In 2019, the Tigers won their third-straight GAC regular season title with a second consecutive undefeated regular season. They enter 2021 with a 27-game conference game win streak and they have qualified for the previous three NCAA playoffs. They received seven first-place votes.
Harding collected four first-place votes. The 2019 Bisons defense led the GAC in points allowed, yards allowed and sacks in reaching the NCAA playoffs for the fourth-straight season. Cole Chancey, a 2019 Harlon Hill finalist, set the league’s single-season record for rushing yards with 1,375
Henderson State claimed the final first-place vote and placed third in the balloting. The Reddies earned a berth to the 2019 Live United Bowl. L’liott Curry tallied 84 catches, 1,167 yards and 14 touchdowns, marks that all ranked in the top five single-season totals in league history.
Oklahoma Baptist took fourth. In 2019, the Bison offense led the league in scoring, total offense, passing offense and first downs per game. Preston Haire led the league with 3,041 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes. Tyler Stuever’s 18 total touchdowns ranked second while Joshua Cornell finished second to Curry with 1,054 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Southern Arkansas placed fifth in the poll, followed by East Central. The Muleriders feature a new head coach as Mike McCarty takes over for the retired Bill Keopple. He inherits quarterback Hayden Mallory who threw 20 touchdown passes in 2019. The Tigers’ Mookie Douglas ran for 1,144 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Quarterback Kenny Hrncir threw for 1,876 yards and ran for 630.
Arkansas-Monticello, Arkansas Tech and Northwestern Oklahoma State garnered the next three positions. The Weevils feature 2019 Freshman of the Year Demilon Brown. He threw for 1,057 yards, ran for 803 and accounted for 14 touchdowns. Devontae Dean, the team’s top running back, as well as their top two receivers – C.J. Parham and DeAndre Washington, all return. Caleb Batie led the Wonder Boys in rushing with 620 yards and five touchdowns. The Rangers’ Gavin Garner led the team with 37 receptions and 620 yards.
Southwestern Oklahoma State, Southeastern Oklahoma State and Southern Nazarene rounded out the poll. The Savage Storm’s Katrell Blakely and Braxton Kincade combined for 101 receptions and almost 1,300 yards. SWOSU’s Justin Bailey averaged 18.7 yards per reception. After almost 20 months as head coach, Dustin Hada will finally get the chance to lead the Crimson Storm into competition. Gage Porter threw for 996 yards and ran for 751. He accounted for 12 touchdowns.
The regular season opens on Thursday, September 2 with five contests – the favored Tigers host Oklahoma Baptist; Southwestern Oklahoma State faces Henderson State; Southern Nazarene visits Arkansas-Monticello; Southern Arkansas takes on Northwestern Oklahoma State and Arkansas Tech welcomes in Southeastern Oklahoma State. Week One concludes with East Central traveling to Harding.