Cincinnati completed a second consecutive perfect run through the AAC, but it wasn’t without challenges.   The Bearcats needed a late interception to hold off Navy 27-20 in their third conference game.  Two weeks later, a late goal-line fumble by Tulsa allowed the Bearcats to escape with a 28-20 win at home.  After these close calls, the Bearcats righted their ship and won their remaining AAC games, including the conference championship by 15 points or more. 

Houston dropped their opener to Texas Tech and then tore through the remainder of their schedule to finish at 11-1 to set up a massive showdown with the Bearcats in the AAC Championship.  Along the way the Cougars won 3 one-score games, including a dramatic kick return for a TD with 17 seconds remaining to hand SMU their first loss of the season. 

UCF and new coach Gus Malzahn faced adversity early in the season.  After a strong win over Boise State to open the season and a win over an FCS opponent the Knights battled toe-to-toe with Louisville before a tipped Dillon Gabriel pass was returned for a TD with 13 seconds remaining giving the Cardinals a 7-point lead.  On the last play of the game, the Knights attempted a multi-lateral play and Gabriel suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.  The Knights lost 2 of their next 3 before a resurgent defense and better QB play from Mikey Keene led to six wins in their final seven games, including the program’s first win over Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl.    

East Carolina started the season with a 33-19 loss to App State and a 20-17 loss to South Carolina.  The Pirates won 3 in a row before two one-possession losses to UCF and Houston left them at 3-4.  They won 4 of their final 5 (the only loss coming to Cincinnati) to close with a 7-5 record.  Unfortunately, their bowl game with Boston College was cancelled due to COVID.  It marked the Pirates first winning season since 2014. 

2021 American Athletic Conference Final Standings
2021 Final Standings AAC
ConferenceAll Games
Central Florida530.625203198940.692415319
East Carolina530.625247197750.583356316
South Florida170.1251942772100.167279416

AAC Championship: Cincinnati 35 Houston 20

2021 American Athletic Conference Season Awards
Desmond RidderCincinnatiOffensive Player of the Year
Ahmad GardnerCincinnatiDefensive Player of the Year
Marcus JonesHoustonSpecial Teams Player of the Year
Alton McCaskillHoustonFreshman of the Year (Tie)
Luke FickellCincinnatiCoach of the Year
2021 American Athletic Conference Team Statistical Leaders
Click to Scroll. G5 Leader is highlighted in green.
Team Scoring Offense and Defense
Points Scored Per Game-TotalSMU38.4
Average Game Margin-TotalCincinnati20.0
Points Scored Per Game-ConfCincinnati40.3
Average Game Margin – ConfCincinnati23.9
Passing Offense
Pass Attempts Per GameSMU38.8
Pass Completions Per GameSMU26.1
Completion PercentageSMU67.2
Passing Yards Per GameSMU304.5
Passing TDs Per GameSMU3.3
Rushing Offense
Rushing Attempts Per GameNavy57.7
Rushing Yards Per GameNavy226.9
Average Yards Per CarryUCF5.4
Rushing TDs Per GameCincinnati2.4
Total Offense
Plays Per GameEast Carolina74.8
Total Yards Per GameSMU466.9
Average Yards Per PlayCincinnati6.7
Penalties Per Game (Fewest)Navy4.4
Penalty Yards Per Game (Fewest)Navy36.2
Offense Turnovers
Fumbles Per Game (Fewest)Houston0.1
Interceptions Per Game (Fewest)Navy0.3
Total Turnovers Per Game (Fewest)Navy0.7
Team Scoring Defense
Points Allowed Per Game-TotalCincinnati16.86
Points Allowed Per Game-ConfCincinnati16.38
Passing Defense
Completions Allowed Per GameTemple15.3
Passing Yards Allowed Per GameCincinnati168.4
Passing Completion % Per GameCincinnati53.9
Passing TDs Allowed Per GameCincinnati0.9
Rushing Defense
Rushing Yards Allowed Per GameHouston108.2
Rushing Yards Per Carry AllowedHouston3.4
Rushing TDs Allowed Per GameHouston0.9
Total Defense
Yards Allowed Per GameHouston302.6
Total Yards Allowed Per PlayCincinnati4.5
Interceptions Per Game (Most)Cincinnati1.4
Fumbles Recovered Per Game (Most)Cincinnati1
Total turnovers Forced Per GameCincinnati2.4
2021 American Athletic Conference Individual Statistical Leaders
Click to scroll. G5 Leader is highlighted in green.
CompletionsTanner MordecalSouthern Methodist308
Completion %Clayton TuneHouston68.2%
Passing YardsTanner MordecalSouthern Methodist3,628
Passing Yards Per AttDesmond RidderCincinnati8.6
Passing TDsTanner MordecalSouthern Methodist39
Passer EfficiencyDesmond RidderCincinnati158.7
Rushing AttemptsShamari BrooksTulsa218
Rushing YardageJerome FordCincinnati1315
Rush Yards Per AttAnthony WatkinsTulsa7.4
Rushing TDsJerome FordCincinnati19
ReceptionsNathaniel DellHouston90
Receiving YardsNathaniel DellHouston1,329
Yards Per ReceptionSam Crawford, Jr.Tulsa17.5
Receiving TDsNathaniel DellHouston12
Total Offense
Yards From ScrimmageJerome FordCincinnati1,535
Total YardsTanner MordecalSouthern Methodist3,830
Total Yards Per Play
TouchdownsJerome FordCincinnati20
TDs Responsible ForTanner MordecalSouthern Methodist41
Extra Points MadeDalton WitherspoonHouston60
Field Goals MadeZach LongTulsa22
Field Goal PctZach LongTulsa95.7%
Avg. Punt YardsRyan WrightTulane47.5
Solo TacklesJJ RussellMemphis78
Total TacklesJJ RussellMemphis123
Tackles for LossDarius HodgesTulane17
SacksCurtis BrooksCincinnati7.5
InterceptionsJa’Quan McMillian, Marcus JonesEast Carolina, Houston5
Passes DefendedJa’Quan McMillianEast Carolina16
Fumbles ForcedMichael McMorrisNavy4