence they came without the all-purpose dynamo Hilton, currently making an impact with the Indianapolis Colts. They're 3-9, taking some of the luster off coach Mario Cristobal as an upgrade candidate.
Psycho Team of the Year: Troy (37). The Trojans were more snake-bit than psycho, with six of their seven losses by a touchdown or less.
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
What kind of year was it: The dear old WAC has gone out with a bang. It has three quality teams in Utah State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. It had a compelling league race that went to the final weeks. And it produced one of the great stats of the season: San Jose quarterback David Fales was sacked 13 times by Utah State, resulting in 102 yards of losses. How is that even possible?
Offensive Player of the Year: Chuckie Keeton (38), Utah State. The sophomore quarterback starred in wins over the other two top teams in the league, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. He threw for 613 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions against the Spartans and Bulldogs, and also ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Regrets to Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton, who was edged out for this Dashie.
Defensive Player of the Year: Keith Smith, San Jose State. The linebacker has 87 total tackles, six pass break-ups and four forced fumbles. That allows him to win over Dash sentimental choice Maxx Forde, linebacker from Idaho.
Coach of the Year: Mike MacIntyre (39), San Jose State. You could easily make a case for Utah State's Gary Andersen. You could easily make a case for Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes. But MacIntyre has elevated a program that has been to one bowl game since 1990 and hadn't won 10 games since 1987. No wonder he's one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel right now.
Bust of the Year: New Mexico State. In his fourth year, coach DeWayne Walker changed coordinators and stocked up on junior-college players in an effort to get into the WAC's upper echelon. Didn't work. The Aggies are 1-10 and winless in the league.
Psycho Team of the Year: UT-San Antonio. Opened with five straight victories, all but one by double digits. Followed with four straight defeats, all by at least 20 points. Then won last three, all one-score nailbiters.
When pre- or post-partying for the SEC championship game in downtown Atlanta, The Dash recommends a beer at Meehan's Public House (40). Atlanta may not be authentic Irish pub material, but this one does a reasonable facsimile. The food is good and beer list better. Sample it and thank The Dash later.
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