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College Football Season Awards 2021

Jameson Williams, Alabama

After the abbreviated and strange 2020 college football season, this fall was able to provide fans with not only a sense of normalcy, but one of the most exciting campaigns in recent memory. The "Goliaths" of the sport were the most vulnerable they'd been in years, there were major upsets nearly every weekend, and the regular season concluded with two programs making their first CFB Playoff appearances, one of them being a Group of Five program. In celebration of such a special season, it's time to present my annual college football awards, recognizing the players and coaches that highlighted the 2021 season.


Heisman: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

In a season where no one player was able to grab ahold of the Heisman conversation for most of the year, Bryce Young's flaming hot finish to the season likely earns him the prestigious award. Over the last three games of the season, against three strong defenses and one considered historically dominant (Georgia), Young went over 300 yards in each game and a 10-1 TD-INT ratio. At points during the year, he was the sole source of offense for the Tide, managing to keep them afloat despite several close calls against LSU, Florida, Arkansas, and Auburn. He finishes with a stat-line of 4,322 yards and 43 touchdowns through the air, while also going for three scores on the ground. It was an awfully impressive showing for a first-year starter working with a brand new offensive coordinator, and now Young leads the top-ranked Tide into a Playoff in which they are once again the prohibitive favorites.

(full Top 10)

2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

3. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

4. Aiden Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

5. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

6. Will Anderson Jr., LB, Alabama

7. Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky

8. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

9. Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

10. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Doak Walker: Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

Kenneth Walker III is a great example of just how unpredictable college football can be. He was a productive player in two seasons at Wake Forest, totaling just over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, but split carries and was far from a true game-changer. Walker then decides to take a chance and transfer to Michigan State, where he puts up one of the most impressive single seasons in school history. He finishes with 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year, putting together his best performance in the Spartan win over arch-rival Michigan. It's not just the numbers in general that are impressive when it comes to Walker, but the consistency. He ran for over 100 yards on eight separate occasions during the regular season, and one of the few games he didn't, against Youngtown State, was only because he was played from the game early on.


2. Tyler Badie, RB, Missouri

3. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

Biletnikoff Award: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Alabama continues their run of insane wide receiver production, going back all the way back to Julio Jones. The latest in line, Jameson Williams, came over from Ohio State and put together a masterful season, totaling 68 catches, 1,445 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Much like Young, Williams put together his best performance at the right time, as he had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns against the vaunted Georgia pass defense. Williams should become the fourth Alabama wide out to take home the Biletnikoff Award in the past decade, joining Amari Cooper, Jerry Jeudy, and DeVonta Smith.


2. David Bell, WR, Purdue

3. Jordan Addison, WR, Pittsburgh

John Mackey: Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State

Even as Colorado State slid to a 3-9 record that would lead to head coach Steve Addazio's firing, tight end Trey McBridge put together an All-American season. The senior was a machine in 2021, leading all tight ends with 90 receptions on the year and 1,121 yards. He had a couple splashy games on the year, with six games of over 100 yards and a debut game of 13 catches against South Dakota State. McBride, who began the year as a fringe NFL Draft selection, will now likely move into the middle rounds as a potential steal.


2. Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

3. Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

Rimington: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

My preseason Rimington Trophy award winner, Tyler Linderbaum has been everything Iowa had hoped he would be in 2021. After finishing as a Rimington finalist and All-American in the shortened 2020 season, Linderbaum has built on that with a dominant 2021 campaign. He not only controlled the line of scrimmage all season for the physical Hawkeye offense, he demonstrated impressive athleticism and durability for his position. Linderbaum has already taken home Big Ten Linemen of the Year honors, and it seems like he will be adding to that trophy case this month before eventually becoming a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.


2. Alec Lindstrom, Boston College

3. Olusegun Oluwatimi, Virginia

Jim Thorpe: Verone McKinley III, Oregon

Although Oregon's struggles late in the season overshadow what was an otherwise successful season, they still have several players that should take home high honors, most notably safety Verone McKinley III. McKinley had already established himself as a quality defensive back prior to 2021, but he's really had a breakout this fall. He led FBS with six interceptions, constantly finding a way to jump passing routes and displaying top-notch ball skills. McKinley was also a factor in a rush defense that was strong for most of the season, as he put up a career-high 71 total tackles. In a year where there was not a true dominant defensive back, McKinley should take home the Jim Thorpe with ease.


2. Jalen Pitre, Baylor

3. Coby Bryant, Cincinnati

Coach of the Year: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

It's amazing just how quickly things can change in a year. At this time in 2020, the conversation around Jim Harbaugh was all about his job security and whether he'd return to Ann Arbor in 2021. 365 days later, Harbaugh has led Michigan to their first win over Ohio State since 2011, their first Big Ten Title since they shared it with Iowa in 2004, and the program's first-ever CFB Playoff appearance. The entire team obviously deserves a ton of credit for what they've done this fall, but Harbaugh in particular. Following 2020, he completely gutted his defensive staff and went forward with an unproven defensive coordinator in Mike MacDonald, which has turned out to be a fantastic hire. Harbaugh also decided to stick with Josh Gattis as OC after two uneven years; Gattis just recently took home the Broyles Award as the country's top assistant. I've long said that Harbaugh deserves much more credit for the work he's done at Ann Arbor and this is the type of revenge season UM fans have hoped for. No matter what happens in their Playoff game against Georgia, it was a miraculous performance from the Wolverines this fall.

2. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

3. Mel Tucker, Michigan State


Breakout Player of the Year: Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

There were plenty of running backs that hit the transfer portal over the off-season, but there wasn't one that made the impact of Kenneth Walker III. It wasn't just the stat-line, but the energy and attitude that he brought to a program that was coming off a quiet 2020 season. He was unquestionably the MVP of the team and his importance to the program gives them the edge over several others that could have taken home the award. One quick note: Houston corner Marcus Jones would have taken home the award after totaling four returns in 2021, if not for how effective he already was back in 2020.

2. Brennan Armstrong, QB, Virginia

3. David Ojabo, DL, Michigan

4. Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse

5. Marcus Jones, CB, Houston

Transfer of the Year: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

If you want a reminder of just how stacked Ohio State's receiver room was this season, consider the case of Jameson Williams. Williams had his moments during his two seasons in Columbus, including tallying 154 yards and two touchdowns in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but clearly felt that he wasn't going to see the targets he needed behind Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, plus rising young star Jaxon Smith-Njigba. So, Williams decided to head south and join Alabama, putting together a Biletnikoff quality season playing with future Heisman winner Bryce Young. It's rare to see a player go from one blue blood to the other and have so much success, but Williams is a special case. 

2. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

3. Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky

Group of Five Heisman: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky

Big things were expected of Bailey Zappe after coming to Western Kentucky from Houston Baptist, where he threw for 73 touchdowns in three seasons. However, I don't think even the most optimistic Hilltopper fan anticipated Zappe having this time of season. Through 13 games, he has 5,545 yards and 56 touchdowns, putting him in spitting distance of the single-season record set by Joe Burrow back in 2019. His entire stat-line is boggling; he's had 639 attempts on the year, averaging out to over 49 throws per game, but still completes passes at an extremely respectable 69% clip. Even if he isn't able to break Burrow's record in the bowl game, Zappe deserves a ton of credit for not only his individual season, but helping lead WKU to a C-USA Championship Game appearance.

2. Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

3. Sincere McCormick, RB, UTSA

4. Lew Nichols III, RB, Central Michigan

Hire of the Year (coordinator or HC): Jeff Grimes, OC, Baylor

There are a wide variety of options for this unofficial award, but I'm going slightly out of left field with Jeff Grimes from Baylor. Grimes was the coordinator for the record-setting BYU offense of 2020 and parlayed that success into the same position at Baylor. Despite operating a group that was short on big-name stars, the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Grimes' role on the team. After averaging 23.3 PPG and 310.2 yards per game, the Bears bumped those numbers to 32.5 PPG and 430.9 YPG en route to their first Big 12 Title since 2014. Dave Aranda deserves a ton of credit for his decision to move on from former OC Larry Fedora after just one year and bring in Grimes, who will soon be a serious candidate for head coaching vacancies, if he isn't already.

2. Blake Anderson, HC, Utah State

3. Mike MacDonald, DC, Michigan

4. Zach Kittley, OC, Western Kentucky

5. Josh Heupel, HC, Tennessee

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