This week officially brought an end to the 2021 Sun Belt football season as Louisiana defeated Appalachian State by a score of 24 - 16 on Saturday. Just prior to that game, the Sun Belt Conference announced the winners of the league’s Postseason Awards and All-Conference Teams.
Did they get it right? Our staff discusses which awards went to the right players and which ones could have gone another way.
If you disagree, too late now. We already wrote the thing.
Offensive Player of the Year
Joe Londergan: I personally disagree with the SBC’s decision to give this one to Jalen Tolbert. Thant being said, I can see how it was a tough decision. I think the fact that the award for overall Player of the Year went to Grayson McCall also played a factor. While Tolbert had an impressive season with 1474 receiving yards, I think Shermari Jones of Coastal Carolina would have been my pick outside of McCall. Jones scored a league-high thirteen rushing touchdowns while only playing ten games.
Zeke Palermo: I’ve been hesitant to chalk this pick all season, but looking back on the season the SBC OPOY is Grayson McCall. He led the conference in passing yards per game and kept opponents humble with nearly 30 yards on the ground per game as well. Perhaps most impressively was McCall’s ability to not throw picks; he finished joint-lowest in the Sun Belt with just three interceptions thrown.
Matt Miguez: Jalen Tolbert had a stellar year, but I’m going to agree with Joe and say Shermari Jones. Jones was 12 yards short of 1000 and scored 13 touchdowns in ten games. Not to mention, Jones averaged 6.5 yards per carry this season. These are unreal numbers in an offense led by Grayson McCall. The only reason McCall wouldn’t get it is he was named POTY.
Defensive Player of the Year
Joe: I said this in the midseason awards and I think it’s still true now: I think Troy’s Javon Solomon should have won the award. Solomon was a menace against opposing defenses this year by being a constant presence in their backfield. The pass-rushing expert finished the season with 11 sacks and a league-leading 17 tackles for loss. He also recovered two fumbles this season. Most likely, Solomon’s accomplishments were discounted because of his team’s 5-7 record.
Zeke: Joe is right, Solomon should have been the pick. Actual winner D’Marco Jackson was a big-time tackle threat but as I’ve said before, tackles are incredibly swayed by opportunity and snap count and are non-dependent on actual ability. Solomon’s back end of the season was noticeably slower than the start, he made just one sack over the final three games, but he was still more of a threat than anyone else.
Matt: D’Marco was deserving, so I’ll say I agree with the decision. Javon Solomon was a close second with just some freaky numbers from a Troy defense that was lackluster at best. Jackson’ numbers were just too good to argue with for the committee.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Joe: I’m going to go with Alan Lamar of Arkansas State. Listen, Lamar had an insane 55 kick returns this year because of Arkansas State’s horrendous defense that couldn’t stop getting scored on. That led to the grad transfer from Yale (yep, somebody transferred from Yale to Arkansas State) piling up 1333 yards (5th most ever in FBS, by the way) on kick returns and he even returned two for touchdowns. The Red Wolves had their issues this year, but Lamar’s athleticism as a returner was really fun to watch.
Zeke: App State’s placekicker Chandler Staton was as close to automatic as it gets. Staton was 71/72 on combined field goals and extra points and led the Sun Belt in points per game among all players. His one miss came from 30-yards out early in a 45-7 win over Troy. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Matt: Chandler Staton would be my first if this was a real award. Staton’s been automatic his entire career and only missed one kick all season in 2021. Absolute domination in an environment that can be brutal for kickers.
Freshman Player of the Year
Joe: Montrell Johnson was certainly deserving, but I think Solomon is my pick again here, especially considering Solomon didn’t win DPOTY. But, in my opinion, Solomon and Johnson were easily the two most impressive freshman performances in the SBC this year.
Zeke: Unless redshirt freshman are ineligible for FPOY, I can not fathom a single reason Javon Solomon was snubbed. He was the only freshman (redshirt or otherwise) named to the All-Sun Belt First Team and was, as previously mentioned, my pick for the SBC DPOY.
Matt: Montrell Johnson was an obvious choice and I’m not being biased in saying that. The true freshman from New Orleans was incredible. 784 yards and 11 touchdowns in a 3-back backfield. Also, 5.5 yards per carry. Just filthy numbers.
Newcomer of the Year
Joe: I actually agree with the decision to give this one to Chase Brice. I liked what I was seeing out of Jake Bentley there for a while, but injury affected him pretty adversely. But, Brice was phenomenal. After playing second-fiddle at Clemson and a rough season at Duke, Brice had App State just a few plays away from a league title.
Zeke: As good as Brice was, his 10 inteceptions scare me away. I’m going to double down on my mid-season pick TeVailance Hunt of Arkansas State. Hunt’s 758 yards don’t jump of the paper, but he was a top option for the Sun Belt’s most pass-reliant team; no easy task.
Matt: Both Brice and Hunt were deserving for obvious reasons, but I’ll go with Brice based on team performance. Like Joe said, he was a play or two away from a conference title his first year in Boone. Yes, double digit interceptions is far from ideal, but his 3,000 yards and 23 TDs definitely overshadow his turnover stat.
Coach of the Year
Joe: I definitely agree with the league’s decision to give this award to Billy Napier. Napier not only kept his team focused after that early loss to Texas, but turned them into one of the best teams in the G5 through a whirlwind of distractions, including rumors about his own future. Now with Napier heading to Gainesville to continue his career as the head coach of the Florida Gators, he leaves a fantastic legacy with the Cajuns after guiding them to their first Sun Belt Championship Game victory.
Zeke: Congrats to Napier on winning the Sun Belt and getting the Florida job, but Terry Bowden is still my pick. His ULM team went just 4-8, but compare that to last season’s abysmal winless showing. The Warhawks remained competitive in games against LSU and Louisiana late in the season and upset Liberty in Week Six; a successful start to rebuilding the ULM program.
Matt: Billy Napier was an easy choice, but Bowden turned around a dead ULM team and had them two wins away from bowl eligibility. Again, 12-1 for Louisiana to go along with the conference title is huge, but the Cajuns were successful year after year under Billy. Terry Bowden’s resume in 2021 has the edge in my opinion.