USA TODAY Sports
As expected for a 10-2 team, Carolina players are well-represented on the post-season awards lists. Jadeveon Clowney is the player getting the most attention. Clowney was a finalist for multiple national awards, including those for the best defensive player of the year, and he won the Hendricks Award for the nation's best defensive end. He was the first sophomore to win the award. He was also chosen by the coaches as the SEC's defensive players of the year, although the AP chose Georgia's Jarvis Jones. He was, lastly, a first-team All-American.
Although I'm loathe to agree with Matt Millen on anything, he's right that Clowney is probably the single best defensive player in college football, if you look at it solely from a talent/production standpoint. He was unblockable this season despite the fact that the SEC refs don't call holding anymore, other than when we play Clemson. His stats, really, only tell part of the story, as I can think of five or six interceptions he caused this season. He'll likely be the first player taken in next year's draft, and he probably would be this year, too. There are no real flaws, even as he continues to get better. Anything can happen between now and ten years down the road, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up having a career on par with someone like Reggie White. He's that good. Did he deserve the Nagurski Award and maybe even a bid at the Heisman? I'm not sure. The Heisman's mission is to recognize "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." We oftentimes forget the integrity part. Clowney has done his job with great integrity, but Manti Te'o's inspiring story does give him an added dimension here. Of course, Te'o is only one candidate. Maybe both he and Clowney should be in New York. Offensive bias, and all. Moreover, since I'm not sure he's really close to Clowney in ability, maybe Te'o's story shouldn't be enough. (FWIW, I found this article from Land Grant Holy Land insightful on the subject of Te'o's candidacy for the Heisman.) In any event, Clowney was shut out of the national awards other than the Hendricks, but that's good enough for now. He's going to go into next season with more fanfare, and if he has a similar or better season, expect him to get more consideration, particularly if the Gamecocks manage to break through the two-loss plateau.
Ace Sanders was also recognized by the coaches as the special teams player of the year in the conference. He's been one of my favorite Gamecocks this year. For years, we had very little in the special teams department, but Sanders certainly added another dimension to our game with his punt return skills. The kick he ran back against UGA was probably my favorite play of the year. The Clemson game also really had me wondering if he could be a 1000-yard receiver with a more adept pocket-passer as our primary QB. He really impressed me in that game. The move he made to juke his way into the end-zone after catching the ball around the ten yard-line was a thing of beauty. He showed magnificent balance on that play. It'll be interesting to see if he considers a jump to the NFL after the bowl.
Others whose names came up in the post-season awards include T.J. Johnson (second-team All-SEC by coaches), D.J. Swearinger (second-team All-SEC by AP and coaches), Marcus Lattimore (honorable mention All-SEC by AP).