Picking the best college football team in each state entering 2016
State pride is on the line across the nation every season and these teams are the ones with the upper hand as 2016 kicks into gear
With the college football season rapidly approaching, we got to wondering: What is the best team from each state of our union?
Specifically, this is not a list of the programs that have had the most all-time success in each state, but rather a look at what teams we believe are playing the best right now.
CBS Sports college football writers Robby Kalland and Chip Patterson worked together, evaluating Division I programs from the FBS and FCS divisions, to cover 48 of 50 states. Alaska and Vermont were the only two states without a college football program at either of those levels -- Alaska doesn't have one at any level -- but all others have at least one FBS or FCS football program. Some, of course, were more difficult than others to decide.
With that said, let's take a look at the best team from each state.
Alabama: Alabama -- The reigning national champions are an easy choice here. Alabama was the best in the country, which also would make them best in the state. Remember at the start of last season when there was discussion of Auburn possibly being better than the Tide and then the Tigers barely made a bowl game? Whoops.
Alaska: No Division I football team -- Once again, if anyone wants to make this list next year, all you have to do is start a college football team in Alaska.
Arizona: Arizona -- It's a weird time for the Arizona schools as both took steps back in 2015 finishing in the bottom half of the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils beat the Wildcats pretty handily to close out the year but there are a lot of questions in Tempe coming into the year especially on offense where they must replace their quarterback and three of the top four receivers from a year ago. We're taking the Wildcats going into 2016 because of the experience they have with Anu Solomon at quarterback and the very talented Nick Wilson at running back ... with the caveat that both have proven to be injury prone.
Arkansas: Arkansas -- Arkansas State can play some ball, and it was tempting to take the Red Wolves here, but the Razorbacks, even with their many offensive question marks, are the choice. The Razorbacks have made incremental progress each year under Bielema, but that was with the core group that left this offseason. We'll learn a good bit about how he's done building the program with how the team fares in the SEC West this season.
California: Stanford -- USC and UCLA both have aspirations for the Pac-12 South this season and San Diego State is the reigning Mountain West champs, but the leader in the state of California is Stanford. Christian McCaffrey is a Heisman favorite entering the year and this is a team that very likely could've made the playoff if not for those dastardly body clocks that sabotaged them against Northwestern -- or the fact that their offensive game plan for that game was awful, one of the two. This year, the Cardinal are favorites to capture another Pac-12 title as David Shaw continues to do a fantastic job in Palo Alto.
Colorado: Colorado State -- The Rams were solid in 2016 in the first season under Mike Bobo, going 7-6. Yes, we know they lost at Colorado last year, but they can redeem themselves at home this year against the Buffs. Colorado is the perennial cellar-dweller of the Pac-12 South and aren't expected to make a leap forward this season.
Connecticut: UConn -- Diaco After Dark took down Houston last year (I still can't believe this happened) and dominated hated rival UCF in the Civil ConFLiCT, so they're the clear choice in the football rich state of Connecticut.
Delaware: Delaware (FCS) -- Delaware only went 4-7 last year, but that was still better than Delaware State, which went 1-10, so congrats Blue Hens your dominance in the state continues. The Hornets can change that in the opener this year in the Battle for Delaware on September 1.
Florida: Florida State: Florida State remains the cream of the crop in Florida after beating Miami in a pretty competitive game last year and then giving up a jump shot to Florida, which might be more disrespectful than simply shutting a team out. The Noles are pretty loaded across the roster, and if they get solid quarterback play from young Deondre Francois, they could be a serious national title contender. They also get Clemson at home this year, which helps.
Georgia: Georgia -- The Bulldogs have a new coaching staff with Kirby Smart taking over, quarterback questions and two injured star running backs coming into the season and are still pretty far ahead of the rest of the state. Georgia is a talent-rich state for recruiting, but there's not a ton of in-state competition for the Bulldogs right now at the FBS level.
Hawaii: Hawaii -- The Warriors are the only team in the state, and while they might not win a lot, they do have one of the best alternate uniforms of anyone in the country. Wear these every game, please.
Idaho: Boise State -- Boise State had a rare "down" year in 2015, going 9-4 and failing to win 10 games for only the second time in the last 10 years, but it is still far and away the top team in the state -- sorry Vandals. The Broncos have reason to believe they'll be back to double digit wins thanks to a fairly favorable schedule -- no San Diego State in MWC play -- and an offense led by sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, who is coming off a strong freshman season as the starter, and junior running back Jeremy McNichols.
Illinois: Northwestern -- Northern Illinois and Northwestern are currently the two programs in the state that compete for this title, with Illinois hopeful that Lovie Smith can get the Illini in the conversation in the near future. We took the Huskies last year, and they won their division but went only 8-6 in 2015. Northwestern was a robust 10-3, including a stunning win in Week 1 over Stanford. The Wildcats offense is bad, but that defense is nasty.
Indiana: Notre Dame -- As fun as Indiana's offense is, the Hoosiers defense is somehow worse and they are not at the level of Notre Dame. Brian Kelly did a masterful job in 2015 to get the Fighting Irish to the Fiesta Bowl despite all the injuries they suffered over the course of the season. DeShone Kizer emerged as a potential star and seems likely to beat out Malik Zaire this fall for the starting quarterback job. The Irish have a much easier schedule this year with no FSU or Clemson on their partial ACC schedule. If they can stay healthy, this is a team with playoff potential.
Iowa: Iowa -- Can Iowa repeat its success from 2015? Who knows, but even if the Hawkeyes fall all the way back to general mediocrity, it will still be enough to be the best team in the state. A big slide isn't expected, however, as Kirk Ferentz's squad is among the favorites in the Big Ten West.
Kansas: Kansas State -- Football at the highest level in the state of Kansas isn't great right now, but the Wildcats are still far better than the Jayhawks -- there isn't an FCS team to be found, but I'm willing to hear arguments for Butler Community College or Dodge City Community College in this spot. Kansas State went 6-7 last year and the ol' Snyder Magic can make the Wildcats dangerous at any time to any opponent. Meanwhile, Kansas is just trying to win a game.
Kentucky: Louisville -- Quarterback Lamar Jackson is extremely fun and has the tools to be one of the most dynamic players in college football. If he can cut down on mistakes, Louisville's offense should be really good. The Cardinals also had a top-40 scoring defense in 2015, so this is a complete football team. Unfortunately for them, the Cardinals reside in the same division as Clemson and Florida State, but do get the 'Noles at home this season where they are dangerous.
Louisiana: LSU -- LSU dominates recruiting like no team does in a state with the level of talent of Louisiana. They also win a lot of games and have some guy named Leonard Fournette at running back this year. With apologies to the Ragin' Cajuns and the Warhawks, this is an easy choice.
Maine: Maine (FCS) -- The Black Bears are it in the state of Maine, outside of some D-III programs. They are looking to improve off a 3-8 season in 2015 and are ranked 66th in the FCS preseason rankings.
Maryland: Navy -- This is one we certainly missed last year. Navy was a beast, going 11-2 with the only losses to Notre Dame and Houston. Keenan Reynolds is no longer under center for the Midshipmen, which will be a big change, but we're going to roll with Ken Niumatalolo's crew to remain one of the best in the AAC in 2016 and maintain their spot as best in the state while Maryland adjusts to new head coach DJ Durkin.
Massachusetts: Boston College -- It was tempting to put Harvard in this spot, but we'll stick with the Dudes at Boston College. The Eagles were part of the best* football game of 2015, the 3-0 loss to Wake Forest in which the lone scoring drive of the game went for negative yardage. Patrick Towles is now the quarterback after transferring in from Kentucky, which might make the Eagles semi-competent on offense this season! If they can do that, they might actually put the scare into some teams because the defense is downright nasty. *Note: Only the best if you're into weird, somewhat terrible football like me.
Michigan: Michigan -- Yes, Michigan State fans, we all remember last year's game and how it ended, but the pick here is still the Wolverines for 2016. Michigan's surging into Big Ten favorite position, while the Spartans have to find a replacement for quarterback Connor Cook -- as well as some important players on the offensive and defensive lines. Jim Harbaugh has brought the Wolverines back to life and now expectations are sky high. They have a difficult in-conference schedule with road games at Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State that they'll have to navigate in order to reach the playoff, but even if they get tripped up, the Wolverines figure to take back the crown in the state of Michigan.
Minnesota: Minnesota -- There's no real competition for the Gophers, but aside from being the default choice, they also have one of the more underrated quarterbacks college football in Mitch Leidner. Leidner's stats won't blow you away -- Minnesota isn't exactly an up tempo passing team -- but don't be surprised to find him in the discussion of top 5 quarterbacks for the 2017 NFL Draft next spring.
Mississippi: Ole Miss -- The Rebels might take a step back this year with the departure of stars like Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche, but they won't look anything like what Mississippi State figures to see with the loss of QB Dak Prescott. Ole Miss was already better than the Bulldogs, who I fear will struggle mightily without their fearless leader at the helm.
Missouri: Missouri -- Things are not great at Mizzou right now, but it's the only FBS team in the state and the highest ranked FCS squad is SE Missouri State at 65th nationally in the preseason rankings, so by default, it's the Tigers in this spot. Missouri scrapped its way to a 5-7 record with a fantastic defense and one of the worst offenses in the country last year and there's not much optimism that the offense will take a much needed leap forward in 2016.
Montana: Montana (FCS) -- Winners of three straight in the rivalry against Montana State, the nod goes to the Grizzlies, now led by Bob Stitt. The Stitt effect occurred immediately with an 8-5 record, an upset of North Dakota State and 54-35 win against Montana State.
Nebraska: Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers are without a doubt the best Division I team in the state. Related: The Cornhuskers are the only Division I team in the state.
Nevada: Nevada -- This was one of the toughest calls for us to make. Tony Sanchez got things going at UNLV in his first year and even knocked off the Wolf Pack in Reno, but that surge of energy in Las Vegas still isn't enough to take our nod as the top team in the state. Nevada won the prior 10 meetings and will be back for vengeance at the end of the year.
New Hampshire: New Hampshire (FCS) -- An perennial FCS title contender, the Wildcats have a distinct edge over Dartmouth in the Granite State.
New Jersey: Rutgers -- Chris Ash doesn't have a ton of competition in New Jersey, but he's doing a good job of taking on battles in the state by competing with Harbaugh's satellite camps.
New Mexico: New Mexico -- You know who made the cut for Big 12 expansion consideration? New Mexico, that's who. The Lobos will have their time in front of the video conference camera to make their case, and that's as good as reason as any to name the Lobos the most attractive program in the state.
New York: Syracuse -- Dino Babers will get someone this year. Mark my words. Once Eric Dungy has the fastest show on turf rolling at full speed, the Orange will snag at least one signature win in the Carrier Dome.
North Carolina: North Carolina -- Coming off a school-record 11 wins with an offense that averaged more than 40 points per game, the Tar Heels have asserted themselves as the team to beat in the state.
North Dakota: North Dakota State (FCS) -- Oh, you mean five-time national champion North Dakota State? Yes, the Bison are No. 1 in the state.
Ohio: Ohio State -- The Buckeyes never lost their grip on the state of Ohio, but with Urban Meyer at the helm, the program has reasserted itself at the top of college football's hysteria. Team "O-H" is at the peak of its power right now and there's just nothing that the Bearcats or Bobcats can do to expect a spot here. At least Meyer is on board for Cincinnati-to-the-Big 12, right?
Oklahoma: Oklahoma -- The Sooners have finished with less than 10 wins just three times since 2000 (winning eight games 2005, 2009 and 2014), have claim to nine Big 12 titles in that span and became the first team from the league to make the College Football Playoff. Like Ohio State, Oklahoma is one an iconic program of the sport that is matching its legacy with real-time on-field success. Sooners football and its fans are unequaled in the state as we head into 2016.
Oregon: Oregon -- The Pac-12 power struggle will be one of the most fascinating conference races on the field this season, but the Ducks are in markedly better shape for 2016 than its in-state rivals at Oregon State.
Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh -- Luckily we get to see this one settled on the field on Sept. 10 as the two in-state foes will renew their rivalry in Heinz Field. Pat Narduzzi's changes around the facility and within the program have given us reason to believe a switch is about to be flipped, and it's not crazy to think that Pitt will not only win the in-state battle but finish with more wins and a better conference finish than the Nittany Lions.
Rhode Island: Bryant (FCS) -- Bryant didn't meet its conference title expectations in the NEC last season, but there's still no one better in the state.
South Carolina: Clemson -- Maybe it's recency bias, but I get the idea that the South Carolina fans at or around college age when Spurrier led the Gamecocks on a winning streak against Clemson will keep the tale alive forever. The fact that Clemson's playoff run occurred in the season the Head Ball Coach retired only makes the story better. Clemson's back in charge in the Palmetto State with less practicing green work and more football facility putt-putting.
South Dakota: South Dakota State (FCS) -- Your boys, the Jackrabbits, beat Kansas in 2015 and nearly took down Missouri the season before. Odds for an upset are down this year since the season opener is at TCU but still the best team in the state and a dangerous FCS team for anyone to face.
Tennessee: Tennessee -- The Dores are on the rise but nowhere near where Butch Jones has the Vols heading into year four in Knoxville.
Texas: TCU -- Last year was Baylor. The turbulent times in Waco had us looking elsewhere and this came down to Texas A&M and TCU. Both teams are breaking in a transfer quarterback and both teams have the potential to light up the scoreboard. But it's the Frogs, a team that could sneak up and knock off Oklahoma for the Big 12 title (while the Aggies seem a step behind the Tide and Tigers) that get our nod here.
Utah: Utah -- Oh boy the Holy War rivalry always seems to get the fans (and our mentions) stirred up. BYU and Utah could look like potential 8-9 win teams this year. BYU has an edge at quarterback but the Utes have more stability on the sideline. Our edge goes with Kyle Whittingham and his fearless "will recruit through a fire alarm" nature.
Vermont: No Division I football team -- Create one and dominate the maple syrup state.
Virginia: Virginia Tech -- Justin Fuente smoothest hire of the offseason, an honor that includes the bonus of retaining defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Bucky Hodges in Fuente's system might be a cheat code that the ACC will have to crack.
Washington: Washington -- Hype train at an all-time high. Jake Browning surging, Chris Petersen finally on the edge of winning a championship in a power conference. Washington State will put up a fight, for sure, but the Huskies have a better chance to make real noise. Both teams have a high floor, but the Huskies' ceiling seems higher than the Falk-Marks Experience. (By the way, we are really excited to see Luke Falk and Gabe Marks pitch it around again in 2016)
West Virginia: Marshall -- WVU is a good team, don't get us wrong, but it's hard to argue with Marshall's success under Doc Holliday, particularly the last few years. He and the Herd have amassed a 33-8 record with a 10-3 mark in 2015. Meanwhile, Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers are 36-28 since his arrival with a 8-5 record one season ago. The Herd are Thundering through the state right now.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin -- Only Division I team in the state, but to ignore the D-III juggernaut at Wisconsin-Whitewater would be crime after five national titles in the last seven years. The Badgers are the program, but the Warhawks have a team to know, for sure.
Wyoming: Wyoming -- Only Division I team in the state.
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