The most important player in college football in 2019 will be this season’s Bradlee Van Pelt. In 2018, the most important player was the Bradlee Van Pelt of 2018, and in 2017 it was the Bradlee Van Pelt of that year. Bradlee Van Pelt has always been the most important player on your team, and he will always be the most important player in college football teams of the future.
How can one man — a quarterback who played three seasons for Colorado State from 2001 to 2003, won no serious national awards, who played for a Mountain West team — be the best player on any team right now?
Because Bradlee Van Pelt is a symbol for the players who make the sport matter: The undersold and largely unsung hero of a program’s breakthrough season, the bell cow for a mid-major punching above its weight, the store brand version of another team’s marquee superstar.
The BVP of a team dominates in his own way and mostly on his own terms. The quarterback might not have the greatest passing arm, for instance, but still pass for 3,000 yards despite a throwing style best described as “speculative.” The BVP of a team will not slide, just as Van Pelt never slid, even when he really, really should have. The BVP of a team mayyyyyy spike the ball off a rival’s head after making a big play, simply because he can.
The BVP of a team, more than anything else, will win. He may even set records, or something close to records, in the process. Van Pelt, after all, was verifiably great, and almost became the first college football player to pass for 3000 yards and rush for 1000 yards in a single season. The BVPs of a team leave my favorite kind of legacy behind them — the kind everyone remembers, but may not appreciate in full, at least not as much as they should.
Local heroes of the first order, BVPs are for real ones, for those that know and thoughtfully appreciate talent when they see it — even if it ends up going pro in something else. A BVP might finish seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting, then go on to sell medical supplies for a living, spend a few years lingering on the benches of the CFL, or in Van Pelt’s case, make his final appearance as a player with the Leicester Falcons of the British American Football League.
I used to call this award the People’s Heisman, but there are a few reasons why that isn’t quite right. First, the Heisman is awarded to “the most outstanding player in college football,” and the BVPs of the sport are not exactly that.
More accurately, BVPs are “the most college football player in standing out.” They have obvious flaws — too short, too frantic, too big, too small, too uneven in production — but produce anyway, often winning when they have no right to, and excelling in their own slightly off-cut fashion. BVPs aren’t perfect, but they are, in their moment, perfection. Sadly, no existing award properly honors them, a grievous oversight with a simple fix.
We will all have to make our own.
PRIMARY RULES FOR THE BVP
The player must be an actually excellent college football player. This award is not a joke. The BVP salutes the achievements of players who mattered a lot to their teams. Bradlee Van Pelt, the award’s proposed namesake, was an untacklable frost giant of a man who just happened to also be the best quarterback in Colorado State history. Put some respect on his name by putting his name on another under-heralded player.
The BVP is not a make-up call for other awards with greater national recognition. It is a crime against football that Ndamukong Suh, the scariest defensive lineman of the 21st century and most dominant player of the 2009 season, lost the Heisman Trophy to Mark Ingram. Is Suh, who enjoyed a lot of obvious praise and headlines when he was a college player and went on to have a robust NFL career, a BVP candidate? No, no he is not.
The BVP’s purpose is to celebrate the best and most college football college football player available. Running quarterbacks with strong but inconsistent arms doomed by bad scouting reports, undersized running backs with blazing speed, oversized running backs with terrible 40 times, slow safeties with great instincts and multiple celebration penalties on their record, and kickers with thousands of tattoos who tackle like linebackers: The BVP not only celebrates the player who hit his peak in college, but also the player whose personality, ethos, and game thrived best in that specific environment, and indeed could have only come to full bloom there.
For instance: Would longhaired Bradlee Van Pelt have looked any more himself playing anywhere but in the state of Colorado, looking like something that should have had horns and ramming his way down the field? Would Tyrann Mathieu — again, an incredible football player — become The Honey Badger anywhere but at LSU in that defense, in that moment, and in a place that hands out nicknames like The Honey Badger? Would Quinton Flowers, USF’s greatest QB and a one-man army, have been that one-man army playing anywhere but in the AAC for USF?
The BVP says no, and chooses celebrating the player in that context of time and place. Other awards hand out trophies to the same position players at the same schools over and over again. The BVP is here to spread the wealth, and to recognize a very specific greatness wherever it happens.
Finally: Are they THAT guy? It’s important to have a simple test as to whether a player fits the award, and ours is this: When you hear the name, do you go OH THAT GUY? Not meaning just “oh, I remember them,” but “I should have remembered them sooner, and forgetting them was my first mistake, because they were awesome”?
What would be an example of the BVP Award’s target demographic? It might be easiest if someone laid out what the past two decades of BVP candidates and winners would have looked like.
Oh look, someone just did that! Winners are listed in bold.
2000 BVP: John Henderson, Ken Simonton, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marques Tuiasosopo, Deuce McAllister.
Tennessee’s burly and boisterous John Henderson earned the 2000 Outland Trophy for best interior lineman, but one award doesn’t cover his greatness, does it? Does the Outland Trophy recognize Henderson leading the UT student section in chants of “blood makes the grass grow?” Does it mention him being able to dunk at three hundred pounds as an all-state basketball player, or the constant on-field screaming for no reason, or being a catalyst for almost anything positive Tennessee did in 2000? No, no it does not.
2001: Woody Dantzler, Ed Reed, Antwaan Randle El, Rohan Davey, Ashley Lelie
Woodrow by a mile. Dantzler accounted for over 3,000 yards of offense by himself at Clemson, including a dazzling 254 yards passing, two TDs, and 164 yards rushing for two more scores in a 47-44 classic victory over Georgia Tech. He later did this in the NFL, and was then cut for being too pure and good for professional football.
2002: Jared Lorenzen, Brad Banks, Byron Leftwich, Terrell Suggs
No explanation needed where the Hefty Lefty is involved, RIP.
2003: Darren Sproles, Larry Fitzgerald, B.J. Symons, Ryan Dinwiddie, Stefan LeFlors
When choosing a BVP honoree, it is important to remember what the player was like at the time. There were pedigreed recruits becoming well-awarded princes of the sport, like eventual Heisman winner Jason White.
Then, there was Sproles, the 5’6” barely-recruited obscurity who obliterated Oklahoma 35-7 in the Big 12 Championship game for 235 yards rushing and finished the season with a staggering 2,273 yards from scrimmage for Kansas State. Everyone knows what Darren Sproles is now, but in 2003? Watching him was nothing short of shocking, especially when he was ripping Bob Stoops’ squad to shreds.
2004: Matt Jones, Vince Young, Drew Tate
One of the thinner classes, but “huge, lightning-quick QB for a 5-6 team with a wild arm who just sort of made stuff up and was eventually drafted as a wide receiver for the Jaguars” sums up a lot of the core values of the BVP Award. (Mostly the “we can’t believe he existed, but we enjoyed it while he was around” part.)
2005: Vince Young, Darrell Hackney, Brett Basanez, Brad Smith
Everyone knew he was great at the time, true, but VY still qualifies for the BVP by being a.) an insanely gifted running quarterback who moonlighted as a passer, b.) still somehow underrated as a terrifying, dominant force in every game he played in, c.) a solid case for the Madden Curse, being blessed with the perfect skill set for college stardom and not that of a future NFL lifer. His career ended with him crossing the goal line in Pasadena against USC, and that’s fine with us.
2006: Jared Zabransky, Pat White, Calvin Johnson, Colt Brennan
Controversy here, sure, but Zabransky has a few resume lines no one else can claim: He put up clean numbers (23 passing TDs to 8 INTs on the season), leading Boise to their date with destiny in the Fiesta Bowl. He handed the ball off on “Circus,” arguably the greatest moment in modern bowl history. He finished the year by becoming the first man from Idaho named “Jared” to wear white jeans to the ESPYs, something no one else has ever done. This is my case for his BVP Award, and it is unassailable.
2007: Todd Reesing, Darren McFadden, Aqib Talib, Dennis Dixon, Kevin Smith, George Selvie
A crowded year requires a crowded solution. The split 2007 award recognizes greatness in two forms. The first is Reesing, a 5’11” quarterback who steered Kansas to an Orange Bowl with 3,888 yards passing and a 32/13 TD/INT ratio, and who may be the greatest football player in Kansas history.
The second: Arkansas’s McFadden who, in addition to having a brilliant 1,830 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns for the Razorbacks, also drove this car, which I call The Spirit of Arkansas.
2008: Mardy Gilyard, Michael Crabtree, Jahvid Best, Sean Witherspoon, Eric Berry
A deep group. Gilyard emerges here for his receiving brilliance and return work for a shockingly good Cincy team, but clinches it for being the only player I’ve ever seen to go back and hug a kid in the stands after accidentally obliterating said kid while running out a deep route. Style points matter, and Gilyard had them for days.
2009: Terrence Cody, Toby Gerhart, Trindon Holliday, Jacquizz Rodgers, Tyler Sash
No single player rushed for more than a hundred yards against Alabama in 2008 and 2009, mostly because a shockingly agile giant played nose tackle for the Crimson Tide and did not want anyone to run past him. Cody singlehandedly saved the eventually undefeated BCS Champions’ season from disaster against Tennessee, blocking two field goals in a narrow 12-10 win over the Vols. He also looked beautiful when photoshopped coming out of a cake, and that counts, too.
2010: Colin Kaepernick, Bobby Rainey, Da’Quan Bowers, Justin Blackmon
Before he was everyone’s Facebook Uncle’s nemesis, Kaepernick was the Lord of Late Night ESPN 2 Stunners, anchoring a 13-2 season for Nevada with 41 total TDs and a 34-31 upset of then-#3 Boise State. The title “Best Pistol QB of All Time” is not light praise here, and is enough reason alone to award Kaepernick a retroactive BVP. Insanely good in an insanely college-type system in an insanely college-type place like Reno, Nevada.
2011: Collin Klein, Jarvis Jones, Joe Adams, Whitney Mercilus
K-State quarterbacks for a long time were essentially brilliant converted tight ends, but none lumbered more efficiently or with more treelike ponderousness than Klein. He is the prototype for KSU’s best players: Huge, strong, fast, and possibly playing in another reality as a tight end or starting left tackle. A single-wing genius who cranked out 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, Klein did this all despite playing for a slow, deliberate team with the fewest possessions of any offense of the era.
2012: Barrett Jones, Jadeveon Clowney, Jordan Lynch, Chuckie Keeton, Quinton Patton
Alabama’s fearsome and cerebral center played the violin, got his degree in accounting in three years with a 4.0 GPA, and once led his high school’s Scrabble team to a respectable 15th place finish in a national tournament.
He also happened to be the best center in the nation for a championship team that demolished Notre Dame in the BCS title game, where Jones a.) got into an argument over proper procedure with his own quarterback in the second half of a blowout, and b.) allegedly asked Notre Dame players in the tunnel “We’re going out for the second half. Are you?” (Jones could win off that last part alone, tbh.)
2013: Jordan Lynch, Connor Halliday, Bo Wallace, Aaron Donald, Ryan Switzer, Watts Dantzler
The Tim Tebow of the Rust Belt, y’all, but without the theatrical postgame speeches. Jordan Lynch came so, so close to recording a 3,000/2,000 yard season as the quarterback for NIU, totaling 2,892 yards passing and 1,920 yards rushing for his 47 TDs in the 2013 season. A stunningly productive player who just happened to play in the MAC and not a Power 5 conference. Bonus: Warmed up before games by listening to Shania Twain and Adele.
2014: Scooby Wright, Bo Wallace, James Conner, Rakeem Cato, Tevin Coleman
A no-star recruit who led the nation in solo tackles and tackles for loss, all while leading Arizona to an upset of #2 Oregon and being nicknamed “Scooby.” Wright destroyed Oregon’s national championship prospects almost by himself in back-to-back years, including a strip-sack of Marcus Mariota on Oregon’s final possession of their 31-24 upset in 2014. Style points are retroactively awarded for later being a member of the immortal AAF Arizona Hotshots.
2015: Keenan Reynolds, Chad Kelly, Derek Barnett, Donnel Pumphrey
An option QB with a side hustle as a naval cryptologist is already prime BVP material here, but Reynolds is a statistically legendary college football player. Navy’s most productive quarterback of all time is also the sport’s most productive rushing quarterback ever, holding all-time marks for rushing yards by a QB (4,559 yards lifetime,) career rushing touchdowns by a QB (88) and rushing TDs in one game (seven in 2013 against San Jose State.)
2016: Quinton Flowers, Donnel Pumphrey, Sefo Liufau, Patrick Mahomes
One key test here is “would you play with them in the NCAA game if they still made it”? There has not been a backfield since White/Slaton for WVU that made us miss the game more than USF’s Flowers in tandem with Marlon Mack. We would WRECK people with them, especially with Flowers, a 2,800-yard passer and 1,500-yard rusher capable of keeping the Bulls in games no matter how bad their defense was.
2017: Shaquem Griffin, Quenton Nelson, Trace McSorley, Roquan Smith
A one-handed genius linebacker playing in relative obscurity is one story arc worth celebrating. Another is how Griffin went from playing on a miserable winless team in George O’Leary’s last year to anchoring the defense of an undefeated UCF team in their triumphant 2017 campaign. That year ended in the Peach Bowl, and Griffin’s MVP performance in the Citronauts’ upset of the Auburn Tigers remains perfection: 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
2018: Benny Snell, Eric Dungey, Gardner Minshew, Darrell Henderson
Snell meant everything to his Kentucky team, rushing for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons, and leading the Wildcats to their first win over Florida since 1987. The huge “SNELL YEAH” tat on his belly is just extra credit for his application here. Snell operated within one of the deepest classes in the history of the BVP, but fueling UK’s run to its first ten-win season since 1977 while tweeting as “MR SNELL YA LATER” demands rewards.
2019: Lynn Bowden Jr., Cole McDonald, Bryce Perkins, Rodrigo Blankenship, Kenneth Gainwell
It is an indication of how college football Bowden’s season was that his position remained listed speculatively as “wide receiver.” When Kentucky’s top two QBs went down with injuries, Bowden became the entire offense.
Before he took over, the Wildcats had been 2-3 and falling. But Bowden wasn’t just a parachute. He was a whole airplane. With Bowden running a glorified single-wing, Kentucky finished 5-2. He led the Wildcats with 1,235 yards rushing, remained their leading receiver, and even returned four punts and seven kickoffs. All from a dude who, despite being a four-star with offers from Penn State and Michigan, had his heart set on Kentucky.
On the Shutdown Fullcast, we celebrated Bowden’s case and handed out two new awards for 2019 as well: BVP Coach of the Year and BVP Game of the Year.