And the Winners are...
As the regular season all but ended last Saturday, there was neither a runaway Heisman Trophy choice nor a unanimous No. 1 team. But the autumn did deliver one sure thing—Northwestern as this year's clear-cut, feel-good hit. The 10-1 Wildcats had all the ingredients of a box-office smash: a superb lead actor (tailback and Heisman candidate Darnell Autry), a talented cast of supporting actors (led by linebacker Pat Fitzgerald) and a creative producer (coach Gary Barnett). If our postseason awards were Oscars, the Wildcats would be this year's Forrest Gump.
Here are SI's other winners.
•Top Offensive Player: quarterback Tommie Frazier, Nebraska. He has neither the glitzy rushing stats of the best running backs, Ohio State's Eddie George or Iowa State's Troy Davis, nor is he a pro-style quarterback like Tennessee's Peyton Manning. What separates Frazier from other offensive stars is his ability to make the players around him better. Here's statistical evidence: With 37 points in a shutout victory against Oklahoma last Friday, the Cornhuskers set a Big Eight single-season scoring record (52.4 points per game). Also, it has been 36 games and more than three years since Nebraska lost a regular-season game. Frazier started 32 of those games.
•Most Offensive Player: Chiron Applewhite, Grambling. After the Tigers scored a touchdown as time expired in their Sept. 30 win over Prairie View, Applewhite, the Grambling holder and backup quarterback, took it upon himself to run the ball in for a two-point conversion. The two points gave Grambling a 64-0 victory.
•Top Defensive Player: Pat Fitzgerald. At the start of the season he was not even the most highly regarded defensive player in a state that included Illinois linebackers Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice. But with 130 tackles Fitzgerald became the heart of a defense that finished with a plus-20 giveaway/takeaway ratio. Unfortunately, a broken leg will keep him out of the Rose Bowl.
•Most Underrated Player: Tiki Barber, Virginia. Before this fall the distinction of being the Cavaliers' best Barber didn't belong to Tiki but to his twin brother, Ronde, who was an All-ACC cornerback in '94 and again in '95. But with a 193-yard rushing performance in Virginia's 33-28 upset of Florida State on Nov. 2, Tiki showed why many observers feel he will be one of the top tailbacks in the country next fall.
•Most Improved Player: Chris Doering, Florida. When he came to Gainesville in 1991 Doering, a wide receiver, had no scholarship and had to walk on. Four years later he leaves with the SEC records for single-season (16 this year) and career (30) touchdown catches.
•Least Improved Player: Scott Milanovich, Maryland. Milanovich, the 1994 All-ACC quarterback, entered the fall as arguably the country's best NFL prospect at his position. However, after he returned from a four-game suspension for gambling, the 4-0 Terps' offense went into complete meltdown, scoring only one touchdown in the next four games. Milanovich may still be drafted by an NFL team, but it will likely be as a punter.
•Best Player Nobody But NFL Scouts Has Heard Of: Alex Van Dyke, Nevada. Van Dyke, a wide receiver, hauled in 129 passes for 1,854 yards this fall, an NCAA single-season record, and caught 10 or more passes in each of his last nine games. Says one NFC scout, "I wouldn't be surprised to see him go late in the first round of the draft."