It is mid-December, a time for two things:

  1. Lying to everyone except our agent before leaving for a new school and seven million dollars a year
  2. Gaining ten pounds minimum off buffet dinner rolls as we tour the award circuit.

The award around these parts is the Bradlee Van Pelt Award, a.k.a. the BVP. The award recognizes the Most College Football College Football Player in the sport, a distinction we determine based on the following criteria:

The player must be an actually excellent college football player. They have to be good, and not merely memorable. Your favorite walk-on does not win the BVP Award. The hometown boy on the roster who makes good does not win the BVP Award. He is lovely, and we are all very proud of him and his undoubtedly excellent hair. Hair definitely helps win BVP awards. So does being an obviously great and fun player who may fall just beneath the fickle thresholds for can’t-miss NFL Draft pick or Heisman frontrunner.

The BVP is not a make-up call for other awards with greater national recognition. This is important because college football awards all have an impossible job: To single out the best player among at least 135 players at said position. That number, by the way, is way, way higher for positions like offensive line, where each team rolls out a full two-deep at five different positions. The Rimington and Outland Trophies narrow this down a little by designating position-specific awards within the line, but still: Pity those brave few genuinely attempting a thoughtful film review of over 300 different hosses slamming their way through yet another pulling block before they narrow it down to three finalists.

The BVP’s purpose is to celebrate the best and most college football college football player available. The great joys of this sport come not from pure distilled excellence, but from its raw, off-cut talents and the uneven, unequal, and at its best unexpected results. The Kick Six, The Play, and Statue Left were not born from five-star talent playing their parts, and none would have happened if the sport of college football depended solely on the odds. They relied on the Jared Zabranskys and Chris Davises of the world, the players the BVP was built to celebrate.

Finally: Are they THAT guy? The most subjective of the qualifications but also somehow the most ironclad, the BVP’s final litmus test is: Are they a guy who, upon remembrance, people universally go OH THAT GUY. A player who provokes great feelings, loyalty, and excitement on sight. Someone who, when guys are to be remembered, is a guy that will get remembered. The dragger of the team across goal lines, the Greg Jennings type who indeed puts the whole team on their back. Think Lynn Bowden Jr. for Kentucky, someone the whole team rode to work like a school bus.

That quality, alloyed with some swagger, a great football name, and perhaps a legendarily underrated sense of style? That sorcerer’s stone of a player defines what we look for in the BVP Award.

Before we hand out the hardware, let's do a quick review of this year’s finalists. This list has been revised and edited from the previous watch list mostly thanks to the usual mix of circumstances forcing adjustments: some players made outstanding contributions down the stretch, some like Bo Nix fell out due to circumstances sort of beyond their control, and others were added because of outright negligence the first time around. (Hi, Sam Hartman of Wake Forest, and also apologies.)  

Sam Hartman, Wake Forest. The quarterback of a ten-win Wake Forest team sort of has to make this list. That he threw for nearly four thousand yards and 36 TDs helps, too, especially given how he had to keep chucking it in a number of Wake’s more point-friendly showdowns.  Is named “Sam.”

Sincere McCormick, UTSA. The 5’9” bowling ball of a running back enabled much of UTSA’s meepin’ all season long. Did not fumble once during the 2021 season, known for a pinballing style of running generating a five yards per carry average, and . Is named “Sincere McCormick,” plays for the Roadrunners, and counts an endorsement of a local dental and orthodontics among his NIL deals.

Bo Nix, Auburn. The end was Big Sad for Bo Nix at Auburn, but we kept him in the nominees for sentimental value and lifetime achievement.

Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky. The Wildcats' Swiss Army Knife and current heir to the Randall Cobb throne. Shifty as hell, devastating out of the slot, and had a thoroughly ridiculous score against Florida against at least three tacklers who had an angle on him.

Again: Is named Wan’Dale, can go off from three or four different spots on the field a Kentucky native who stayed home to play for the Wildcats, and generally capable of breaking a game wide open at any point despite only weighing around 185 pounds because he has zero regard for his own safety or well-being.  

Jayden de Laura, Washington State. Really just putting him in here for this:

Jerreth Sterns, Western Kentucky. Another undersized receiver made of buckshot and springs. The leading receiver in the country thanks to both a.) WKU throwing the ball 90 times a game and b.) nasty pro-grade moves.

Also only making the spotlight as a transfer from [squints at card] Houston Baptist University? Perfect, just an insanely perfect BVP receiver candidate here.

K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas. WOMP. WOMP WOMP WOMP. May already be the most beloved quarterback in the history of the Razorbacks’ program thanks to his endearing size, ability and fondness for heaving the ball downfield like it’s seconds away from exploding, and his role in bringing the previously D.O.A. Razorbacks back to life over the past two seasons. Sort of looks like a big grumpy toddler, which to be clear is a very good thing in this competition.

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State. All 5’7” of him. The smallest thousand yard rusher in the sport, Vaughn constantly looks like a toddler on the loose in a retail store, followed by parental tacklers who stand very little chance of catching him.  

Is named “Deuce.”

All of these are worthy nominees, but the winner of the 2021 BVP Award is:

Jake Haener, Fresno State

He really probably won the BVP in week three, when Haener gutted through the see-saw final quarter of Fresno’s exhilarating win over UCLA. Transferred from Washington to Fresno, ripped out of the gate and averaged over three hundred yards passing a game, threw four verts patterns with zero fear against every defense he faced, and survived the season despite being very, very generously listed at 194 pounds. Shouted out Ken Jeong for being the only one picking Fresno to win on Gameday. Thought about making a Return of the King story arc by entering the transfer portal and possibly following Kalen DeBoer to Washington, but opted to come back to the Valley after Jeff Tedford got the job. Even made a whole sincere-ass video about it.

A slightly undersized QB with a whip-like gunslinger's throwing motion who is also prone to theatrics, comebacks, and last minute wins? Pure BVP greatness in every way, right down to his team finishing the year playing a mid-December bowl for a clay pot trophy in Albuquerque.

Is named "Jake."

Spencer Hall

Spencer Hall