Picking the best college football team in each state entering the 2018 season
From Alabama to Wyoming, which Division I team best represents its home state?
The 2018 college football season is fast approaching. To help kick off the year, we're picking the best Division I program in every (applicable) state, republic and commonwealth in the union.
Before getting to the actual selections, though, there are a couple of points to clarify. This is not a list of the programs that have had the most all-time success in each state. Rather, it's a look at what teams we believe are playing the best right now. Records, head-to-head wins and other recent accomplishments were taken into consideration.
We evaluated Division I programs from the FBS and FCS 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 -- so they are being withheld. 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: The Crimson Tide didn't win the SEC West a year ago, but those shiny national championship rings will probably make Nick Saban and Co. sleep OK at night. Saban has five national titles since taking over the program in 2007, is preseason No. 1 in theand has never missed the College Football Playoff. It's going to take many, many Iron Bowl wins in a row for Auburn to get into the conversation. -- Barrett Sallee
Arizona State: It was hard voting against Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate since he's one of the most exciting players in the country to touch the ball on every down. And if we're to project 2018's results, Arizona probably has the higher ceiling. Still, the Sun Devils finished with an identical record as their in-state rivals in 2017 and beat the Wildcats 42-30. Moreover, the Territorial Cup has been evenly-matched over the last decade, and each program has one Pac-12 Championship Game appearance, so it's not even like there's a good tiebreaker. So, point goes to the Sun Devils … for now. -- Ben Kercheval
Arkansas: Despite the 4-8 monstrosity that was the 2017 season in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks are still the best and most stable program in the Natural State. Prior to that, former coach Bret Bielema racked up at least seven wins in three straight seasons. Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson's worst seasons in Jonesboro since 2014 were seven-win seasons, which at least puts the Red Wolves in the discussion. But they're not there yet. Maybe if the two would play each other… -- Barrett Sallee
USC: The Trojans won the Pac-12 last season and beat Stanford, their closest competition for this title, twice in the process. The Cardinal may have running back Bryce Love coming back, but USC has an All-American caliber linebacker, Cameron Smith, leading an experienced defense. Plus, freshman quarterback JT Daniels may be the next big thing in L.A. USC remains the choice here. -- Ben Kercheval
Colorado: This one is actually quite difficult. The Buffaloes have just one season over .500 since 2006, while the Rams have five straight. But, the Buffs have won eight of 12 over the Rams in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. It boils down to this -- Colorado is underwhelming, except when it comes to beating its rival. For that, it gets the crown. -- Barrett Sallee
UConn: With apologies to Central Connecticut -- which lost in the first round of the FCS playoffs -- Connecticut is still a Husky state. Yes, the team that went 3-9 and 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference is still more impressive than any other school within the borders. Plus, UConn beat Temple in 2017. That has to count for something, right? Right? -- Barrett Sallee
Delaware: Thanks to a lack of competition, Delaware gets the title of best team in the state over the Hornets of Delaware State. The Blue Hens took care of their in-state rival easily, 22-3, last season on their way to a respectable 7-4 record. Open and shut case, Flacco. -- Ben Kercheval
UCF: Every Power Five program in Florida will raise their collective eyebrows here -- especially Miami, which won 10 games and made an appearance in the ACC Championship game -- but the Knights are no joke. Just ask Auburn. Since there are no head-to-head games to reference, arguing over which teams UCF would beat is pointless. So let's concentrate instead on what the Knights have going for them: a 13-game winning streak, one of the most efficient and dangerous quarterbacks in the country in McKenzie Milton, speed to burn across the field and a team that already knows how to win. Miami has undoubtedly reasserted itself into the conversation, but UCF has proven itself worthy. -- Ben Kercheval
Georgia: Georgia Tech had taken two of three from the Bulldogs heading into the 2017 season. Then, you know, Georgia won the SEC, the Rose Bowl national semifinal and lost the national title game in overtime. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, went 5-6. The Peach State is red and black, and that probably won't change for a long, long time. -- Barrett Sallee
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors may be a selection by default, but coach Nick Rolovich could make this team a consistent winner longterm. Yes, 2017 was a disaster, but Rolovich had an excellent debut and is recruiting well. He'll have to hit reset in 2018, but by Year 4 or 5 this program should be bowl-bound again. -- Ben Kercheval
Boise State: As much fun as it would be for Idaho to take this crown for the sole purpose of showing a scenic shot of the iconic Kibbie Dome, of course the state belongs to Boise State. The Broncos have reached the double-digit win mark 10 times in the last 12 years. That's just unfair. -- Barrett Sallee
Northwestern: There's not much competition here with Lovie Smith doing everything short of turning to black magic to resurrect Illinois' football program. And things are great at Northwestern. The Wildcats won 10 games last season, have several key pieces returning this year and Pat Fitzgerald time after time continues to perform one of the more underappreciated jobs in the country. -- Ben Kercheval
Notre Dame: Sure, the Fighting Irish are a punching bag to other fans because of the attention they receive every offseason. But the truth is, they're pretty good -- aside from the 4-8 debacle of 2016, of course. Other than that monstrosity, their worst seasons since Brian Kelly took over in 2010 were eight win seasons. They've hit double digits in wins three times and played for a national championship following the 2012 season. -- Barrett Sallee
Iowa: The battle for Iowa is razor-thin, but we'll side with Iowa. The Hawkeyes finished with an identical 8-5 record as rival Iowa State, but won the head-to-head meeting in overtime and destroyed Ohio State later in the season. Those two bullet points on the resume give Kirk Ferentz's crew the upper hand for now, but watch out for the Cyclones. -- Barrett Sallee
Kansas State: With all due respect to Kansas, Kansas State gets the, uh, easy nod here. The Wildcats will head into 2018 once again under the direction of legendary coach Bill Snyder. And while K-State loses some key parts from an injury-riddled team a year ago, there's little question they'll still be better than the Jayhawks. Kansas has experience (finally) and some depth (finally), but do they have enough to edge its in-state rival? Unlikely, to say the least. -- Ben Kercheval
Louisville: The Lamar Jackson experience wrapped up after last season, but the 2016 season left an indelible mark on the program -- which is head-and-shoulders above every other Division I program in the state. -- Barrett Sallee
LSU: Of course the Tigers are the best team in the state. Who else would it be? Louisiana Tech? Louisiana-Monroe? Louisiana-Lafayette? Nope. LSU hasn't been in the national title hunt lately, but it still has reached the eight-win plateau every year since 2000. -- Barrett Sallee
Maine: Major shoutout to the Husson Eagles in the Division III ranks following a delightful 10-2 season in 2017. Sadly, though, this is a Division I list, which means the Maine Black Bears get the nod even though they stumbled through a 4-6 effort. -- Ben Kercheval
Navy: Until Maryland can start winning more consistently -- or maybe keep a quarterback healthy, let's start there -- Navy is the easy choice. The Midshipmen dropped six of their final seven regular season games in 2017, but three of them were by a touchdown or less. With the return of Malcolm Perry at quarterback, this option offense should be extremely exciting once again. -- Ben Kercheval
Boston College: Coach Steve Addazio has his "dudes" competitive in the ACC. The Eagles have been to the postseason four times in five years under Addazio's watch, has established an identity with stud running backs and a defense that is relentless. -- Barrett Sallee
Michigan State: It's been clear-cut for several years now. Michigan State has owned its rivalry with Michigan lately, finished with a better record last season and would probably be favored against the Wolverines if the game were played today. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio played a lot of young guys during 2016's disappointing 3-9 season, but in the long run, it appears to be paying off. Sparty enjoyed a seven-game swing in the win column in 2017 and several of those players are juniors and seniors now. -- Ben Kercheval
Minnesota: If Minnesota-Duluth was playing FCS football, it would at least earn a shoutout. Instead, Minnesota is our choice here. Second-year coach P.J. Fleck was a hot coaching commodity just a couple of years ago at Western Michigan, so it seems like only a matter of time before this program-builder elevates the Golden Gophers to a formidable Big Ten West player. -- Ben Kercheval
Ole Miss: It's been the chic thing lately to pile on Ole Miss. But consider this: in a tumultuous year that saw former coach Hugh Freeze leave in July, Matt Luke take over as a first-time head coach on the fly and quarterback Shea Patterson injured mid-season; all Luke and the Rebels did was discover quarterback Jordan Ta'amu was a better option, finish 6-6 and beat rival Mississippi State on the road. To do all of that in 2017 -- as the NCAA hammer came down -- is really impressive. -- Barrett Sallee
Missouri: There aren't a lot of options in the Show Me State, but the Tigers are -- at the very least -- consistently competitive. Despite the two SEC East titles since joining the conference in 2012, a legit national championship caliber team in 2013 and a bowl game last year, Missouri often gets overlooked on the national scene. -- Barrett Sallee
Montana State: Montana had the better record at 7-4, but Montana State won the rivalry game 31-23. (That was enough to get Montana coach Bob Stitt fired, by the way.) And while the Bobcats finished 5-6, they had a hard schedule. Three losses against ranked teams came by four points or fewer. The difference between 7-4 and 5-6 isn't much, and since Montana State won the head-to-head game, that's enough to give it the edge. -- Ben Kercheval
Nebraska: No real options to choose from, so the Cornhuskers get the nod. And even though these are tough times in Lincoln, the return of Scott Frost has injected hope that national relevance is around the corner. Nebraska isn't void of talent, mind you, and quarterback Adrian Martinez has the looks of a breakout player. -- Ben Kercheval
Nevada: Yes, the Wolf Pack finished 3-9 as opposed to the 5-7 record UNLV posted last year. But Nevada topped UNLV 23-16 and UNLV lost to Howard in the biggest upset in college football history in the season-opener. Sorry, Rebels. -- Barrett Sallee
New Hampshire: The Wildcats had their share of ups and downs in 2017 -- they were shut out twice by James Madison and Albany, and let Holy Cross hang a 50 burger on 'em -- but made a nice run to the Division I quarterfinals where they lost to South Dakota State. Not much to complain about when you win nine games and make a playoff run. -- Ben Kercheval
Rutgers: Don't get too ahead of yourself, Rutgers. There's not much competition in the state and Princeton finished 5-5 in the Ivy League. On the bright side, the Scarlet Knights were still in bowl contention heading into last November, showing that some progress is being made under coach Chris Ash. Ash inherited a tough rebuild, but bowl eligibility may only be a couple of years away. 2018 will be tough, however. It's entirely possible Rutgers gets four wins in its first six games … and then zero in its final six. That schedule is backloaded. -- Ben Kercheval
New Mexico State: How about those Aggies? A 7-6 record in 2017 that included a bowl win -- their first bowl bid in 57 years -- and a 30-28 win at rival New Mexico gets them enormous props. To put that in perspective, the last time they finished over .500 was in 2002. Do they have staying power? We'll see. But for now, you have to respect the job Doug Martin has done in Las Cruces. -- Barrett Sallee
Army: Sorry, Syracuse. Your win over Clemson at the Carrier Domes was awesome … but you didn't win a game after that. Not a single one. Army, on the other hand, went 10-3, knocked off Navy and Air Force and won the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 1996. The Black Knights might not get the recognition nationally, but there's good football being played in West Point. -- Barrett Sallee
NC State: The Wolfpack have finished with seven or more wins in seven of the last eight seasons. Aside from the 3-9 slip up in Dave Doeren's first year in 2013, they've been relevant on the national scene several times, including in 2017 when the defensive line was one of the best in the country. The ceiling hasn't been high enough to contend for a national title, but the floor for the Wolfpack is still pretty darn high. -- Barrett Sallee
North Dakota State: The Bison have won six of the last seven NCAA Division I national championships, including last year's 17-13 victory over James Madison. Oh, and fun fact: they've won their last six road games against FBS competition. Forget being the best team in the state -- North Dakota State, given the level at which they play, has a claims as the most dominant college football program in the country. -- Ben Kercheval
Ohio State: Urban Meyer being put on paid administrative leave with a murky future would make this choice more interesting if the list was centered on coaches. But it's not. It's the best team. I imagine the Buckeyes would defeat any team in the state, including preseason MAC East favorites Ohio, by a comfortable margin even if Brutus Buckeye himself was calling the plays. -- Ben Kercheval
Oklahoma: There's no doubt that Oklahoma State has closed the gap with Oklahoma, but the Big 12 championships and head-to-head battles -- Oklahoma has lost just twice to Oklahoma State in the past 15 years -- don't leave a lot of room for discussion. The Sooners are the best team in the state, hands down. -- Ben Kercheval
Oregon: Who else are you going to pick? Oregon State? Please. The Ducks have made the BCS Championship Game and the College Football Playoff National Championship this decade, have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Justin Herbert coming back and are one of the primary contenders in the Pac-12 North. No contest. -- Barrett Sallee
Penn State: Penn State has surged under coach James Franklin with back-to-back 11-win seasons and two New Year's Six bowl appearances. And not that it would have mattered much either way, but the Nittany Lions beat Pitt 33-14 last year. With Heisman contender Trace McSorley back at quarterback, Penn State should once again contend for a Big Ten East title. But if it wants to unquestionably be the best team in the state again, it'll have to beat Pitt on the road on Sept. 8. -- Ben Kercheval
Bryant: The Bulldogs finished above .500 at 6-5 in 2017. Sadly, the same couldn't be said for Rhode Island (3-8) or Brown (2-8). The state of Division I football in Rhode Island isn't great at the moment, so Bryant wins simply by having a decent record. -- Ben Kercheval
Clemson: Guess how you become the most dominating team in the Palmetto State and one of the best in the country. You make three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances, win a national title and develop a system that can withstand player losses with ease, no matter who specifically bails. Oh, and Clemson has won four straight over South Carolina. -- Barrett Sallee
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits have low-key been a player in the Missouri Valley Football Conference for several years now. Last year, they won 11 games, handed North Dakota State their only loss of the season, beat South Dakota 31-28 and made a nice playoff run before falling to James Madison. Easy choice here. -- Ben Kercheval
Memphis: Yes, Tennessee, this is an indictment of the Butch Jones era. Once a college football doormat, Memphis has rattled off two 10-win seasons since 2014, been an annual contender for the American Athletic Conference title and has produced high-round draft picks in quarterback Paxton Lynch and wide receiver Anthony Miller, among others. -- Barrett Sallee
TCU: Ho-hum, just another 11-win season for Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs in 2017 with a clean sweep of every Texas-based Big 12 team to boot. In fact, TCU outscored Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech 96-32. Oh, and TCU made the Big 12 championship game. And it's not like Texas A&M has been killing it in the SEC lately, so the Frogs get the honor for the Lone Star State. -- Ben Kercheval
Utah: Last season's 7-6 effort was Kyle Whittingham's worst since Utah went 5-7 in 2013. Still, the Utes managed to beat BYU, so check that off the list. And while Utah didn't beat a team of any real significance, neither did Utah State. The margin was closer than in some other years, but Utah is the best choice. -- Ben Kercheval
Virginia Tech: The Hokies haven't legitimately contended for a national title since Michael Vick took the snaps in Blacksburg. But whether it was Frank Beamer or his successor Justin Fuente, they always hang around the Coastal division race. Unless rival Virginia can match that, the Hokies will own the state for the foreseeable future. -- Barrett Sallee
Washington: No disrespect to what the Pirate Mike Leach is doing at Washington State, but Chris Petersen has built a monster at Washington. The Huskies made the College Football Playoff in 2016, are the favorite in the Pac-12 in 2018 and show no signs of falling off of the national stage. Petersen was patient for his big job after building a monster at Boise State, and he chose wisely. -- Barrett Sallee
West Virginia: Part of me wishes West Virginia and Marshall would play again so we could settle this cleanly. Instead, we have to lean on the fact that while both teams finished with identical 7-5 regular season records a year ago, the Mountaineers had a significantly harder schedule. Add in that the 'Eers have a lethal quarterback-receiver combo in Will Grier and David Sills, and West Virginia gets the edge. -- Ben Kercheval
Wisconsin: The Badgers were one win away from the College Football Playoff a year ago, haven't missed a beat since Paul Chryst took over prior to the 2015 season, consistently run the ball with authority and play some of the best defense in the country. Plus, there really isn't another option -- not that it would be easy to topple the Badgers. -- Barrett Sallee
Wyoming: The Cowboys are now back on the national scene after producing first-round draft pick in quarterback Josh Allen following last season, a defense that is one of the best in the Group of Five and a coach in Craig Bohl who became a legend at North Dakota State with three straight FCS national titles (2011-13) prior to moving to Laramie. -- Barrett Sallee
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