November 4, 2008 releases 2nd annual Underdog Award

In an effort to bring media attention to those players from smaller schools that are too often overlooked for the HEISMAN and other major awards, presents the annual UNDERDOG AWARD to recognize the best FBS Mid-Major player in the nation. In evaluating the rich talent found throughout the 54 schools not aligned in BCS conferences, our commitment to finding overall excellence in college football remains at the forefront of our efforts.

The players listed below have excelled and stand out from the many great mid-major players found throughout the college football landscape. initially chose 28 for the 2008 UNDERDOG AWARD Preseason Watch List, which was primarily based upon those players’ 2007 performances. Now, with this year’s results to evaluate, our 2008 UNDERDOG AWARD In-Season Watch List has been compiled to reveal those actually being considered.

Note the talent levels of the candidates:

Leading the nation in QB efficiency (198.2) and yards per pass attempt (11.56!) while sitting second in TD passes and fifth in passing yards, Tulsa’s senior leader David Johnson heads a QB group that impresses on many levels. Like Johnson but just a sophomore, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick is the nation’s third-best rushing hurler and appropriately leads one of six offenses in the country that averages at least 200 yards for both passing and rushing. Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour has one fewer INT than Kaepernick and has a better team result (7-2) than the Wolf Pack’s field general; these are two of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Boise’s Kellen Moore and Ball State’s Nate Davis have been the catalysts for their respective team’s (so far) undefeated seasons. Houston’s Case Keenum sits in third-place nationally for passing yards, and though that puts him ahead of Max Hall (BYU), Chase Clement (Rice) and Tim Hiller (West Michigan) in that category, all three of those behind Keenum are still in the top 10 for aerial yardage and all have more TD passes than the cantankerous Cougar.

For running backs with more than 150 carries, La.-Lafayette senior Tyrell Fenroy has the nation’s highest average per carry (6.91) and is currently fifth in rushing yards per game (131.4). The No.7 rusher in the country, junior MiQuale Lewis’s 14 TDs are huge reasons his Cardinal’s are still without a loss. Midshipman Shun White’s average per carry (8.42) has come back to earth after his 348-yard (on 19 carries), three-TD performance in the season opener, but it still leads the country. BYU’s Harvey Unga has the best hands of this select RB group we have chosen, while Damion Fletcher is the only pure runner from a 200-200 team (see above QB section). Bronco Brandon West is currently the nation’s No.8 all-purpose ball handler.

North Texas’s Casey Fitzgerald has the most catches (85) of any FBS player, but it’s junior Austin Collie who has the most receiving yards. Jarett Dillard of Rice is tied for the national lead in receiving TDs (15), and he is fifth in receiving yards. Dillard’s teammate, James Casey, is second in receptions (79) and fifth in receiving yards, and Casey is the lone tight end on our list. SMU’s “go to” guy is Aldrick Robinson – he has at least one TD catch in every game this year (except one, versus TCU) while having the third-most receiving yards in the nation. The top all-purpose ball carrier is T.Y. Hilton, Florida International’s man who also leads the country in yards per reception with a whopping 27.5 average. Another all-around type, Antonio Brown is the only player to have passed, caught and returned a punt for scores.

Officially a cornerback, Joe Burnett is arguably the country’s best return specialist, currently ranking ninth in PRs (15.25 yards per return) and fourth in KRs (31.6 average, with two TDs). His three INTs up his stock nicely. TCU DE Jerry Hughes has an amazing stat line – 17.5 tackles-for-loss leads the nation (he had four solo TFLs against BYU) as do his 14 sacks and 115 total yards for loss, five forced fumbles ties him for the national lead, and he returned one of his two INTs for a score. These two defensive players are serious contenders.

A perennial Ray Guy semi-finalist and the Mountain West Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year two years running, P/K Louie Sakoda is 17-for-19 in field goal attempts and his 42.5-yard punt average is a huge reason Utah is winning their field position battles and is still undefeated.

You can see the tough job we will have in whittling down such an excellent group of candidates. Last year’s winner, QB Colt Brennan from Hawai'i, set the bar rather high for what it takes to win the UNDERDOG AWARD…and we know this year’s winner will again exemplify the amazing campaigns that those from smaller schools have so often supplied but are too often ignored for the national media recognition they deserve.

On Monday November 24 (the week of Thanksgiving), will present our list of semi-finalists. The finalists will be presented Tuesday December 2, and we will name the winner of the 2008 UNDERDOG AWARD after Championship Weekend on Wednesday December 10, 2008.

Semi-finalists: Monday, Nov. 24, 2008
Finalists: Tuesday, Dec.2, 2008
Winner: Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 2008 UNDERDOG AWARD Candidates

WR Antonio Brown
Central Michigan

Soph. (5-10, 179)
Miami, FL
DB Joe Burnett

Sr. (5-11, 185)
Eustis, FL
TE James Casey

Soph. (6-4, 235)
Azle, TX
QB Chase Clement

Sr. (6-1, 210)
San Antonio, TX
WR Austin Collie
Brigham Young

Jr. (6-2, 206)
El Dorado Hills, CA
QB Nate Davis
Ball State

Jr. (6-2, 217)
Bellaire, OH
WR Jarett Dillard

Sr. (5-11, 185)
San Antonio, TX
RB Tyrell Fenroy

Sr. (5-10, 205)
LaPlace, LA
WR Casey Fitzgerald
North Texas

Sr. (5-11, 191)
Red Oak, TX
RB Damion Fletcher
Southern Miss

Jr. (5-10, 177)
Biloxi, MS
QB Max Hall
Brigham Young

Jr. (6-1, 201)
Mesa, AZ
QB Tim Hiller
Western Michigan

Jr. (6-5, 228)
Orrville, OH
WR T.Y. Hilton
Florida International

Fr. (5-10, 175)
Miami, FL
DE Jerry Hughes

Jr. (6-2, 248)
Sugar Land, TX
QB David Johnson

Sr. (6-3, 220)
Portland, OR
QB Colin Kaepernick

Soph. (6-6, 215)
Turlock, CA
QB Case Keenum

Soph. (6-2, 210)
Abilene, TX
QB Dan LeFevour
Central Michigan

Jr. (6-3, 229)
Downers Grove, IL
RB MiQuale Lewis
Ball State

Jr. (5-6, 184)
Fort Wayne, IN
QB Kellen Moore
Boise State

Fr. (6-0, 187)
Prosser, WA
WR Aldrick Robinson

Soph. (5-10, 170)
Waxahachie, TX
K/P Louie Sakoda

Sr. (5-9, 178)
San Jose, CA
RB Harvey Unga
Brigham Young

Soph. (6-0, 239)
Provo, UT
RB Brandon West
Western Michigan

Jr. (5-10, 188)
Brunswick, GA
RB Shun White

Sr. (5-9, 190)
Memphis, TN