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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | December 20, 2021

Ferris State tops the final DII football Power 10 rankings of 2021

Ferris State wins the 2021 DII football championship in dominant fashion

The DII football season is in the books and Ferris State defeated Valdosta State to win its first national championship in program history. Both the Bulldogs and Blazers were in the preseason Power 10 way back in August, and the two now finish the season topping the final DII football Power 10 rankings of 2021.

2021 DII FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: How Ferris State won the 2021 title

In fact, eight of the preseason Power 10 made the playoffs which is pretty remarkable considering how wild this year went down with upsets coming by the boatload on a weekly basis. Ferris State never got its ticket to the upset train and finished the season a perfect 14-0 against some pretty stiff competition… but more on that in a minute.

LOOK BACK: The NCAA.com preseason Power 10AFCA preseason poll takeaways 

One last reminder for the season: These are my rankings, and mine alone. I try to pair insight from coaches, SIDs and insiders with what the selection committee tends to look at come tournament time — strength of schedule, win-loss percentage and stats of that nature — to come up with a fair version of the top 10.

The final DII football Power 10 rankings of 2021

No. 1 Ferris State | Previous: 1

The Bulldogs finished the season 14-0 and national champions. Ferris State had a first-round bye in the tournament and reeled off 208 points in four games to set the DII football tournament record… against some of the best competition in the nation. Its narrowest margin of victory was 21 points and the Bulldogs beat their opponents — three of which were in the last Power 10 of the regular season — by an average of 36 points per game. This was one of the most dominating performances ever seen.

FERRIS QB POWER: How Jared Bernhardt went from best in DI lacrosse to the DII football field

No. 2 Valdosta State | Previous: 3

The Blazers played the toughest schedule in DII football and made it all the way to the championship game. Ivory Durham became a superstar in front of our eyes, and he fought through the championship game with an injured shoulder. Head coach Gary Goff has departed, and that sometimes leads to player changes as well, but Valdosta State is a powerhouse no matter who is in Title Town. Expect to see the Blazers back in the hunt next year as well.

No. 3 Colorado School of Mines | Previous: 9

The Orediggers were in the top 10 to start the season, but that doesn't make their run to the semifinals any less impressive. Colorado School of Mines toppled Bemidji State and put up the second-most points of the season against Angelo State’s stout defense in the playoffs. Even in the semifinal's loss, the Orediggers battled to the final drive, falling three points short of a championship game appearance. Michael Zeman was every bit of the Harlon Hill finalist he turned into, and John Matocha is a proven leader under center. This team is in good hands moving forward.

Back-to-back last-second TDs have Shepherd, miraculously, in DII football semis
No. 4 Shepherd | Previous: “Just missed”

Tyson Bagent won the 2021 Harlon Hill Trophy, and you have to wonder if it was because of his playoff heroics. He certainly led the Rams on an exciting run to the semifinals, where they, like every other team in its path, lost to Ferris State. Bagent led DII in passing and sounds like he will be back for some unfinished business in 2022. That is bad news for the rest of the PSAC.

HARLON HILL TROPHY: Bagent wins the 2021 award | Complete history of the award

No. 5 Northwest Missouri State | Previous: 5

The Bearcats had a spectacular 2021 that ended at the hands of — you guessed it — Ferris State. Al McKeller had one of his best seasons of his career behind this offensive line — which is impressive considering he is a three-time Harlon Hill nominee. Sam Roberts was the leader of one of the best defenses in the nation, and the way head coach Rich Wright got the most out of whichever quarterback he used shows you the Bearcats will be back at it in 2022.

No. 6 Bowie State | Previous: 6

As predicted right here on NCAA.com in August, the Bulldogs finished the season as a top-10 team. So, why do they deserve the high ranking? Bowie State had one of the best defenses in DII leading the division in defensive scores. The Bulldogs won its third-straight CIAA title and made a historic run to the quarterfinals. Calil Wilkins was a Harlon Hill finalist after a monster season, consistently pacing this offense. This was a Bulldogs’ team for the ages, and it will be interesting to see how they meet the new bar they established in 2022.

TOURNEY FAQ: The essential guide to the DII football championship

No. 7 Kutztown | Previous: 10 (tied)

The Golden Bears had an impressive run to the quarterfinals where they fell victim to one of Bagent’s Hail Marys, ending their season two points shy of a trip to the semis. What Kutztown did was very impressive, and I think it gets overlooked that the Golden Bears played the third-toughest schedule in DII football. They had multiple wins over playoff and regionally ranked teams en route to the PSAC championship and No. 1 seed in Super Region One.

No. 8 Notre Dame (OH) | Previous: 9 The Falcons dropped an early season game to Charleston (WV) and several started to question if this was still the team to beat in the MEC. Well, that was plain silly. The Falcons didn’t lose again until the second round of the playoffs where they, too, fell a Bagent Hail Mary away from advancing. It is important to mention, the Falcons played that game without either of their starting running backs and still dropped 34 points. Mickey Mental is a special ball coach… the Falcons aren’t going anywhere.

No. 9 West Florida | Previous: 2

Go ahead and scream at me: Despite the stunning upset by Newberry in the first round, this was one of the best teams in DII football all season long. It is incredible to think that this West Florida program can have a “championship or bust” mentality considering they made their DII football debut in 2016. As long as head coach Pete Shinnick is in Pensacola and Austin Reed returns, the Argos are a contender and will be looking to defend their first-ever GSC crown in 2022.

No. 10 Angelo State | Previous: NR

Alright, Rams fans. It’s time I pay Angelo State the respect it deserves. This Rams team didn’t make a single appearance in the Power 10 this season and made it all the way to the quarterfinals while playing one of the toughest schedules in DII football. The offense was built on speed and the defense was top-10 in DII as they romped their way to a program-record seven-game winning streak and the most wins in more than three decades.

First five out (in alphabetical order):

  • Grand Valley State: What a year for the Lakers. This team returned to the tournament with incredible depth that should keep them in the conversation next year as well.
  • Harding: The Bisons led DII football in rushing, averaging 390.1 yards per game and punching in 60 touchdowns on the ground. Harding is a postseason staple and should remain that way.
  • Nebraska-Kearney: I was higher than most on the Lopers all season, and it was in large part due to TJ Davis. The quarterback is fearless and was one of two players to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards at any level. If he’s back, so too will be the Lopers.
  • Newberry: The Wolves edged out Slippery Rock and New Haven because of, admittedly, recency bias. This team shut down Austin Reed and kept Bowie State out of sync offensively and defensively all day long in its quarterfinal loss. The SAC doesn’t get enough attention, but it’s one of the best conferences in DII.
  • West Georgia: A three-loss team in the top 25? Yes, indeed, as all three Wolves’ losses came to AFCA top-25 teams while playing one of the toughest schedules in the division. This team had signature wins up and down its schedule and was very good all season long.

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