We’ve been doing these annual awards at the end of the USF sports calendar since 2011. It’s funny to go back to some of them and see what we were thinking then. For instance, in that first edition I made what is UNQUESTIONABLY THE WORST STATEMENT IN THE HISTORY OF THIS BLOG:
JAMIE’S USF COACH YOU WOULD PICK TO LEAD HUMANITY IN A ONE-GAME BATTLE WITH ALIENS FOR CONTROL OF PLANET EARTH: Unquestionably Skip Holtz. Not only would he figure out the rules of any other sport besides football fast enough to coach the team up, but even if they lost the game he might be able to communicate with the aliens and negotiate some kind of peaceful settlement.
Jesus Christ, what was I thinking???
Anyway, it’s time for our staff (plus guest voter Josh Appel) to make our picks for the best teams, athletes, coaches, games, and a lot more. Here are the 2017 Daily Stampede Awards!
Collin: Didn't know if I'd ever see this in my lifetime again, but I'm going USF Football. Welcome back, Bulls. That offense was just glorious, and so good it made up for an historically bad Bulls defense. No matter: watching Q and Marlon and Rodney all year was a true treat. And they should be even better this season because that defensive rating might break triple digits!
Carl: Gotta go with the obvious one. Despite obvious flaws, Q and company absolutely delivered, giving us the best season in USF football history. The much-maligned defense ended up making one of the best plays of the season to end the season, and they can really only get better given Charlie Strong's defensive prowess. They probably also have the highest ceiling of any program on campus too.
Connor: Football. Sure, it's the easy answer but it's the right answer in my opinion. A 10-2 regular season with a thrilling bowl victory over an SEC foe to secure the most wins in school history is good enough for my vote. There is just so much talent all over the field and so much optimism for 2017 under new head coach, Charlie Strong. With an extremely favorable schedule and few major quirks to the defense, I see no reason why this team can’t win this award next year... and of course, win a lot more on the field.
Gary: Football, for the magical year they had, and the bowl win over an SEC team.
Josh Appel: Football.
Nathan: 11-2 and a bowl win for the first time seven years. There's no doubt the football team deserves this award. This team will always be remembered for what they accomplished and will go down as one of the best teams in USF history.
Nick: Has to go to the football team here with their 11-2 record. Best season in school history along with finishing in the AP Top 25 for the first time ever. Special shout out to the women's basketball on reaching the NCAA Tournament yet again.
Jamie: I’ll make it unanimous with football. Honorable mention to baseball for their highest win total in two decades.
BEST MALE ATHLETE
Collin: I'm going with Kevin Merrell, although this is partially a career achievement award for one of my favorite USF baseball players ever. But he earned it this year too: .386 average, 1.037 OPS, 6 HR, 18 stolen bases, and some wonderfully below-average defense at shortstop.
No matter his glove, he was a special player to watch for three seasons and really made his team go from the leadoff spot. He was also a beloved teammate, and often carried an offense that just didn't have enough oomph this season. He's also going higher in the MLB Draft than Quinton Flowers will in the NFL Draft.
I voted for Quinton last year, but this year I'm going with Merrell.
Carl: Is it even a question? I tried to find someone else to add a bit of variety, by nobody comes even close to what Q has accomplished these past two seasons. I don't need to say too much else, do I?
Connor: Quinton Flowers. This one was easy. Flowers is the best quarterback in the American Athletic Conference and is coming off a 2016 season where he was just one of two quarterbacks in the country to RUSH for over 1,500 yards. Flowers is sure to be in the Heisman Trophy running in 2017 and is one of the most elite athletes to ever step foot on the USF campus.
Gary: Quinton Flowers, for the sheer number of how-did-he-do-that plays he produced in 2016.
Josh: Quinton Flowers.
Nathan: Quinton Flowers. He made incredible play after incredible play and never seemed to slow down or get tired. His godawful defense made him into a superstar because of how often he had to bail them out time and time again.
Nick: Quinton Flowers. He somehow topped his 2015 season by posting nearly 3,000 passing yards, 1,500 rushing yards and accounting for 42 touchdowns while increasing his passing percentage. It's insane to think that he could be even better this fall should he stay healthy.
Jamie: Kevin Merrell’s consistent excellence will be richly rewarded in a few weeks. But come on, Quinton Flowers might be the best athlete USF has ever seen.
BEST FEMALE ATHLETE
Collin: Evelyne Viens for women's soccer looks like she's a different level of athlete compared to everyone she's playing with and against. The fact she's only a freshman means incredible things for that team going forward. She can fly, her technical skills are ridiculous, and she's the total package as a player and a threat. And without a dominant softball pitcher or Courtney Williams, she might win this award four years in a row if she decides to finish her degree.
Carl: The American women’s soccer freshman of the Year gets my vote. In a rebuilding year, she was the brightest of several young players, tying the single season record set of 16 goals in a season, set by Kristine Edner in 1998. She also bagged the first hat trick by a USF women's soccer player since 2006.
Connor: Going out on a limb and picking Kitija Laksa of women's basketball for this one. In her sophomore 2016 season, Laksa really distinguished herself as one of the best offensive players in the country. She was named a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-Region nominee in March before the Women's Final Four and scored 20-plus points 13 times last season, while scoring in double digits in 31 of the Bulls’ 33 games. She is currently playing for her home country on Team Lativa during the off-season and her USF team should be ready for a rebound season after that brutal loss at the buzzer in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gary: Eh, I don't have a strong opinion this year. I defer to the group.
Josh: Kitija Laksa.
Nathan: Laia Flores. Outside of Flowers, no one meant more to their team than Flores. 200 assists to only 74 turnovers? She is a star. And to play sixty straight minutes on a bum ankle when her team needed her the most is inspiring. I've had plenty of sprained ankles from basketball and I couldn't imagine playing on them at all.
Nick: Kitija Laksa. 19.2 ppg. 3x American Player of the Week. Second Team All-AAC on a tournament team. She's got my vote.
Jamie: Kitija Laksa kept women’s basketball afloat when it seemed like the entire bench was injured and a couple starters were struggling. She won a game at SMU almost by herself. It was the first time since Dominique Jones that I saw USF on the winning side of a Wardling.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
Collin: Did anyone see that women's tennis team making that run and getting another conference championship? That was pretty out of nowhere. This might be unanimous.
Carl: Things lost by men’s tennis following the 2016 season: #1 seed Roberto Cid, #2 seed Dominic Cotrone, head coach Matt Hill.
Things won by men's tennis in 2017: a 4th straight conference title. USF remains the only team to have claimed the American title in this sport despite losing their top two players, including one of the best players in the nation in Cid. But first-year coach Ashley Fisher was up to the task and continued the success that Hill helped build during his time with the Bulls.
Connor: I think this one has to be women's tennis. They entered the American Athletic Conference tournament as the #7 seed and had to win four times in four days. And they did just that, winning the conference title for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Solid job by head coach Cristina Moros in just her second season.
Gary: Women's basketball remaining an NCAA-level team despite a brutal string of injuries. This team had every right to have an off year, but refused to do so. They played hurt, played a lot of minutes, played out of position, and maintained the program's recent high standards. They were under-seeded by at least 2 slots, but nearly won anyway, taking a heart-breaking last-second loss to Missouri. But I'll never forget the clip from just after that game, when you can see how much that loss hurt everyone, and how much they all cared about the team and each other. And USF managed to keep Jose Fernandez when the Florida and USC jobs were open. Until further notice, this is the best program on campus.
Nathan: Women's basketball. In a rebuilding year and without one of the best athletes to ever play at USF in Courtney Williams, they still managed to get to the NCAA tournament. Injuries and a lack of depth should've slowed them down, but somehow head coach Jose Fernandez made things work and got the Bulls to the postseason yet again.
Nick: USF women's tennis coming out of nowhere to win the AAC tournament as the #7 seed was awesome.
Jamie: Women’s basketball comfortably made the NCAA Tournament (despite their criminally low seed) in a year where they were supposed to be in transition. Then they had a wave of injuries that would have taken most teams down. But they powered through and still went dancing.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
Collin: Anyone that doesn't vote for men's basketball is snap-fired.
Carl: All those nice things I said about Evelyne Viens above? Doesn't save women's soccer from getting my vote here, sorry ladies. They started the season with 8 straight wins and a perfect non-conference slate. They then went a pedestrian 4-3-2 in conference, middle of the pack. They got the 4th seed in the conference tournament because of their excellent non-conference record, but failed to win a game in regulation in the tournament. A frankly lucky penalty shot from Leticia Skeete sent USF to the semifinal where they were dumped out by UConn. There would be no further post-season for women's soccer.
Connor: I would pick basketball, but we all knew not to expect anything from them so I'm switching it up and going with softball. It was up and down all season for the Bulls who finished 34-24 overall and 9-8 in The American. The Bulls best position player, Juli Weber, was dismissed from the team in February and they never recovered to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. To top it all off, they were shut out 7-0 in their first game of the conference tournament. Blah.
Gary: Men's basketball wasn't supposed to be THAT terrible. They never came close to fulfilling the #QuestForTen. (Coming this November: #QuestForSix.) Also, softball after the dismissal of its best player, Juli Weber.
Nathan: Softball. The Juli Weber incident and subsequent dismissal put a dark cloud over the entire season. They battled injuries but they just couldn't get on any sort of roll the entire season.
Nick: HAHAHAHAHAHA. C'mon, it's men's basketball. Not even close. This team was easily the worst I've seen since I started following USF athletics. Brian Gregory has a massive cleanup job ahead of him, but so far I like where he's going.
Jamie: Men’s basketball was expected to suck and it did. If this was worst team they would be the runaway winner, but it isn’t. Originally I was going to pick volleyball on a lifetime achievement award, but they actually weren’t that bad this year. So I’m going with men’s golf, which was not nearly as good as the past two years. They never got into a groove as a team, and if they hadn’t won the American championship and earned an automatic bid, they may not have made the NCAAs at all. Relative to expectations, a definite disappointment.