DI Male Athlete of the Year: Marvin McNutt
Try to imagine what the 2011 Iowa football season would have been like without Marvin McNutt.
It's not easy. And it's not pretty.
The Hawkeyes finished the season with a 7-6 record. They lost to Iowa State for the first time in four years. They lost to a 1-6 Minnesota team. They were nearly shut out by Penn State and Nebraska.
What kept the season from total failure? A walking 6-4, 215-pound highlight reel.
Iowa fell into a 34-7 deficit in the third quarter against Michigan State on Nov. 12. The team's offense was stagnant, and restless Kinnick fans started booing on the team's Senior Day.
Then McNutt single-handedly jump-started the offense.
He caught one pass on the 3-yard line and dragged two Spartan defenders into the end zone for a touchdown. He ran a route down the middle of the field several plays later, but quarterback James Vandenberg's pass floated well behind his star receiver. McNutt stuck a long arm out behind him and palmed the ball out of midair for a long gain.
But the rally, which consisted almost entirely of McNutt making plays, fell short.
"He played his heart out today," Vandenberg said after Iowa lost, 37-21. "We all wish we could have sent him out on a better note."
McNutt finished the season with 82 catches for 1,315 yards — good for 10th in the nation — and his 12 touchdowns were more than all but five players in the country. He became the Hawkeyes' all-time leader in touchdown receptions and receiving yards. He took home the Richter-Howard Trophy given to the Big Ten's top receiver.
Not bad for a guy who famously spent his first year at Iowa playing quarterback.
"You don't win records by accident," head coach Kirk Ferentz said after McNutt broke the team's touchdown-catch mark. "It's a real tribute to his work ethic. He's got good size and good range. That's only an advantage if you use it, though."
ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg named McNutt the eighth-best overall player in the conference last season. He was Rittenberg's top-ranked wideout, ahead of the Spartans' B.J. Cunningham and first-round NFL draft pick and former Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins.
"McNutt was a very good receiver who achieved greatness as a senior,"Rittenberg wrote. "He did enough in 2011 to be considered the league's best receiver and one of the Big Ten's top overall performers."
The monstrous performances speak for themselves — 140 yards and 2 touchdowns against Tennessee Tech; 184 yards and 3 touchdowns against Indiana; 151 yards and 2 touchdowns against Purdue.
It was a dominant season from McNutt. He kept the Hawkeye offense from collapsing in several games on the road, where it struggled all season. And Vandenberg said he was just happy to have seen it up close.
"I'm so glad I got to be a part of it," he said about McNutt's record-breaking performance. "Because I know I've learned a ton from him over the years."
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