College football winners, 2021 season losers: Michigan trusts Jim Harbaugh, Clemson back to drawing board

The regular season is over and the college football playoff pitch is set, so it’s time to look back on what will go down as one of the most exciting seasons in the history of the sport.

The 2021 season has brought us some incredible moments. Texas A&M became the first unranked team to beat No.1 since 2008 as Jimbo Fisher made history as Nick Saban’s first former assistant to beat The Godfather. Twelve FCS teams have beaten opponents of FBS, the most since the 2013 season. And, most surprisingly of all, three programs without national championships this millennium have joined the CFP field with reigning national champion Crimson Tide.

But the stories don’t end there. Several of college football‘s consensual blue-bloods – LSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and USC among them – had vacancies at the same time, an anomaly in the modern age. Clemson, one of two teams with multiple national titles in the playoff era, has a soul-searching to do after their infrastructure is demolished. And with the realignment hanging over the sport, many key stakeholders find themselves wagging lounge chairs in anticipation of the inevitable.

Here are the biggest winners and losers of the 2021 college football season.


Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh: In a sport where coach turnover has become the norm, a story of trust in the process stands out. Michigan officials have chosen to restructure Jim Harbaugh’s contract to give him another shot at national competitiveness after a shocking 2-4 and pandemic shortened campaign. He responded by defeating Ohio State for the first time, leading the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title since 2004 and winning the school’s first trip to the playoffs. Who has it better than Harbaugh? Nobody, it seems.

Michigan State: To call your shot on Sparty ahead of schedule is to dramatically underestimate the story. Although the Big Ten do not publish a formal pre-season poll, an informal poll survey Big Ten writers predicted Michigan would finish last in the Big Ten East. Instead, dynamic running back Kenneth Walker III and a wave of transfers quickly helped turn the tide at East Lansing, turning the Spartans into a Big Ten contender under the guidance of the second-year head coach. Mel Tucker. Now MSU is being rewarded with a trip to the New Years Six for the first time since 2015. It was not clear what the future of this program would be in the post-Mark Dantonio era, but 2021 has proven that the Spartans are not going. nowhere. More importantly, the state of Michigan forced Tucker into a monster 10-year contract extension.

State of Utah: Perhaps the most overlooked story this season has been the incredible rise of football in Utah. Utah No.11 and Utah State both won their respective conference championships, and the Aggies’ turnaround was so spectacular that freshman coach Blake Anderson should be considered Coach of the Year. . The No.13 BYU went beyond his schedule, winning all four of his games against opponents from the Pac-12. The three Utah State teams combined to win 30 games. For comparison, the Seven Florida State’s FBS teams have 34 wins. Utah might have one of the best collection of coaches of any state.

Cincinnati: Heading into 2021, no team in the Group of Five has ever finished higher than No.7 in the final CFP standings. But months after accepting an invitation to the Big 12, the Bearcats broke through to become the first group of five on the field. Fittingly, the “We Want Bama” crowd will finally get their wish as Cincy plays the Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl semi-finals. Regardless of what happens, winning a trip to the sport’s biggest stage portends great things as the Bearcats enter the Big 12 in the near future. With No.13 BYU and No.20 Houston also having great seasons, the new Big 12 in general appears to be a big winner.

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett: As a fifth-year senior, Pickett started 2021 as a strong but unspectacular signalman. He responded with one of the greatest individual seasons for a Pitt quarterback in history – a story that includes a Dan Marino. Pickett threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns to lead the Panthers to their first conference championship since joining the ACC.

Baylor: In 2020, the Bears tinkered with one of the worst offenses in program history in a disappointing 2-7 campaign. But then coach Dave Aranda hired Jeff Grimes to lead the offense and the results spoke for themselves. The Bears beat three ranked opponents and won their first Big 12 Championship game. Aranda’s rise from 2-7 to 11-2 in a season is important in itself, but the timing couldn’t be better as the Big 12 is going through a period of great transition. If Aranda stays, Baylor can cement himself at the top.


Clemson: The Tigers entered 2021 as first favorites for the domestic championship behind high expectations placed on former rookie quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Instead, Uiagalelei placed last in the ACC for the passers rankings, defensive coordinator Brent Venables left to coach Oklahoma and now offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is reportedly. in the mix to Virginie. Losing Trevor Lawrence was always going to usher in a new era, but coach Dabo Swinney almost has to leave the ground floor with so much uncertainty around the organization. Clemson’s superpower has been continuity. With that over, Swinney must redefine the schedule during the offseason.

Texas A&M: If you had told the Aggies before the season that they would beat Alabama on October 9, everyone would have expected that to mean they would win the SEC West and, at worst, be in the New Years Six. Instead, the program finished 4-4 in the SEC for the sixth time in nine seasons and followed an Orange Bowl campaign with a trip to the Gator Bowl. The only good news is that Texas A&M is a striking distance from the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, a huge milestone for Jimbo Fisher’s program. But until these players perform at the highest level, Texas A&M will continue to roam the wild for its first 10-game win since Johnny Manziel’s Heisman season.

Coaches shooting team: Surprisingly, there has been a lot of turnover in top jobs within a few months. USC and LSU pulled the trigger cord early in the season on Clay Helton and Ed Orgeron, respectively. Florida waited until things completely collapsed before letting go of Dan Mullen, while Miami fired Manny Diaz in an odd situation at the end of the year while courting Oregon’s Mario Cristobal. All four programs have the ability to right the ship quickly after landing from priority choices, but having so many historical programs all open in one cycle is bizarre to say the least.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian: Sark was hired by the National Championship winning staff in Alabama for one reason: to bring a good team to the championship level. Instead, the Longhorns have had one of their most embarrassing seasons in decades and have seemingly advanced rapidly through all of Charlie Strong and Tom Herman’s eras in just 12 games. Texas lost to Kansas, recorded their first six-game losing streak since 1956 and missed a bowl game after four straight playoff wins. The recruiting and transfer portal will give the Longhorns a chance to bounce back quickly, but it’s hard to imagine a worse start to Sark’s coaching tenure at Austin. In fact, his debut was the worst for a new trainer in Texas since Dana X. Bible in 1937. That’s not what Texas had in mind as it enters its new era in the SEC. .

Indiana: Hoosiers coach Tom Allen quickly became one of the stars of the sport after leading his team to a 6-2 record and a No.12 ranking in 2020. The success appears to have been an incident related to the pandemic as the Hoosiers imploded in shocking shock. Campaign 2-10 in 2021. The only wins came against FCS Idaho and a West Kentucky team that could beat the Hoosiers if they played again today. Injuries helped derail the season, but it’s still no excuse to lose to Rutgers, Minnesota and Purdue by a total of 117-24. Indiana could be the most disappointing team in college football.

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