BY DAVID CHOUGH
John Lovett, QB, Princeton
It’s hard enough leading a top-10 team in the country, let alone leading it to a perfect record. But that is exactly what John Lovett has accomplished this season for Princeton. The Tigers are ranked 10th in the FCS coaches poll and finished the year with a resounding victory over their Ivy League rivals, Penn. Of course, striving for perfection and achieving it are two very different things, but Lovett made it look easy in his last game as a college football star.
Though Princeton was firing on all cylinders coming into the game, the very beginnings of its game against Penn looked like there might be some room for error. The Tigers missed a field goal on their opening drive, and even though Penn was not able to capitalize, the Quakers were able to pin Princeton back on its own 20-yard line. But Lovett wasn’t fazed. He immediately led the team down on a seven-play drive that resulted in a gorgeous 42-yard touchdown throw. That Lovett was able to stand in a collapsing pocket was impressive enough, but the fact that he managed to put that much power and touch behind the ball to his receiver made the play even better.
While he created the first touchdown with his arm and set up the second with it, too, the third time Princeton found the end zone was set up by Lovett’s ability to run the ball. He broke free for runs of 7 and 14 yards to keep the drive alive. Then, once the Tigers were in a goal-to-go situation, Lovett ran it to the 3-yard line before throwing a dart to his receiver to put Princeton up 21-0 and the game out of reach for Penn.
Entering the game, Lovett had scored a rushing touchdown in 19 consecutive games and needed just one more to set the Ivy League record. Early in the fourth quarter, Lovett found himself just a few yards away from paydirt on first and goal, so he did what he has done so many times before in his career: he faked the handoff, kept the ball himself, and got an angle past the defenders into the end zone for the historic rushing touchdown.
Lovett finished the game with 255 yards and three touchdowns through the air along with 123 yards on the ground and his one record-breaking score.
Andy Isabella, WR, University of Massachusetts
At this point, Isabella is having such a breakout season that this section should be dedicated to his performances. Just two weeks removed from going off for 303 yards receiving, Isabella once again showed that he can hang with anybody in the country. The senior wideout was nearly unstoppable, hauling in 15 receptions for 219 yards and two touchdowns, including a brilliant 75-yarder on the last play of the third quarter. While the Minutemen have now wrapped up their schedule, there is no doubt that this will be far from the last time that the standout wideout dominates on the gridiron.
Sam Mustipher, C, Notre Dame
Notre Dame have been absolutely demolishing the competition that comes its way, and against No. 12 Syracuse, the Fighting Irish dominated the trenches. Led by senior center Sam Mustipher, the offensive line prevented the Orange defense from getting any real traction, as the Irish methodically kept drives alive and created space for their playmakers to work. Mustipher in particular was key, making the right protection adjustments and getting to the second level to allow whoever was running the ball to go four or even more yards without being touched. When the dust settled, the Irish had decisively beaten the Orange, 36-3.
Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion
The Monarchs have had a roller coaster of a season, with highs like taking down then-ranked Virginia Tech, but their one constant has been the steady pressure by Oshane Ximines. For the third time this season, Ximines registered a pair of quarterback takedowns, and even tacked on two more forced fumbles to put his total at four for the season. His height and power allows him to bully offensive linemen, and he made the most of those opportunities in a 77-14 victory over Virginia Military Institute.
Gardner Minshew, QB, Washington State
Though the column has already mentioned a quarterback above, we would be remiss without mentioning Gardner Minshew’s logic-defying performance against Arizona this past weekend. He threw for a season-high 473 yards and set a school-record for most touchdown passes in a game with seven — all the more impressive considering that Mike Leach has had some perfect quarterbacks for his system the past few years. Minshew absolutely dominated through the air, and it led to a 69-28 win over the Wildcats as the Cougars continue to make a claim to be included in the College Football Playoff.