The holidays are the perfect time of year to give thanks to all of the hard working little people. No, I'm not talking about Santa's elves, but some of college football's unsung heroes.
Players, coaches and teams who's hard work and dedication may have gone unnoticed to many in the national eye. There are no Johnny Footballs or Manti Te'os on the list, just a group of Tiny Tims who have inspired me to give back with some much deserved praise.
Player of the Year
Alabama QB A.J. McCarron. Where would the Crimson Tide be without McCarron? Not playing for another BCS title, that's for sure. The junior's performance against LSU and Georgia in the SEC Championship Game assured Alabama of a chance at another national title, his second in as many years.
Quarterback of the Year
Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch. The redshirt junior had an amazing season statistically — third in the country in total offense behind Baylor's Nick Florence and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. But unlike Johnny Football, Lynch didn't receive much attention despite leading the Huskies to an Orange Bowl berth.
Running Back of the Year
Florida RB Mike Gillislee. When you consider before this season Gillislee had never rushed for more than 350 yards in a season, it's amazing to think how big his performance in 2012 was — 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns was quite the feat and a key reason the Gators are playing in a BCS bowl.
Wide Receiver of the Year
Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton. The senior helped the Bulldogs win nine games and lead the nation in scoring. Who can forget his 233 yards receiving and four touchdown performance against Texas A&M this season?
Defensive Player of the Year
Florida State DE Bjoern Werner. Along with teammate Tank Carradine, Werner was able to cause all sorts of havoc for opposing offenses. He led FSU with 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, but he also defended seven passes and a forced fumble.
Most Exciting Player to Watch
Miami RB Duke Johnson. The freshman sensation has been a sight for sore eyes for Miami fans who have been looking for something to cheer about lately. He not only rushed for close to 1,000 yards, but his play in the kick return game was electrifying and made him a big-time threat.
Coach of the Year
Penn State's Bill O'Brien. Despite the program being under a dark cloud and saddled with crippling NCAA sanctions that triggered an exodus of players, what O'Brien did at Penn State — winning eight games and coming in second in its division — is nothing short of miraculous.
Team of the Year
Florida. Sure, everyone knows the great job Notre Dame did this season, but where is the love for the Gators? Will Muschamp took a team that only won seven games in 2011 and won 11 games in 2012. At times, the team looked atrocious, but somehow it managed to earn a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Surprise Team of the Year
Kent State. Let's hear it for the Golden Flashes. Not only did they win 11 games for the first time in school history, but they also earned their first ever trip to the MAC Championship Game. While they fell short of earning a spot in a BCS bowl, Kent State still had a great season.
Conference of the Year
Sun Belt. This was a banner year for the Sun Belt Conference. Not only did it have five teams post winning records, but the league also pulled off some of the year's most amazing upsets with teams beating the likes of Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia Tech.
More realignment talk
Boise State appears to be trying to leverage home television rights for its football games from the Big East and Mountain West, according to ESPN.com. The move, according to the report, could help influence the school's decision concerning its conference future. Boise State is set to leave the Mountain West on July 1, 2013, and join the Big East, but recent turmoil in the Big East has school officials reportedly weighing all of their options including remaining in the MWC. According to a source in the report, Boise State is trying to pit the two leagues against each other. However, another source says the both conferences aren't willing to make an unprecedented move and give up lucrative home television rights.
Texas tops most valuable list again
Texas was named college football's most valuable team for the second straight, season according to a report on Forbes.com. The Longhorns program has a net worth of $133 million, up from $129 million last year. The website took a close-up look at the business of college football. Texas also generated $104 million in revenue and made a profit of $78 million. Michigan leapfrogged Notre Dame this season to come in second on the list with a value of $120 million. The Fighting Irish were third with a total value of $103 million. LSU ($102 million) and Georgia ($99 million) rounded out the top five. Florida was seventh on the list with a value of $93 million.
ESPN's Thursday night ratings take a dip
ESPN's strong hold on the Thursday night viewership with its weekly college football broadcasts appears to have taken a major hit thanks to the NFL. According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN's Thursday night college football viewership was down 35 percent from last season. The network went from averaging 2.7 million viewers per game to 1.8 million viewers this season. In the past, the NFL has only allowed a partial Thursday night schedule with games starting on Week 10 of the season. This season, that changed as the league began showing Thursday night games starting on Sept. 13. In fact, the most viewed Thursday night college football game occurred before the kickoff to the NFL season: South Carolina's win over Vanderbilt on Aug. 30. That game drew 4.1 million viewers. Granted, as I've stated before, some of ESPN's Thursday night college football matchups weren't necessarily going to set the TV sets on fire: Rutgers versus USF; BYU versus Boise State or Arizona State versus Colorado, but I figured the rest would do better.
On the web
With the bowl season in full swing, follow our bowl confidence pool on OrlandoSentinel.com/collegegridiron. Our football experts have picked their winners for each of the 35 games along with a points system based on how confident they are on their picks. There are no cash or prizes, just bragging rights.
For more college football news, head over to our blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/collegegridiron or you can like us at Facebook.com/collegegridiron 365 and add me on Google +. Follow us on Twitter at @osmattmurschel and @gridiron365.