Another college football season has come to an end. Georgia broke their curse, getting revenge against Alabama and winning their well-deserved national championship. Despite an ending that seemed inevitable from the outset, this was one of the most fun seasons in recent memory. In true college football fashion, every single week brought drama, surprises, and chaos. It’s worth taking a look back at all the highs and lows of the 2021 season, and the easiest way to do that is through the ten categories I’ve been using to recap each individual week. Before we dive in, here’s a quick summary of the criteria for each of those categories:
Game of the Year: The game that was the most fun to watch this year. Importance could be a factor, but it isn’t necessary to qualify.
Most Important Game of the Year: The game that had the biggest impact on the playoff race or the college football landscape as a whole.
Drunkest Game of the Year: The game that scrambled your brain just watching. A drunk game is full of chaos, but not the good kind. As the name implies, it’s a game where it wouldn’t be a shock to find out everyone involved chugged a fifth of Admiral Nelson’s beforehand.
Head-Scratcher of the Year: The result that makes less and less sense the more you look at it. This is a celebration of the random, outlier games that we look back on later in the year in awe.
Saddest Game of the Year: The game that just made you feel sad watching. Usually a blowout, either of a team that came in full of hope or one that has already been dead for a while.
Hype Killer of the Year: The game where one bandwagon comes to a screeching halt. The game where a team that looked like a future college football darling crashed back down to Earth.
Seat-Warmer of the Year: The game that pushed a coach’s job security into the danger zone because coach search season never ends. It’s usually about the coach of the losing team, but that’s not always the case.
Seat-Cooler of the Year: The opposite of the seat-warmer, this is the game that will let the winning coach sleep a little more soundly at night. At least for now.
G5 Coach of the Year: A new category where I look at a game involving an up-and-coming G5 coach that probably won’t be sticking around very long. If your team is ever in the Seat Warmer section, this one is for you.
Dealer’s Choice of the Year: The game that I just feel like talking about. It could be because it was especially fun, or stupid, or just because I want to make fun of a team I don’t like. It’s more of a catch-all category than anything.
All caught up? Good, let’s go.
Game of the Year: Kansas vs. Texas
2021’s biggest meme was also its best game. The game started out much closer than anyone expected, until Kansas blew it wide open at the end of the first half, scoring 21 points in the final two and a half minutes. Texas finally started playing up to their competition and tied the game in the final seconds of regulation on a crazy throw to Cade Brewer. Both teams scored in the first overtime and, because Kansas head coach Lance Leipold is good at his job, Kansas decided to try a two-point conversion to win the game. When facing a massive talent deficit, it’s almost always better to try and win the game on one play. The longer you play, the more that talent gap is going to show. A lot of coaches *cough* Bryan Harsin *cough* could learn a thing or two from Leipold. As most of you already know, walk-on fullback Jared Casey caught the pass, completing the upset and handing Texas its most embarrassing loss in generations. Texas is assuredly not back.
Honorable mentions: Ole Miss vs. Arkansas, Notre Dame vs. Florida State
Most Important Game of the Year: Baylor vs. Oklahoma State- Big 12 Championship
This should not be the most important game of the year. Cincinnati beating Notre Dame on the road should’ve been what propelled them into the playoff, breaking the mold and becoming the first Group of 5 team to do so. Sadly, that’s not the case. I firmly believe that if Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson reaches the ball six inches farther, then the one-loss Cowboys leapfrog undefeated Cincinnati and take the final playoff spot. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. That being said, this was still one of the best games of the season. Baylor jumped out to an early 21-3 lead behind the arm of backup quarterback Blake Shapen, who played the game of his life. The Cowboys slowly clawed their way back, and with one minute left found themselves two yards away from glory. Baylor then executed one of the greatest goal-line stands I’ve ever seen. Oklahoma State came up inches short, opening the door for Cincinnati to make history. It also spawned the best tweet of the season.
Honorable Mentions: Cincinnati vs. Notre Dame, Michigan vs. Ohio State
Drunkest Game of the Year: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma
This was by far the most loaded category of the year. Fans lobbing mustard bottle grenades, refs forgetting basic rules, and whatever that Texas-Oklahoma game was; all fell short of the inebriated brilliance of Bedlam. Every weird football thing you can think of happened in this game. Safety? Check. Kickoff return TD? Check. Behind the back catch? Check. Muffed punt? Double check. And perhaps the drunkest thing of all, Oklahoma State won. That’s not supposed to happen in a normal Bedlam game. It may not have been the best game of the season, or the most important, but it was without a doubt the most entertaining.
Honorable Mentions: Ole Miss vs. Tennessee, Oklahoma vs. Texas
Head-Scratcher of the Year: Western Michigan vs. Pittsburgh
This is the one outcome that made less sense each and every week. TCU beating Baylor after firing their legendary coach was close, and Minnesota’s loss to fellow MAC team Bowling Green was mind-boggling, but nothing like Western Michigan’s upset of Pitt. The game itself was a joy to watch, as both teams combined for over 1,000 yards. But three turnovers and third-down woes doomed Pitt. The ACC champions led by a Heisman finalist at quarterback lost to Western Michigan, who finished last in their division in the worst conference in America. Games like this are what make college football so fun. Anything can happen, and an instant classic can break out at any time.
Honorable Mentions: TCU vs. Baylor, Bowling Green vs. Minnesota
Saddest Game of the Year: Georgia vs. Arkansas
Sad can mean a lot of things. Your team suffering a beating you saw coming from a mile away, grasping defeat from the jaws of victory, or providing that moment where you realize your current coach isn’t “the guy.” In my opinion, the saddest thing that a college football game can do is crush your dreams. In 2021, nobody had their dreams crushed quite like the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hawgs were riding high after delivering a whompin’ to both Texas schools and were ranked #8 in the nation, the highest they’ve been in a decade. And then, just like everyone else they played, Georgia beat the life out of them. At the end of the first quarter, Arkansas had gained 8 yards, and Georgia had scored 21 points. Even though they rallied to have a great year, the “dream season” was over. Knowing that your team is still miles away from the sport’s bluebloods is a unique pain that you can’t describe. After their beatdown against Georgia, Hawgs around the world experienced that feeling.
Honorable Mentions: Ohio State vs. Michigan State, Alabama vs. Auburn
Hype Killer of the Year: Purdue vs. Iowa
Nothing builds hype quite like achieving the highest ranking in school history. That’s exactly what happened to the now #2 Iowa Hawkeyes after completing a comeback against #4 Penn State. Beating the Nittany Lions wrapped up a brutal first-half schedule that the Hawkeyes had gotten through unscathed. The only real hurdle between them and the Big 10 championship was Wisconsin, who was a lowly 2-3 at the time. They’d weathered the storm and reached open waters, until the Spoiler-makers arrived. Purdue controlled this game from the jump, finally punishing Iowa for refusing to play competent offense. The win was Purdue’s 9th upset over a top-2 team while being unranked, more than double the next closest school. Iowa’s hype evaporated, as the rest of the nation celebrated not having to pretend to care about them anymore.
Honorable Mentions: Purdue vs. Michigan State, Hawaii vs. Fresno State
Seat-Warmer of the Year: Florida State vs. Miami
I might as well call this category the Florida Award because the big three schools were all closely involved. Dan Mullen finished a close second, as getting blown out by a South Carolina team that was picked to finish a notch above Vanderbilt doesn’t bode well for your job security. However, Miami’s chaotic loss to Florida State claims the top prize. After the Canes’ rough start to the year, you could tell Miami would latch on to any reason to get rid of Manny Diaz. Unfortunately for them, Diaz went on a bit of a winning streak, pulling off upsets over NC State and Pitt. Everything was set up for a solid finish, but then it all went to hell. FSU took the lead with 26 seconds left after a minute of drunken pandemonium. With their final chance, Miami got a quick completion and spiked the ball with two seconds left to set up one last Hail Mary and a chance to win the game. Except, it didn’t. The referee walked out to midfield and declared that the game was over. Diaz clearly didn’t know the rule that you can’t spike the ball with less than 3 seconds on the clock, an ignorance that doomed his tenure in South Beach.
Honorable Mentions: South Carolina vs. Florida, Charlotte vs. Duke
Seat-Cooler of the Year: North Texas vs. UTSA
In this new era of the year-long coaching carousel, there aren’t many single games that seem to save a coach’s job. Coaches on the hot seat no longer get the chance to save their job later in the year. Les Miles made sure of that. But Seth Littrell at North Texas fits this bill perfectly. The Mean Green started off 1-6. His days were numbered. But out of nowhere, UNT got hot, rattled off five straight wins, and ended up playing in the inaugural Frisco Classic bowl game. In hindsight, the schedule probably played a large part in the turnaround. Those first six teams combined for a record of 39-33, while the five teams they beat during the streak were 27-34, and UTSA accounts for nearly half of those wins. That one upset win over UTSA is what sealed the deal, though. Despite the rough start, Littrell earned himself another year in Denton to prove he has what it takes to be a head coach.
Honorable Mentions: East Carolina vs. Memphis, West Virginia vs. Texas
G5 Coach of the Year: Jeff Traylor (UTSA)
There were plenty of successful Group of 5 coaches this season. Luke Fickell made history taking a G5 team to the playoff for the first time, Dana Holgorsen went from the hot seat to 11 wins, and Billy Napier and Brady Hoke both ended the year ranked in the Top 25. But all of these guys had high expectations coming into the year. Jeff Traylor was the only one to explode onto the scene, leading UTSA to a conference championship and the first 12-win season in school history. He took a team that had never won more than 7 games at the FBS level and turned them into a champion. Traylor was rightfully rewarded for his effort this year, inking a massive $28 million extension to stay in San Antonio for the next decade. Here’s to hoping he can build a G5 dynasty there, because the Roadrunners are a ton of fun to watch. Meep meep.
Honorable Mentions: Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Dana Holgorsen (Houston)
Dealer’s Choice of the Year: Illinois vs. Penn State
Any recap of the 2021 season would be incomplete without mentioning this disaster of a football game. The first four quarters were disgusting enough, but the real intrigue started in overtime. Both teams kicked a field goal in the opening OT and then failed to score in the next frame. This introduced the world to the NCAA’s new overtime rules. After LSU and Texas A&M played a marathon 7 OT game back in 2018, the NCAA decided to switch up the rules to reduce how many plays can happen in overtime in the name of player safety. Now after the second OT, the game changed into a two-point conversion shootout. In theory, this should lead to a quick resolution now that the game can be decided on just two plays. However, they didn’t account for two offenses so inept that two yards might as well have been two miles. Both teams went scoreless for the next five overtimes, each attempt looking uglier than the last. Illinois finally broke the seal in the 8th OT, ultimately getting a stop and clinching the win in an NCAA record 9th OT. A train wreck of a football game, this matchup piqued our collective morbid curiosity like no other game this season. Whenever you’re trying to explain the unique weirdness of college football to a nonbeliever, this is a great game to show them.
Honorable Mention: UMass vs. UConn, Pole Assassin’s Monkey