B/R's College Football Weekly Awards
Shake off the cobwebs, my fellow college football degenerates. The 2021 season has arrived!
All over Bleacher Report and various parts of the internet, you can find serious analysis. Who are the premier College Football Playoff contenders? Which team is favored to win each conference? Who are the leading Heisman Trophy candidates?
That stuff is great. Unless you're more Herman Boone than Petey Jones, however, football is fun. We'll be having plenty of fun while watching the 2021 season and—most importantly—embracing that.
Every Monday this season, B/R will distribute a handful of awards. Some will review the previous weekend's slate, and others will preview what's coming up next. Several topics will be relevant, and a few might be humorous or downright strange.
In this first edition of weekly awards, we're going the latter route.
As the season enters the nonsensical-yet-always-appreciated Week 0, high schools are back in session and distributing yearbooks. Let's venture around college football and hand out senior-style awards.
Life of the (Offseason) Party: Name, Image and Likeness
Finally. Cash those checks, boys.
Beginning on July 1, the name, image and likeness era officially began in college football. And while a smattering of non-stars landed sponsorships, several of the biggest names are now representing a well-known regional or national organization.
Notably, Miami quarterback D'Eriq King signed a deal with the NHL's Florida Panthers. North Carolina and Clemson signal-callers Sam Howell and D.J. Uiagalelei partnered with Bojangles. Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has a trading-card contract.
And the list goes on.
The front-runner for most fitting NIL deal has to be Kool-Aid McKinstry, an Alabama freshman who inked an agreement with—shocker—Kool-Aid. The cornerback is a prime example of the benefit for newcomers and other young players.
The game has changed. Finally.
Most Ridiculous Watch List: Doak Walker Award
For honors like the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy, an extensive preseason "watch list" is logical. There are 130 FBS teams, and those particular awards consider every defensive player. Lots of positions, lots of players. It all makes sense.
However, the Doak Walker Award is committed to the bit.
Are you a first-string running back? Congratulations! You're probably on the Doak Walker watch list. Don't get too excited, though, because your backup might be, too. In total, the list features 84 players—including 10 sets of teammates and even a trifecta from Penn State!
My personal favorite is USC landing two players. Not only do the Trojans run an Air Raid offense, but they averaged just 4.1 yards per attempt last season even after excluding sacks. Doesn't exactly scream "running back of the year" in 2021, right?
Watch lists are only as valuable as the PDFs in which they're saved. But, hey, at least the Doak Walker Award is honest.
If you're a running back, you've got a shot.
Biggest Pranksters: Oklahoma and Texas
Ha! Gotcha, suckers.
The elder statesmen of the Big 12 turned into the class clowns this summer. Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reported Oklahoma and Texas have decided to ditch—for the SEC.
In all seriousness, it was no laughing matter for the remainder of the league. Panic ensued around the Big 12, which effectively had an emergency meeting with the CEOs and athletic directors from the conference's eight other schools. Absent from that discussion? Any and all representatives from Oklahoma or Texas.
Soon after, the SEC extended both programs an invitation to join the conference in 2025, and both accepted.
Now, it's about to get legal. Oklahoma and Texas surely want to make their SEC debuts earlier than 2025, so lawyers on every side are to be busy. Simultaneously, Big 12 leadership will be exploring how to survive as the fifth power conference.
Long story short: Oklahoma and Texas sent a shockwave across the sport and ignited the next round of realignment.
Hottest Coaching Seat: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
USC's Clay Helton, Nebraska's Scott Frost and Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente don't have fantastic job security, either. But the heat is continually rising for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
Through six seasons in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has posted a 49-22 record. As a favorite, per TeamRankings.com, the Wolverines are 49-10. If you're the slightest bit observant, you've recognized that means Michigan is winless as an underdog (0-12) in his tenure.
Winning games is hard, and Michigan's performance as a favorite is in line with 2019 national champion LSU, two-time CFP qualifier Notre Dame and Big Ten foe Wisconsin. But the difference between a good team and great team is winning the hard games.
Michigan hasn't done that. And in 2020, the Wolverines weren't even a good team. They flailed to 2-4 and lost to Michigan State yet again, only enflaming the frustration among the fanbase. Harbaugh overhauled the coaching staff, hiring new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and shifting titles among several of his assistants.
Although he signed a five-year extension, it's effectively a short-term deal. Harbaugh's buyout is just $4 million this season and decreases by $1 million each year after that.
If the Wolverines keep losing as an underdog and to rivals, 2021 should be Harbaugh's final year in Ann Arbor.
Most Likely to Succeed: Clemson
Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia earned Top Five rankings in the initial AP Top 25. Texas A&M, Iowa State, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Oregon are considered top contenders, and Cincinnati is the best non-power-conference team.
Of that group, choose the program most likely to reach the College Football Playoff. Not your projected champion—simply the school you have the most confidence in making the CFP.
Many, many of us would pick Clemson.
Trevor Lawrence's replacement is D.J. Uiagalelei, who played well in two surprise starts last season. Star receiver Justyn Ross has been cleared to return after missing the 2020 campaign, and the defense only needs to replace a couple of starters.
Plus, the ACC has hardly closed the gap on the six-time reigning league champions. Given that Miami has routinely struggled against top competition, Sam Howell-led North Carolina and maybe an experienced North Carolina State team are basically the only realistic threats to Clemson's throne in 2021. And even that feels unlikely.
When the final CFP rankings are revealed, expect to see Clemson somewhere in the top four.
Most Fun Average Team: Ole Miss
Your definition of entertainment may be different than mine. For top-ranked teams, give me a contested game to the final whistle. But in matchups that have little-to-no effect on the national title conversation, I want 90 combined points.
That's the long version of saying I'm excited to watch Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss squad try to break a few scoreboards.
Last year, the Rebels finished 5-5 despite an offense that ranked 14th nationally with 39.2 points per game. Dual-threat quarterback Matt Corral threw for 3,337 yards and ran for 506, while Jerrion Ealy totaled 1,189 all-purpose yards and Dontario Drummond caught seven scores. Corral also tossed 14 interceptions, which didn't help a defense that finished 117th in points allowed per game (38.3).
Round 2, here we come.
Between that exciting offense and lowly defense, Ole Miss will likely be somewhere in the range of 5-7 to 9-3. No matter the results, though, at least it'll be entertaining.
Least Fun Good Team: Notre Dame
Although style points are cool, the goal is winning. Brian Kelly has built a steady program in South Bend, Indiana, and the Fighting Irish enter 2021 with a good chance at a fifth straight 10-win season.
Still, this offense will probably be pretty boring to watch.
New quarterback Jack Coan wasn't much of a downfield thrower at Wisconsin. In 2019, he ranked 88th nationally in completions of 30-plus yards with just 12 in 14 games.
Tight end Michael Mayer is understandably most effective on shorter routes. Kyren Williams is a solid receiver out of the backfield, but he primarily catches screens and checkdowns. The top five wideouts—Avery Davis, Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin Jr., Joe Wilkins Jr. and Lawrence Keys III—have combined for 11 catches of 25-plus yards in their college careers.
In all likelihood, Coan and Notre Dame will lean on short, high-percentage throws. And, again, if that consistently leads to wins, it's exactly what the Irish should do.
Just don't expect much explosiveness from Notre Dame in 2021.
Most Unique: Opt-out Returns in Week 0
Extreme Stugotz voice: College football—*beep*—is back!
Scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET start on Fox, Big Ten teams Nebraska and Illinois headline the slate on Saturday, Aug. 28. The conference matchup is the first of five Week 0 contests, which also include:
- Connecticut at Fresno State, 2 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
- Hawaii at UCLA, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
- UTEP at New Mexico State, 9:30 p.m. ET
- Southern Utah at San Jose State, 10 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Is that a thrilling schedule? Nope! But we like all college football.
Plus, the slate has an extreme rarity. Connecticut and New Mexico State are returning to the field. Both programs opted out of the 2020 football season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and NMSU only played a couple of FCS teams in the spring.
We're eager for five Top 25 matchups next Saturday, but Week 0 marks the official return of our beloved sport.
My fellow college football diehards, let's watch it all. Don't forget to have some fun, too.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.