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Cincinnati Bearcats Top 10: #1 Shaq Washington

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Usually when a team announces their award winners at the end of the season there can be a bit of a disconnect between what the fans see and what the players (who usually vote on these things) see and experience. The same dynamics drove the Bearcat fans early distrust of Munchie Legaux while Munchie had near universal respect for the way that he carried himself in the locker room and on the practice field. Then again, sometimes the importance of a player is so blindingly obvious that it can't be ignored.

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Such is the case with the Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Shaq Washington. Shaq was named the offensive MVP when UC announced its awards back in December. There really isn't another argument for another player. Chris Moore and Mekale McKay had some monster games this year, but both had games where they were decoys at best. Gunner Kiel at his best was jaw dropping, but he was knocked out of four different games and never got right after his rib injury against Memphis. Jeff Luc and Nick Temple were amazing down the stretch, but the defense was such a disaster early in the year that it precludes them out of hand from being at the top of this, admittedly, arbitrary list of my own creation. It was Shaq and Shaq alone that brought it every single game.

It's not just the consistency, though that is worthy of praise. 25 straight games with a reception, an average of 5.5 catches per game and 60 yards per game over the last two seasons. His work on third down is breathtaking. I would venture that no Bearcat receiver has ever been better on third downs than Shaq Washington. Consider this; over the last two seasons Shaq has caught 36 passes on third down, 31 of those catches went for first downs. An 86 percent conversion rate on third downs is crazy, he's like a human cheat code. If you find your way to the Bearcats page on cfbstats.com and start digging in the numbers the only person who comes close to touching Shaq's work on third downs is Anthony McClung. But McClung was never as consistent as Shaq has been for the last two years, and he was never targeted as aggressively on third downs as Shaq has been.

The consistency is the one thing that pops up again and again whenever you look at Mr. Maple Height's production. What goes really overlooked is how perfectly he fits within the confines of this passing offense. With McKay and Moore the Bearcats have two elite deep threats who are match up nightmares for defensive backs in one v one situations. But there is a limit to how well you can run an offense on the deep ball alone. Early in the year the Bearcats were extremely explosive because of their down field focus, but they were not efficient. A drive was just a likely to end in a three and out as it was in a bomb to Mekale McKay.

Gunner and Co. didn't become really efficient until teams started playing to take away the deep ball by playing big blanket coverage's. Those looks took away some of the Bearcats easy money big plays, but it put Shaq in more one on one match ups with linebackers and third defensive backs. I have said it before, I will say it until he takes his talents to the NFL. Shaq on a linebacker is an automatic win, and I don't particularly care who the backer is. That's easy money.

And yet easy money was not something that Gunner Kiel was overtly interested in during his first couple of games as a Bearcat. But as he started taking those easy throws, or to use the most cliched term imaginable, taking what the defense gave him the Bearcats became markedly more efficient. The Bearcats ended the year as one of the 25 or so best offenses in the land. That they got to that point while dealing with ACOLHG, the rash of injuries at tailback and Gunner's seemingly endless ailments is a testament to the coaching staff and these players.

But the offense never turns the corner it did in the South Florida game without Shaq Washington. His play made the Bearcats multidimensional and it gave the Bearcats quarterbacks a reliable outlet whenever things failed to go to plan. Afterall it's easier to take those match ups when you know that the guy on the other end of the throw isn't going to put a foot wrong. Its been two seasons as a high volume player for Shaq Washington, and he hasn't put many, if any steps wrong.