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BYU Football: 2021 Team Awards

Tyler Allgeier, BYU Cougars Football

Tyler Allgeier has been one of the more productive running backs in the nation this season and he's a big reason why the Cougars won 10 games entering their bowl matchup

BYU is climbing upward as a football program. The Cougars finally earned an invitation to join the Big 12, starting in 2023. Head coach Kalani Sitake agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in Provo through 2027. And Sitake coached the Cougars to a second-straight 10-win season that included a 6-1 record against Power 5 opponents and a 5-0 mark versus the Pac-12. The future looks bright for BYU.

The Cougars will finish off a successful season by facing UAB in the Independence Bowl. This is a perfect time to look back on the 2021 regular season and recognize the players and moments that impacted BYU's success.

Offensive MVP: Tyler Allgeier, RB

No player played a more critical role in BYU's success this season than Allgeier. He's tied for first nationally with 20 rushing touchdowns and has piled up 1,414 yards on the ground over 12 games. Allgeier had six 100-yard games this season and surpassed 200 yards against Utah State and Virginia. Allgeier originally switched to linebacker in 2019 before injuries brought him back to the backfield. He's responded with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Defensive MVP: Payton Wilgar, LB

Wilgar only appeared in 10 games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. His nose for the ball made him a dangerous playmaker on defense while he was healthy. Wilgar led BYU with 7.0 tackles for a loss and he totaled 57 tackles. He also had a pair of interceptions and 1.5 sacks. The fourth-year sophomore is a legit NFL prospect and expects to return to the Cougars for the 2022 season.

Best Freshman: Ben Bywater, LB

Injuries decimated the linebacker position as the season progressed. Bywater kept the Cougars from suffering a huge drop-off in the middle of their defense. He registered a team-high 93 tackles – 35 more than any other BYU player. Bywater also had 6.5 TFL and one sack.

Best Play of the Season: Tyler Allgeier's chase-down punch-out forced fumble vs. Arizona State

Allgeier made one of the biggest game-changing plays of the year in week 3 against Arizona State. With BYU clinging to a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter, Jaren Hall threw an interception to Merlin Robertson at the ASU 25. Robinson sprinted down the sideline seemingly on the verge of turning the interception into a pick-six. Allgeier chased him down from behind and punched the ball out of his hands with a tomahawk chop. Hall recovered the fumble at the BYU 15, saving a touchdown and preserving a big win for the Cougars.

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Best Performance (Player): Tyler Allgeier vs. Virginia

Allgeier turned out a career-best performance to help BYU escape with a 66-49 victory over Virginia. The Cougars needed every yard he generated to overcome a disastrous second quarter against the Cavaliers. He ran for 266 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 9.2 yards per carry. It formed part of a two-week stretch where Allgeier tallied 457 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Best Performance (Team): Snapping Losing Streak vs. Utah

BYU's 26-17 victory over Utah grew more and more impressive with each week after the Utes tore through the Pac-12 for their first league title and first Rose Bowl bid. The Cougars put together one of their most complete games of the season. They ran for 219 yards and went 11-of-19 on third down against the Utes. Defensively, BYU forced a pair of quick turnovers and never let Utah find a rhythm on offense.

Defining Moment: Beating Washington State

BYU followed a 5-0 start with back-to-back losses to Boise State and Baylor. The Cougars found themselves at a crossroads entering a matchup with Washington State a few days after the school fired Nick Rolovich and several other assistant coaches for not complying with a state vaccine mandate. A third straight loss could have derailed a promising season. BYU dug in and prevailed 21-19 in a defensive slugfest. It got the Cougars back on track and helped them finish the regular season with five straight victories.

Biggest Surprise: Kaleb Hayes, DB

Injuries took out some of BYU's top playmakers in the secondary. Hayes helped the Cougars weather the storm. His game-saving, fourth-down tackle secured a victory over USC. Hayes also had three pass breakups against the Trojans. He led BYU with 11 pass breakups – accounting for a quarter of the team's total during the regular season by himself.

Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Boise State

BYU finished No. 13 in the final College Football Playoff rankings and got shut out of consideration for an at-large spot in a New Year's Six Bowl. The Cougars had a slim chance at best of securing a better bowl destination after stumbling to an average Boise State team at home. When the Broncos beat BYU 26-17, it ended up being a damaging loss. BYU gave up two touchdowns off fumbles and suffered four turnovers overall. Boise State posted a 7-5 record, its worst record since 2013.

Senior Who Will Be Missed the Most: Samson Nacua, WR

Nacua did not have eye-popping stats after injuries limited him for part of the season. The Utah graduate transfer tallied 288 yards and three touchdowns on 18 receptions during the regular season. Still, his influence in the locker room was immeasurable in its importance. He helped the Cougars play with a confidence and swagger that made a positive difference amid a tough early schedule.

Player to Watch in 2022: Puka Nacua, WR

Nacua can stretch the field in a way few other BYU receivers can. He has excellent speed and great hands and seems poised to be the Cougars' primary receiver next season. He led BYU with 796 receiving yards during the regular season and finished second on the team with 42 catches. He averaged 18.95 yards per catch. Assuming he stays healthy, the younger Nacua brother could be the next BYU receiver to pile up 1,000 yards in a single season.

Offseason Storyline: Running backs

The Cougars head to the Big 12 in 2023, so next season will mark the official end of the independence era. BYU will return key playmakers at virtually every position group after graduating only a few seniors. While he isn't a senior, Allgeier's return isn't a guarantee. He has spent four seasons in the program and the timing to pursue an NFL career seems ideal after back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. If Allgeier chooses to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft, BYU will need to find a new primary ball carrier to complement Hall at quarterback. Replacing a runner of his caliber won't be an easy task. Jackson McChesney could be an early favorite to fill a possible void in the backfield. Miles Davis and Hinckley Ropati will also be in the mix.

Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.