Here is our end of year Blog Poll wrap-up. I’ll do these by conference, and that may make things a bit easier.
Before we get started, I would point you to what I said in Week 1 about the Crimson Tide, and we’ll see how much of that panned out and what was course-corrected:
This version of Alabama seems far more mortal on offense: the offensive line has some issues to sort out, the running backs aren’t up to ‘Bama snuff — particularly RB1, who is just a guy by Crimson Tide standards, JoJo Earle needs to be more involved in the game plan, Jahleel needs to get his head on straight, a dependable WR2 must emerge, and there needs to be just improvement across the board in effort and breaking tackles. It’s a fast offense, for sure. But they’re not blocking well outside, and they are not getting the tough yards. That must improve in SEC play.
Nailed it far too many, sadly. How about that Billboard, eh? It was apparent from Week 1 he didn’t want to be here. Sadly, the wide receiving corps never developed the dependable depth that was needed. The offensive line was scarce better from Week 1 to Week 15, and especially on the outside. Owens got beat like a rented mule most of the year...and that was the best option.
What was corrected? Tackling, for a start. By season’s end, it was a relatively sure-tackling team, even if the young guys took bad pursuit angles too often. And with respect to the running backs, I think all of us who sort of treated B Rob as just another depth piece probable should give him a clap now. Is he a super star? Of course not. But he played hard, developed his hands, was a very physical blocker, and busted his ass all season for tough yards behind an offensive line that never got their act together. His 1000 yard season is one of the hardest-fought I’ve ever seen a Saban ‘back have, and if there was an unheralded hero on offense, it was BR4.
Thanks for everything, Rob.
Now for the poll, and the usual caveats apply. The criteria are nebulous, far-ranging, and capricious — strength of schedule, bad and good coaching, injuries, exigent circumstances, home/away results, defense or lack thereof, offense or lack thereof, line play, power poll-ishness, can you cover a spread (Vegas is pretty smart about how good a team is), head-to-head where possible or prudent, and my own lying eyeballs.
2021 Final Rankings
|TOP 40ish||Army, Kansas State, Air Force|
|Purdue, Minnesota, Western Kentucky|
|UTSA, UAB, and a bunch of other solid teams|
AAC: It was a down year for the would-be 6th Power Conference, with many teams not living up their expectations. By season’s end, Houston and Cincy were the class of the conference, though UCF somehow cobbled together 9 wins with dozens of injuries in some of Gus’s better coaching.
ACC: There were no legitimate powerhouses this year, and the ones that could have emerged were either inconsistent (Pitt), had glaring issues on one side of the ball (Wake, Clemson), or didn’t have quite enough talent to get over the finishing line (NC State).
Big 10: There were a few surprises, both for good (Michigan State) and for ill (Ohio State, Penn State), a national power that finally lived up to expectations and recruiting (Michigan), and then quite a few very solid teams that were tough outs every week (Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan come to mind). This is essentially the SEC with more ranch dressing.
Big 12: One of the season’s more impressive teams at times, the Cowboys’s late injuries doomed OSU but they were hella’ good. Aranda at Baylor and Klieman at K State did great jobs as well, given the relatively scarce talent pool. Iowa State flopped, Texas self-destructed, and OU was one of the softest teams you’ll ever see with Riley unable to develop his own QB from scratch despite having Caleb Williams on the bench and a preseason Heisman favorite on the starting two-deep. There’s a reason he chickened out to the P12. The majority of this conference was largely forgettable garbage though (see also: ACC).
CUSA: Actually, one of the more competitive years for the CUSA. UTSA, WKU and UAB impressed most of the season. Marshall played for the CUSA title after early-season hiccups. UTEP was one of the season’s turnarounds. Even lil’ ole North Texas finally rebounded. It’s not great, no. But given where they’re usually at? Very fine showing.
Indies: Notre Dame was Notre Dame, as usual. Army was army, as usual. Liberty took a step backwards despite returning an ungodly 19 starters. Next year, all three of these squads are facing heavy transitions and roster losses.
MAC: There were two pleasant surprises this year: NIU cobbling together a title run from practically scratch: this was a team that went winless last season. The other was Central Michigan rebounding after a woeful early start and then climbing to 9 wins and a bowl W for the MAC. But the expected good teams? They simply weren’t there: Toledo, Western, Buffalo, Kent? Blech. Only one team in the entire East even finished above .500 and it took a bowl game to get there. Bad, bad showing overall for the Cradle of Coaches in 2021.
MWC: The Mountain reasserted itself somewhat this year: SD State and Air Force were expected to be good, and they were. Fresno State was not, and they were. Sure, Nevada and Boise took a step back, but Blake Anderson’s 10-win Utah State Aggies more than made up for that, winning the MWC. Wyoming got to 8 wins. Hell, even UNLV became one of the toughest outs in the country. This is a conference on the rise. Again.
Sun Belt: The expected powerhouse was (ULL). The runners-up just couldn’t get enough consistency to climb the mountain, though App State and Coastal and Georgia State all played quality football at times. That’s balanced by some bad Arkansas State, Troy, and Ga. State teams, who were abysmal at times. South Alabama and ULM are positioned to make some noise next year, just wait.
PAC 12: The Colley Matrix finished its rankings this year with the P12 as the worst conference in America. Not worst Power 5 conference, worst period. Utah was quite good by season’s end, but even facing an OSU team down to 58 scholarship players, they simply could not get it done in the biggest game in program history. The rest of the conference was a no-show out of conference and in the bowl season. I just don’t see where it gets better either.
SEC: The conference got stronger, and largely on the strength of the middle class. Sure, Auburn and LSU were flops. But UK won 10 games, Tennessee got competent, Mizzou made a bowl, Arkansas flirted with the Top 10, Ole Miss was Top 10, South Carolina played harder than almost anyone in the country, and even Mississippi State rebounded to be ranked through out the year. Georgia as expected was the top dog. A&M wasted a lot of defensive potential, though they did get Alabama at home. And with respect to the Tide, if you were going to beat them, this is the year to do it, against Saban’s youngest-ever squad. But, for all that, only two Saban acolytes with deep veteran teams were able to do so. Methinks there will be hell to pay next year,