These photos were taken at the FWAA’s annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 11 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Winners of the 2015 Best Writing Contest as well as the Bert McGrane Award winner were honored, among others.
Comment by the judge, Alan Cox: Good look at one of the bigger games of the season as Oregon beat seemingly unbeatable Florida State, hitting home the key plays from the game. The article gave you a feel for what happened without simply being just a complete play-by-play recap, and had a great variety of quotes from both sides. It had a great lead and was easy and enjoyable to read.
By Ivan Maisel
PASADENA, Calif. – Give a game ball to the data geeks, the emotionless analysts who crunched the numbers and determined that No. 2 Oregon would beat No. 3 Florida State and advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.
Those of us governed by the pit of our stomachs, the ones who had seen the defending national champion Seminoles find a way to win no matter how scruffy their play, had trouble buying into the staging of Duck Dynasty at the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.
Yes, Oregon had a plus-20 edge in turnover margin, but Florida State had come from behind in nine of its last 11 games.
Yes, the Ducks dominated the Pac-12, winning their last eight games by an average of 25 points, but the Seminoles had won seven games by six points or fewer. They had the indomitable quarterback, Jameis Winston, who had not lost since a high school game in 2011.
When the sun no longer lit the San Gabriel Mountains and the fourth quarter of the inaugural semifinal began, Florida State would seize control.
It didn’t quite work out that way on a typically spectacular New Year’s Day in the Arroyo Seco. By the time the fourth quarter began, all Florida State had seized was up. The Seminoles’ 29-game winning streak vaporized, their composure lost somewhere amid five turnovers in six possessions in the second half, Jimbo Fisher’s squad got steamrolled by the Ducks 59-20.
Comment by the judge, Steve Richardson: Thoughtful, well-researched piece on UT’s Charlie Strong. This story got way below the surface and explained why Strong is the way he is. It explains his life every step of the way from his childhood to becoming the CEO of one of college football’s traditional powers.
By Pete Thamel
Charlie Strong opens his eyes. It’s 4 a.m. He rises, dresses and, without caffeine, drives 20 minutes to the Texas football facility. On Mondays he runs south to downtown via Red River Street and returns on Guadalupe Street. On Tuesdays he heads through neighborhoods to the north. The routes vary each day, but the goal remains the same — shave a few seconds off his time from the week before.
He does not always succeed, but Strong still bangs out five miles at a nine-minute clip, straining to outrace some previous version of himself. He has done this for his entire career, through 14 coaching jobs at eight universities — three decades spent pushing himself forward while running in loops. And yet even when he has reached his destination, Strong cannot help but do what he has always done, so he runs just as hard.
Last winter, after going 23-3 during his final two seasons at Louisville, Strong landed what many consider the best coaching gig in the country, signing a five-year, $26 million deal at Texas. If everything is big in Texas, the task of reviving the football team is no exception. The Longhorns went 18-17 in the Big 12 under Mack Brown over the last four seasons; this year they didn’t have a player drafted by the NFL for the first time since 1937. And Strong’s hiring as the program’s first black coach carries with it a social significance that matches the breadth of his improbable journey. “Could you ever believe,” Strong confided to a friend recently, “that I ended up at Texas?”
ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel claimed first place for the third straight year in Best Game Story Category. This year, Maisel’s winning account: Oregon’s victory over Florida State in one of the two College Football Playoff semifinal games. Maisel also added an Honorable Mention in the Columns Category.
The other previous winners were Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated and Ted Miller, also of ESPN.com. Thamel won the Feature Category this year for a well-researched piece on new Texas Longhorns coach Charlie Strong, showing an emotional side of the coach’s trail to one of college football’s top jobs. Miller won the Column Category for an inside look at the rise of Oregon’s program and with it the expectations and the change of attitude in Eugene.
Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star was a first-time winner for his Enterprise Category Story on the rise and fall of the Kansas football program, from a Top 10 team in 2007 to one of the lower echelon teams only a few years later.
Andrea Adelson of ESPN was a second-place finisher in the Enterprise Category and Columns. One of her stories focused on former head coaches at UAB and New Mexico State re-starting their careers and the other was a column on a perceived in-season snub of Florida State by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
The winners in each category will receive a personalized football from The Big Game and a cash prize. Second and third places win cash prizes and certificates. Honorable mentions receive certificates. All will be recognized at the FWAA’s Annual Award Breakfast on Jan. 11, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The following is the complete list of honorees in the 2015 FWAA Best Writing Contest. Click on the write’s name to read the first-place story in each category.
First place — Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com
Second place — Jesse Temple, FOXSportsWisconsin.com
Third place — James Crepea, Montgomery Advertiser
Honorable mention — Mike Griffith, MLive Media Group; Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts.com; Matt Fortuna, ESPN.com
First place — Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated
Second place — Andrew Greif, The Oregonian
Third place — Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com
Honorable mention — Brian Hamilton, SI.com; Tod Palmer, The Kansas City Star; Bill Landis, cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer
First place — Ted Miller, ESPN.com
Second place — Andrea Adelson, ESPN.com
Third place — Ben Jones, StateCollege.com
Honorable mention — Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com; Bill Bender, Sporting News; David Visser, TomahawkNation.com; Glenn Guilbeau, Gannett Louisiana Newspapers
First place — Rustin Dodd, The Kansas City Star
Second place — Andrea Adelson, ESPN.com
Third place — Bobby La Gesse, Ames Tribune
Honorable mention — Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com; Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle; Kevin Armstrong, New York Daily News
Comment by the judge, Alan Cox: Great look at the change in attitude and expectations of Oregon’s football program. Solid argument as to why they needed to win the championship to validate the program and to show the Playoff would expand the sport. Even more interesting in hindsight as we will see what happens to Oregon going forward having lost the championship.
By Ted Miller
Coach Rich Brooks led Oregon to an 8-4 finish in 1989, his 13th season in Eugene. If that elicits a “so what,” understand the Ducks hadn’t won that many games since 1963. Five seasons — and two losing records — later, Oregon played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958, losing to Penn State by 18 points, though the Ducks’ media guide celebrated the program’s effort as proving it “belonged in Pasadena.”
In 2013, Oregon went 11-2, beat Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl and finished ranked No. 9 in the nation. It was considered a down season, and some wondered if first-year coach Mark Helfrich had what it takes to lead the Ducks, post-Chip Kelly.
Times change and so do expectations.
“We do sit back every now and then and kind of laugh at it, us that have been around here a long time,” said first-year Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who’s accumulated 31 seasons with his alma mater as a player, administrator and assistant coach.
For the vast majority of its 119 seasons of football, a winning record was an ambitious wish for Oregon. Yet now, as the Ducks eyeball defending national champion Florida State, winner of 29 consecutive games, as more than a touchdown favorites in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual, the simple reality is Oregon needs to win the national title.
After going 69-10 over the past six seasons, playing for a national title in 2010 and finishing ranked in the top five three times, the Ducks need to finish the deal and be the last team standing. They need to make this their year.
That need is not only about program validation, though that’s a big part of it, as the Ducks have accomplished everything else. It’s not only about opportunity, though the greatest player in program history — Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota — is likely off to the NFL next year.
Comment by the judge, Gene Duffey: Good inside look at how fast and why Kansas fell from a Top 10 program to the bottom. Excellent lead. Good quotes, particularly from the players, and everyone involved. Told exactly what started Mangino’s downfall and why Gill never got the program going again. Story turned out to be very prophetic with Weis being fired only four games into the season.
By Rustin Dodd
The Kansas City Star
LAWRENCE — On a warm evening in May, Charlie Weis pressed through a set of interior doors at Sporting Park and waited to make his case. Inside the Members Club, in the soccer stadium’s lower level, close to 150 Kansas alums, boosters and fans gathered to hear a springtime state-of-the-program update from their beleaguered football coach.
KU balloons adorned tables. Cheerleaders greeted fans at the door. A hype video played. And finally, Weis took the stage and offered his vision for the program.
Then there was one more thing.
“For the last month or so, I’ve been listening to the Kansas football fans feel like the sky is falling,” Weis said, pausing for a beat.
“Shut the hell up! I’m tired of listening to it. I really am. We’re all in this together.”
After the worst four-year stretch in school history — a 9-39 record and just two Big 12 victories — a head coach coming off a 3-9 season was telling the fans to stop being so negative.