East Carolina senior RB/RS Chris Johnson was named 2007 Conference USA Special Teams Player-of-the-Year league officials announced today, as selected by a panel of media members in each conference city.
The nation's active leader in career- all-purpose yardage and kickoff return yardage, Johnson leads C-USA and ranks 15th in the nation in kickoff return average this season at 28.5 per return. He has set or tied eight school and two conference records for kickoff returns and KOR yardage. Johnson owns two of the top three single-game all-purpose yardage performance in the FBS this season.
Tulsa senior QB Paul Smith was named co-Offensive Player of the Year, the eighth time in the last 10 years that a quarterback has won the award. He has passed for more than 300 yards in every game this season and ranks among the top three in the nation in total offense (4,450 yards), passing yards (4,327), and passing touchdowns (39), breaking all three of those C-USA records last Saturday at Rice. Smith has completed more than 61 percent of his passes (272-of-444) and is averaging 360.6 yards per game. With Smith at the controls, the Golden Hurricane leads the FBS in total offense at 548.6 yards per game. The efforts of the three-year starter have led Tulsa to its highest regular season win total (9) since 1991 as TU aims for its second C-USA title in three years on Saturday.
UCF junior RB Kevin Smith shares the Offensive Player of the Year honor with Paul Smith. Kevin Smith became the 13th player in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season last Saturday when he gained 219 against UTEP to give him 2,164 for the year. He leads the nation in scoring with a league-record 26 touchdowns, a figure that is 12th in FBS history. Smith tops the nation with a C-USA-record 11 games of 100 or more yards on the year and has three touchdowns runs of 80 yards or longer. He is the first Conference USA player to be named Player of the Week four times in season since Louisville's Chris Redman in 1998.
Defensive honors went to Southern Miss sophomore LB Gerald McRath, marking the fourth time in the last five years that a Golden Eagle has earned the top defensive honor and the eighth time overall. McRath is second in the conference in tackles with 131, including 65 solo stops. He also has 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two pass breakups and one forced fumble. McRath registered seven games with double-digit tackles, including a career-high 21 vs. UCF.
Redshirt freshman QB Case Keenum of Houston was named the league's Freshman of the Year. He competed in all 12 games, making seven starts for the Cougars, who rotated quarterbacks throughout much of the season. Keenum completed almost 70 percent of his passes (164-of-235) for 1,924 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also ran 90 times for 414 yards and nine TDs.
Junior WR Brennan Marion of Tulsa garnered the league's inaugural Newcomer of the Year award. The transfer from DeAnza Junior College surpassed 1,000 yards this year on his 29th reception of the season, entering the regular season finale at Rice. Marion became just the 11th player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a single season and with 1,148 yards on just 32 receptions has moved into eighth place on TU's single-season receiving list. Marion averages 35.9 yards per reception and is on pace to shatter the NCAA record for highest average gain per reception in a season (27.9 yards by Houston's Elmo Wright in 1968).