WNUR Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannes): reflects on the 2012 Northwestern football season, presenting awards for Team MVP, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, and the Position Unit of the Year.
SO MANY EMOTIONS!!! Coach Fitz’s post-game speech made me want to blabber non-sensically for the rest of my existence and just let the tears flow. Having only been a Northwestern fan for a few years, I can’t fathom the elation of the fans that were forced to suffer through the ‘70’s and ‘80’s Wildcat squads. That said, HOLY CRAP THAT WAS SO COOL! Tuesday’s Gator Bowl victory is now my favorite moment as a Wildcat, edging out that time Dan Persa said hi to me at SPAC (I stole his Wildcard and caressed my cheek with it). Because of this awesomeness, let’s hand out some end-of-the-season hardware that may or may not be more prestigious than the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl Trophy.
MVP – Kain Colter
This is the one that I struggled with the most. How can a guy be the most valuable player when his team occasionally moved the ball best with his backup on the field? Well, when that guy gains a combined 1,932 yards and scores 20 touchdowns, I think he can get the nod.
Also factored into this was Colter’s willingness to do anything and play any position if it made the team better. Never once did you hear Kain complain when Trevor Siemian was at quarterback or when Kain was asked to play receiver. The man just made plays. Against Indiana, Colter had 100 yards receiving, 100 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. That’s decent.
Offensive Player of the Year – Venric Mark
Oh, Lawd, can Venric fly. The dude came up 29 yards short of Damien Anderson’s Northwestern record for most all-purpose yards in a season as Mark finished with 2,166, which is, by the way, more than a mile. Mark recorded eight 100-yard rushing performances on the year and was also named Northwestern’s Offensive Player of the Week or Offensive Big Playmaker of the Week eight of the 12 regular season games. Oh, and he put the ball in the end zone 15 times (12 rushing, 1 receiving, 2 punt return). ARE YOU NOT CONVINCED??? Not to mention, he gave one of the best interviews EVA.
Defensive Player of the Year – Nick VanHoose
Again, there were a ton of great candidates for this position. It’s hard not to go for Quentin Williams, Tyler Scott, Brian Arnfelt, any of the linebackers, or Ibraheim Campbell. However, in the games VanHoose missed, the Northwestern defense struggled mightily. It wasn’t until after VanHoose left the Nebraska game that Taylor Martinez took over with his arm. Had VanHoose played against Michigan, the result may have been very different.
Although VanHoose was only a redshirt freshman, he helped turn Northwestern’s secondary from, “OH, PLEASE DON’T THROW, I BEG OF YOU!!!” to “I’d rather you didn’t pass, but whatevski.” In the win at Minnesota, VanHoose had three pass break-ups, all three of which came on passes in the end zone. He was also able to shut down Mississippi State stud Chad Bumphis Tuesday, holding him to only three receptions for 18 yards.
Unit I Am Most in Love With – Offensive Line
In 2011, the Northwestern offensive line allowed 43 sacks, the fourth-highest total in the entire nation. In 2012, they allowed 16. That’s 27 less. Marry me, Adam Cushing (offensive line coach). When you add in the revitalization of the running game this year, it’s absolutely absurd that nobody on this unit was named 1st-or 2nd– team All-Big Ten by the coaches.
I would have chosen someone from this unit as MVP, but how can you single one out? Patrick Ward literally threw a man to open a hole for Kain Colter on a read option and was the team’s Offensive Player of the Week twice. Brian Mulroe was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and first-team All-Big Ten by ESPN’s Big Ten Blog. Brandon Vitabile was the team’s Offensive Big Playmaker against Minnesota after springing Mark for two huge touchdowns and the Offensive Player of the Week against Illinois. Neal Deiters came back from an injury and was showered with praise by Coach Fitz in our interview before the Illinois game. Jack Konopka successfully made the transition from offensive line to superback to offensive line and should be the leading candidate to replace Ward at left tackle next year. I just love them all so much. In a non-stalker way. Maybe.
All-in-all, this was a magical season. You can talk all you want about “what-could-have-been,” but then you are missing the point. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after the losses of Dan Persa, Jeremy Ebert, Drake Dunsmore and Brian Peters. Instead, the team won 10 games for the third time in program history and its first bowl game since 1949. Pat Fitzgerald is now the winningest head coach in Northwestern history, and he’s freaking 38-years-old! The future of this team is blindingly bright, and August 31st can’t come soon enough.