Game Time: Previewing College Football Awards Night

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Last night, the Rotary Lombardi Award for the top lineman in college football was given to Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. To anyone who watched him play this year, or even just watched him rag-doll and chokeslam the Texas offensive line in the Big XII championship game, Suh's winning the coveted block of granite comes as no surprise.

The only one surprised last night? Apparently, Suh himself, who in accepting the award dubbed it a "total surprise." This means he's either the most naive college football player or the most humble, and judging by the fact that he's going to graduate a semester early with a degree in engineering, I'm going to go with the latter.

Each year, John Harris and I broadcast our show live from the Bear Bryant Award (college football Coach of the Year) dinner here in town, and it's typically our favorite show of the year, especially for Harris who is a former high school coach and son of a coach. This is the first year we've been the broadcast partner for the Rotary Lombardi Award, and this one was just as much fun as the Bryant Award, especially because I'm always intrigued by just how comfortable some of these kids are interacting with the media and in front of crowds.

We were joined by all four finalists on the show (Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma, Terrance Cody of Alabama, and Gerry Hughes of TCU and Fort Bend-Austin were the other three), and each had their own unique charm. Hughes was very businesslike in his answers, a reflection of a TCU team equally businesslike in going 12-0 this season. Cody was a little shy until we started suggesting that Coach Saban let him run some quarterback out of the Wildcat formation in the BCS title game, all 6'5" 365 pounds of him; laughter ensued and continued its undefeated string as the best icebreaker.

As impressive a kid as McCoy was to interview, he crushed it during his speech to the crowd at the dinner. Each finalist got an opportunity to thank all of the "little people" (figuratively and, I suppose to a group of finalists averaging around 300 pounds, literally); Cody, Hughes, and Suh all had notes written down in front of them. No shame in that, don't want to leave anyone out and this just in -- speaking in front of 1,000 people is a bit nerve-racking for 22-year-olds, even ones who could fold up each audience member like a lawn chair with their bare hands.  Well, McCoy just got up there with no notes and spoke from the heart, eloquently and joyfully. For those of you who don't know his story, McCoy lost his mother a couple years ago, and the first thing he intends to do with his NFL signing bonus (which will be sizable) is build a transitional home for low-income folks in his home state of Oklahoma. If he were a stock, you'd buy. Now.

And finally, there was Ndamukong Suh, or as the other three finalists called him, "Mr. Suh," presumably out of equal parts respect and fear of mispronunciation. He talked about his journey to Nebraska, how Nebraska assistant John Blake had met Suh's sister while he was an assistant at Mississippi State, and proceeded to recruit him once he got to Nebraska. He talked about his pride in graduating early, and how much he loved the Nebraska fans. He also talked about how much his background as a soccer player helped his foot speed and agility. He was glib, he was interesting, and he's going to be very rich in about five months.

Mel Kiper's latest Big Board of the top draftable prospects has Suh and McCoy #1 and #2, respectively. Both are high-character, physical freaks who will make their respective universities and future employers proud. Is there some way the Texans can retroactively forfeit all of their games this season to get back up into the top two in the draft?

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By the way, you can see the picture here of Suh with John Harris and me. I'd like to say we were merely posing for a picture, but actually we were re-enacting the Big XII Title game; I am playing the part of a Longhorn offensive lineman (insert "Sean weighs 300 pounds joke" here) and Harris is playing Colt McCoy.  Shortly, after this picture was taken Suh chokeslammed us both at the same time.

By the way, Longhorn fans, since I started blogging here as you well know I've taken up the opposite side for TCU and this week for Alabama. Hughes and Cody both said they have my back if any of you come after me. I know they mean it, too. We're boys now.

The Lombardi Award is not Suh's first piece of hardware this postseason (that would be the Nagurski Award), nor is it his last. College football holds its annual awards ceremony tonight, and the Heisman Trophy (for which Suh is a finalist) will be announced in New York City on Saturday.

I will have my own set of college football awards in tomorrow's post. For now, here are my predictions on tonight's proceedings. along with who I would/did vote for among the finalists.  For those of you with Bodog accounts, hopefully I do better than my college and NFL predictions last weekend (0-6 baby!!) --


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