The 2016 season was fun, memorable and nothing short of miraculous. As has come an annual tradition here at BSD, we’ll be handing out accolades to commemorate the conclusion of another season of Penn State Football. Without any further ado, your 2016 BSD Awards:
Best Game: Big Ten Championship Game: Penn State- 38, Wisconsin- 31
Penn State had a handful of memorable games in 2016 that will forever live on in Nittany Lion lore, but this one had the best ending- Penn State being crowned as champions of the Big Ten, which was something no one outside the locker room thought possible before the season- or even halfway through October. This unforgettable game featured a half-seasons worth of huge plays and a remarkable comeback against one of the nation’s best defenses.
Honorable Mention: Ohio State, Minnesota, Rose Bowl
Which leads us to....
Best Moment: The clock winding down at the Big Ten Championship
After a 2-2 start, it seemed as though Penn State may struggle just to reach bowl eligibility. The offense wasn’t clicking, the defense had severe holes, and the future seemed anything but certain. Things would turn around, and more than two months later, Penn State found itself kneeling the ball down in Indianapolis as the only thing that separated the team from a Big Ten Championship was a few dozen seconds winding off the clock. It was a feeling of pure elation- not just from a team that overcame the odds and shocked the world in 2016, but a program that was left for dead and suddenly found itself among the national elite once again.
Honorable Mention: The team accepting the Big Ten East Division trophy after the Michigan State game in front of a still-packed Beaver Stadium, fans swarming the field after the upset of Ohio State, Saquon Barkley leaping into the end zone with the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Minnesota, Tommy Stevens jet sweep touchdown to put the exclamation point of a decimation of Iowa.
Most Clutch Performance: Trace McSorley and Chris Godwin come up big on game-tying drive to force overtime against Minneota
Things were not looking good in Happy Valley. With Minnesota taking a 23-20 lead with :54 seconds left, it appeared as though Penn State would fall to 2-3 with a very uncertain future ahead. The drive started off poorly with consecutive incomplete passes to Saquon Barkley. On third down, McSorley found Godwin over-the-middle, who adjusted perfectly for a 20-yard reception. A few plays later, McSorley would see an opening and take off for a 26-yard run to the Minnesota 22, which would set up a 40-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with just :02 remaining to send the game into overtime. On the first play of its first OT possession, Barkley would scamper 25 yards to the end zone to give the team a much-needed comeback victory. The rest is Penn State history.
Honorable Mention: Penn State defense comes up big in the final drive against Ohio State, Saeed Blacknall and DaeSean Hamilton spark a comeback against Wisconsin, the Block Six
Best Play: The Block Six
This is the one award with no real clear competition. This is a play that not only led to one of the biggest upsets in recent memory for Penn State, but also likely completely changed the trajectory of the program. Most Penn State fans have likely re-watched this play more than 100 times since it happened, with many more viewings to come long into the future. I still get goosebumps with each viewing.
Honorable Mention: Barkley Wheel Routes vs. Iowa and Wisconsin, Irvin Charles TD reception vs. Minnesota, Mike Gesicki TD reception against Wisconsin, Marcus Allen and Grant Haley pair up again for the fourth-and-done vs. Wisconsin, Barkley’s wild Rose Bowl TD, Gesicki and Godwin’s ridiculous Rose Bowl touchdowns, Barkley’s 25-yard touchdown run to win the Minnesota game, Brandon Bell’s strip sack against Wisconsin, Jason Cabinda channels Paul Posluszny to halt Iowa on fourth down....and probably too many others to list here.
Most Head-Scratching Moment: Matt Millen forgets what game he’s watching
In the past, this award always went to a clock management blunder, but I’m glad to say that problem seemed to iron itself out in 2016. In the second half of the Maryland game, Saquon Barkley was tackled near the sideline in an apparent horse-collar tackle. The fans began booing loudly when no flag was called. In the booth, a confused Matt Millen states, “The fans want a late hit there, but that’s not going to happen. Moments later, the fans erupt again when the replay is showed on the JumboTron. Miller realizes there is something he misses, and ponders- “What was that, maybe a facemask?” His partner finally steps in to let him know the refs missed an obvious horse-collar, which Millen somehow missed live and on the many replays.
Honorable Mention: Penn State is outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter in the Rose Bowl after owning the quarter all season long.
Offensive MVP: Saquon Barkley
Barkley led the charge for a completely memorizing transformation of the Penn State offense in 2016. With his ability to go the distance each time he touched the ball, Barkley gave defenders fits all season and helped open completely things up to lead a suddenly high-flying offensive attack. Barkley will go down as one of the best ever to wear a Penn State uniform, and will enter 2017 near the top of most Heisman shortlists.
Honorable Mention: Trace McSorley, Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki
Defensive MVP: Brandon Bell
The defense just was not the same with Bell out of the lineup (See Michigan, fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl). Bell was a play-making machine all season, and came up with his best efforts in the biggest moments. Against Ohio State he finished with 19 tackles, and accounted for 18 against Michigan State to help the Nittany Lions clinch the East. He also brought an unmatched passion to the game and made everyone around him better. It’s been an absolute blast to watch Bell during the past four years.
Honorable Mention: Garrett Sickels, Marcus Allen, Jason Cabinda
Special Teams MVP: Blake Gillkin
After several years of punting woes for Penn State, Blake Gillkin came in and finally gave the team a leg up in the field position battle. The freshman used his powerful leg often to flip the field position for the Nittany Lions, taking pressure off the defense as it found its footing throughout the season. With so many other incredible performances in 2016, Gillkin’s impact probably did not receive is proper due. And he should only get better from here.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Davis, Von Walker
Most Improved Player: Mike Gesicki
Gesicki had one of the most stunning transformations in recent memory in Happy Valley. He struggled as a sophomore and at times was a liability on the field with dropped passes, penalties and missed blocks. As a junior, he had the best season for a tight end in Penn State history, a school littered with incredible names at the position. Even better, Gesicki is set to return for his senior that could end with All-American honors and an eye on a very high draft pick in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Allen, Evan Schwan, Malik Golden, Curtis Cothran
True Freshman of the Year: Connor McGovern
While Penn State has spent the last few years being forced to use freshmen linemen out of necessity, McGovern proved to be a major asset well ahead of his time. After being inserted in the lineup at right guard, McGovern immediately proved his mettle, displaying the nastiness that will help him anchor the interior of Penn State’s line for the next few years with a future of playing on Sundays.
Honorable Mention: Blake Gillken, Miles Sanders
Most Underrated Player: Curtis Cothran
Cothran missed the first four games of the season, but made an instant impact as soon as he returned to the line-up. The defensive tackle obviously had a very productive offseason, as he significantly improved his strength and first step. Cothran routinely blew past opposing offensive linemen, and seems to be on his way to developing into a truly special player as a senior.
Honorable Mention: Parker Cothren, Malik Golden, Evan Schwan
Assistant Coach of the Year: Joe Moorhead
You could make a compelling argument for just about every Penn State assistant that helped contribute to the team’s remarkable turnaround in 2016, but there’s just no denying the monumental impact of Moorhead’s addition to the staff as offensive coordinator. After a few weeks of getting a feel for the new system, the offense exploded to become one of the most prolific and exciting in recent memory. They improved in front of our eyes on a weekly basis, and by season’s end they put up mind-boggling numbers against two incredibly outstanding units in Wisconsin and USC. With nearly everyone coming back and another offseason to fully develop, the 2017 Nittany Lions offense could be scary-good.
Honorable Mention: Brent Pry, Sean Spencer, Matt Limegrover