B/R's College Football Weekly Awards
We had real college football games again! And very soon, we're going to enjoy a whole lot more.
Every Monday in the 2021 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.
This week, we're looking back at the quintet of Saturday's games and ahead to a five-day buffet of college football.
Since the opening weekend of the 2021 season included only five games, we're mostly looking forward. In future editions, we'll typically spend more time reviewing some key results of the weekend.
For a further intro to the series, check out Week 0's edition.
Player of the Week: Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
UCLA made quick work of Hawai'i, building a 24-3 first-quarter lead to spark a comfortable 44-10 win. And in the process, running back Zach Charbonnet had a remarkably efficient debut.
The transfer from Michigan handled only six carries yet racked up 106 yards and three touchdowns.
Along with two 21-yard scores in which he followed outstanding blocks, Charbonnet broke free for a 47-yard scamper late in the first quarter. He powered through four tackles and cruised to the end zone, putting UCLA up 21 points and turning the game into a rout.
"He's relentless when he has the football," UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, per James H. Williams of the Southern California News Group.
Next week, UCLA hosts LSU for a prime-time showdown on Fox. And it's safe to expect Charbonnet will have a featured role.
Team of the Week: Illinois Fighting Illini
As the "same movie" played for Scott Frost and Nebraska, Illinois had a much more enjoyable day.
Although quarterback Brandon Peters exited with a shoulder injury, the Illini still opened the Bret Bielema era with a victory.
Shortly before halftime, running back Mike Epstein scored a one-yard touchdown and evened the game at 9-9. But then, Calvin Hart Jr. recovered a fumble and sprinted 41 yards to give the Illini a 16-9 lead at the break. They ultimately rattled off 28 consecutive points in the second and third quarters to take control of the game.
Artur Sitkowski, who replaced Peters, tossed two touchdowns in the 30-22 win. He finished 12-of-15 for 124 yards.
"I've been talking about this game for a while," Bielema said, according to Scott Richey of the News-Gazette. "To have it be a win is the perfect ending."
Best Matchup in Week 1: Georgia vs. Clemson
At best, it's a preview of the national championship. At worst, it's a pivotal showdown for two programs with major expectations.
Clemson and Georgia last played in 2014, the season prior to the beginning of Clemson's dynasty. Since then, the Tigers have earned six straight ACC titles, made the College Football Playoff each season and won two national championships.
Georgia hasn't managed as much conference or national success, but the Dawgs are 44-9 in the last five years. And this year, quarterback JT Daniels leads a roster with championship potential.
Winning is the object, duh. But the more interesting storyline may be what happens for the losing team. During the seven-year CFP era, no two-loss program has ever finished in the Top Four. Whichever team loses in Charlotte will surrender its margin for error.
Hey, we might see both Clemson and Georgia in the CFP anyway. As much as you and I enjoy predicting the biggest games of the year, none of us actually knows.
One thing is certain, though: The losing team is guaranteed to have an uncomfortable journey through the 2021 season.
Top ACL to Watch: D'Eriq King, Miami
During bowl season last year, Miami quarterback D'Eriq King tore the ACL in his right knee. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, King is slated to start the 2021 opener. However, the first post-injury game is typically a nervous day because players can't be entirely certain how the knee will respond.
As if that's not enough, King's return comes against Alabama.
While the reigning champions are retooling on offense, Alabama's defense has fantastic upside. After ceding just 19.4 points per game in 2020, the Crimson Tide must replace only three key contributors. They present a huge test for Miami.
Spun positively, King has a very familiar unit around him. Tight end Brevin Jordan is the only departure from the Miami offense, yet Will Mallory already has plenty of experience. Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo bolsters the receiving corps, too.
But in recent years, the 'Canes have flopped in games against their best competition. The pressure to reverse the trend falls squarely on King and his rehabilitated knee.
Most Important Conference: Big Ten
Traditionally, the opening weekend is a time for power-conference teams to flex their relative muscle. Play a Group of Five or lower-division program, pick up a win, start the season on a high note.
Well, the Big Ten has other ideas.
Thursday, fourth-ranked Ohio State plays at Minnesota. Friday, Northwestern hosts Michigan State. And then, Saturday brings a pair of Top 25 clashes with No. 19 Penn State at No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 17 Indiana at No. 18 Iowa.
If you're keeping score, that means last season's champion and this year's favorite (Ohio State), last season's runner-up (Northwestern), a 2021 division favorite (Wisconsin) and three more ranked teams (Penn State, Indiana, Iowa) are all in action.
Four games may not seem like a lot, and usually that would be a true statement. Consider this, though: North Carolina's trip to Virginia Tech is the only other conference tilt of Week 1.
Other than Clemson/Georgia and Alabama/Miami, the Big Ten's slate has the most at stake.
Most Stressful Debut: Steve Sarkisian, Texas
Louisiana is a quality team. Not simply a respectable Sun Belt team, but a fully worthy Top 25 program.
We understand how this works, though. This is Texas. The Longhorns are just not supposed to lose to Louisiana. In fact, they've outscored the Ragin' Cajuns 112-13 in two previous matchups. Nothing short of a comfortable victory will be acceptable for some supporters.
Good luck with that, Steve Sarkisian!
Last season, Louisiana pulled off a 31-14 win over Iowa State—which beat Texas and made the Big 12 Championship Game. And in 2021, the 23rd-ranked Ragin' Cajuns return 20 starters. If you don't already take Louisiana seriously, we probably can't convince you with anything else. Still, the 2020 season clearly showed Billy Napier's squad is capable of winning this game.
Although calling this a no-win situation is a little much, Sark has a tricky outlook. If the Longhorns win, of course they did. But if they lose, Sarkisian won't be making any immediate friends in Austin.
Best Storyline: New Starting QBs
Every offseason, new quarterbacks hog most of the spotlight. Finally, it's time to watch them in meaningful action.
Based on team expectations, the key signal-callers to know are Alabama's Bryce Young (vs. Miami), Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei (vs. Georgia) and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud (at Minnesota).
Notre Dame's Jack Coan (at Florida State) and Oregon's Anthony Brown (vs. Fresno State) fit the "old faces, new places" category. Coan transferred from Wisconsin, and Brown—whose role increased late in 2020—previously started at Boston College.
Additionally, former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer makes his Utah debut against Weber State. And one-time UCF star McKenzie Milton will officially return from a gruesome leg injury and two-year absence when Florida State hosts Notre Dame.
The final newcomers of note all play for SEC teams: Texas A&M's Haynes King (vs. Kent State), Florida's Emory Jones (vs. Florida Atlantic) and LSU's Max Johnson (at UCLA).
Several of these QBs are likely to excel in Week 1, so be prepared for effusive praise to follow each one who does.