Dec. 5, 2012
Conference USA announced its 2012 Players of the Year today, as selected by the league's 12 head football coaches. C-USA is completing its 17th football campaign by sending five teams to bowl games.
Marshall sophomore QB Rakeem Cato was named the recipient of the Conference USA Most Valuable Player Award, becoming the first underclassmen to win the award. Cato leads the FBS in completions (406) and passing yards (4,201), is tied for second in touchdown passes (37) and is fifth in total offense (4,232) and completion percentage (69.5). He also leads C-USA in pass efficiency (147.1). Cato became the fourth Thundering Herd quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in season (4,102), and his 37 touchdown passes this season ties Chad Pennington (1999) for third-highest single-season total at Marshall. This marks the fourth time in the last five seasons that a quarterback has been named C-USA Most Valuable Player.
SMU senior RB Zach Line was named Offensive Player of the Year, marking the first time a running back has won the award since UCF's Kevin Smith in 2007. Line leads the league with 1,207 rushing yards, becoming the second player in SMU history (Reggie Dupard from 1983-85) and fourth back in C-USA annals to run for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. He ran for 12 touchdowns this year, giving him 45 in his career, the second-highest total in C-USA history. Line has led the Mustangs to a school-record fourth consecutive bowl appearance as SMU prepares to face Fresno State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.
Defensive recognition went to UCF senior DB Kemal Ishmael, who joins back-to-back winner Bruce Miller (2009-10) as the only Knights to win the award. Ishmael has started 48-straight games dating back to his true freshman season in 2009 and leads UCF in tackles for the third straight year, having recorded 116 stops. He has moved up to third place on the school's all-time tackles list with 360. Ishmael is tied for the league lead with three fumbles recovered and tied for fifth in interceptions with three. He also has five tackles for loss, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles and one sack in leading the Knights to the East Division title and a spot in the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Special Teams Player of the Year award went to UCF senior kick returner Quincy McDuffie. The versatile McDuffie ranks second in the FBS in kickoff return average at 34.2, the second-highest figure in league history. He has returned 17 kickoffs for 582 yards, including three for touchdowns (tied for second among all FBS players). McDuffie tied an NCAA record, and set a C-USA and UCF record with two kickoff returns for a touchdown at Marshall Oct. 27. It has now happened just 17 times in NCAA history. McDuffie, who also has three rushing and three receiving TDs this season, is the school's all-time leader in returns (90), yards (2,501) and touchdowns (six).
The league's Freshman of the Year honor went to Marshall RB Kevin Grooms. Playing in the top-ranked offense in Conference USA, Grooms led all of the league's freshmen in rushing with 737 yards. Grooms had a team-high eight rushing touchdowns, one receiving score and his 6.1 yards per carry was second-best in the league.
Junior RB Vintavious Cooper of East Carolina garnered the league's Newcomer of the Year honor, the second time in three years that award has gone to a Pirate (QB Dominique Davis in 2010). Cooper became the first ECU player to rush for 1,000 yards (1,030) since 2009, topping the 100-yard mark in four games. He ran for seven touchdowns and caught another, grabbing 26 passes for 224 yards.