While we might have a good idea of who will stand out among the best of the best in college football this season, it's never easy predicting who will call themselves an award winner by the end of the year. We'll try anyway.
Here are our predictions to win the major college football awards for the 2021 season.
We're assuming Alabama won't skip a beat with a new offensive coordinator in tow. O'Brien, the longtime Houston Texans coach, is back in the college ranks running Nick Saban's offense. The Crimson Tide have averaged 39 points since the start of the 2009 season, and O'Brien has plenty of talent to work with aside from new starting quarterback Bryce Young. Receiver John Metchie (55 receptions, 916 yards in 13 2020 games) is a dark-horse Heisman candidate and there's a deep stable of running back talent.
Last season Coastal Carolina's Jeremy Chadwell won this award after his Chanticleers went 11-1. Will a Sun Belt Conference coach take the honor for a second consecutive year? It's quite possible. Napier is certainly a coach on the rise. His Ragin' Cajuns are 21-4 over the past two seasons and won at Iowa State in 2020. Louisiana opens with a shot at an upset at Texas, gets fellow Sun Belt-power Appalachian State at home, and might not face Coastal until the league championship game.
The do-it-all Ebner is entering his fifth season with the Bears. He's one of the most exciting players in the Big 12, and perhaps the biggest reason to watch a Baylor squad that is likely to again struggle for victories in 2021. During his career in Waco, Ebner has caught nine touchdown passes, rushed for seven TDs, and scored three times either on kick or punt returns. For those who have yet to see Ebner play, consider him appointment viewing.
The Wildcats' junior has returned three punts for touchdowns over his first two collegiate seasons, and his 23.7 average punt return yards were unofficially the best in the nation in 2020. He's also caught 41 passes for 408 yards with three touchdowns while at Kansas State. When it comes to excitement, Brooks, like Trestan Ebner at Baylor, brings plenty. He's a game-changer who will try to help Kansas State contend for a bowl berth this season.
Camarda ranked fourth in the nation averaging 46.6 yards per punt. His 45.5-yard career average since the start of the 2018 season ranks eighth in the country over that span. Thus, it's easy to see why Camarda will enter the 2021 campaign as one of the favorites to win the prestigious award after he was a finalist last season. Keep an eye on Miami, Fla.'s Lou Hedley (47.2 average in 2020), as well, another 2020 Ray Guy finalist.
A Groza Award semifinalist from 2020, York went 18-of-21 on field-goal attempts last season. In two seasons with the Tigers, he's made good on 81.3 percent of said attempts in two seasons. For his career, York has nailed all 12 field-goal attempts between 20-29 yards, nine of 10 from 30-39 yards. He's also 10-of-12 on field goals from 50 or more yards. LSU is expected to again be a national-title contender in 2021, and York should be a key contributor.
Thibodeaux could also be in the mix for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy as the nation's top defender. As far as defensive ends go, he enters the season at the top of the pack. In two seasons with the Ducks, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Thibodeaux has recorded 12 sacks and 47 solo tackles. He's fast enough to play as an edge-rushing linebacker and could be a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
It's quite possible a couple of Alabama studs are in the mix for this award. Tide junior Christian Harris has recorded 142 tackles over his first two seasons. Yet, the sophomore Anderson appears to be a budding star. In his first season with the Crimson Tide, Anderson recorded 52 total tackles, led the team with 10 1/2 tackles for loss, and had an impressive seven sacks. There is no telling how much better he could be in 2021.
Barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance, Stingley should call himself a Thorpe Award winner come early January. There's also a good chance Stingley finds himself among the first five picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. In his first two seasons at LSU, Stingley recorded 50 solo tackles and defended 20 passes. All six of his interceptions came as a freshman in 2019. We expect the Tigers' defense that allowed an averaged 34.9 points in 2020 to be better this season -- with Stingley at the forefront.
A 2020 second-team All-American selection from The Associated Press, Linderbaum was a finalist for the Rimington Award last season. Though a junior, Linderbaum is one of the undisputed leaders for the Hawkeyes. He began his college career on the defensive line but had little trouble making the transition to the offensive side of the ball. Especially, at a position like center, which carries much responsibility when it comes to the overall success of the line.
This could end up being a battle between Wydermyer and Iowa State's Charlie Kolar (44 receptions, 591 yards, seven TDs). We like the Aggie, who likely will be a favorite target of whoever wins the quarterback job. In two seasons at Texas A&M, Wydermyer has recorded 78 receptions for 953 yards with 12 touchdowns -- 46 of those catches came in 10 games during the 2020 campaign when he was named a second-team All-SEC selection.
Olave is one-half of the country's best-receiving duo with Garrett Wilson (43 receptions, 723 yards, six TDs). Entering his senior season, Olave has caught 111 passes for 1,775 yards with 22 touchdowns -- the latter ranks among the national leaders since the start of the 2018 season. Sure, Olave no longer has Justin Fields throwing the ball his way, but his big-play capability should not be too hindered. Also, keep an eye on Clemson's Justyn Ross (112 receptions, 1,865 yards, 17 TDs in 2018 and '19) , who is slated to return after missing the 2020 season with an injury.
Hall is the nation's top returning rusher with 1,572 yards from 12 2020 contests. Yet, he does not seem to be getting a lot of love when it comes to the various player-of-the-year awards for 2021. Still, Hall is something special. His 21 touchdowns are also the most for a returning running back. The Cyclones have a veteran offensive group that includes quarterback Brock Purdy and the aforementioned Charlie Kolar. However, Hall is the star and could knock on the door of 2,000 rushing yards this season.
There are a number of quality quarterbacks taking the field in 2021. North Carolina's Sam Howell, USC's Kedon Slovis, and Miami, Fla's D'Eriq King to name a few. Yet, the award-season leader out of the gate will be Rattler. Following a rather rough start to 2020, Rattler found his comfort zone and helped the Sooners win their final eight games, claim a sixth straight Big 12 title and roll over Florida in the Cotton Bowl. In his first full season as a starter, Rattler completed 67.5-percent of his passes for 3,031 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for six scores in 11 games.
Another talented Aggie to boast about. Texas A&M has some holes to fill upfront on the offensive line, but Green is obviously the centerpiece of the unit. As a sophomore in 2020, Green was named a second-team All-American by The Associated Press . At 6-4, 325, Green is quite the specimen and a big reason the Aggies averaged 205.1 rushing yards per contest last year. Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum and Ohio State defensive lineman Haskell Garrett should also be in the Outland conversation.
The aforementioned Stingley is considered the premier collegiate defender entering the 2021 season. He's a five-star talent who just happens to be at his best covering opposing wide receivers. His size (6-1, 195 pounds) is a big reason for his success. Like the Tigers as a collectively in 2020, Stingley had a rather pedestrian campaign, but if the team is playing at a high level, and Stingley stays healthy, he could be in store for a memorable junior season.
Let's throw the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards into the mix here. Rattler is the preseason favorite to win them all, and possibly become the third Oklahoma quarterback in five seasons to claim the Heisman. Sure, there's a long way to go until December, and obviously, anything can happen. Yet, based on what we saw from Rattler last season and the expectations Oklahoma holds for 2021, he could be in for a special run as the nation's most complete offensive player.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.