B/R's College Football Weekly Awards: Week 1
Welcome back, college football, you beautiful, chaotic sport.
After a small sampling of games last Saturday, Week 1 featured the season opener for the rest of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Georgia edged Clemson in a Top Five showdown, and Alabama steamrolled Miami in another key Top 25 matchup.
But those were simply two results on a busy schedule.
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. A few topics might be humorous or downright strange.
This week, we'll highlight Georgia's win. But we're also storming the field with Kansas, embracing lower-division chaos and crowning our Fireman of the Week.
Player of the Week: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
Kenneth Walker III began his career at Wake Forest, rushing for 579 yards in back-to-back seasons. He scored 13 rushing touchdowns in just eight appearances last year and then transferred to Michigan State.
He hardly could've made a better impression.
Walker ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play of the Spartans' 38-21 victory over Northwestern. He piled up 264 yards and four touchdowns—both of which finished as the most by any player in the country—during his MSU debut.
Next weekend, Walker has another chance for big numbers. Youngstown State just surrendered 118 yards and two scores to Incarnate Word's Kevin Brown.
The bigger test arrives Sept. 18 when MSU travels to Miami. In each of the last five seasons, the Hurricanes have finished as a top-25 defense in yards allowed per carry. But after seeing the explosiveness Walker immediately brought to the offense, the Spartans look far better prepared to compete.
Team of the Week: Georgia Bulldogs
No surprise here. Perhaps other than if Miami had beaten Alabama—and there was no danger of that Saturday—either Clemson or Georgia seemed destined to receive this award.
Thanks to a 74-yard pick-six from Christopher Smith, fifth-ranked Georgia outlasted No. 3 Clemson in a 10-3 defensive spectacle. The teams combined for six points on offense (one field goal apiece); Georgia totaled 256 yards and Clemson mustered 180.
And the importance of the victory cannot be overstated.
Georgia has both College Football Playoff ability and expectations. While no SEC schedule is ever easy, the Dawgs have about as favorable a path as possible. They miss Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in crossover play, and their toughest road games are against Auburn and Tennessee, which is manageable, to say the least.
Had the Bulldogs lost Saturday, they likely would've needed to win 11 straight games—as Clemson does now—because no two-loss team has reached the CFP. While you never plan a loss, protecting that margin for error is vital.
Georgia undoubtedly knows its offense must be better, but there isn't another Clemson-level defense on the slate. The only thing that mattered Saturday was the result.
Celebration of the Week: Kansas Fans Storm the Field
Kansas is bad at football.
If you weren't already aware, that's the short version of a long struggle for the Jayhawks. Entering the season, they'd posted a 21-108 record since 2010—and never better than 3-9 in a single year. Kansas finished 0-9 last season.
But, ladies and gentlemen, the Jayhawks are undefeated in 2021. They scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown to knock off South Dakota, snapping a 13-game losing streak and span of 677 days without a victory. Kansas fans responded in somewhat understandable fashion with a heartfelt (and sparsely numbered) field storm.
Storming the field (or court) is a divisive topic. While entertaining, it can be very dangerous. Plus, the fan rushes are typically reserved for a major upset, not beating a lower-division team.
Saturday, though, there was a genuine celebration of futility ending—even if only for a moment.
#TeamChaos Wins of the Week
I love shocking results. College football is exponentially more entertaining when you embrace #TeamChaos.
And, friends, Week 1 did not disappoint.
Most notably, Football Championship Subdivision school Montana pulled off a 13-7 upset against No. 20 Washington. It marked the first FCS victory over a ranked FBS team since North Dakota State edged Iowa early in the 2016 season.
Additionally, five more FCS programs picked up a win. During the week, UC Davis clipped Tulsa 19-17, Eastern Washington edged UNLV 35-33 and South Dakota State beat Colorado State 42-23. And on Saturday, Holy Cross took down UConn 38-28 before East Tennessee State smacked Vanderbilt 23-3.
What a way to start the 2021 season. Bring us all the chaos.
Fireman of the Week: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Every preseason, fans and analysts alike highlight some coaches who are on the hot seat. If their program doesn't improve or have a strong year, they could be looking for a new job by December.
Justin Fuente certainly fit the mold in 2021. During his first two years at Virginia Tech, he notched a 19-8 record and guided the Hokies to one Coastal Division title. Yet from 2018 to '20, they'd mustered a 19-18 mark and once missed a bowl game.
One victory, however, has cooled Fuente's proverbial seat.
Friday evening, the Hokies outlasted 10th-ranked North Carolina 17-10. Virginia Tech had been 1-6 at home against Top 25 opponents during his tenure, so it's the exact type of matchup in which Fuente desperately needed a victory.
By no means is Fuente safe—one terrible loss will undo the praise of an upset win—but he's off to an excellent start in a key year.
Outcast of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers
Ever watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? While trick-or-treating, our beloved Charlie continually receives a rock while his friends fill their Halloween bags.
Texas, Kansas State and Texas Tech got five pieces of candy, earning the best victories of the week. Kansas, TCU and Oklahoma State got a chocolate bar, toppling FCS teams. Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor got a package of gum, surviving closer games.
West Virginia got a rock.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers trailed Maryland 23-21 but had a prime opportunity to take a lead. On second down at Maryland's 13-yard line, Jakorian Bennett picked off WVU's Jarret Doege in the end zone. Maryland scored five plays later, sealing what would finish as a 30-24 victory.
So close to a perfect week, Big 12. Thanks for nothing, 'Eers.
Others Receiving Votes: Week 1 Rundown
Moral Victory of the Week
Tulane, which finished 6-6 last season, had a chance for a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter at second-ranked Oklahoma but fell 40-35. Hurricane Ida shifted this contest from New Orleans to OU's home stadium, so it had already been an emotional week. Yeah, a loss is a loss, but Tulane can take many positives back to Louisiana.
QB Debut of the Week
In his first career start, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young backed up the preseason Heisman Trophy hype. He went 27-of-38 for 344 yards and four touchdowns and guided the No. 1 Crimson Tide to a 44-13 demolition of 14th-ranked Miami.
Best Head Coaching Debut
With a nod to Utah State's Blake Anderson (beat Washington State) and UCF's Gus Malzahn (beat Boise State), Steve Sarkisian is the deserving recipient. Texas defeated No. 23 Louisiana 38-18, and star running back Bijan Robinson collected 176 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. Excellent start for Sark.
Best Week 2 Storylines
The featured clash of Week 2 is clear: Two-time defending Pac-12 champion Oregon travels to four-time reigning Big Ten winner Ohio State. This contest has major national implications.
But don't overlook another showdown in the Midwest.
Iowa State—the Big 12 runner-up last season—entered the year ranked seventh. Once again, though, the Cyclones had a slow start. They held off FCS program Northern Iowa 16-10 in Week 1 a year after losing to Louisiana in the 2020 opener.
On the other hand, Iowa obliterated 17th-ranked Indiana to begin the season. The Hawkeyes didn't have a great offensive game, but they limited Indiana to 233 yards in a 34-6 beatdown. Riley Moss returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
This weekend, be sure to prioritize Oregon at Ohio State (noon ET) and Iowa at Iowa State (4:30 p.m.) on your screens.