In the spirit of the ESPY Awards next month, we have decided to take that concept with the major awards and apply it to the past year of Michigan State athletics. Readers had an opportunity to vote for the Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete, Best Team, Best Coach and Best Game. Today, we announce the winners of each of these categories based on the votes of the readers. To go back and look at the nominees for each category, you can click the link above.
Best Game – vs. Michigan (Football): Before the Michigan State football team got off the bus in Ann Arbor, head coach Mark Dantonio made the team have 10 seconds of silence to think about the game and what it means. If anyone on the team said they thought it would end the way it did, they would be lying. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe it was having God’s favor as Mark Dantonio said throughout last season. Either way, those 10 seconds meant the world when it came to keeping MSU’s Big Ten title and playoff hopes alive. You know how it went. Michigan was up by two with just 10 seconds left and facing fourth down. Michigan State had no one back to return the punt. The Wolverines had two gunners and released a few others against 10 guys in the box for the Spartans. The ball was a little low and Blake O’Neill dropped the snap. In an attempt to recover and get the punt off, he was hit by Matt Morrissey and Grayson Miller. The ball fell right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who returned it 38 yards for the game-winning score as time expired. Though he ended up with a couple injuries that would sideline him the rest of the season, Watts-Jackson cemented his place in Michigan State history in the most improbable way.
Best Coach – Mark Dantonio (Football): If injuries may have been to blame for the “disappointing” season for the men’s basketball team, how do you grade how Mark Dantonio handled the injuries to the football team? It has to be an “A+.” Injuries throughout the year to Connor Cook, Jack Allen, Jack Conklin, Jake Hartbarger, Kodi Kieler, Ed Davis, Darian Hicks, Vayante Copeland and Madre London tested this team’s depth as those were just the starters who missed time. Despite that, the Spartans won road games in Ann Arbor and Columbus on their way to winning the Big Ten East. They also beat Oregon and embarrassed Penn State at Spartan Stadium. As the Spartans were still recovering from a few of those injuries (mainly the Connor Cook one), they earned their way to Indianapolis to take on Iowa. They beat the Hawkeyes to win their third Big Ten Championship in five seasons. Though the Spartans were blasted by Alabama, he also led MSU to their first College Football Playoff appearance. He also won 11 games for the fifth time in six years, becoming the first Big Ten coach to reach that milestone.
Best Female Athlete – Aerial Powers (Basketball): What a record-breaking season it was for Aerial Powers. She left early for the WNBA after a season where she scored a school record 697 points during her junior year. Despite leaving early, she holds the program-record for most career points. She was also first-team All-Big Ten for the third consecutive season, but appeared underrated from a national perspective. She was “only” a third-team All-American. With 47 career double-doubles, Powers became MSU’s record-holder in that category. She led Michigan State to the third-best record in the Big Ten and led them to the Big Ten Championship game before falling to Maryland. She was taken fifth overall in the WNBA Draft by the Dallas Wings. Her success this past year didn’t take place entirely at MSU as she played for Team USA in the World University Games. Powers helped lead the Americans to a gold medal, as she scored a team-high 27 points in the final game against Canada.
Best Male Athlete – Jordan Zimmerman (Baseball): Of players with more than three at-bats, no player on the baseball team had a higher batting average than Jordan Zimmerman’s .374. He also had the second-highest on-base percentage (.461) behind only Alex Troop. Zimmerman’s nine home runs and 37 RBI’s also led the team. The first baseman was named as a second-team All-Big Ten selection following his productive year. He was also named second-team Mideast ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Team. He ended up being a 7th round selection in the MLB Draft as he went to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Best Team – Football: One of two teams to win the conference championship at Michigan State this past year, the football team has been gradually inching their way closer to a national title. This year, they made their first appearance in the College Football Playoff and is one of five Spartan athletic programs to be represented in their respective playoff. The Spartans continued playing the disrespect card, even after beating Ohio State on the road with the most productive quarterback in school history on the sideline with an injury. Though they were decimated in the playoff game, it is still a step forward for a program that has been built from the ground up into a nationally respected program.
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