The 2012 season exceeded just about everyone's expectations for Northwestern, which finished 9-3 (5-3 Big Ten). Now, WildcatReport hands out the hardware to the Wildcats most responsible for making it happen.
We had the four staff members who covered practices, games and press conferences throughout the year -- Danny Moran, Ryan Holmes, Larry Watts and Louie Vaccher -- cast their ballots. Not surprisingly, there was quite a few split votes, as there were more worth candidates than awards.
These are the results.
MVP: Kain Colter
Moran: Colter. Whether he was throwing, running or catching, Colter did it all once again this season and never had an ego about splitting time with Trevor Siemian. Even when he wasn't on the field, Colter's fingerprints were all over this team.
Holmes: Venric Mark. With his 1,310 rushing yards, Mark became the first Northwestern running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since Tyrell Sutton in 2006. And he did so averaging a staggering 6.2 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns. A dynamic returner as well, Mark was ninth in the nation with 2,048 all-purpose yards. His success changed the identity of the Northwestern offense and was a major reason this team is on the cusp of a 10-win season.
Watts: Colter. He was the stir in the Purple Kool-Aid this fall, and that performance against Indiana will go down as one of the most versatile performances in NU history.
Vaccher: Colter. I went back-and-forth on this one and toyed with splitting my vote. But ultimately, the offense found its identity with Colter, and it was his decision making and dynamic playmaking that made that read-option go. Once they gave No. 2 the keys, the offense got it in gear.
Offensive Player of the Year: Kain Colter and Venric Mark (tie)
Moran: Mark. After moving from wide receiver, Mark became Northwestern's first 1,000- yard rusher since Tyrell Sutton. His breathtaking speed makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Holmes: Colter. Colter's 20 total touchdowns and leadership at the quarterback position were monumental in this team's success. He was also the only triple-threat player Northwestern had as a quarterback, runner and receiver.
Watts: Colter. Colter and Mark are the obvious leaders, but somebody had to block for them. As much as I would like to pick an O-lineman, I'm going to lean toward Colter.
Vaccher: Mark. Simply put, he is NU's best back since Tyrell Sutton. He was fast, feisty and a threat to take it to the house every time he touched the ball.
Moran: Nwabuisi. This was by far the toughest award to decide with so many worthy candidates (Campbell, Scott, Williams, Proby, Ariguzo). But Nwabuisi's senior leadership and late-season interceptions put him over the edge.
Holmes: Scott. Scott finished fourth in the Big Ten with seven sacks. He was Northwestern's high-energy man off the edge and one of the most dynamic playmakers on defense in the conference.
Watts: Nwabuisi. Nwabuisi had a standout season, both in performance and leadership.
Vaccher: Scott. There were so many worthy candidates for this one. But it all starts up front, so I went for the guy who anchored a run defense that surprised everyone and was the sack leader for a revitalized pass rush.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Jeff Budzien
Moran: Budzien. What a difference it makes in a team's confidence to know they have a reliable kicker. Making almost 95 percent of his field goal tries, Budzien has been a delight for the Wildcats to have.
Holmes: Budzien. Budzien scored 97 points for Northwestern with his leg. Kicking at Northwestern in the recent past hasn't always been consistent. Budzien changed that to become Co-Big Ten Kicker of the Year and one of the best in the nation. Over the course of the entire season, he only missed one kick.
Watts: Budzien. No question. He should have been a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Vaccher: Budzien. Mark was NU's most dangerous explosive punt returner since Lee Gissendaner, but Budzien was close to perfect, hitting 17-of-18 field goals this season. His lone miss was from 53 yards. Are you kidding me?
Moran: VanHoose. He was the youngest member of the secondary but soon became the team's most reliable coverage corner in some time. An injury derailed the second half of his season but he and Ibraheim Campbell give that secondary a great young core for the future.
Holmes: Vitale. Though starting slow, Vitale made huge contributions toward the end of the season and finished as the team's fifth leading receiver. His two touchdowns against Michigan were indicative of his incredible talent and the bright future he has ahead of him in Evanston.
Watts: Vitale. At midseason, I might have said CB Nick VanHoose, but SB Dan Vitale just got better and better as the year went on.
Vaccher: VanHoose. He was NU's best cover corner since Sherrick McManis in his first season. When he was out of the lineup at the end of the year, you noticed the difference.
Surprise Player of the Year: Four-Way Tie
Moran: Siemian. Although Pat Fitzgerald teased us with a two-quarterback system early in the year, I never thought Siemian would see the field as much as he did. He has been up and down but the Cats would not be a nine-win team without him.
Holmes: Damien Proby. After winning a starting role in the linebacking corps midway through last season, Proby had a huge impact in run-stopping, leading the team with 108 tackles and leading the conference with 70 solo tackles. He became an elite Big Ten linebacker this year and the Northwestern front seven benefitted because of it.
Watts: Vitale. Got to go with Vitale again. The 2012 season appears to be just a shapshot of what promises to be a great career. He is the weapon of mass destruction Bush couldn't find.
Vaccher: Mark. Who thought that this 5-foot-8, 175-pound returner and part-time receiver last season would become one of the best running backs in the Big Ten? I'm just thankful he talked Fitz into giving him a shot in the backfield.
Coach of the Year: Five-Way Tie
Moran: Matt MacPherson. Mark had a breakout season in his first year in the backfield, Mike Trumpy returned to form and Tyris Jones even became a dependable option under McPherson's watch after the running game had slowed the past couple seasons.
Holmes: Adam Cushing. Cushing coached a group that improved dramatically from last year. Northwestern's offensive line gave up 43 sacks last season, next-to-last in the Big Ten, while this year only allowing 16, good for second-fewest in the conference. The run-blocking effort from the offensive line was top-notch, propelling Colter and Mark to the impressive statistical seasons as well. Cushing coached Brian Mulroe and Pat Ward to All-Big Ten Honors, and a few other lineman from NU were certainly worthy of those accolades.
Watts: Marty Long and Randy Bates. I'm going to wimp out and call it a tie between DL coach Long and LB coach Bates. What a turnaround by Northwestern's front seven on defense this year. Hopefully, the secondary matures next year and can be equal to the task.
Vaccher: Mike Hankwitz. Somehow, the defensive coordinator found a stout run defense and greatly reduced the number of big plays against his team in the passing game. This was NU's best defense since 2008.
Interviewee of the Year: Four-Way Tie
Moran: Pat Fitzgerald. Knuckleheads. Flushing it. Go Cats. Everybody is speaking the lingo that Fitz has firmly entrenched in Evanston.
Holmes: Scott. His intense on-field persona is offset with a very open and jovial off-field personality. He gives a great interview and is very funny. The interview of the year was definitely the one he gave for "Scott, Williams members of 'The Club.' "
Watts: Quinn Evans. Only interviewed him once this year but came away very impressed with the Stanford transfer. A very articulate young man with a positive outlook on life and thankful for having the chance to play his last season at Northwestern.
Vaccher: Nwabuisi. He's confident, smart and funny, and he's got a smile that's HDTV-ready. "Bus" is as comfortable in front of a camera as he is behind a face mask.