QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Corral + Lane Kiffin sure was a blast in 2020. And the QB-coach combo will be together again in 2021. Good for the game, bad for opposing defenses. Corral engineered an upset of No. 7 Indiana, 26-20, capturing the game MVP honors in the process. Without the support of his best weapons, he completed 30-of-44 for 342 yards and two TDs, while rushing for 37 yards and earning one of Pro Football Focus’ highest postseason passing grades.
QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Clemson learned the hard way in the Sugar Bowl to underestimate Fields and his Buckeyes at your own peril. The Tigers scored first Friday night in New Orleans, but then were trucked for 639 yards in a 49-28 semifinal playoff loss. Fields answered critics by throwing as many touchdown passes (6) as incompletions versus Brent Venables’ talented defense. He accounted for 427 yards, including a handful of beautifully thrown deep balls, despite playing much of the game in pain.
RB Breece Hall, Iowa State
Hall could have chosen a bigger program coming out of high school in Wichita. But instead, he wanted to be a part of something special in Ames. That dream further materialized in Saturday’s 34-17 Fiesta Bowl win over Pac-12 champion Oregon. The nation’s leader in total rushing yards helped power the offense with 136 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 34 carries.
RB Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
The Ragin’ Cajuns capped a near perfect season with a Top 25 ranking and a 31-24 win over UTSA in the First Responder Bowl. In fact, Louisiana was just a 3-point loss to Coastal Carolina from running the table in 2020. The deep veteran backfield was once again the calling card in Lafayette. In Dallas, Mitchell rushed for 127 yards and a score, had a team-high 45 receiving yards and was the second-rated back of the postseason, according to Pro Football Focus.
QB Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern
Ramsey rang in the New Year by having his way with the Auburn defense in a 35-19 Citrus Bowl win. The former Indiana transfer shook off a shaky finish to the regular season to deliver arguably his best game of 2020. Ramsey made plays with his arm and his feet, accounting for 341 total and four touchdowns, including a 30-yard rushing score that provided a second-half cushion.
QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Playing with something to prove, Oklahoma laid a historic beatdown on Florida in the Cotton Bowl Classic. The Sooners rolled, 55-20, scoring their most points and achieving their largest margin of victory in a bowl in program history. The onslaught was led by the backfield of Rhamondre Stevenson, who rumbled for 186 yards, and Rattler, who carved up the Gators. The redshirt freshman dime-dropper completed 14-of-23 for 247 yards and three touchdowns, adding 40 yards and a fourth score with his feet.
WR Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest
Wake Forest lost the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to Wisconsin, 42-28, but no offensive player shined brighter than Roberson in Charlotte. He capped a brilliant breakout junior campaign by catching eight passes for 131 yards and touchdowns on his first three targets. Roberson tied a school record and became just the third Demon Deacon to ever amass 100 receiving yards in four consecutive games.
WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Notre Dame knew it had to stop Smith in the Rose Bowl Game. The Irish spent the past two weeks scheming to stop Smith. ND had no chance of stopping Smith, who could not be contained… again. The nation’s top playmaker was too smooth, too explosive and too fundamentally sound for the Notre Dame back seven. Smith caught seven balls for 130 yards and three of Mac Jones’ four TD passes.
The Maxwell Football Club also honors the nation’s best defensive player with the Chuck Bednarik Award. Here’s a look at last week’s standout defenders.
LB Josh Chandler-Semedo, West Virginia
To slow down Army’s triple-option, disciple and sure-tackling are required. Chandler-Semedo had both in Thursday’s Liberty Bowl victory. QB Austin Kendall came off the bench to spark a comeback, while Chandler-Semedo helped hold the Black Knights to just 239 yards and no points over the final 22 minutes. The junior was named the game’s defensive MVP for making 13 stops, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.
MLB Jamin Davis, Kentucky
Davis’ outstanding junior campaign had one final chapter left in Saturday’s Gator Bowl. The Wildcats’ sure-tackling man in the middle helped hold NC State scoreless in the first half and to less than two yards per carry for the game. Davis made 13 stops in Jacksonville, while adding one of Kentucky’s three interceptions in a hard-fought 23-21 victory over the Wolfpack.
MLB Buddy Johnson, Texas A&M
After going 9-1, Jimbo Fisher is building something special in College Station because of a string of talented recruiting classes and because of veterans like Johnson. The senior from Dallas was one of the defensive heroes of the Aggies’ 41-27 Orange Bowl defeat of North Carolina. Johnson led the brigade with 10 tackles, including eight solos, 2.5 stops for loss and a sack of Sam Howell.
OLB Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
A good argument could be made that no defensive player was more dominant this postseason than Ojulari. One of the game’s premier edge rushers helped fuel a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl comeback that handed Cincinnati its first loss of 2020. Ojulari used his burst and hands to get around tackle for three sacks and two forced fumbles, both of which led to late scores.
CB Antonio Phillips, Ball State
Ball State handed San Jose State its only loss of the season. And the pass defense was a huge reason for the 34-13 upset in the Arizona Bowl. The victory in Tucson was also the Cardinals’ first-ever bowl win to cap a historic season. Phillips kicked off the scoring with a 53-yard pick-six to give his guys a lead they’d never relinquish. The St. Louis senior, with the next-level cover skills, was instrumental in a D that had four interceptions and allowed just one score.
LB Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin
Madison has long been a town where Midwest linebackers go to flourish. Sanborn is a case in point. The Illinois native had more offers from Ivy League schools than blue-blood programs, but he’s developed into one of the Big Ten’s top inside linebackers. In Wednesday’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Sanborn helped shut down Wake Forest long enough for the Badgers to rally, finishing with a team-high 11 tackles, two stops for loss and an interception.
DE Tyrus Wheat, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs began and ended Mike Leach’s debut season in Starkville by beating ranked teams, LSU and Tulsa, respectively. Mississippi State never trailed the 24th-ranked Golden Hurricane in the Armed Forces Bowl, holding on to win, 28-26. Wheat was a factor in all phases of the D, making six tackles, 1.5 stops for loss, a half-sack and an interception.
S Rashad Wisdom, UTSA
The Roadrunners enjoyed a breakout season in 2020 thanks to players like RB Sincere McCormick on offense and Wisdom on D. Wisdom has been a find for UTSA since arriving from nearby Converse, Tex. two years ago. In fact, he led the team in tackles and interceptions this past season. In the First Responder Bowl against Louisiana, he had 13 stops, while earning Pro Football Focus’ top tackling grade of the entire postseason.
College Football Playoff Championship Game Preview
Alabama (12-0) vs. Ohio State (7-0) – Miami, Fla.
Monday, Jan. 11, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
A most bizarre college football season ends with a somewhat unlikely championship tilt. Top-ranked Alabama was supposed to be here after ripping through the schedule with a series of blowouts. Ohio State was not.
Conventional wisdom suggested Bama and Clemson would meet for the title for the fourth time in the last six years. But the Buckeyes had other plans, thrashing the Tigers in New Orleans, 49-28, behind the trio of QB Justin Fields, RB Trey Sermon and WR Chris Olave. Ohio State is playing with a massive chip on its shoulder, but…
… can a defense that’s been inconsistent this year stop the nation’s most prolific offense? Bama sees Ohio State’s triplets and raises it with QB Mac Jones, RB Najee Harris and WR DeVonta Smith. The Tide is averaging almost 50 points per game, plus its D is peaking. The team leads the SEC in scoring defense, led by the likes of DT Christian Barmore, OLB Will Anderson and Bednarik Award finalist Patrick Surtain.
For more information about PFF, please visit www.profootballfocus.com
The Maxwell and Bednarik Awards are members of the National College Football Awards Association(NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org to learn more about the association.