American Heart Association’s 2021 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year finalists announced

Have a look below at this year's finalists. Courtesy photo.

Nine of the country's best college football coaches have been announced as finalists for the American Heart Association’s 2021 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award. The illustrious award recognizes coaches for their commitment to the sports on and off the field through winning on game day and every day.

The award ceremony takes place annually in Houston and next year on January 12, 2022 the winning coach will be revealed and awarded the final award of the college football season. The American Heart Association’s 2021 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award is the only award given after all bowls and the national championship. The Coach of the Year award is voted on by the National Sports Media Association, current NCAA College football coaches, former Coach of the Year Award winners, the Bryant Awards’ Executive Leadership Team, and the Bryant family.

Second-year coaches Dave Aranda (Baylor), Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss), and Mel Tucker (Michigan State) join a bevy of coaching excellence as finalists. Among the finalists, Luke Fickell (Cincinnati) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) will each coach their teams in the upcoming college football playoff.

The 2021 Coach of the Year finalists are (in alphabetical order by finalist last name):

Big XII – Dave Aranda – Baylor University

ACC – Dave Clawson – Wake Forest University

Group of 5 – Luke Fickell – University of Cincinnati, American Athletic Conference

Big Ten – Jim Harbaugh – University of Michigan

SEC – Lane Kiffin – University of Mississippi

ACC – Pat Narduzzi – University of Pittsburgh

SEC – Nick Saban – University of Alabama

Big Ten – Mel Tucker – Michigan State University

Pac 12 – Kyle Whittingham – University of Utah

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The Coogs play Miami on Friday night. Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images.

Number one seed University of Houston is favored by 7.5 points over No. 5 Miami, and No. 2 University of Texas is favored by 4 over No. 3 Xavier Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals in Kansas City.

Talk about opening acts. If both UH and UT win, they’ll meet Sunday in a good ol’ WWE-style Texas death match for a berth in the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston. Thank you, Mr. Schedule Maker.

How much do you think Cougar fans would love for UH to get their hands on the Longhorns with so much at stake?

For one example, let’s go back to the future, Oct. 21, 2023, when Big 12 rivals UH and UT meet in football at TDECU Stadium on the Houston campus. The game already is a lock sellout with tickets in the upper deck commanding $141 per ticket on the secondary market. It will be UH’s first year in the big boy Big 12 and UT’s last go-around before heading to the SEC.

One last opportunity for lasting bragging rights.

That’s for a UH football game. At home. Where the Cougars typically have trouble packing half the house. For example, the Cougars will be hosting the Sam Houston Bearkats at TDECU Stadium a month earlier. Tickets for that game, the same exact seat going for $141 against UT, can be had right now … $17.

Yeah, there’s something special about UH getting the opportunity to face UT. In anything. Anywhere. And it’s been a long time since the two teams, once co-members of the Southwest Conference together, have met on the basketball court. A full decade, in fact. The last time they played was March 20, 2013 with the Cougars prevailing 73-72 in something called the College Basketball Invitational. The UH coach was James Dickey. UT was coached by Rick Barnes. Joe Young led the Cougars with 18 points. The Horns’ leading scorer was Julien Lewis with 28. UH finished that season with a 20-13 record. UT limped home at 16-18.

That was then, this is now. The UH-Miami game will air at 6:10 p.m. Friday on CBS with UH grad Jim Nantz calling the play-by-play. The game will alsO stream on Hulu +++. ESPN’s BPI (basketball power index) gives the Cougars a 90 percent chance of winning. We’ll take it.

The UT-Xavier game will follow at 8:45 p.m. on CBS. The Horns have a 70 percent chance of beating the Musketeers. If both chalks come through, they’ll meet Sunday afternoon with the game on CBS.

The Cougars have made six Final Four appearances: 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984, 2021. The Horns have made three Final Fours, the last time two decades ago.

Here’s the only sure bet if UH and UT meet Sunday - get to your sports bar early if you want a seat. This could be memorable.

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