The 2013 College Football Conference MVPs

It’s awards time in college football, as we get set for the bowl season that begins on December 21. The Heisman Trophy will be awarded on Saturday night in New York City, and around the country the all-conference teams have been chosen and league Player of The Year awards given out. Here’s the rundown on all those who were honored as the 2013 college football conference MVPs, and TheSportsNotebook’s thoughts on whether each was deserving.

SEC: Tre Mason (RB, Auburn): Mason rushed for 1,621 yards, enough to lead the SEC by 436 yards. He went for 100-plus in six of his team’s eight regular season conference games and then capped it off with his tour de force through the SEC Championship Game, barreling over Missouri for 304 yards on 46 carries.

A trio of quarterbacks all had seasons that were, in a general sense, MVP-worthy. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel followed up his 2012 Heisman campaign with an even better year this season. Manziel completed 69 percent of his passes (best in the SEC), averaged 9.5 yards per pass (2nd-best in the SEC) and threw 33 touchdown passes. His interceptions were up, with 13, but when your team plays no defense it forces you into taking more chances.

Manziel is a better choice as the top quarterback then either A.J. McCarron from Alabama or Georgia’s Aaron Murray, even though both had excellent seasons. McCarron is a bit behind Manziel in every category but the interceptions, and the ‘Bama quarterback doesn’t have to take as many risks.

Murray made what might have been one of the signature plays of the year in this league, when he took off on a fourth-and-goal against Auburn, put his head down and barreled over the goal line by inches. It should have been the winning touchdown until the Marshall Miracle–the 4th-down desperation pass by Nick Marshall saved the Tigers. In the end though, Murray’s numbers aren’t quite as good as either of the other two quarterbacks and he has more support than Manziel and is in a more open offense than McCarron.

A Manziel-Mason debate for SEC MVP is one that’s at the Heisman level. Each player basically carried his offense, with the Aggies relying exclusively on their quarterback and the Tigers being heavily oriented to the run. Mason pushed his team a little further and the 300-yard epic deserves to be rewarded with MVP honors. The voters got this one right by a hair.

Pac-12: Ka’Deem Carey (RB, Arizona): The league that spawned the West Coast offense and finesse football is now the home to rugged running backs. Carey’s top rivals for the award are Tyler Gaffney from Stanford and Washington’s Bishop Sankey.

Sankey is the less heralded of the three, but he also led the Pac-12 in rushing, both in raw yardage (1,775) and per-carry average (5.8). Based on that, it’s hard to go against him. But Carey was more consistent. The Arizona back went for at least 119 yards in every game he played, and if not for sitting out the opener against Northern Arizona, surely wins the rushing title. Carey went for 1,716 yards total and had over 200 in a win against Oregon. Sankey’s numbers were a little more up and down, and he was held to 22 in a loss to Arizona State.

Gaffney is one of my person favorites, the focal point of one of the nation’s most physical rush attacks. He went for 157 against Oregon, 189 against Notre Dame and 158 at USC, a game his team should have won. But his raw stat totals are behind Carey’s, and the Stanford offensive line is better than Arizona’s. Based on that, I’d have to again say this is a correct choice.

ACC: Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State): The odds-on favorite to win the Heisman had his signature moment at Clemson when he threw for 444 yards and led a 51-14 road win over an opponent going to a major bowl game. Winston completed nearly 68 percent of his passes and made big plays, 10.9 ypp, and had a 38/10 INT ratio.

My problem is that four of those interceptions came in big games, against Miami and the ACC Championship Game against Duke. Winston also has a fantastic supporting cast, including Devonta Freeman, the league’s fourth-leading rusher.

Andre Williams, the stud running back from Boston College has none of that. Williams has to be the man for BC and everyone knows it, yet he still rolled for 2,102 yards. And with a 6.4 per-rush average, it wasn’t just about raw volume of carries. Williams ran for 149 yards against Florida State, showing he could do it against good competition.

In spite of having nothing else offensively, Williams led BC’s improvement from 2-10 to 7-5. That sounds like the ACC MVP to me.

Big 12: Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor): The Bears quarterback was dazzling, throwing 30 touchdown passes against two interceptions and leading his team to a surprise Big 12 title. He completed 61.8% of his throws and got better than ten yards a pop.

The only issue would be that the other good candidates are also on Baylor, raising the question of whether they should cancel each other out and start a search for the Big 12’s version of Andre Williams.

My answer is no, and here’s why–while receiver Antwan Goodley had 1,319 yards and led the conference, Baylor also had Tevin Reese enjoying a big year until he got hurt with a concussion. The balance in receivers tells you Petty deserves primary credit for moving the ball around. Running back Lache Seastrunk missed two games with an injury and only had one game with 20-plus carries. There’s no doubt that the Baylor offense runs through Petty.

The other reason to crown Petty is that there is no Andre Williams-esque candidate at one of the midlevel teams. The Baylor quarterback deserves to be MVP.

Big Ten: Braxton Miller (QB, Ohio State): Miller was efficient in the passing game (63%, 8.1 yards per carry, 22/5 TD-INT ratio) and devastating in the running game, with over 1,000 yards. Nebraska running back Ameer Abduallah deserves a shout-out for his 1,500-yard season with Taylor Martinez hurt and had Miller not played so mistake-free, I’d have given the Cornhusker RB more serious consideration. I think this decision should have been closer than it was, but the end result looks okay.

American Athletic: Blake Bortles (QB, Central Florida): This selection is an absolute joke. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater had a better completion percentage (70-68), was almost even in yards per pass (9.2 to 9.3), and had a significantly better TD-INT ratio (28/4 to 22/7).

Furthermore, Bortles had a lot more help. His team’s defense was better and UCF running back Storm Johnson led the league in rushing. Bridgewater led Louisville to an 11-1 season and without him they might have been 7-5.

Mountain West: Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State): A deserving selection and there’s a good argument he at least deserved a complimentary plane ticket to New York City on Saturday night. On a team that played less than zero defense, Carr led them to a 12-1 season and conference championship by completing 70 percent of his passes and tossing 48 touchdowns against seven interceptions. And the one game Fresno lost? Carr threw for 519 yards in that game.

While San Jose State quarterback David Fales has a bright NFL future ahead and Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs helped lead the Rams back to the bowl party, Carr was the league’s best in 2013.

Conference USA: Rakeem Cato (QB, Marshall)–The exciting Thundering Herd quarterback took his second straight MVP and led his team to a division title. Because Marshall beat East Carolina decisively for the division, it’s going to be hard to argue for ECU quarterback Shane Carden, but I’m going to try.

Carden completed 71 percent of his passes, to 59 percent for Cato, a huge difference. Carden made more big plays, with a 10.77 per-pass average. Cato has been one of my favorites in C-USA the past couple years, but the erratic completion percentage moves me to Carden’s corner.

MAC: Jordan Lynch (QB, Northern Illinois): When I was in DeKalb for the final NIU regular season game, there was a sign saying “You can’t spell Lynch without N-Y-C.” Indeed you can’t as the nation’s best read-option quarterback is going to the Big Apple on Saturday night. He was third in the MAC in pass yardage, completed 63 percent of his throws, and oh-by-the-way, led the league in rushing with over 1,800 yards. He’s an extraordinary football player.

Sun Belt: Antonio Andrews (RB, Western Kentucky): An injury to UL-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning that cost him several games opened this race up and made Andrews a relatively easy pick. Andrews rushed for 1,730 yards and did it with ruthless consistency. He went for 100-plus in every game except one, and that was a 99-yard showing against Kentucky. Andrews is the reason WKU won eight games under Bobby Petrino and holds the honor of team most robbed of a bowl game.