Asmussen | Handing out end of season awards

Asmussen | Handing out end of season awards

Late Monday night, I turned in my final AP Top 25 ballot of the season. Clemson capped the first perfect season in the playoff era with a 44-16 blowout win against Alabama in the national championship game.

A shocker. Not so much because the Tigers won, but because of their dominance against the defending national champions. Alabama looked almost ordinary. And kind of sad.

Like Nick Saban, I can't wait for the start of 2019, which opens Aug. 24 with Arizona at Hawaii. Alabama hosts Duke on Aug. 31. I can see the smoke coming out of the coach's ears already.

Before the pads and helmets get put away for the winter, let's take one last look back at 2018. Here are my award winners. We'll call them the OZZIES (to help with my frequently mispronounced last name):

Best former Illini — Ke'Shawn Vaughn.

The running back from Tennessee, who had a standout freshman year at Illinois in 2015, transferred to hometown Vanderbilt following the 2016 season. Good move.

After sitting out in 2017, he starred for the Commodores. Vaughn was the SEC's fourth-leading rusher with 1,244 yards despite missing most of two games.

He was even better in the Texas Bowl against Baylor, running for 243 yards and two touchdowns. On just 13 carries.

Vaughn's got another year of eligibility, unless he decides to turn pro.

Best regular-season game — Texas A&M 74, LSU 72.

In seven overtimes. Tied for the most in FBS history. The 146 combined points set an FBS record.

Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond threw for six touchdowns and three two-point conversions, including the game-winner.

Best bowl — Alamo

Washington State 28, Iowa State 26. You probably weren't watching on Dec. 28. But you should have been. There was a local connection with the Cyclones. Former Illini quarterback star Nathan Scheelhaase is on the staff. And there is a "he's awesome" connection with Cougars head coach Mike Leach. Late in the game with Washington State clinging to a lead, Leach watched as QB Gardner Minshew converted two third-down passes.

The Cougars won their school-record 11th game.

Coach of the year — Dino Babers, Syracuse.

You'd think I'd go with Clemson's Dabo Swinney. He obviously did a great job. But if you watched the Tigers at all, you realized their tremendous talent advantage. Yes, Coach Dabo put the team together and deserves credit for that. But he has an office full of top assistants who play huge roles, starting with defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Former Eastern Illinois head coach Babers turned the Orange into an ACC contender. The closest game of the season for Clemson came Sept. 29 at home against Syracuse. The Tigers needed a late TD drive to win 27-23.

Best surprise — Army

The Black Knights finished 11-2 and ranked No. 19 in the final AP poll. It could have been even better. One of the losses was in overtime against CFP semifinalist Oklahoma.

Army overwhelmed Houston in the Military Bowl, running for 507 yards and scoring 70 points. That got Houston coach Major Applewhite fired.

Biggest flop — Southern Cal

In a close call over Wisconsin, my preseason No. 1.

Somehow, Clay Helton survived a 5-7 finish that included losses against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame to close the season.

Not a lot of wiggle room for Helton in 2019. He likely needs a big season to stay in charge. Rumors were out there this season that the school was considering Penn State's James Franklin as a possible replacement. Tick, tick, tick.

Best hire — Mack Brown, North Carolina

Yes, he has been away for a while, working in the safety of the TV booth. But he wanted to get back on the sidelines and went back to one of his early jobs. Brown put together a good staff in a hurry. The Tar Heels will be better soon.

Good luck with that — Les Miles, Kansas

The Hat is back for the first time since 2016. But he won't find many players in Lawrence like the ones he had at LSU. Unless it is basketball. The 65-year-old is taking on one of the worst jobs in the Power Five.

You can't do that — Manny Diaz

The former Miami defensive coordinator took the head coaching job at Temple. For about five minutes (actually 17 days).

After talking up his big opportunity in Philly, Diaz left to return to Miami as head coach, replacing retired Mark Richt. Now, the Owls are again searching for a head coach and Diaz gets to stay warm in the winter.

Of course, the Hurricanes were a mess during the season and closed with a lopsided loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. Jeff Thomas is gone and you have to think a lot of other players will be looking to get out, too.

Remember the glory days of Jimmy Johnson in Coral Gables? That isn't likely to happen again soon.

Your 2019 Heisman favorite is ... Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence

In two years, he will be the first pick in the NFL draft. Between now and then, he might as well stop in New York and pick up a few statues. Barring injury, he's got a chance to tie Archie Griffin as a two-time winner. Too much hype? We'll see.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

-