College football top to bottom: The final 1-130 rankings of the 2021 season

On3 imageby:Mike Huguenin01/11/22


Here are this season’s final 1-130 rankings, with a comment on each of the 130 teams.

The top 25

1. Georgia (14-1)
The buzz: It’s been a long time coming for the Bulldogs. And who woulda thunk it: A one-time walk-on from Blackshear, Ga., a town of about 3,500, was the key in the title game. (Then again, the key guy in the 1980 season was a guy from Wrightsville, Ga., a town of about 2,500 back then.)

2. Alabama (13-2)
The buzz: Raise your hand if you thought Alabama’s two losses would come to teams quarterbacked by Zach Calzada and Stetson Bennett.

3. Michigan (12-2)
The buzz: See, Jim Harbaugh can beat Ohio State.

4. Cincinnati (13-1)
The buzz: This Bearcats team forever will be remembered as the first Group of 5 squad to crash the CFP party. It also set a school record for wins in a season.

5. Ohio State (11-2)
The buzz: The pass offense was something to behold. But the defense was a huge issue in the two losses, to Oregon and Michigan. The loss to Michigan snapped the Buckeyes’ eight-game winning streak in the series.

6. Baylor (12-2)
The buzz: Dave Aranda’s second season was a memorable one. The Bears rebounded from a two-win season to take home the Big 12 title and set a school single-season record for wins. They also got their second “major” bowl victory; the other came in 1956.

7. Oklahoma State (12-2)
The buzz: The Cowboys rode a big-time defense to a big year in which they tied the school’s single-season record for victories.

8. Michigan State (11-2)
The buzz: The Spartans were expected to finish last in the Big Ten East. Instead, second-year coach Mel Tucker made masterful use of the transfer portal (hey there, Kenneth Walker III) and the Spartans rebounded from a two-win season in 2020 to reach double-digit victories for the seventh time in 12 years.

Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III was the leading rusher among Power 5 players this season. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

9. Ole Miss (10-3)
The buzz: Matt Corral became a sort of cult hero in Oxford as he guided Ole Miss to just its third 10-win season since 1971.

10. Notre Dame (11-2)
The buzz: Notre Dame won double-digit games for the fifth consecutive season, which is the longest streak in school history. In the process, Brian Kelly became the winningest coach in school history — and then left for LSU.

11. Oklahoma (11-2)
The buzz: The season started with a ton of hype for QB Spencer Rattler and expectations of a CFP berth. Rattler lost his job and eventually transferred. Caleb Williams, the guy who replaced Rattler, is in the transfer portal. And coach Lincoln Riley left for USC. Yep, it was an uneventful season in Norman.

12. Utah (10-4)
The buzz: The Utes opened 1-2, but they finished the season with the first Rose Bowl appearance in school history. Three of the four losses came in one-score games, and the other was by nine points.

13. Pitt (11-3)
The buzz: The Panthers won the ACC championship, the first-ever outright conference title in program history, thanks to a monster season from QB Kenny Pickett (4,319 yards, 42 TDs). Pitt twice shared the Big East championship (2004 and 2010).

14. Wake Forest (11-3)
The buzz: Wake’s offense was extremely entertaining to watch. QB Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons scored at least 35 points 12 times, at least 40 eight times and at least 45 four times. The defense? Let’s just say it’s good the offense scored a lot of points.

15. Houston (12-2)
The buzz: A tough defense helped the Cougars win double-digit games for the third time in 11 seasons. The Cougars will finish in the top 25 in the final media polls for just the third time since 1990.

16. NC State (9-3)
The buzz: Missing out on the Holiday Bowl meant missing out on potentially just the second 10-win season in school history. And there could’ve been so much more: NCSU’s two ACC losses came by a combined four points.

17. San Diego State (12-2)
The buzz: Behind a stingy defense, the Aztecs set a school single-season record for wins despite playing “home” games about 110 miles from campus in Carson as an on-campus stadium is built. This was the fifth time in seven seasons the Aztecs won double-digit games.

18. Clemson (10-3)
The buzz: The defense was excellent. The offense was not.

19. Oregon (10-4)
The buzz: A team that prides itself on being physical was embarrassingly bullied twice by Utah. New coach Dan Lanning still is walking into a good situation, though.

20. Kentucky (10-3)
The buzz: Mark Stoops has built a solid program at UK. The Wildcats began playing football in 1915 and have just four 10-win seasons in their history; this was their second in four years.

21. Wisconsin (9-4)
The buzz: There is no mystery to what Wisconsin wants to do: Run the ball and play good defense. They did the second part exceptionally well this season. At some point, though, the passing attack needs to be dragged out of the Stone Age.

LB Leo Chenal was a disruptive force for a Wisconsin defense that was one of the best in the nation. (David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletics)

22. Arkansas (9-4)
The buzz: All hail Sam Pittman. In his second season, the Hogs won as many SEC games (four) as they had in the previous four seasons combined. It was just the second time in 10 seasons Arkansas didn’t finish below .500 in the league.

23. Iowa (10-4)
The buzz: A nice season for the Hawkeyes. At some point, though, you’d think the coaching staff would realize that having a popgun passing attack is not the way to do things in this era of college football. Iowa averaged 180.1 passing yards per game this season and hasn’t averaged more than 229.0 yards per game since 2014.

24. Purdue (9-4)
The buzz: Not much was expected from the Boilermakers this season, but a strong passing attack and a surprisingly good defense led them to their first nine-win season since 2003.

25. BYU (10-3)
The buzz: The Cougars were 5-0 against the Pac-12, but just 4-3 against other FBS schools.

Teams 26-50

26. Texas A&M (8-4)
The buzz: Yes, the Aggies upset Alabama, but this still was a disappointing season. Losing starting QB Haynes King in the third game was big.

27. Minnesota (9-4)
The buzz: The Golden Gophers lost their top two running backs to season-ending injuries in the first half of the season, yet still managed to get to nine wins for the third time in six years — but just the fourth time since 1905.

28. Louisiana (13-1)
The buzz: The Ragin’ Cajuns won the Sun Belt title and set a school single-season record for wins; it was their third season with double-digit victories. But coach Billy Napier left, and new coach Michael Desormeaux has a tough act to follow.

29. Fresno State (10-3)
The buzz: Jake Haener threw for 4,096 yards and 33 TDs, and helped the Bulldogs to three big wins (over UCLA, Nevada and San Diego State). And they almost won at Oregon, faltering in the fourth quarter.

30. Penn State (7-6)
The buzz: The offensive line had all sorts of problems, which meant the rushing attack was stuck in neutral all season. That means a huge season from WR Jahan Dotson and a stout defense were wasted.

31. UCLA (8-4)
The buzz: Chip Kelly got his rushing attack cranked up and the Bruins had their best season since 2015. But with Lincoln Riley sure to get USC back on track, how does Kelly respond?

32. Kansas State (8-5)
The buzz: The pass offense needs an overhaul, but the Wildcats rode the talent of 5-foot-6 RB Deuce Vaughn and a tough defense to their eighth season with at least eight wins in the past 11 years.

33. UTSA (12-2)
The buzz: The Roadrunners were ranked in the media polls for the first time and won the Conference USA title. Hey, there’s a reason coach Jeff Traylor got a raise and an extension.

34. Utah State (11-3)
The buzz: It was a remarkable turnaround for the Aggies in coach Blake Anderson’s first year. Utah State went 1-5 last season, then won the Mountain West and tied a school single-season record for wins this season.

35. Mississippi State (7-6)
The buzz: QB Will Rogers is a great fit for Mike Leach’s offense, and the defense played above its talent level.

Tennessee’s offense took off after Hendon Hooker became the starting quarterback. (Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

36. Tennessee (7-6)
The buzz: There was an alarming talent drain from 2020. But new coach Josh Heupel showed off his offensive acumen, and he helped turn QB Hendon Hooker — who had been quite pedestrian at Virginia Tech — into a star.

37. Oregon State (7-6)
The buzz: This was supposed to be a bad season; instead, the Beavers finished with a winning record for the first time since 2013.

38. Arizona State (8-5)
The buzz: A tumultuous season because of the NCAA investigation. Still, the Sun Devils played hard, ran the ball well and got after you on defense. They committed too many penalties, though — 113, fourth-most nationally.

39. Iowa State (7-6)
The buzz: The most disappointing team in the nation? If the Cyclones don’t reside at the top of the list, they are second.

40. Washington State (7-6)
The buzz: The Cougars overcame a messy coaching situation to have a solid season, including a rout of Washington in the Apple Cup. The bowl loss? Let’s not talk about that.

41. Appalachian State (10-4)
The buzz: Ending the season on a two-game losing streak put a damper on what had been a fine season. The defense got put in a lot of bad situations throughout the season because the offense committed 26 turnovers, third-most nationally.

42. Boise State (7-5)
The buzz: An interesting season for the Broncos in coach Andy Avalos’ first year, with no bad losses and some impressive wins (a rout of eventual MWC champ Utah State, a tough victory over BYU, a demolition of Fresno State). Above all, though, you’re left with a “What if?” vibe, as in “What if Boise held on in the opener at UCF?” and “What if Boise had made one more play in a one-point loss to Oklahoma State?”

43. Texas Tech (7-6)
The buzz: A hot start, then the Red Raiders scuffled, then they upset Iowa State to get to a bowl, then they hammered Mike Leach in the bowl game. Oh, yeah — the coach was fired during the season, too.

44. Auburn (6-7)
The buzz: Bryan Harsin’s first season was an uneven affair. The Iron Bowl loss — and the manner in which it was lost — will haunt Tigers fans for a long time.

45. Coastal Carolina (11-2)
The buzz: A good season, for sure. At the same time, the Chanticleers didn’t even play for the Sun Belt title.

46. Central Michigan (9-4)
The buzz: Lew Nichols III is the nation’s leading rusher, and the Chippewas rode Nichols to their highest win total since 2009, when they won 12 under Butch Jones.

47. UAB (9-4)
The buzz: The Blazers don’t do anything fancy; they just try to overpower you physically. It worked pretty well this season, though the loss to Rice was inexplicable.

48. Maryland (7-6)
The buzz: QB Taulia Tagovailoa tied a school single-season record with 26 TD passes. Defensively, though, the Terps were a sieve against “good” teams.

49. Western Michigan (8-5)
The buzz: The Broncos beat eventual ACC champ Pitt early in the season and rode a good defense and strong rushing attack to their most wins since 2016, when they were 13-1 under P.J. Fleck.

50. Miami (7-5)
The buzz: QB D’Eriq King played in just three games before being lost for the season. But replacement Tyler Van Dyke played well and showed he is a guy the Hurricanes can build around.

Teams 51-75

51. SMU (8-4)
The buzz: The Mustangs opened 7-0, then faltered. Still, three of their four losses were by seven or fewer points.

52. UCF (9-4)
The buzz: QB Dillon Gabriel was lost for the season in Game 3, but Gus Malzahn and the Knights regrouped behind true freshman QB Mikey Keene.

53. Air Force (10-3)
The buzz: The Falcons rode their productive triple-option attack to their second season with double-digit wins in three years and their fourth in eight years.

54. Nevada (8-5)
The buzz: For the most part, QB Carson Strong lived up to the hype. Stopping the run was the Wolf Pack’s biggest problem.

Carson Strong’s right arm played a key role for Nevada this season. (Courtesy of Nevada Athletics)

55. LSU (6-7)
The buzz: Remember 2019? That’s all LSU fans had to hold on to this season, memories of that magical 2019 season. This season was disastrous, which is why Ed Orgeron is gone.

56. South Carolina (7-6)
The buzz: A modest win total, but at the same time, a stunning win total. How Shane Beamer and his staff got this team — with bad quarterback play, injuries to key players and a general overall lack of talent — to seven wins is almost miraculous.

57. North Carolina (6-7)
The buzz: This was a disappointing season for the Tar Heels. The offensive line underperformed, and the defense routinely was shredded. It was a tough way for QB Sam Howell to finish his UNC career.

58. Virginia (6-6)
The buzz: QB Brennan Armstrong threw the ball all over the place, ending the season second nationally in passing yards per game (404.5). But the Cavs couldn’t run, nor play defense.

59. Louisville (6-7)
The buzz: QB Malik Cunningham had a great season, accounting for 39 TDs, including 20 on the ground. The rest of the team? Ehh.

60. West Virginia (6-7)
The buzz: Inconsistent quarterback play led to an inconsistent season. WVU was 1-7 against teams that finished with a winning record.

61. Western Kentucky (9-5)
The buzz: Transfer QB Bailey Zappe simply was awesome, setting NCAA single-season records for passing yards (5,967) and TD passes (a staggering 62). Zappe averaged 1.1 TD passes per quarter this season.

62. Northern Illinois (9-5)
The buzz: Coach Thomas Hammock did a great job this season, guiding the Huskies to the MAC title one season after a 0-6 finish.

63. Boston College (6-6)
The buzz: The early-season injury to QB Phil Jurkovec erased any momentum BC had built from 2020. But he’ll be back next season.

64. Army (9-4)
The buzz: A good-but-not-great season, even with a win over a Power 5 team in a bowl. The reason? The Black Knights lost to Navy.

65. Texas (5-7)
The buzz: One of these seasons, the annual “Texas is back!” talk will be real.

66. TCU (5-7)
The buzz: The Horned Frogs were awful on defense, which might be one reason longtime program fixture Gary Patterson is gone.

67. Liberty (8-5)
The buzz: Liberty underachieved this season, especially when you consider the Flames had an NFL guy (Malik Willis) at quarterback.

68. Memphis (6-6)
The buzz: True freshman QB Seth Henigan threw for 3,322 yards and gives the Tigers a guy they can build around.

69. Virginia Tech (6-7)
The buzz: The Hokies won their opener (North Carolina) and the regular-season finale (Virginia). But the bowl game was a disaster — and much of the regular season was, too, which is why Justin Fuente is gone.

70. Missouri (6-7)
The buzz: Mizzou had the third-worst run defense among the Power 5 teams; only Stanford and Kansas were worse.

71. Syracuse (5-7)
The buzz: The passing attack was atrocious, but, man, RB Sean Tucker is a big-timer.

Syracuse’s Sean Tucker ran for 1,496 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry for a team that struggled throwing the ball. (Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)

72. Illinois (5-7)
The buzz: Bret Bielema had the Illini playing feisty football in his first season. They were competitive in every game but one (a 28-point loss to Virginia).

73. Florida (6-7)
The buzz: The Gators were 1-7 against bowl teams and were just flat-out bad in October and most of November. Thus, there’s a new coach.

74. East Carolina (7-5)
The buzz: Coach Mike Houston has the Pirates headed in the right direction; this was their first winning season since 2014.

75. Kent State (7-6)
The buzz: The defense needs a major overhaul. The Golden Flashes surrendered 471.9 yards per game, 6.2 yards per play and 36.3 points per game.

Teams 76-100

76. Florida State (5-7)
The buzz: The Seminoles started 0-4, including a nightmarish last-second loss to FCS Jacksonville State. But FSU showed some fight after that, and there are some things to build on. One thing that needs a big-time rebuild, though, is the passing attack.

77. Nebraska (3-9)
The buzz: A lot of “close but no cigar” for the Huskers. Eight of the nine losses came in one-score games; the other loss was by nine points to Ohio State. Scott Frost needs to teach his guys how to win.

78. Rutgers (5-8)
The buzz: There was a modicum of growth this season. The biggest issue for Greg Schiano is finding a quarterback.

79. California (5-7)
The buzz: The offense was wildly inconsistent. To wit: In the five wins, the Golden Bears averaged 476.4 yards per game; in the seven losses, that average was 321.0.

80. USC (4-8)
The buzz: Coach Clay Helton was fired in September, which tells you all you need to know about how the season went.

81. Tulsa (7-6)
The buzz: There were some rumblings about coach Philip Montgomery’s job security, then the Golden Hurricane ended the season on a four-game winning streak. Tulsa played nine one-score games.

82. Wyoming (7-6)
The buzz: The Cowboys have to get better throwing the ball; they threw for 200 or fewer yards 10 times and for more than 204 just once, with a high of 242.

83. Eastern Michigan (7-6)
The buzz: This was just the Eagles’ third winning season since 1995.

84. Georgia State (8-5)
The buzz: The Panthers started 1-4, then righted themselves. Their only loss after October 2 was a four-point setback at Louisiana, which finished 13-1.

85. Marshall (7-6)
The buzz: The Thundering Herd committed 25 turnovers, fourth-most nationally.

86. Colorado (4-8)
The buzz: Colorado was a pleasant surprise in 2020. But the Buffs were surprisingly bad in 2021 because of a poor offense; they had six games with 250 or fewer yards and never once hit the 400-yard plateau.

87. Washington (4-8)
The buzz: The season went off the rails in Week 1 with a 10-7 loss to Montana. Coach Jimmy Lake was fired at the end of his second season.

Washington was supposed to contend in the Pac-12 North. Instead, the Huskies lost their opener and coach Jimmy Lake eventually lost his job. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

88. Miami (Ohio) (7-6)
The buzz: The RedHawks’ last three losses of the season came by a total of four points.

89. Stanford (3-9)
The buzz: The Cardinal usually play a physical brand of football. Not this season, when both lines were pushed around: Stanford was last in the Pac-12 in rushing offense and rushing defense.

90. Middle Tennessee (7-6)
The buzz: The Blue Raiders had a plus-11 turnover margin because they forced 32 turnovers, second-most nationally.

91. Toledo (7-6)
The buzz: The Rockets were a disappointment, with five of the six losses coming in one-score games.

92. Ball State (6-7)
The buzz: Ball State won the MAC title last season, then was a middle-of-the-pack MAC team this fall.

93. UTEP (7-6)
The buzz: This was a good season for the Miners, who had won five games total in the past four years.

94. Old Dominion (6-7)
The buzz: The Monarchs looked dead in the water, then changed quarterbacks and won five in a row to close the regular season and get to a bowl.

95. North Texas (6-7)
The buzz: As with ODU, the Mean Green won five in a row to close the regular season and get to a bowl. That likely saved coach Seth Littrell’s job.

96. Navy (4-8)
The buzz: A disappointing season for the Midshipmen, though they did beat Army.

97. Indiana (2-10)
The buzz: Injuries led to a disastrous season for the Hoosiers, who opened the season in the top 20. IU used four different starting quarterbacks.

98. San Jose State (5-7)
The buzz:
A disappointing season for the Spartans, who won the Mountain West last season but opened 1-2 in the league this season and never really were in contention.

99. Hawaii (6-7)
The buzz: It was an up-and-down season for the Rainbow Warriors, and coach Todd Graham looks to be on thin ice.

100. Northwestern (3-9)
The buzz: A big drop for the Wildcats, who went from 7-2 with a loss in the Big Ten title game in 2020 to this disaster of a season in 2021.

The bottom 30

101. Georgia Tech (3-9)
The buzz: Geoff Collins figures to be coaching for his job next season.

102. FAU (5-7)
The buzz: The Owls opened 3-1 in Conference USA play and seemed to be one of the better teams in the league. But they ended the season on a four-game losing streak, with each of the losses by double digits.

103. Duke (3-9)
The buzz: Duke started 3-1 in 2019, but the Blue Devils are 7-24 since. Coach David Cutcliffe stepped down at the end of the season.

104. Louisiana Tech (3-9)
The buzz: The Bulldogs blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and lost by one to Mississippi State in the opener, and never really recovered. Coach Skip Holtz was fired at the end of the season.

105. Colorado State (3-9)
The buzz: The season ended with a six-game losing streak and the firing of second-year coach Steve Addazio.

106. Charlotte (5-7)
The buzz: Each of the 49ers’ seven losses came by double digits, and the average margin of victory for their opponents in those games was 19.3 points.

107. Buffalo (4-8)
The buzz: The Bulls came up with just three interceptions this season, second-fewest in the nation. That had to irk first-year coach Maurice Linguist, who has been a secondary coach his entire career.

108. Troy (5-7)
The buzz: The Trojans won 31 games from 2016-18. But this was their third consecutive losing season, and it cost coach Chip Lindsey his job.

109. Kansas (2-10)
The buzz: Another bad record for the Jayhawks. But first-year coach Lance Leipold’s team definitely got better as the season progressed, and Texas fans still will be wincing 20 years from now when they think about KU’s win in Austin.

Lance Leipold led Kansas to a shocking victory at Texas; it was Kansas’ first road win in Big 12 play since 2008. (Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

110. Tulane (2-10)
The buzz: The opener at Oklahoma made it appear the Green Wave would be a team to be reckoned with in the AAC. Uhh, no.

111. Arizona (1-11)
The buzz: Three quarterbacks attempted more than 73 passes — and each had more picks than TDs. As a team, the Wildcats had 12 TD passes and 18 interceptions.

112. USF (2-10)
The buzz: A tough season for the Bulls, but coach Jeff Scott still received a contract extension.

113. Bowling Green (4-8)
The buzz: The Falcons’ victory at Minnesota was one of the biggest upsets of the season.

114. South Alabama (5-7)
The buzz: The Jaguars opened 3-0, then lost their next two by a total of four points and the season then sort of spiraled out of control.

116. Rice (4-8)
The buzz: A modest win total, right? Well, it’s the most the Owls have won in a season since 2015, when they finished 5-7.

117. Texas State (4-8)
The buzz: Opponents threw 27 TD passes and just three interceptions. That’s not good.

118. Southern Miss (3-9)
The buzz: Southern Miss had 18 winning seasons in a row from 1994-2011. But including this season, the Golden Eagles have had five losing records in the past 10 seasons.

119. Vanderbilt (2-10)
The buzz: Vandy has to find an offense; the Commodores scored just 109 points in eight SEC games (13.6 ppg), and 28 of those came in one game, a loss to Missouri.

120. Ohio (3-9)
The buzz: Frank Solich retired over the summer, and he evidently took some mojo with him. This was the Bobcats’ first losing season since 2005, which was Solich’s first year at Ohio.

121. UNLV (2-10)
The buzz: Six losses came in one-score games.

122. Georgia Southern (3-9)
The buzz: The Eagles had won a combined 25 games the past three seasons, then came a startling bottoming out this season. Clay Helton is the new coach.

123. New Mexico (3-9)
The buzz: The defense actually was solid. The offense? Beyond brutal. The Lobos averaged a nation’s-low 234.2 yards per game — an astounding 23 yards fewer than anyone else. In addition, New Mexico was the only team in the nation to average less than 4.0 yards per play (3.88 to be exact).

124. Arkansas State (2-10)
The buzz: Butch Jones’ first season was a disaster, thanks to a horrific defense (505.9 yards per game, 7.23 yards per play).

125. Temple (3-9)
The buzz: The Owls won 10 games in 2016 and eight in both 2018 and ’19, but they have bottomed out fast since then.

126. Akron (2-10)
The buzz: The hiring of Joe Moorhead as coach would seem to be a sign that things should get better for the Zips, who have three wins in the past three seasons.

127. New Mexico State (2-10)
The buzz: The Aggies have beaten two FBS teams in the past three seasons, and one of those was UMass this season, so “FBS” may be stretching it a bit.

128. FIU (1-11)
The buzz: There’s no excuse for a team located in Florida and playing in the Sun Belt Conference to be this horrendous.

129. UMass (1-11)
The buzz: The Minutemen have won two games total in the past three seasons. But they did beat UConn this season.

130. UConn (1-11)
The buzz:
The Huskies have won seven games total in the past five seasons (granted, they didn’t play in 2020, but still …).