Five semifinalists for Outland Trophy named

outland trophy bwDALLAS  — Five semifinalists for the Outland Trophy were named on Wednesday night by the Football Writers Association of America and were featured during a reception in Omaha, Neb., where the trophy presentation banquet for the 71st Outland Trophy winner will be held in January.

The five semifinalists — all offensive linemen — in alphabetical order, are: Pat Elflein, Ohio State; Cody O’Connell, Washington State; Ethan Pocic, LSU;  Cam Robinson, Alabama, and Connor Williams, Texas.

Elflein is a 6-3, 300-pound senior, who previously played guard, but is a center this season for the nation’s second-ranked team. O’Connell is a behemoth 6-8, 351-pound junior guard who helps trigger Washington State’s high-octane offense which ranks second in the country in passing with quarterback Luke Falk. Pocic, a 6-7, 302-pound senior center, anchors the line for LSU’s potent rushing game, which is led by Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Robinson, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound junior, is the top offensive tackle on the No. 1-ranked team in college football that produces 492.2 offensive yards a game. Williams, a 6-6, 288-pound sophomore tackle at Texas, blocks for the leading rusher in the FBS in yards per game, D’Onta Foreman.

The five semifinalists will be whittled down to three finalists and announced on Tuesday during The Home Depot College Football Awards Nomination Special, starting at 3 p.m. (Eastern Time) on ESPNU. The winner of the 2016 Outland Trophy, will be announced Dec. 8 on The Home Depot College Football Awards on ESPN, the main show beginning at 7 p.m. (Eastern Time) from the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

The Outland Trophy is named after the late John Outland, an All-America lineman at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, is the third-oldest player award in major college football behind the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award. It has been awarded to the best interior lineman in college football on offense or defense since 1946 when Notre Dame’s George Connor was named the recipient.

For the 20th consecutive year, the presentation of the Outland Trophy will occur in Omaha, on Jan. 11, 2017 at a banquet sponsored by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee. At the same banquet, Oklahoma offensive lineman Greg Roberts, will receive an Outland Trophy. Roberts was the 1978 winner of the award before trophies were handed out by the FWAA. His Oklahoma coach, the legendary Barry Switzer, will receive the third annual Tom Osborne Legacy Award during the evening.

The Outland Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA). The NCFAA encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. The 22 awards boast about 700 years of tradition-selection excellence.

The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,300 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at tiger@fwaa.com or call 214-870-6516.

The Greater Omaha Sports Committee, founded in 1977, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, consisting of more than 900 men and women from the City of Omaha, the State of Nebraska and others. The membership serves to communicate, develop, initiate and promote sports activities in the Greater Omaha sports area. In addition to the Outland Trophy Award Dinner, the Greater Omaha Sports Committee promotes high school, college, and professional sports in the Greater Omaha area and the Midwest.

Pre-season conference media days on tap

The following dates and locations for 2016 football media days have been set:

SEC:  July 11-14,  Hoover, AL (Hyatt Regency-Wynfrey)

BIG 12:  July 18-19. Dallas (Omni Hotel)

ATLANTIC COAST:  July 21-22, Charlotte, NC (Westin Hotel)

BIG TEN: July 25-26, Chicago (Hyatt Regency McCormick Place)

AMERICAN:  Aug. 1-2, Newport, RI (Hyatt Regency)

CONFERENCE USA:  July 25-26, Irving, TX (C-USA Offices/Las Colinas Marriott)

MOUNTAIN WEST: July 26-27, Las Vegas, NV  (Cosmopolitan)

SUN BELT: July 25, New Orleans (Mercedes-Benz Superdome/Omni Riverfront Hotel)

PAC-12:  July 14-15, Hollywood, CA (Loews Hollywood Hotel)

MID-AMERICAN:  July 28, Detroit (Ford Field)

Pillars of the FWAA: Jim Brock (1934-2008), Cotton Bowl Athletic Association

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 18th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Jim Brock was the 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Several reporters were attempting to gain access to the Olympic Village at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. Because of the massacre at the 1972 Games in Munich, security was extremely tight.

Jim "Hoss" Brock, 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Jim “Hoss” Brock, 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

One of the reporters finally got hold of Jim Brock, one of the press stewards for the American delegation, who could approve entrance to the Village.

“I’m burning my feet in that direction right now, Hoss,” replied Brock. The line became the most repeated of any among the media covering the Games and Brock became as popular as U.S. boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and high jumper Dwight Stones for his unlimited cooperation.

You couldn’t help but have a good team if you were around Jim Brock. If he had been an actor he would have been perfect for movies like “The Sting” or “Eight Men Out,” wearing a black bowler hat and handling an unlit cigar.

The name “Hoss” became Brock’s trademark. He called nearly everyone “Hoss.” He never had to worry about forgetting anyone’s name. And if the guy’s wife was along, she was usually “Darlin’ ” to Brock. Even though he knew thousands of “Hosses,” the way Brock said it made every one of them feel special.

More…

2015 Best Game Story, by Ivan Maisel

ffaw_redesignComment 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

ESPN.com

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.

Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel

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.

More…

2015 Best Feature, by Pete Thamel

ffaw_redesignComment 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

Sports Illustrated

Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated

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?”

More…

2015 Best Column, by Ted Miller

ffaw_redesignComment 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

ESPN.com

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.”

Ted Miller, ESPN.com

Ted Miller, ESPN.com

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.

More…

2015 Best Enterprise, by Rustin Dodd

ffaw_redesignComment 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

Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star

Rustin Dodd of 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.

More…

Pillars of the FWAA: Tom Mickle (1950-2006), Florida Citrus Sports

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 17th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Tom Mickle was the 2010 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA Past President Alan Schmadtke (2005)   for writing and researching this sketch.

By Alan Schmadtke

College football historians link Tom Mickle’s legacy to a cocktail napkin, his vehicle of choice for game-planning a playoff.

For those who knew him best, memories take them to his unending optimism. They remember his small, perpetual grin that made them wonder if they were about to laugh or be amazed. They remember his owl-like glasses, a raspy voice and a wry delivery. They remember him hoisting a glass of wine in the fall and winter, a gin-and-tonic when it turned warm.

Tom Mickle, posthumous winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 2010.

Tom Mickle, posthumous winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 2010.

Mickle had a passion for work and play.

“Once you’d been around him, you didn’t leave and not smile about things or have a better perception about things. He had that effect,” one of Mickle’s best friends, Rick Chryst, told the Orlando Sentinel upon Tom’s death at age 55 in 2006.

Former Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Gene Corrigan called Mickle the best hire he ever made, and no one argues the point. One morning in the early 1990s, Mickle walked into his boss’s office and handed him brackets on small paper. The last remnant from a brainstorm dinner was the framework of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 New Year’s Day football game – the end result of Corrigan’s dream-shot request.

The commissioner wanted to secure the ACC’s football champion an annual New Year’s slot somewhere alongside SEC, Big Eight, Big Ten and Pac-10 champs. A de facto national championship game for college football as part of the solution worked fine, too.

Few remember now how land-locked college football used to be, when a 1 vs. 2 matchup was an anomaly.

More…

Ohio State is pre-season No. 1 in FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll

ffaw_redesignDefending national champion Ohio State leads all teams by a large margin to claim the top spot in the Super 16 preseason poll released by the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.

The Buckeyes were the top selection on 38 of the 40 ballots cast by the voters.

The Big 12 have two teams in the Top 16, with TCU and Baylor occupying the second and fourth spots in the poll, respectively. TCU received one first-place vote.

Alabama, the team the Buckeyes defeated in one of the two 2014 College Football Playoff Semifinals, is third in the poll, sandwiched in between the two Big 12 schools. The Crimson Tide received the other first-place vote.

Oregon, which lost to Ohio State in the national title game last season, is fifth in the initial poll.

The SEC leads all leagues with five teams in the poll, followed by the Pac-12 with four. The ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten have two teams each. Independent Notre Dame has the other vote.

Click here to see the entire poll.