B/R's College Football Weekly Awards: Bowl Season, Part 4

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2022

B/R's College Football Weekly Awards: Bowl Season, Part 4

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    For the first time in 41 years, the Georgia Bulldogs are champions of the college football world.

    Kirby Smart finally outlasted his mentor in the College Football Playoff championship game, celebrating a 33-18 victory over Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide to close the 2021 season with a national title. That showdown in Indianapolis is the headliner of our final edition of postseason awards.

    But wait, there's more! Before we dive into the championship, we need to include Kansas State's triumph in the Texas Bowlwhich narrowly missed Part 3 last week.

    Parts 1 and 2 are available for a refresher, and our end-of-season awards will be unveiled Monday, Jan. 17.

Texas Bowl Player of the Game: Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State

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    After a promising freshman year in 2020, Deuce Vaughn thrived in an expanded role this season.

    Recently named a first-team All-American, the versatile 5'6" running back had collected 1,729 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns.

    Vaughn capped a brilliant season with 146 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, adding a two-yard touchdown catch and propelling Kansas State to a 42-20 victory.

    "I know his future is bright," K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson told reporters of Vaughn. "He's just getting started, just scratching the ceiling, and there's no ceiling for Deuce."

Texas Bowl Trooper of the Game: Jontre Kirklin, QB, LSU

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    Jontre Kirklin headed to LSU as a 3-star recruit in the 2017 class. For five seasons, he played a little bit of offense, defense and special teams. Rarely a starter, never a star.

    Thanks to this final appearance, though, Kirklin leaves a fascinating legacy in Baton Rouge.

    As the team protected the redshirt of freshman Garrett Nussmeier, Kirklin—who is officially a wide receiver—returned to his roots at quarterback. He played the position in high school and served as the Tigers' scout-team QB in 2019.

    Given the circumstances, Kirklin played reasonably well. He completed 7-of-11 passes for 138 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, also running for 61 yards.

    Sure, K-State rolled to a 42-20 win. The result was unsurprising. But this Texas Bowl will always be remembered as the game that LSU started Kirklin at quarterback.

Player of the Week: Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia

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    For an in-depth read on Stetson Bennett's night in Indianapolis, enjoy this. But here's the recap: This might be a movie script.

    Born and raised in Georgia, he grew up a fan of the Dawgs. Bennett didn't receive a scholarship offer to his favorite school, walked on to the team, transferred for a year, returned to Athens when the hot-shot recruit (Justin Fields) left for Ohio State.

    Bennett spent one season as a backup. Then, he was a flawed starter in 2020. Bennett opened the 2021 campaign as the second-stringer but replaced JT Daniels, the expected hero, because of injuries and simply held on to the starting job.

    Monday became his crowning moment.

    In the fourth quarter, Bennett overcame an untimely fumble and 18-12 deficit to spark UGA's championship-winning rally. He threw a 40-yard touchdown to Adonai Mitchell and 15-yard score to Brock Bowers, finishing the game 17-of-26 for 224 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and an everlasting place in Georgia history.

Missile of the Week: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia

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    At lower levels of organized sports, it's usually easy to identify when someone is just different than everyone else. That gap shrinks at the highest level of college football, but a player occasionally pops off the screen once in a while.

    Georgia safety Lewis Cine did that again Monday.

    By no means is this a new revelation to Georgia fans or regular SEC viewers. For those who hadn't watched the Dawgs before the national title, though, they received a proper introduction.

    Cine registered seven tackles (one for loss) and one pass breakup en route to landing Defensive MVP honors.

    The accompanying video shows Cine's ridiculous closing speed. Plus, he straight-up decleated Alabama running back Trey Sanders, who's listed at 6'0" and 214 pounds. Not a small human!

    "It's kind of dope, in my opinion," Cine told reporters of winning the national championship.

    Yeah, seems fair.

Most Casual Clutch Play in History: Alabama's Fumble Recovery

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    Since the Dawgs recovered to win, there won't be an eternal asterisk on this turnover. But had the Crimson Tide held on, an entire week of sports media could've been devoted to this single play.

    Early in the fourth quarter, Georgia faced a 3rd-and-8 while holding a slim 13-12 lead. Bennett took the snap, felt pressure, attempted to escape Alabama linebacker Christian Harris and seemed to throw an incomplete pass.

    The officials, however, ruled it a fumbleand the decision stood after replay.

    Forgot that stuff, though. The final moment of the turnover featured a comically clutch sequence.

    Alabama defensive back Brian Branch clearly thought it was an incomplete pass. He jogged over and snagged the ball, but he made no real effort to corral a fumble, keep his feet in bounds and notch a massive takeaway for the Crimson Tide.

    Had he watched the ball flutter into the UGA bench, Alabama might not have taken a fourth-quarter lead anyway. Instead, Branch set up a vital 16-yard touchdown drive for the Tide.

    All because he sauntered to the sideline and instinctively picked up the ball, despite thinking the play was over. Amazing.

Future Nightmares of the Week: Alabama's Edge-Rushers

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    I mean, sweet mercy. Good luck in 2022, linemen.

    Alabama star Will Anderson Jr. hardly needs an introduction at this point. While leading the nation in sacks (17.5), he set an FBS record with 34.5 tackles for loss this season. Anderson managed four tackles Monday night, bringing his season total to 101.

    In the box score, Georgia held Anderson relatively in check. But he should've received credit for at least two hurries, along with knocking down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

    Since he's a true sophomore, the NFL has to wait another year for him. Barring an opt-outwhether that's even a remote possibility is unclear, but be ready for the conversationAnderson will return as one of the nation's top players.

    And in the fall, the opposite edge-rusher will be Dallas Turner for a full season. He notched two sacks on Monday, closing his freshman year at 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.

    This duo is destined to be responsible for sleepless nights.

Team of the Week: Georgia Bulldogs

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    Let's finish with the obvious one.

    Thanks to Bennett's fantastic fourth quarter and a terrific defensive effort, the Dawgs secured their place in history with a national title. Georgia held Alabama's offensethough short-handed, yesto only 6.5 yards per pass attempt and 3.0 yards per non-sack rush, tallying four sacks in the 33-18 victory.

    What shouldn't be lost, however, is the praise UGA coach Kirby Smart deserves for creating this monster.

    Since the 2017 recruiting cycle, he's on the verge of signing a sixth straight top-four class. Most notably, the No. 1 haul in 2018 both produced many key contributors on this roster and solidified the program as a force in the following cycles.

    Georgia finally won a national championship, but Smart has positioned the Dawgs to stay in contention for a long time, too.