B/R's College Football Weekly Awards: 2021 Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2022

B/R's College Football Weekly Awards: 2021 Season

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    The 2021 college football season has donned its graduation gown and cap, adjusted its tassel and is ready for a final moment in the spotlight.

    Sure, this is mostly like a kindergarten ceremony. Congrats and everything, even though we'll see you again next year. Nevertheless! The closing round of Weekly Awards is cause for celebration.

    Along with a definitive crowning of champion Georgia, we're cruising through the Football Bowl Subdivision and remembering some of the best stories and oddities of the year.

    And, finally, we have what the college football world has been begging to see: the 2021 transitive national champion.

Team of the Year: Georgia Bulldogs

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    The low point of Georgia's season happened in the second quarter of the SEC Championship Game. During that 15-minute stretch, the Bulldogs gave up 24 points.

    In hindsight, however, it doubles as a remarkable moment.

    Georgia never surrendered more than 18 points in any of the other 14 games. That one terrible quarter will be remembered simply as an outlier in a dominant season. Georgia put together one of the finest defensive years the sport has ever witnessed.

    Additionally, quarterback Stetson Bennett joined the ranks of iconic walk-on players and unlikely national champions. Benched after five starts last season, he replaced an injured JT Daniels, stayed in the lineup and ultimately threw the title-winning touchdown to dethrone Alabama in Indianapolis.

    The championship both sealed the program's first national title in 41 years and cemented head coach Kirby Smart as a UGA legend.

Narrative-Buster of the Year: Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Entering the season, we knew Cincinnati needed chaos.

    Through seven years of the College Football Playoff era, no Group of Five program had come remotely close to the Top Four. Cincinnati went 9-0 last season yet ended only eighth—tying a G5 record—yet even trailed three-loss Florida in the final CFP ranking. Previous undefeated records from UCF were disrespected, too.

    Despite the disingenuous comments from some media—notably ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit—the CFP selection committee had clearly shown no interest in ranking G5 teams. That wasn't a conspiracy theory; it was based entirely on seven years of evidence.

    But in 2021, that chaos arrived and forced the committee's collective hand.

    Every team in the Pac-12 lost at least twice, and the ACC followed suit. Michigan stood as the Big Ten's only one-loss team, and Baylor dashed Oklahoma State's dreams in the Big 12 Championship Game. And thanks to a head-to-head victory over Notre Dame—a perfectly timed matchup that was scheduled years in advance—Cincinnati would not fall behind the one-loss Fighting Irish.

    Like so many teams before, the Bearcats' season ended with a lopsided loss to Alabama in the CFP semifinals. That, however, does not diminish the historical magnitude of Cincinnati's year.

Turnaround of the Year: Baylor Bears

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    After serving as the defensive coordinator for LSU's championship team in 2019, Dave Aranda accepted his first head-coaching job at Baylor. Matt Rhule stabilized the program, but Aranda inherited a roster that required major retooling.

    Between those departures and a pandemic-altered offseason, the Bears mustered a 2-7 record last season.

    This year, however, Baylor took on the identity of its coach. The defense surrendered just 18.3 points per game while finishing 12-2 and winning the Big 12. Plus, the Bears capped the campaign with a victory over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.

    In addition to the school-record 12 wins, Baylor landed its highest-ever ranking (fifth) in the postseason AP poll.

Portal Kombat of the Year: Michigan State Spartans

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    As the 2020 season ended, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker understood he needed to bolster the roster. Recruiting is the foundation of long-term success, but transfers can help, too.

    So, he and the MSU staff targeted immediate-impact players in the transfer portal. And they absolutely aced the additions.

    Led by running back Kenneth Walker III, the Spartans grabbed seven key contributors from other FBS schools.

    Walker (from Wake Forest) racked up the second-most rushing yards (1,636) in the nation. Left tackle Jarrett Horst (Arkansas State) earned All-Big Ten honorable mention.

    On the defensive side, linebacker Quavaris Crouch (Tennessee) notched a team-high 7.5 tackles per game. Chester Kimbrough (Florida) and Ronald Williams (Alabama) started at cornerback, while Marqui Lowery (Louisville) held a top rotational role at the position, as did edge-rusher Drew Jordan (Duke) at his spot.

    Without them, the Spartans wouldn't have climbed from 2-5 to 11-2—and Tucker certainly wouldn't have a $95 million extension.

Streak-Breaker of the Year: Kansas Jayhawks

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    Back in 2007, Kansas nearly made the national championship. Mark Mangino led the Jayhawks to an 11-0 regular season, but they fell to Missouri in the Big 12 title game. Kansas settled for a trip to the Orange Bowl, defeating Virginia Tech to finish 12-1.

    But the program soon became a laughingstock.

    Mangino resigned after the 2009 season, which included a seven-game losing streak to close the year. That disappointing finish also marked the beginning of a horrendous skid; Kansas still hasn't won multiple conference games since 2008.

    On the bright side, a collection of other streaks ended in November when Jared Casey caught a game-winning two-point conversion in overtime to stun Texas 57-56. Their victory marked the first time Kansas had ever won in Austin.

    Among others, the Jayhawks snapped an 18-game Big 12 losing streak and a 56-game losing streak in Big 12 road games.

    Kansas has a long road to competitiveness, but Lance Leipold began his KU tenure with a valuable Year 1 accomplishment.

Streak-Extender of the Year: Clemson Tigers

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    When we remember the 2021 season, part of the story will be Clemson's slide. Although it's perhaps merely a blip for the program, the Tigers could not continue six-year streaks of both winning the ACC and appearing in the College Football Playoff.

    Not everything came to an end, though.

    Clemson dropped three games—to Georgia, North Carolina State and Pitt—but every loss happened on the road or at a neutral site. Dabo Swinney's team emerged victorious in all six home contests, improving the nation's longest active home winning streak to 34.

    While it's the 19th-longest streak in FBS history, 12 of those occurred prior to 1930. This level of success is rarely seen anymore.

    Clemson would be four seasons from catching Miami, which won 58 straight from 1985-94. But the Tigers will enter 2022 with an opportunity to add seven more notches to the streak.

Betting Kings of the Year

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    Gambling has become an integral piece of sports culture. Becoming proficient—or profitable—can be difficult, but millions of fans spice up their Saturdays with a few dollars at stake.

    Some prefer wagering on spreads; others like totals. Some lean toward the over and favorites; others like the unders and 'dogs.

    Either way, hopefully, you found these programs early.

    Michigan posted an 11-3 record against the spread, while Tennessee hit the over 76.9 percent of the time. On the other hand, New Mexico mustered a 1-11 ATS record and Boise State's games finished under the number 81.8 percent of the time. Each one paced the FBS, according to teamrankings.com.

    On behalf of gamblers everywhere, thank you for your assistance.

FBS Transitive National Champion: Arizona Wildcats

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    Four programs ended the 2021 season with an FBS-worst 1-11 record. Florida International and Connecticut defeated zero FBS opponents, and UMass only defeated UConn.

    That leaves a prestigious honor to the Arizona Wildcats alone.

    Sure, they lost to lower-division Northern Arizona in September. Yes, the offense ranked 124th out of 130 teams with 17.2 points per game. True, the defense gave up a nation-worst 97.4 red-zone scoring rate. But you can trace Arizona's win against short-handed Cal to a transitive victory over FBS champion Georgia.

    Cal defeated Oregon State, which upended Arizona State, which beat UCLA, which toppled LSU, which downed Texas A&M, which upset Alabama, which conquered Georgia.

    Hang the banner, 'Cats, you did it!

             

    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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