Graphic by Mike Meredith

Welcome to a historic event that you will remember for the rest of your lifetime. Whether you came here willingly or stumbled in drunkenly off the street, you're witness to the most esteemed tournament in sport.

It's the 2021 Bottom 25 Playoff. For the first time in the long, illustrious history of The Bottom 25, the playoff has expanded from four teams to 12. That's 12 teams -- that have spent the year losing far more often than winning -- battling it out to see which can finally separate themselves from the pack.

Today, after months of competition, one will be crowned Bottom 25 Champion. Let's meet our contestants. 

The following four teams finished the regular season ranked in The Bottom Four and earned first-round byes:

1. UMass (1-11)
2. UConn (1-11)
3. FIU (1-11)
4. Akron (2-10)

Here are our first-round matchups with the lower-seeded team hosting the game and the loser advancing to the next round.

No. 5 New Mexico State (2-10) at No. 12 Indiana (2-10)
No. 6 Kansas (2-10) at No. 11 Vanderbilt (2-10)
No. 7 Arkansas State (2-10) at No. 10 New Mexico (3-9)
No. 8 Arizona (1-11) at No. 9 Temple (3-9)

Let the 2021 Bottom 25 Playoff begin!

First round

No. 12 Indiana 31, No. 5 New Mexico State 15: Indiana had a disappointing follow-up to its strong 2020 season that propelled it to an appearance in preseason polls, but 2021 ends with a comfortable victory over New Mexico State. The Aggies had one of the better offenses among Bottom 25 teams all season long, but it couldn't crack the Hoosiers defense. A late fourth-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion made this game look a bit closer than it was in reality.

No. 11 Vanderbilt 27, No. 6 Kansas 24: You know how it always feels unfair when bowl games pit two top Group of Five teams together instead of giving them a shot against a Power Five school? Well, this game had similar vibes. Two of the four Power Five teams in our playoff met in the first round with Vanderbilt emerging victorious. The Commodores built a 27-10 lead early in the third quarter and withstood a noble comeback attempt by the Jayhawks. The Commodores forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter and ran out the rest of the clock to get the win and end their season.

No. 7 Arkansas State 23, No. 10 New Mexico 21: This result doesn't come as much of a surprise, even if it's the first upset of the tournament. Arkansas State might have been the higher seed, but the team improved in November, beating ULM and losing to Georgia State and Texas State by 10 points combined. The Red Wolves kept this one close as well and their 46-yard field goal to take a 23-21 lead with just under five minutes to go proved to be enough.

No. 8 Arizona 34, No. 9 Temple 21: This was another upset that followed how both teams played to finish the season. While the Wildcats won only a single game during the regular season, their underlying metrics suggested they were better than their record and they played hard every week. Temple limped to the finish line and it showed in this game, as the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead on their opening possession and the game never got any closer than that.


No. 10 New Mexico 24, No. 1 UMass 13: The Lobos rebounded from a close loss to Arkansas State in the first round with a convincing win over the top-seeded Minutemen in the quarterfinals. Honestly, there wasn't much the Lobos could do. UMass played too poorly, and the Lobos just could not match their lack of intensity.

No. 9 Temple 27, No. 2 UConn 21: Many saw Temple as "the team nobody wants to see in The Bottom 25 Playoff," but while the Owls were able to get past Arizona, UConn was a different story entirely. The game was tied 21-21 early in the fourth quarter, but a pick-six sealed the deal. Temple missed the PAT to leave the door open for the Huskies, but they refused to walk through.

No. 6 Kansas 24, No. 3 FIU 23: For the second week in a row, the Jayhawks fell behind by two scores, but this time their comeback effort ended with a victory. In the fourth quarter, Kansas drove 79 yards over seven minutes to take a 24-23 lead, but left the Panthers too much time. FIU was able to drive into field goal range, but a 48-yard effort cut wide right as time expired, allowing the Panthers to move on to the semifinals.

No. 4 Akron 44, No. 5 New Mexico State 41: The most entertaining game of The Bottom 25 Playoff saw the Akron Zips get by New Mexico State 44-41 in a shootout. It was a fitting game that reflected the kind of season both teams had. New Mexico State spent most of the season in The Bottom Four, but a 44-27 win over UMass during the final week of the regular season knocked it out of a first-round bye and let the Zips slip in. The Aggies would get their revenge when they allowed the Zips to march 83 yards in 2:13 to take a 44-41 lead in the final minute and win the game.


No. 5 New Mexico State 28, No. 1 UMass 24: The Aggies run to a Bottom 25 title came to an end against our 2019 champions. Much like the regular-season meeting, the Aggies were too good for the Minutemen, and though they kept it closer this time, they just lacked that Bottom 25 championship mentality in the end. Still, there's no shame in beating UMass, which has been one of the toughest teams to lose to all season long.

No. 2 UConn 23, No. 3 FIU 21: An upset! A finals matchup of No. 1 UMass and No. 2 UConn was far and away the most popular choice in Bottom 25 Bracket Pools, but the Panthers don't care about your bracket! They're coming for The Bottom 25 title and a step closer to it now after a 23-21 loss to the Huskies. The excitement on the FIU sidelines as UConn's last-second 34-yard field goal sailed through the uprights brought a tear to the eyes of millions.

The Bottom 25 Championship Game

No. 3 FIU 5, No. 1 UMass 2: Ladies and gentlemen, they've done it. For the second time in three seasons, the UMass Minutemen are your Bottom 25 Champions, and they did it in a Bottom 25 title game for the ages. UMass set the tone early, fumbling the opening kickoff inside their 20-yard line. The Panthers pounced on it and were held to a field goal to take a quick 3-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff pinned UMass deep in its own territory again, but this time a holding call in the end zone resulted in a safety to give the Panthers a 5-0 lead. That's where the score would remain until the final moments when FIU ran out the final seconds of the game by running out the back of the end zone to make it 5-2 and clinch UMass' Bottom 25 title.

What an absolute thrill ride. Congratulations to the Minutemen and everybody that competed for a Bottom 25 title this season. It's a shame we can crown only one champion, but there's always next year.


Bottom 25 title history

2021: UMass
2020: COVID-19
2019: UMass
2018: UTEP
2017: UTEP
2016: Texas State
2015: UCF
2014: SMU
2013: Miami (Ohio)