All-AAC football team honors for the 2021 college football season


The end of college football the season comes with end of year rewards. As such, today we honor the American Athletic Conference’s 2021 First Team and Top Players in our All-AAC Football Teams of the Year. It was a dominating season by several teams and players, most notably capped by Cincinnati becoming the first team in the Group of Five to advance to the college football playoffs.

The conference was of course run by the Cincinnati Bearcats and Houston Cougars. But that’s not to say that there weren’t a plethora of other incredibly worthy performances across the board.

It is important to note that these are awards and honors from Pro Football Network for the prowess of each individual. in the field this season. It is in no way a projection of their NFL Draft status nor a report on their actual conference awards that have been awarded previously. These accolades are awarded by Pro Football Network, at the judgment of our team of college football analysts.

Now we come to the overall rewards.

  • AAC Coach of the Year: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
  • AAC Player of the Year: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
  • AAC Newcomer of the Year: Big Kat Bryant, EDGE, UCF
  • AAC Game of the Year: SMU vs Houston, Week 9

AAC offense

Before entering the first and second teams as well as the honorable mention awards for the CAA, let’s eliminate some of the greater individual recognition. Here are the top honors for AAC individuals in 2021:

  • AAC Offensive Player of the Year: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
  • Quarterback AAC of the Year: Tanner Mordecai, SMU
  • AAC Running Back of the Year: Jérôme Ford, Cincinnati
  • AAC Wide Receiver of the Year: Nathaniel Dell, Houston
  • AAC Offensive Lineman of the Year: Hayden Howerton, SMU
  • AAC Offensive Line of the Year: Houston Cougars
  • AAC Offensive Rookie of the Year: Alton McCaskill, RB, Houston

With Luke Fickell at the helm, QB Desmond Ridder and RB Jerome Ford has raced in AAC competition this season. They finished 13-0 and became the first group-five program to advance to the college football playoffs. Ridder set whole new Cincinnati records in the passing game as Ford took the college football world by storm with his rushing prowess. All in all, it got them into the AAC title game and made it a topic of conversation throughout the season.

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Tanner Mordecai took first place at quarterback after throwing for 3,628 yards and 39 touchdowns. He was fourth in nationwide touchdowns and 10th in passing yards.

Nathaniel Dell of Houston was an electric presence on the pitch at all times. They’ve used it all over the place, whether it’s offshore or in the lunge. He was dominant after the capture but also easily parted ways with all kinds of defenders.

SMU’s Hayden Howerton helped lead the Mustangs to an 8-4 record. With Howerton leading the charge on the offensive line, SMU’s offense was one of the best in the country.

Houston’s offensive line is the best offensive unit

The Cougar line also wins the highest distinction. From left to right, this unit was as solid as it gets: LT Patrick Paul, LG Cam’Ron Johnson (and Keenan Murphy), C Kody Russey, LG Tank Jenkins and RT Dennis Bardwell.

They helped pave the way for Alton McCaskill’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. With 16 touchdowns, McCaskill landed ninth in the nation. He ran for 883 yards, but averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his first season. McCaskill also contributed with 98 receiving yards and 1 touchdown.

Now, however, we are honoring the best in their positions with our All-AAC offensive teams with Honorable Mention for the 2021 season.

First Team All-AAC Offense

QB: Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
RB: Jérôme Ford, Cincinnati
RB: Alton McCaskill, Houston
WR: Calvin Austin III, Memphis
WR: Nathaniel Dell, Houston
WR: Josh Johnson, Tulsa
YOU: Sean Dykes, Memphis
ARROW: Danny Gray, Houston
LT: Tyler Smith, Tulsa
LG: Hayden Howerton, SMU
VS: Sincerely Haynesworth, Tulane
RG: Dylan Parham, Memphis
RT: Kip Frankland, Marine

Second Team All-AAC Offense

QB: Tanner Mordecai, SMU
RB: Tyjae Spears, Tulane
RB: Keaton Mitchell, ECU
WR: Alec Pierce, Cincinnati
WR: Ryan O’Keefe, UCF
WR: Brandon Johnson, UCF
YOU: Grant Calcaterra, Cincinnati
ARROW: Xavier Weaver, USF
LT: James Tunstall, Cincinnati
LG: Cole Schneider, UCF
VS: Kody Russey, Houston
RG: Lorenz Metz, Cincinnati
RT: Dennis Bardwell, Houston

Honorable Mention All-AAC Offense

QB: Clayton Tune, Houston
RB: Shamari Brooks, Tulsa
RB: Jaren Mangham, USF
WR: Tyler Snead, ECU
WR: Rashee Rice, SMU
WR: Reggie Roberson Jr., SMU
YOU: Josh Whyle, Cincinnati
ARROW: Timmy McClain, USF
LT: Patrick Paul, Houston
LG: Jeremy Cooper, Cincinnati
VS: Matthew Lee, UCF
RG: Fernando Frye, ECU
RT: Samuel Jackson, UCF

AAC Defense

With the offense on the sidelines, here are the top honors for individuals on the defensive end of the ball at the American Athletic Conference in 2021. The top honors here are:

  • AAC Defensive Player of the Year: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
  • AAC Defensive Lineman of the Year: Big Kat Bryant, UCF
  • AAC Linebacker of the Year: Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
  • AAC Defensive Back of the Year: Marcus Jones, Houston
  • AAC Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jadon Canada, CB, Tulane
  • AAC Defensive Line of the Year: Houston Cougars
  • Secondary AAC of the year: Cincinnati Bearcats

The AAC weren’t quite known for their defensive prowess in 2021, but the conference still had some stellar performances. Houston’s Marcus Jones stands at the top of this list. In fact, the Cougars probably wouldn’t have made the AAC Championship game without Jones. He finished the regular season tied for first nationally with 5 interceptions, and his return from a touchdown kick against SMU was an instant classic.

In the trenches, Big Kat Bryant made excellent use of his freshman year in Orlando. Bryant finished with 6 sacks and dozens of extra pushes. It was thanks in large part to his efforts that UCF were able to save an 8-4 record despite losing star QB Dillon Gabriel.

Darrian Beavers also helped set the stage for the Bearcats in their miraculous season. The Beavers recorded 79 total tackles and 3 sacks in the regular season, but his covering prowess stood out.

The Beavers recorded 2 breakouts, 1 interception and had a handful of other forced failures to their credit. He could go side-to-side with the best in the country and is expected to soar the selection tables once the test numbers pay off.

Jadon Canada impresses in first year

Jadon Canady receives the Defensive Rookie of the Year award despite Tulane’s lack of success overall. Canady jumped onto the stage in his very first game. On the first target of his young career, Canady was targeted by Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler. He jumped into the hearts of Green Wave fans with a formidable interception and his season took off from there. Canady finished the season with 2 steals and 3 assists.

Overall, the Cougars and Bearcats won our unit awards. Houston had four top 20 players among the conference leaders in the sacks. They also had three players in the top 10 as Logan Hall and D’Anthony Jones were tied for third with 6.0 sacks. Cincinnati leads the way for the secondary prize with a grape that is among the best defensive backs across the country.

Here are the honors for the best in their positions with our Honorable Mention and First Team All-AAC defensive teams for the 2021 season.

All-AAC defense of the first team

EDGE: Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
EDGE: Big Kat Bryant, UCF
DI: Curtis Brooks, Cincinnati
DI: Elijah Chatman, SMU
KG: Antonio Grier, USF
KG: Tatum Béthune, UCF
KG: Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
CB: Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
CB: Ja’Quan McMillian, ECU
CB: Marcus Jones, Houston
S: Bryan Cook, Cincinnati
S: Rodney Owens, Memphis
ARROW: Joel Dublanko, Cincinnati

Second-team All-AAC defense

EDGE: David Anenih, Houston
EDGE: Jaxon Player, Tulsa
DI: Logan Hall, Houston
DI: DeVere Levelston, SMU
KG: Deshawn Pace, Cincinnati
KG: JJ Russell, Memphis
KG: Dwayne Boyles, USF
CB: Coby Bryant, Cincinnati
CB: Jadon Canada, Tulane
CB: Damarion Williams, Houston
S: Macon Clark, Tulane
S: Gervarrius Owens, Houston
ARROW: Jeremy Lewis, ECU

Honorable mention Defense All-AAC

EDGE: Derek Parish, Houston
EDGE: Anthony Goodlow, Tulsa
DI: Blake Green, USF
DI: Latrell Bankston, Houston
KG: Isaac Slade-Matautia, SMU
KG: Diego Fagot, Marine
KG: Trevor Denbow, SMU
CB: Arquon Bush, Cincinnati
CB: Travon Fuller, Tulsa
CB: Greg Rubin, Memphis
S: Warren Saba, ECU
S: Ja’von Hicks, Cincinnati
ARROW: Turner Coxe, SMU

AAC Special Teams

The American Athletic Conference would be nothing without its special teams. And how special they were. Here are the individual awards for AAC Special Teams.

  • AAC Kicker of the Year: Spencer Shrader, USF
  • AAC Bettor of the Year: Ryan Wright, Tulane
  • AAC Specialist of the Year: Brian Battie, KR, USF

The Bulls are well represented among US special teams. Shrader took care of the kickoff tasks and made 35 touchdowns in the process. In addition, he was the team’s place kicker, scoring his 35 extra points and missing just 2 baskets on the field, both by at least 41 yards or more. Ryan Wright’s net average of 44.6 yards per punt was the AAC’s best score.

Brian Battie led the nation with 3 punt return touchdowns. He averaged 31.0 yards per punt return and edged SMU’s Bryan Massey for top honors this season.

First Team All-AAC Specialists

Kicker: Zack Long, Tulsa
Kick-off specialist: Spencer Shrader, USF
bettor: Ryan Wright, Tulane
Kick back: Brian Battie, USF
Punt turner: Marcus Jones, Cincinnati
Special team: Daiquain Jackson, Tulsa

Second Team All-AAC Specialists

Kicker: Spencer Shrader, USF
Kick-off specialist: Bubba Baxa, Houston
bettor: Laine Wilkins, Houston
Kick back: Bryan Massey, SMU
Punt turner: Ryan Montgomery, Cincinnati
Special team: Maquel Haywood, Marine

Honorable mention All-AAC Specialists

Kicker: Owen Daffer, ECU
Kick-off specialist: Brendan Hall, SMU
bettor: Lachlan Wilson, Tulsa
Kick back: Marcus Jones, Houston
Punt turner: Calvin Austin III, Memphis
Special team: Sylvonta Oliver, Memphis

Congratulations to all the selected players. If you have any questions regarding these selections or the process behind them, please ask on Twitter (@CamMellor).


About Betty J. Snyder

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