Top 8 Craziest Stats from the 2021 College Football Season
Number nerds, assemble!
All season, we search for meaningful stats. College football can be difficult to predict, yet numbers and trends are often very beneficial. But sometimes, stats are just plain interesting—and that is the driving force of this particular review.
Any number of players had peculiar or standout single-game performances throughout the 2021 season. However, our focus is instead on the overall sample from the recent campaign.
The list is entirely subjective but has an emphasis on records, longtime streaks and numerical oddities.
Verone McKinley III's Bizarre Juxtaposition
Oregon safety Verone McKinley III ended the regular season with an FBS-leading six interceptions. Given the regularity of six-plus interceptions for a defender, that's not particularly notable.
But going backward sure is unique.
McKinley lost a yard on those six picks. Not since Pitt cornerback Shawn Robinson in 2000 has a defender made six-plus interceptions and finished a season with negative return yards. Robinson grabbed six picks and retreated six yards.
Despite that oddity, 2021 was a strong year for McKinley. Along with the takeaways, the fourth-year sophomore logged 71 tackles and earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors.
Trey McBride's Lone Touchdown Catch
Trey McBride put together a fantastic year.
Colorado State's tight end reeled in 90 passes for 1,121 yards, both of which led FBS players at the position. McBride, who topped the 100-yard mark six times, never recorded fewer than four receptions or 44 yards. He even landed first-team AP All-America honors.
That pesky end zone eluded him, though. McBride only caught one touchdown. He's the first player in FBS history to collect 1,100-plus receiving yards and not have multiple receiving scores.
On the bright side, McBride also ripped off a 69-yard touchdown run on a fake punt against Nevada.
Will Anderson Jr.'s Tackles for Loss
How is this not a bigger deal?
Will Anderson Jr. has piled up somewhere around 30 tackles for loss. Depending on your source, it's either 32.5, 31.5 or 29. For consistency's sake, call it 31.5. But the point doesn't change: Alabama's edge-rusher has enjoyed a monstrous season.
Unofficially, the single-season TFL record (39) belongs to Alabama's Derrick Thomas in 1988, as the NCAA didn't keep tabs on the stat until 2000. Western Michigan's Jason Babin holds the official mark (32) from his 2003 campaign.
Anderson hasn't simply dominated bad competition, either. Only seven of his tackles for loss happened in nonconference games; the other 24.5 occurred in SEC action.
Somehow, he managed just a fifth-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting. Anderson deserved better for this preposterous year.
Bailey Zappe's Record-Setting Year
During his final game, Bailey Zappe locked in two FBS records. Seems pretty good for someone who spent exactly one season at the highest level of the sport.
Zappe transferred from FCS program Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky last December. In four seasons at HBU, he'd surpassed 10,000 yards. But when offensive coordinator Zach Kittley went to WKU, Zappe packed up and followed him to Conference USA.
In his debut, Zappe shredded UT-Martin for 424 yards and seven touchdowns. Western Kentucky then dropped four straight games against a tough schedule, but Zappe threw for no fewer than 365 yards and three touchdowns in those losses.
And he never slowed down.
Zappe ultimately broke FBS single-season records for both passing yards (5,967) and touchdowns (62) when WKU toppled Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Jerreth Sterns Joins an Exclusive Club
Someone had to catch all those passes, right?
Along with Kittley and Zappe, wide receiver Jerreth Sterns also moved from Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky last offseason. In three years at HBU, Sterns set program records in career receptions (220), yards (1,971) and touchdowns (18). He nearly matched that output in one season with the Hilltoppers.
Sterns caught 150 passes, which is the third-highest total in FBS history. East Carolina's Zay Jones (158 in 2016) and Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes (155 in 2009) are the only players with more.
Sterns also paced the nation in receiving yards (1,902) and in touchdowns (17), sharing the latter with Pitt's Jordan Addison. Sterns has declared for the 2022 NFL draft.
Matt Araiza Punting into History
Matt Araiza might not be finished making history. For now, San Diego State's punter already has a few records in the bag.
Through the regular season, he holds FBS marks for the most 50-yard punts (39) and 60-yard blasts (18) in a single year. Araiza even eclipsed the 80-yard barrier twice.
Most notably, he also owns the single-season mark for average yardage (51.2) among players with at least 50 punts in a season, topping Texas A&M's Braden Mann—who averaged 51.0 yards in 2019.
Araiza secured the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter and earned first-team AP All-America recognition.
Nebraska's Big Ten Point Differential
What a painful year for Nebraska. ESPN's Bill Connelly noted the 3-9 Cornhuskers underperformed their expected win total by nearly four victories. That estimation—while not this simple—is a reflection of Nebraska never losing by double digits.
Even wilder, however, is the offense scored as many points (239) as the defense allowed in Big Ten play. And in those nine contests, the Huskers finished 1-8.
After falling to Illinois and Michigan State by a combined 11 points, Nebraska registered an emphatic 49-point win over Northwestern. But the Cornhuskers dropped six straight games to close the season. That plus-38 differential slowly evaporated to zero because of tight losses to Michigan (three), Minnesota (seven), Purdue (five), Ohio State (nine), Wisconsin (seven) and Iowa (seven).
Northern Illinois, meanwhile, went 8-4 and reached the MAC Championship Game despite scoring 253 points and surrendering 254 in eight regular-season conference tilts.
That's some tough luck, Nebraska.
Kansas' Futility Streaks End
Without question, the most unforgettable meaningless result in 2021 is Kansas' stunning 57-56 victory at Texas.
Entering the evening, the Jayhawks had an eight-game losing streak. They'd dropped 18 consecutive Big 12 matchups and 21 straight games opposite FBS competition. The program hadn't won a Big 12 contest on the road since October 2008. Kansas was a 31-point underdog; Texas hadn't lost in 79 games as a favorite of 24-plus points, and Kansas was 0-100 in those moments as a 'dog, both since 1978.
But then, Jared Casey happened.
The walk-on fullback caught the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime, propelling the Jayhawks to a stunning win. Adding to the improbability of the moment, Casey had never played an offensive snap in his college career until this particular night.
Between the snapped streaks and the unlikelihood of Casey even being on the field, the numbers from this upset are iconic.