From top to bottom, the Cougars have been clicking on all cylinders on their way to a perfect record so far. The Cougars’ sports staff sat down to discuss who has been the MVP so far for head coach Tom Herman and his team.
Staff writer J.D. Smith
Through the first five games, there is no question that the team’s MVP so far has been senior quarterback Greg Ward, Jr.
Ward is one of the top players in the NCAA in both passing and rushing the ball, leading opposing defensive coordinators to devise entire game plans around him.
He has thrown for 1,325 yards in the team’s first five games, which amounts to over 330 yards per game. Ward is proving again that he is as versatile as they come in college football with eight passing touchdowns and five scores on the ground.
Ward’s numbers to this point have garnered him attention as a top-3 Heisman Trophy finalist.
Head coach Tom Herman recognized Ward’s importance to the team, saying that his only thoughts were “Please, get up” when the captain was slow to his feet after a big hit against the University of Connecticut.
The Cougars have won 18 straight games in which Ward has started, which is the longest-active streak in the nation. The team is also outscoring opponents 44.8-14 in games that Ward has started this year.
The senior’s improvement from 2015 can be seen on both the stat sheet and on video. He is more likely to stay in the pocket and go through his progression instead of immediately taking off and relying on his feet.
Ward, because of this, has raised his quarterback rating 14 points and is completing three percent more of his passes.
Sports editor Reagan Earnst
As the top receiver on the football team in 2016, Linell Bonner III is undoubtedly the MVP of the football team to this point.
Bonner was largely unheard of his first few seasons on the team, but has emerged into a dynamic threat on the Cougar offense.
The junior receiver made himself known in the team’s season opener against the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Bonner made timely plays that helped to extend crucial drives, although he had just four catches for 63 yards.
The Houston native made an unbelievable sideline catch against the Sooners that was replayed by national media outlets for days.
Bonner again returned to national spotlight after that one-handed snag at the back of the end zone against the University of Connecticut Huskies. It earned him the top spot on SportsCenter’s nightly Top 10 plays.
In all, Bonner leads the team with 33 receptions for 439 yards and two scores on the season.
Assistant sports editor Jonathan Valadez
The player who has really stuck out in my mind has been senior linebacker Steven Taylor. He entered the season leading all returners in tackles and sacks and will likely do the same this year.
Taylor has been an important piece in replacing the leadership and talent of former Cougar Elandon Roberts. Like Roberts, who now plays for the New England Patriots, Taylor has the skill to play at the next level.
Early in the season, freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver was justly in the limelight because of his stellar performance, but it seems that Taylor went unnoticed.
In 2016, Taylor leads the Cougars in tackles, sacks and is the only person not named Howard Wilson who has an interception. That interception was returned 74 yards and essentially sealed the game against the University of Cincinnati.
Taylor also has one forced fumble on the season.
He was awarded the American Athletic Conference’s “Defensive Player of the Week” after his performance against Cincinnati and was second on the team behind Ward in preseason watch lists.
The only knock against Taylor is that his tackles per game are down by almost one. That, however, can be attributed to the fact that he has been able to sit out during the fourth quarter of most games.
The fact that Taylor can play against the run, blitz and get out in coverage makes him the most valuable player in my mind.