Minnesota football: End-of-season awards
It was the immediate aftermath of a crushing loss to Wisconsin in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. And yet Minnesota players and coaches had already turned their gaze toward the future.
Hard to blame ’em after a 3-4 season that saw one of college football’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I think we are going to be a really good football team next year,” Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said from the bowels of Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
But for all the chaos that came with the 2020 season, there were performances worth celebrating. Presenting Saturday Tradition’s postseason awards for Minnesota in a year we’d all like to forget but won’t any time soon.
Offensive player of the year: Chris Autman-Bell, WR
When Rashod Bateman opted out for the NFL the first time, Autman-Bell began operating in the frame of mind of a No. 1 receiver. That paid off even when Bateman decided to return; the first-round prospect attracted a ton of attention, and Autman-Bell took advantage with 22 catches and 19.55 yards per receptions. The Gophers’ top downfield threat will likely be back for at least one more season.
Defensive player of the year: Boye Mafe, DE
Even during a couple of blowout losses, the athletic freak from Minneapolis wreaked plenty of havoc in opposing backfields. Mafe’s 4.5 sacks tied him for sixth in the Big Ten.
Special teams player of the year: Cam Wiley, KR
Pretty slim pickings for a team with revolving doors in its kicking and punting rooms thanks to COVID. Special teams was a struggle even before the virus hit Athletes Village, but Wiley’s 16 yards per kick return was a bright spot. That’s good for seventh in the B1G and shows his potential as a ball carrier in coming years.
Assistant coach of the year: Brian Callahan, offensive line/run game coordinator
Callahan walked into 2020 with one of the best O-line situations in the country: all five returning starters from a 2019 team that won 11 games and tallied the third-most rushing yards in school history.
Then the season began. Two starters from that group, Daniel Faalele and Curtis Dunlap, were out for the year. The coronavirus caused Callahan to shuffle lineups almost weekly.
But the big boys up front still paved the way for a record-breaking season from running back Mohamed Ibrahim and kept Tanner Morgan relatively well-protected, all things considered.
Team MVP: Mohamed Ibrahim, RB
About as easy as cutting through butter — or back through a zone-block alley if you’re Ibrahim. The B1G’s running back of the year and FBS’ No. 3 rusher did a lot on his own, averaging more than 150 yards per game. Statistically, he had the best season for a Gophers running back since Laurence Maroney in 2005.