The 2021 season opened with much trepidation given the overhang of the persistent COVID-19 threat.  However, from the opening kick-off to the last play of the season, college football fans soaked in the atmosphere and cheered for their teams in a season like no other. 

In the Group of Five, many compelling stories emerged early in the season.  The Cincinnati Bearcats started strong and never looked back, rolling to a 13-0 record and becoming the first Group of Five team to earn a College Football Playoff berth.  Unfortunately, the Bearcats were unable to overcome Alabama rushing attack and defensive pressure and fell 27-6.  The loss does not diminish an incredible season for the Bearcats, who more than proved the gap between the Power 5 and the Group of 5 is closing. 

Utah State, a 17-point underdog, shocked Washington State on the opening week and began a journey that ended with the Aggies winning the Mountain West Conference and beating another Power 5 team, Oregon State in their bowl game to close an amazing 11-3 season.  Making the season even more amazing is that it came on the heels of a one-win season in 2020, a new coach in Blake Anderson, and a transfer QB in Logan Bonner. 

On the same weekend, in Atlanta, GA, the Northern Illinois Huskies kicked off as 19-point underdogs to Georgia Tech.  The Huskies were coming off a winless 2020 season and were picked to finish near the bottom of the MAC West.   However, the Huskies scored a TD with 38 seconds remaining to upset the Yellowjackets 22-21 to start a wild 2021 season that ended with a MAC Championship.  Along the way the “Heart-stopping Huskies” played in 10 one-possession games going 7-3, including a heartbreaking loss to Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl.   The Huskies finished their remarkable turnaround season at 9-5.

Similarly, UT San Antonio opened with a win over a P5 team, beating Illinois 37-30 in their first game of the season.  The Roadrunners would proceed to win their first 11 games before a loss in their last regular season game.  They rebounded to win the CUSA with a shootout victory over Western Kentucky.  While the season ended on a somewhat muted noted with a bowl loss, the twelve wins marks a school record for a program in only its tenth season. 

Brigham Young was expected to beat PAC-12 Arizona on the opening Saturday, but expectations were low given the graduation losses from 2020 and a tough schedule featuring 5 games against the PAC-12.  However, the Cougars completed an improbable run to another AP Top 25 finish by going 5-0 against the PAC-12 including a win over PAC-12 Champ Utah.  The Cougars season was somewhat soured by an upset loss to BYU in the Independence Bowl, but it did not diminish their accomplishments in their 10-3 season. 

Louisiana’s season began on a different note.  The Rajin Cajuns were dominated in a season-opening loss to Texas.  However, they regrouped and won thirteen straight, closing with a 36-21 win over Marshall in the New Orleans Bowl.  The 13 wins is a school record for the Cajuns, in their 51st season.   The Cajuns, who had not ever recorded 10 wins in a season until 2019, now have double digits wins in their last three seasons. 

Finally, let’s talk about the 2021 bowl season.  There are so many Power 5 bigots that claim “the G5 can’t play with the big boys”.  These bigots often ignore the fact that 80% of Power 5 vs Group of Five games are played at the Power 5 home stadium.  They also ignore the fact that G5 is competing with athletic budgets that are a fraction of the P5 schools.  Nonetheless, the Group-of-five completed a fantastic 2021 bowl season with a 6-1 record against the P5.  Utah State, Houston, Army, Central Florida, Air Force, and Central Michigan all logged wins.  The wins came against the PAC-12 (2 wins), the ACC (1), and the mighty SEC (3).   It was a great end to the season and raises expectations for even greater advances in 2022.

In the final rankings, the Group-of-Five placed 6 teams in the AP Top 25 and 5 in the Coaches Top 25. Cincinnati finished at #4, the highest any G5 team has finished since Boise State in 2009. Louisiana, Houston, BYU, and Utah State finished in the Top 25 in both polls. San Diego State was #25 in the AP and finished one spot out at #26 in the Coaches.

There were some other great stories throughout the 2021 season that we will cover in our conference recaps below. 

2021 Conference Standings

2021 AAC Final Standings
2021 Final Standings AAC
ConferenceAll Games
TeamWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Cincinnati801.0003221311310.929516236
Houston801.0003101761220.857502286
Central Florida530.625203198940.692415319
East Carolina530.625247197750.583356316
Tulsa530.625212207760.538343346
SMU440.500289249840.667461341
Memphis350.375205224660.500361351
Navy350.375208220480.333241339
Temple170.12593330390.250196450
South Florida170.1251942772100.167279416
Tulane170.1251852592100.167331408
2021 CUSA Final Standings
2021 Final Standings CUSA
Division/TeamConferenceAll Games
EastWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Western Kentucky710.875363184950.643619411
Marshall530.625247183760.538429309
Old Dominion530.625234202670.462359361
Middle Tennessee St440.500236206760.538388334
Florida Atlantic350.375201223570.417305309
Charlotte350.375234326570.417326408
Florida Intenational080.0001313581110.083244476
WestWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Texas San Antonio710.8752971911220.857516345
Alabama Birmingham620.750275161940.692384302
North Texas530.625212197670.462343356
Texas El Paso440.500201199760.538326328
Rice350.375186260480.333258434
Southern Miss260.250145220390.250335394
Louisiana Tech260.250192244390.250212335
2021 MAC Final Standings
2021 Final Standings MAC
Division/TeamConferenceAll Games
EastWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Kent State620.750308297770.500462508
Miami (OH)530.625257176760.538376300
Ohio350.375216223390.250271364
Bowling Green260.250191288480.333351359
Buffalo260.250219262480.333257368
Akron170.1251622962100.167238474
WestWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Northern Illinois620.750253254950.643451472
Central Michigan620.750275204940.692420335
Toledo530.625281181760.538434283
Ball State440.500209192670.462313369
Eastern Michigan440.500229236760.538428406
Western Michigan440.500261252850.615422367
2021 MWC Final Standings
2021 Final Standings MWC
Division/TeamConferenceAll Games
MountainWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Utah State620.7502572221130.786456342
Air Force620.7502691841030.769403257
Boise State530.625219141750.583350228
Wyoming260.250140177760.538330308
Colorado State260.250204243390.250284339
New Mexico170.12572245390.250146341
WestWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
San Diego State710.8751851311220.857383277
Fresno State620.7502311651030.769434267
Nevada530.625297200850.615464345
Hawaii350.375199229670.462374408
San Jose State350.375148220570.417240318
Nevada-Las Vegas260.2501862502100.167249394
2021 SBC Final Standings
2021 Final Standings SBC
Division/TeamConferenceAll Games
EastWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Appalachian State710.8752981431040.714483310
Georgia State620.750244187850.615366352
Coastal Carolina620.7503031761120.846532281
Troy350.375171257570.417274313
Georgia Southern260.250180235390.250243377
WestWLPctPointsAgainstWLPctPointsAgainst
Louisiana801.0002391321310.929435259
Texas State350.375179249480.333277396
Louisiana Monroe260.250184295570.417299317
South Alabama260.250204210480.333251402
Arkansas State170.1251762942100.167303463
2021 Independents (G5) Final Results
2021 Final Standings Indp G5
Division/TeamAll Games
TeamWLPctPointsAgainst
Brigham Young1030.769430322
Army940.692427290
Liberty850.615437280
New Mexico State2100.167271485
Massachusetts 1110.083196517
Connecticut1110.083187462

2021 Bowl Results

BowlDate/TimeTeamConfScrTeamConfScrLinePoints
Bahamas Bowl12/17/2021 @ 12:00pmToledo (7-5)MAC24Middle Tennessee State (6-6)CUSA31Toledo – 9.553.5
Cure Bowl12/17/2021 @ 6:00pmCoastal Carolina (10-2)SBC47Northern Illinois (9-4)MAC41Coastal Car -1062.5
Boca Raton Bowl12/18/2021 @ 11:00amAppalachian State (10-3)SBC38Western Kentucky (8-5)CUSA59App State – 2.567
New Mexico Bowl12/18/2021 @ 2:15pmUTEP (7-5)CUSA31Fresno State (9-3)MWC24Fresno St -12.552
Independence Bowl12/18/2021 @ 3:30pmBYU (10-2)IND28UAB (8-4)CUSA31BYU -754.5
Lending Tree Bowl12/18/2021 @ 5:45pmLiberty (7-5)IND56Eastern Michigan (7-5)MAC20Liberty -8.557
Kimmel LA Bowl12/18/2021 @ 7:30pmUtah State (10-3)MWC13Oregon StatePAC1224Oregon St -7.564.5
New Orleans Bowl12/18/2021 @ 9:15pmLouisiana (12-1)SBC36Marshall (8-4)CUSA21Louisiana -651.5
Myrtle Beach Bowl12/20/2021 @ 2:30pmTulsa  (6-6)AAC30Old Dominion (6-6)CUSA17Tulsa -9.551.5
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl12/21/2021 @ 3:30pmKent State (7-6)MAC52Wyoming (6-6)MWC38Wyoming -358.5
Frisco Bowl12/21/2021 @ 7:30pmSan Diego State (11-2)MWC24UT San Antonio (12-1)CUSA38UTSA -2.549
Armed Forces Bowl12/22/2021 @ 8:00pmArmy (8-3)IND24Missouri (6-6)SEC22Army -3.560
Gasparilla Bowl12/23/2021 @ 7:00pmFlorida (6-6)SEC17UCF (8-4)AAC29Florida -7.557
Frisco Football Classic12/23/2021 @ TBDMiami (OH) (6-6)MAC27North Texas (6-6)CUSA14Miami (OH) -453
Hawaii Bowl CANCELLED12/24/2021 @ 8:00pmHawaii (6-7)MWC0Memphis (6-6)AAC0Memphis -3.560.5
Camellia Bowl12/25/2021 @ 2:30pmGeorgia State (7-5)SBC51Ball State (6-6)MAC20Georgia St -450
Quick Lane Bowl12/27/2021 @ 11:00amNevada (8-4)MWC24Western Michigan (7-5)MAC52Nevada -2.563
Military Bowl CANCELLED12/27/2021 @ 2:30pmEast Carolina (7-5)AAC0Boston College (6-6)ACC0Boston Coll -3.549.5
Birmingham Bowl12/28/2021 @ 12:00pmHouston (11-2)AAC17Auburn (6-6)SEC13Auburn -352
First Responder Bowl12/28/2021 @ 3:15pmLouisville (6-6)ACC28Air Force (9-3)MWC31Louisville -1.554.5
Fenway Bowl CANCELLED12/29/2021 @ 11:00amVirginia (6-6)ACC0SMU (8-4)AAC0SMU -1.572.5
Sun Bowl12/31/2021 @ 4:30pmWashington State (7-5)PAC-1221Central Michigan (8-4)MAC24Wash St -7.557.5
Cotton Bowl12/31/2021 @ 7:30pmAlabama (12-1)SEC27Cincinnati (13-0)AAC6Alabama -13.558

Bowl Performance By Conference

ConfAACCUSAMACMWCSBCINDG5P5TOTALPct
AAC 1-0    2-13-1          0.750
CUSA0-1 1-10-21-11-0 3-5          0.375
MAC 1-1 1-10-20-11-03-5          0.375
MWC 2-01-1   2-05-1          0.833
SBC 1-12-0    3-1          0.750
IND 0-11-0   1-02-1          0.667
Power 51-2 0-10-2 0-1 1-6          0.143
TOTALS1-35-35-31-51-31-25-020-20          0.500

2021 Top Individual Performers

G5 RankFBS RankPlayerTeamMetric
Pass Completions
12Bailey ZappeWestern Kentucky476
23Carson StrongNevada366
36Jake HaenerFresno State329
411Tanner MordecaiSouthern Methodist308
513Grant WellsMarshall295
Passing Yardage
11Bailey ZappeWestern Kentucky5,967
28Carson StrongNevada4,186
39Jake HaenerFresno State4,096
412Logan BonnerUtah State3,628
412Tanner MordecaiSouthern Methodist3,628
Passing Touchdowns
11Bailey ZappeWestern Kentucky62
25Tanner MordecaiSouthern Methodist39
37Carson StrongNevada36
37Logan BonnerUtah State36
511Jake HaenerFresno State33
Rushing Attempts
11Lew NicholsCentral Michigan341
22Brad RobertsAir Force298
22Sincere McCormickUT San Antonio298
44Tyler AllgeierBrigham Young276
512Charles WilliamsUNLV254
Rushing Yardage
11Lew NicholsCentral Michigan1,828
24Tyler AllgeierBrigham Young1,606
37Sincere McCormickUT San Antonio1,479
49Bryant KobackToledo1,407
510Rasheen AliMarshall1,401
Rushing Touchdowns
11Rasheen AliMarshall23
11Tyler AllgeierBrigham Young23
37Jerome FordCincinnati19
49Alton McCaskillHouston16
49Lew NicholsCentral Michigan16
Receptions
11Jerreth SternsWestern Kentucky150
24Deven ThompkinsUtah State102
37Hassan BeydounEastern Michigan97
49Skyy MooreWestern Michigan95
513Trey McBrideColorado State90
513Nathaniel DellHouston90
Receiving Yardage
11Jerreth SternsWestern Kentucky1,902
22Deven ThompkinsUtah State1,704
36Jalen TolbertSouth Alabama1,474
47Jack SorensonMiami (OH)1,406
58Mitchell TinsleyWestern Kentucky1,402
69Jacob CowingTexas El Paso1,354
Receiving Touchdowns
11Jerreth SternsWestern Kentucky17
25Mitchell TinsleyWestern Kentucky14
37Isaiah LikelyCoastal Carolina12
37Isaiah NeyorWyoming12
37Nathaniel DellHouston12
37Zakhari FranklinUT San Antonio12
Total Touchdowns
11Rasheen AliMarshall25
22Tyler AllgeierBrigham Young23
35Jerome FordCincinnati20
410Bryant KobackToledo18
410Alton McCaskillHouston18
410Lew NicholsCentral Michigan18
Touchdowns Responsible For
11Bailey ZappeWestern Kentucky65
26Tanner MordecaiSouthern Methodist41
37Malik WIllisLiberty40
410Desmond RidderCincinnati37
512Logan BonnerUtah State36
512Jake HaenerFresno State0
512Carson StrongNevada0
Yards From Scrimmage
11Lew NicholsCentral Michigan2,166
23Jerreth SternsWestern Kentucky1,919
35Tyler AllgeierBrigham Young1,805
48Bryant KobackToledo1,745
59Rasheen AliMarshall1,735
Total Offense
11Bailey ZappeWestern Kentucky5,984
28Jake HaenerFresno State4,114
310Carson StrongNevada3,967
413Dustin CrumKent State3,909
515Tanner MordecaiSouthern Methodist3,830
Field Goals
11Jonah DalmasBoise State26
22Cayden CamperColorado State25
33Hunter DuplessisUT San Antonio24
46Brayden NarvesonWestern Kentucky23
510Brandon TaltonNevada22
510John RichardsonNorthern Illinois22
510Zach LongTulsa22
Field Goal Percentage
11Zach LongTulsa95.7%
22Chandler StatonAppalachian State95.2%
34Nate NeedhamBowling Green95.0%
47Jonah DalmasBoise State92.9%
512Daniel GutierrezUNLV88.9%
Punting Yards Per Punt
11Matt AraizaSan Diego State51.19
22Ryan StonehouseColorado State50.91
37Ryan WrightTulane47.53
48Tommy HeatherlyFlorida International46.82
511Rhys ByrnsLouisiana46.30
Punt Return Average
11Jaylin LaneMiddle Tennessee State15.5
24Marcus JonesHouston14.4
35Sheldon JonesUT San Antonio12.0
46Ryan MontgomeryCincinnati11.4
510Isiah PaigeOld Dominion10.9
Kick-off Return Average
12Bryan MasseySouthern Methodist34.3
23Brian BattieSouth Florida33.9
36Jalen VirgilAppalachian State30.0
47Brian BrewtonConnecticutt29.9
59LaMareon JamesOld Dominion29.4
Solo Tackles
11Chad MumaWyoming85
24JJ RussellMemphis78
38Reed BlankenshipMiddle Tennessee State75
49Khoury BethleyHawaii73
510Kyle HarmonSan Jose State72
Total Tackles
12Chad MumaWyoming142
25Kyle HarmonSan Jose State133
39Carlton MartialTroy127
410Ivan Pace Jr.Miami (OH)125
512Darren AndersBowling Green124
512Justin RiceUtah State124
Tackles For Loss
13Nick HeningerUtah State20
24D’Marco JacksonAppalachian State19
35Joey NobleNew Mexico State18.5
45Scott PatchanColorado State18.5
55Andre Carter IIArmy18.5
Sacks
12Andre Carter IIArmy15.5
24Ali FayadWestern Michigan13.0
35Josaiah StewartCoastal Carolina12.5
47Cameron ThomasSan Diego State11.5
510Javon SolomonTroy10.0
510Nick HamptonAppalachian State10.0
Interceptions
13Ja’Quan McMillianEast Carolina5
13Khoury BethleyHawaii5
13Marcus JonesHouston5
13Antavious LaneGeorgia State5
13Steven JonesAppalachian State5
Interceptions Returned For Touchdowns
11Steven JonesAppalachian State3
22Andrew AlekiSan Diego State2
22Chad MumaWyoming2
22Jeff HubbardEastern Michigan2
22Syler ThomasLiberty2
22Teja YoungFlorida Atlantic                 2
Passes Defended
11Cortez DavisHawaii18
22Ja’Quan McMillianEast Carolina16
22Samuel WomackToledo16
44Trenton ThompsonSan Diego State14
44Greg RubinMemphis14
44Micah AbrahamMarshall14
44Donte KentCentral Michigan14
99Marcus JonesHouston13
99Bobby Brown, IISan Jose State13

2021 Best and Worst Game Performances

2021 G5 Team Statistical Leaders

2021 G5 Final Rankings (AP Poll)

TeamRecordAP Rank
Cincinnati9-18
Brigham Young11-111
Coastal Carolina11-114
Louisiana10-115
Liberty10-117
Ball State7-123
San Jose State7-124
Buffalo6-125
Also receiving votes (in order): App State, Tulsa, Army, Memphis, UAB, Nevada, Marshall