Unranked Start Ends With The Premier Coach Award

Climbing to the top of the mountain in any college football conference is tough. Doing so in the Big Ten with sharks like The Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, and the Wisconsin Badgers in the water is even tougher. That is what makes Jim Harbaugh’s season with the Michigan Wolverines so special that the fans voted him the 2021 Premier Coach of College Football.

Harbaugh has been at Michigan since the start of the 2015 season. Given how often college coaches are hired and fired this represents serious tenure. After a 2019 season that had a disappointing ending and a pandemic affected the 2020 season, that was about as bad as it could get and Harbaugh knew big things were required in 2021.

Big things like a 12-1 record to win the Big Ten East before taking care of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten championship game and claiming the Wolverines first-ever College Football Playoff spot.

Michigan was not expected to be successful this season. The ESPN Football Power Index gave Harbaugh and his team a 2% chance of winning the Big Ten and they started the season unranked. Harbaugh, however, had done some soul searching in the offseason. He brought in an influx of young, hungry coaches to bounce ideas off of and made it a priority to get the Wolverines to work towards the Ohio State game all season long.

It worked!

The Ohio State game has been an issue for Michigan for years. This year was different. Harbaugh and his Wolverines ended an eight-game skid in the rivalry in resounding fashion as they rolled to a 42-27 win behind a devastating rushing attack. Almost as impressive was the way that Harbaugh was able to keep his team focused the very next week – so hard to do after an emotional win – as Michigan took down a very dangerous Iowa team with complete ease (42-3) in the Big Ten title game.

Michigan proved everyone wrong in 2021 and the journey that Harbaugh took them on through the pain and lows of 2020 to the highs of this season makes him a great choice for the 2021 Premier Coach of College Football Trophy.

Article by Premier Players

Fans Vote Anderson The 2021 Premier Player

The 2021 Premier Player of College Football Trophy winner is Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. Anderson was simply the most outstanding player in all of college football for the duration of the season.  While teammate Bryce Young was awarded the Heisman Trophy, it was Young’s defensive enforcer who was consistently a matchup that no offensive coordinator could figure out how to slow down, let alone stop.

Anderson’s stats from his 2021 sophomore season are ridiculous.  He basically lived in opposing backfields, tearing up running games or destroying quarterbacks. The Premier Player finished the regular season with an absurd 31.5 tackles for a loss. This was 9.5 TFLs better than anyone else in the football bowl subdivision (FBS) managed. Anderson also piled up 15.5 sacks of the quarterback. To put that into perspective, those 15.5 sacks were more than NINE ENTIRE TEAMS managed, including Power 5 schools like Stanford and Colorado.

It was no secret that Anderson would be pass rushing and run blitzing, yet nothing offenses did seem to work. In an October game against Mississippi State, Anderson had four of the Crimson Tide’s seven sacks. While that is impressive enough on its own, it is the plays that he didn’t get sacks that were just as dominant. Anderson spent that game – and most of the season – wrecking the entire right side of the Bulldogs’ offensive line.

Anderson’s ability to get into the backfield entirely nullified what an opposition offense could do as tight ends and running backs had to stay in and help their offensive linemen deal with his pass rush.  However, Anderson’s consistency was his greatest asset in 2021.

People talk of “moments” defining a great year. That can seem backward in cases like Anderson’s. He didn’t have a signature moment because he was simply a wrecking ball the entire season. It is hard to have that highlight play that stands out when you have already picked up double-digit sacks and make more tackles for a loss than some defensive players make total tackles.

An aggressive, efficient, and sure tackling edge rusher, Anderson has also evolved into a leader on a defensive front-seven that is as dangerous as there is in the game.  A unanimous First-Team All-American, the scary aspect for Alabama’s rivals is that Anderson will be back in the Crimson Tide uniform for at least one more year.

Congratulations again to Will Anderson Jr., the 2021 Premier Player of College Football.

Article by Steve Wright

Utah Nick Ford Earns Freddie Solomon Award

TAMPA, Fla. – University of Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford has been named the 2021 Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award, announced today by The Solomon Family and The Premier Players Sports Foundation.

The Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award annually honors a collegiate football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Ford has found a way to make two of his passions in life, cooking and helping others, into a way to better serve the Salt Lake City community. This past year, Ford has partnered with Utah Foster Care to put on “Sunday Dinner” where Ford along with the Athletes Strong Foundation cook for over 100 foster families at each event.

The San Pedro, Calif., native came up with the idea because of his family’s tradition of doing a big family dinner on Sundays. After his brother, Michael, passed away in 2019 from a heart condition, Ford vowed that he would spend his life helping and serving other people.

In addition to his work with Utah Foster Care, Ford volunteers at local elementary schools to mentor young children, reading and visiting with classes virtually over Zoom this past year.

He is also passionate about social justice for the underserved, helping lead a march on the Salt Lake City capital in 2020 as part of a team-led initiative to bring social injustice and ways to fix it to light.

Ford and the Utes will return to action on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, to play in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. The game is set for a 2 p.m. PT/3 p.m. MT kick on ESPN.

Article written by Utah Sports Information

MI Captains Relive The Game & Look Ahead To Iowa

For a second straight week, Jon Jansen catches up with captains Andrew Vastardis and Josh Ross on the “In the Trenches” podcast. Vastardis discusses Saturday’s victory over the Buckeyes and thinks back on what he remembers from the postgame celebration on the field. Ross talks about why he feels like the happiest man alive and the quick transition from the win over Ohio State to this weekend’s matchup against Iowa.

By Brian Boesch

The scene on the field at Michigan Stadium around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday was euphoric. Michigan snapped a losing streak against its biggest rival, clinched a Big Ten East Division title, and stayed alive in the College Football Playoff picture, all with one monumental 42-27 victory over Ohio State. It was the culmination of a year’s worth of preparation, as the Wolverines constantly asked, and were asked, the question — “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?”

Michigan embraced that question as a team, and they answered that question as a team. The Wolverines’ offense did not face a third down the entire second half, during which the team’s only non-scoring drive featured the victory formation. The Wolverines’ defense limited the Buckeyes’ dynamic offense to 27 points, 20 fewer than their season average coming into “The Game.” Last, but not least, the Michigan special teams unit executed in some challenging weather elements to consistently put pressure on Ohio State.

“I am the happiest man alive right now,” linebacker Josh Ross told Jon Jansen on this week’s edition of the “In the Trenches” podcast. “(Saturday) was a movie, to be honest with you. We executed so well in all phases, and we had our best game, and that’s what you ask for in games like these.”

“I’m so proud of this team, so proud of this staff, and just so overjoyed,” fellow captain Andrew Vastardis said. “We went out there and executed the game plan to a ‘T.”

Now, the Wolverines must do it again. Michigan cannot bask in the glory of Saturday’s convincing win. The 10-win Iowa Hawkeyes await in this weekend’s Big Ten Championship Game. Kirk Ferentz’s team does not try to fool you, as Iowa provides a physical and fundamentally sound brand of football each week.

As head coach Jim Harbaugh said, “They play at a level of consistency that is at the highest level of any team that you ever play.” Fortunately, the Wolverines have also been consistent, both on gameday and in the lead-up to each game.

“(It) goes back to the preparation I’ve talked about so much this year. Guys enjoy the process. They enjoy the grind. They enjoy preparing for these games,” Vastardis said. “We’re just getting right back to it. You get your 24 hours to celebrate, and then it’s just back to work. This team loves to work.”

“We got bigger and better things in front of us, and it’s just exciting to be in the position that we’re in,” Ross said. “Everything’s in front of us, and we know that, and it’s just time to go get it.”

If the Wolverines are successful on Saturday against Iowa, then they will get a chance to celebrate on Sunday before restarting the grind again — this time, for a College Football Playoff game, and as Big Ten Champions.

• MGoBlue Podcasts

Georgia Bulldogs Continue Championship Preparation

ATHENS, Ga. – Defensive players Travon Walker and Quay Walker previewed Saturday’s SEC Championship match up against Alabama.

The Bulldogs are set to kick off against the Crimson Tide at 4:00p.m. ET in Atlanta, Ga., at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

#44 Travon Walker | DL | Jr.
On the responsibilities of his position…
“Basically, at the position that I play, sometimes, we can be asked to do a lot, but sometimes, it doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. At my position, there is a lot that goes into it. Setting the edge, dropping in coverage, asked to get sacks, or asked to eat blocks, so it could be a variety of things.”

On the locker room vibe going into the SEC Championship…
“The connection with the team and the guys in the locker room, it’s an unbreakable feeling about the guys. Everybody has that bond and knows each other’s ‘why’. Why we are doing it. Therefore, with us knowing why each other is doing it, we can hold each other accountable to that ‘why.'”

On getting to Bryce Young…
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup for both sides. I just think that we have to continue doing what we have been doing all season, and everything will go as planned. That being said, we just got to keep rushing the passer, and it will all fall in place.”

#7 Quay Walker | ILB | Sr.
On what has contributed to his standout senior year…
“I think it started in the offseason. Changing my body, changing the way I eat, pretty much just feeling better, getting to know things better, and learning the defense. I think it pretty much started with that. Once you know the defense really well, you can play really fast and you’re not going to get into too much danger. It pretty much started with that, but mainly we changed the way I eat and changed my body and feeling better. That’s pretty much it.”

On the focus for playing Alabama for an SEC championship versus a normal in-season game…
“When you focus, you adapt a little bit, but I think that’s always been our motive this whole year. No matter what game it is, we treat all of them the same. We don’t need anyone to try to do anything different than what they have already done this whole year. But other than that, we’ve got to go out and execute and everything else is going to be taken care of.”

On Coach Kirby Smart’s message to the team the week before the SEC Championship…
“Keeping the main thing the main thing, focus on what we have to do and don’t pay attention to anything else besides what we have to do. That’s pretty much it. We have to focus on what’s ahead of us and everything else is going to play out how it’s supposed to play.”

NC A&T Golfer Makes History At Tournament

ROLAND, Ark. – North Carolina A&T women’s golfer Christyn Carr (SR, Atlanta, Ga.) made history at the Jackson T. Stephens Cup played on the par-72, 6,311-yard Alotian Club golf course on October 20th. The American Junior Golf Association invited Carr and A&T men’s golfer Xavier Williams to the prestigious tournament.

Carr and Williams were two of six premier players from historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs) invited to the tournament that included players from Notre Dame, Alabama, Arizona, and Florida State, among other Power Fives.

Carr set a course record by becoming the first collegiate player to shoot a score below 70 on the course by shooting a 3-under 69. She also set a school record for the lowest round ever with her 69.

Two bogeys over her first seven holes had Carr at 2-over heading to the par-5, 525-yard eighth. Carr birdied the hole as she made the turn at 1-over. She then became strong midway through the back nine. She moved to even par on the par-5, 433-yard 14th with a birdie.

The premier player closed the tournament by birdieing her last three holes, starting with the par-3, 183-yard 16th. She then moved to par-5, 488-yard No. 17, where she birdied her third par-5 of the round. Then, finally, Carr took down the par-4, 396-yard 18th to finish her historic round.

“Christyn is a dedicated student-athlete who works as hard on her golf game as hard as she works on her books,” said A&T coach Richard Watkins about Carr, who has the nursing school’s highest grade point average. “Her round was amazing but not surprising. You don’t become a quality player like she is without putting in the work.”

Watkins added that when he saw Carr play at the Wyndham Pro-Am this past summer, he knew this could be a special year for his top women’s golfer.

“She was just hitting the ball so well with so much confidence,” Watkins said. “The things that Christyn can do on a golf course are exciting and exceptional but not surprising to me.”

Carr finished the tournament in 30th place after shooting an 18-over 234 in three rounds. She shot an 84 and 81 in rounds one and two, respectively.

Williams shot a three-round 9-over 243 on the par-72, 7,450-yard course for the men. His best round was a 5-over 77 in the second round.

“Xavier told me it was the longest, toughest course he has ever played on,” said Watkins.

Article from North Carolina A&T Communications

Two Premier Players’ Take On The Bulldogs Season

ATHENS, Ga. – Seniors Justin Shaffer, a First-team Pre-season All-American by Pro Football Focus, and Ameer Speed met with the media via Zoom this week and offered the following comments regarding fall camp and the upcoming 2021 season for The Georgia Bulldogs:

#54 | Justin Shaffer | OL | 6’4” | 330 lbs

On the offensive expectations for this season:  “One of our main expectations is just to not turn the ball over. Work together as an offensive and play together as an offense. At the end of the end of the day it is all about working together as a team and as an offense. I feel that we are going to be way more explosive because we have so much more talent surrounding the team. Everyone has been working together and working on the same page.”

On how the offensive line is preparing for Clemson:  “I feel like we are not just preparing for Clemson but for everyone. We still have work we have to do as a team offensively and defensively. Clemson is not our main focus but us working on each other is our main focus.”

On the closeness of the offensive line:  “I feel like since I have been here, we have just gotten closer and closer. I feel like we have just been growing and growing. Me just being the older guy in the room I feel like I have to be the guy that is everyone’s big brother and make sure that everyone is connecting. At the end of the day, we are all one unit.”

#9 | Ameer Speed | DB | 6’3” | 211 lbs

On his progress during camp:  “I have just been taking things day by day and using every day to really get better as a team and as a player, as a brother and as a person. We are just taking it step by step and not letting everything get too ahead of us, like coach says, ‘moving day by day, live in the moment to be able to perfect that day so I can move on to the next day.'”

On how the team is meshing:  “We have just been trying to be a brotherhood; Coach Addae, Coach Smart, Coach Monken have been working with us all, allowing us all to perfect our crafts and just being the best we can be. Also, us older guys, we are able to help out. We are all open, when one person does something wrong ‘we are all like hey, you know you could have done this or done that’, we are all working together and trying to make each other the best we can be. We are only as strong as our weakest link so once we are all where we need to be we can do anything we want to do.”

On the maturity of this team:  “It is crazy as you get older, your thought process and the way you see things just evolves on and on. I forget that I am an old head sometimes. Just seeing that influence that you have on people on the team, it does mean a lot. You can feel it at practice with the old guys helping the young guys and just us all being there for each other.”

Former Clemson Great Joining The Top 2 Percent

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson and the National Football Foundation (NFF) announced that former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller will be honored for his College Football Hall of Fame selection in an in-stadium presentation at halftime of Clemson’s home opener against South Carolina State on Sept. 11. During the ceremony, the National Football Foundation will present Spiller with a plaque celebrating his selection in advance of his formal induction at the 63rd NFF Annual Awards Dinner in Las Vegas on Dec. 7.

In January, Spiller was selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2021, earning the distinction in only his second year of eligibility.  He will become Clemson’s eighth overall inductee and its fourth former player to earn the honor.

Spiller was one of 11 premier players and two coaches selected from the national ballot to the 2021 College Football Hall of Fame Class. His historic Clemson career spanned from 2006-09, culminating with a senior season in which the premier player finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting after winning ACC Player of the Year, and being selected as a unanimous first-team All-American. That season, Spiller scored 21 touchdowns and became the first player in ACC history to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.

Of the 5.47 million individuals who have played college football since Princeton first battled Rutgers on Nov. 6, 1869, only 1,038 players and 223 coaches have been immortalized in the Hall, including those slated for induction in the Class of 2021. His selection to the Hall of Fame puts this premier player in the top 0.02 percent of those who have played or coached college football.

Tickets remain available for fans wanting to witness and participate in the salute to Spiller’s historic career. Fans can purchase discounted tickets using the promo code SPILLER28 — as well as learn more about single-game tickets and three-game flex packs — at ClemsonTigers.com/footballtickets or by directly visiting bit.ly/SPILLER28. The game, which will be carried on ACC Network, is scheduled for a 5 p.m. kickoff.

Oklahoma Opens Soccer Season With A New Look

NORMAN — The Oklahoma soccer program is set to open the 2021 season on the road tonight when it takes the field versus the Houston Cougars at 7 p.m CT.

The Sooners, led by second-year head coach Mark Carr, will turn to his new-look roster that features 16 newcomers to open the season on a high note.  The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

CARR WELCOMES 13 FRESHMEN

Carr will look to his first full recruiting class of 13 freshmen to make an impact on and off the field this season. The 13 signees come to Norman from all over the world, with seven domestic players and six international premier players.

“We have high expectations for OU soccer and the 2021 class will be expected to impact the program right away and provide immediate competition,” Carr said on his freshman class. “Here at OU, we love and embrace competition as we know this will only bring out the best in all of us. By adding this class to our core group of returners, the future is bright for soccer here at OU.”

INTERNATIONAL FLAIR

OU soccer is quickly making a name for itself as a haven for international prospects and coaches to cement their places at the top of college soccer in America. All three members of the Sooner coaching staff are native to other nations, with Carr coming from England, Gough from Wales, and Bard-Martel from Canada. But the international flair in Norman reaches far beyond the touchline.

A total of seven student-athletes have elected to call Norman home, including six first-year students. Freshman forward Leo Weber was named one of Top Drawer Soccer’s premier international players to watch this season, while Canadian prospects Sheridan Michel, Keera Melenhorst, and Nikki Panas spent time in the Canadian youth national team program.

Muriel Kroflin joins Carr’s 2021 class from Langenargen, Germany, where she spent her youth leading SC Freiburg to Bundesliga titles and playing on the German youth national squad. Norweigan players Une Hebnes Georgsen and Andrine Westlie round out OU’s international group, with Georgsen starting in net for the Norweigan youth national team at the U17 UEFA women’s qualifiers, while Westlie led Bærum SK and the league in scoring after making her debut at 14.

DIFFERENCE-MAKING TRANSFERS

Carr didn’t just retool his roster with a large freshman class but also utilized the transfer portal to bring three ACC student-athletes to Norman.  Makala Thomas spent three seasons at Florida State, helping the Seminoles to the 2018 national championship and playing in 29 games in her time at FSU. Alexis Strickland joins the Sooners from perennial powerhouse North Carolina, where she played in 27 games for the Tar Heels as a freshman before not appearing last season. The final transfer in 2021 is Molly Feighan, who played 16 games last season at Virginia Tech and started all 19 games as a junior in 2019.

All three premier transfer players – Thomas, Strickland, and Feighan – can play any position in the attacking third for Carr’s side.  They join Erika Middleton (Miami), Sakky Yoshida (Oregon), Bri Amos (Kansas), and Olivia Odle (Virginia Tech) as transfers into the OU program.

LED BY THE SENIORS

Despite such a large group of newcomers, the Sooners’ leadership comes in the form of their 12 seniors who have combined for nearly 25,000 minutes played at the Division I level. Lauren Haivala, Jazzy Richards, and Erika Middleton are all familiar names for Sooner fans, playing in 94 matches for the Crimson & Cream.

UP NEXT

Following the team’s match tonight, they’ll travel to Beaumont, Texas, for a showdown on Sunday night with Lamar.

For updates and more information on Oklahoma Soccer, follow the Sooners on Twitter and Instagram (@OU_WSoccer) and like Oklahoma Soccer on Facebook.

Can The Bucks Advance In The NBA Playoffs?

Over the weekend, the Milwaukee Bucks completed an impressive sweep of the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Featuring several premier players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the Bucks were able to stifle Miami’s offense and blow the Heat out in the last three games to emphatically state their case as Eastern Conference contenders.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1398732886128353290

Led by Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee appears to have a renewed confidence and sense of focus after demolishing the Heat and will be a force to be reckoned with in the next couple of months.

A Disappointing Past

Despite having arguably the premier player in the NBA in Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have not advanced as far in the NBA playoffs as most fans would expect in the last two seasons. Milwaukee finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference in each of the prior two years, but could not parlay that regular-season success into a trip to the NBA Finals.

Despite making the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2018-2019 season with home-court advantage, the Bucks could not contain a red hot Kawhi Leonard in that series. Milwaukee ended up losing in six games to the eventual NBA champions. The following season, the Bucks were a little unlucky to have missed out on home-court advantage in the NBA bubble. As a result the Heat, led by premier players Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, seized control of their second-round series. Milwaukee was surprisingly eliminated from the playoffs in five games, and an offseason full of questions began.

“We had a heck of a year, through March 11, a lot of good things, a lot of positives, and when we had our moments here in Orlando. Ultimately, we weren’t able to get it done. Everybody’s dealing with the same circumstances,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer expressed. Via USA Today (https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/09/08/heat-bucks-game-5-miami-advances-milwaukee-giannis-antetokounmpo/5754124002/)

A Promising Future

After not quite meeting expectations, Milwaukee took significant steps to improve their roster before the 2021 NBA season. They made a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire premier guard Jrue Holiday. The team also made a savvy free-agent signing, landing big man Bobby Portis. Holiday’s ability to defend on the perimeter and Portis’ ability to provide some scoring punch off the bench has made a big difference for the Bucks this season, and against Miami in the first round. Milwaukee also aggressively locked up Antetokounmpo for the near future, ensuring that one of the premier players in the league will keep them in the title mix. He signed a five-year, $228 million extension in December 2020.

“Peaking at the right moment—we really feel we’re doing that,” said Bucks center Brook Lopez. “And we still feel like we’re getting better each and every single night.” Via ESPN.com (https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/31534025/giannis-antetokounmpo-milwaukee-bucks-sweep-miami-heat-reach-eastern-conference-semifinals)

Potential 2nd Round Opponents

As the third-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks will await the completion of the series between the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets and seventh-seeded Boston Celtics. The Nets currently lead the series two games to one but are favored by many to be the favorites to come out of the East. If Milwaukee faced Brooklyn, they would have to come up with a strong game plan against premier players Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. In the regular season, the Bucks beat the Nets two out of three times they played. It would be a difficult matchup, and the Bucks would need to play strong defense to limit Brooklyn’s explosive offense.

Milwaukee would also need to have answers for Boston’s premier players if they squared off in the next round. Jayson Tatum scored 50 points in game three against Brooklyn. The Celtics beat the Bucks in two out of three games in the regular season, but Milwaukee would be favored to advance in this matchup.

Article by Andrew Pistone