One thing I’ve always liked about the Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant Award is that it is awarded after the college football season ends, not in December before the major bowl games are played.

That means an enormous bowl showing is part of the assessment of the season, which is exactly why Utah’s Kyle Whittingham won the prestigious award following the 2008 season. Whittingham’s undefeated Utes finished No. 2 in the country after walloping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Prior to this year’s bowl season, TCU coach Gary Patterson was cleaning up on the Coach of the Year hardwood. Patterson won nine different Coach of the Year awards, including the Associated Press, Bobby Dodd and American Football Coaches Association awards. But then his 12-0 team lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.

I figured Alabama coach Nick Saban would win the Bryant Award after his Crimson Tide won the national title with an unbeaten record but instead it has gone to Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Certainly a bit of a surprise but also a major show of respect for Petersen after he guided his team to its second Fiesta Bowl victory in four seasons.

Petersen also won the Bryant Award three years ago after the Broncos shocked Oklahoma behind his risky play-calling in which all his clutch calls worked. 

So if Petersen is respected enough to win the award twice in four seasons, you wonder how his team — which went 14-0 this past season — will be received next season in the August preseason polls. Boise State returns nearly every key player (star cornerback Kyle Wilson and fullback Richie Brockel are the only major losses) from this season’s unbeaten team and could challenge for a national title appearance.

Of course, the Broncos’ schedule will be scrutinized again — playing in the weak Western Athletic Conference automatically is worth a demerit — but at least Boise State plays two BCS teams next season. The Broncos will play Virginia Tech at a neutral site (FedEx Field in Landover, Md.) and also host Oregon State.

But we can worry about that stuff seven and eight months from now. As one of only two coaches to oversee an unbeaten season in 2009, Petersen is very much deserving of the honor named after Bryant, best known for his terrific run as Alabama’s coach.

Repeat — this is the best coaching award of them all because it comes after all the bowl games are played.

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