Picking the best college football team in each state entering the 2019 season
From Alabama to Wyoming, which Division I team best represents its home state?
The 2019 college football season is fast approaching. To help kick off the year, we're rebooting our preseason tradition unlike any other: picking the best Division I program in every (applicable) state. Before getting to the selections, though, let's lay out a few ground rules from our end.
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 following last season and entering the 2019 campaign. As such, records, head-to-head wins and other recent accomplishments were taken into consideration. If the choice was tougher, we looked at the last two to three years. Conversely, this is not a projection of which team will be the best this upcoming season. And there weren't any choices close enough to warrant that as a tiebreaker.
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. By and large, we found many states to be simple. But, of course, there are always a handful each year that prove to be more difficult than others to decide.
Here are our choices for the top football program in each state. Did we get it right? Wrong? Check them out below.
Alabama -- Alabama: Five straight trips to the College Football Playoff, five national championships since 2009 and eight wins out of the last 11 tries over Auburn makes this an easy choice. Maybe the Tigers should try the "Kick Six" play more often to make this at least debatable. -- Barrett Sallee
Alaska doesn't have a Division I football team.
Arizona -- Arizona State: We have to go with Arizona State even if there's not much separation over Arizona. The Sun Devils had the better record in 2018 (although by only two games) and won the head-to-head (although by only one point). Overall, Arizona State has been slightly better the past couple of seasons, but a healthy and fully functional Khalil Tate may change that in 2019. -- Ben Kercheval
Arkansas -- Arkansas State: Arkansas went from bad to worse in 2018 when it went 2-10 in Chad Morris' first year at the helm. Across the state, Arkansas State went 8-5 and 5-3 in the Sun Belt. They both got smoked by Alabama, so there goes that comparison. It's impossible for us to put a 2-10 team in here when there's another FBS program that went 8-5. Maybe if the two would play each other every once in a while… --Sallee
California -- Stanford: Fresno State made a legitimate case here, but our conclusion is Stanford -- even if last year wasn't the Cardinal's best team. There are actually a few common opponents to size these two teams up, including Arizona State, San Diego State and UCLA. The Bulldogs are +44 in points in those games while Stanford is +35. However, the Cardinal had a key overtime win vs. Oregon, which trumps Fresno's best win vs. Boise State. It was close, though. -- Kercheval
Colorado -- Colorado: The Buffaloes lost seven straight games to close out the 2018 season and made a coaching change. All of that happened after they smoked Colorado State 45-13 in Fort Collins to open the season. On top of that, the Buffs have won four straight Rocky Mountain Showdowns. Until Ralphie stops running over the Rams, this one is no contest. -- Sallee
Connecticut -- Sacred Heart: UConn is the only FBS team in the state, but the Huskies went 1-11 and had the worst defense in FBS -- 80.6 yards per game behind 129th-ranked Oregon State. That immediately disqualifies them according to our totally made up rule book. Sacred Heart went 7-4 and 5-1 in the Northeast Conference in FCS. We'll give it to the Pioneers until UConn does something that isn't awful. -- Sallee
Delaware -- Delaware: It sure ain't Delaware State. Going 7-5 isn't a major accomplishment for Delaware, but Delaware State has been pretty bad lately. -- Kercheval
Florida -- Florida: UCF won this title last year, but Florida's run to the Peach Bowl and a 10-win season in the SEC was enough to knock the Knights off of their perch after one season. Plus, the Gators topped LSU by eight points while the Knights lost by eight to the injury-riddled Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. Maybe the two should play a two-for-one series and settle this once and for all? Just a thought. -- Sallee
Georgia -- Georgia: This isn't as much of a no-brainer as Alabama, but it's close. The Bulldogs nearly won the national title two years ago, played a de facto national quarterfinal against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game last year and have won eight of the last 10 games over Georgia Tech in the rivalry known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. -- Sallee
Hawaii -- Hawaii: Congratulations to the Rainbow Warriors for being the only DI school on the islands. That being said, going 8-6 last year ain't too shabby and quarterback Cole McDonald is a stud. -- Kercheval
Idaho -- Boise State: The Broncos are the only FBS team in the state after Idaho dropped to the Big Sky Conference in FCS to join Idaho State. All Boise has done is post 14 double-digit win seasons since 2002 and become the gold standard in Group of Five. The fact that the Broncos have had that kind of success through multiple coaching changes and a switch from the WAC to the Mountain West is pretty amazing. -- Sallee
Illinois -- Northwestern: The fightin' Pat Fitzgeralds made the Big Ten Championship Game last season! That actually makes this one of the easier picks, but the Wildcats have been good for a while now. Until Illinois gets out of the Big Ten West basement, this pick goes to the team in purple. -- Kercheval
Indiana -- Notre Dame: This is one of the most polarizing teams in the country, but it's also one of the most successful. On top of that, the Fighting Irish made the College Football Playoff last year, played in the BCS Championship Game after the 2012 season and have four double-digit win seasons in the last seven seasons. Sorry Indiana. Do better. -- Sallee
Iowa -- Iowa: Kirk Ferentz's team topped Iowa State to win the Cy-Hawk Trophy in 2018 en route to a 9-4 season. What's more, the Hawkeyes have four straight wins in the series. Can the Cyclones wrestle back state power this year now that quarterback Brock Purdy has emerged as a force? That remains to be seen, but it might take more than one win to pry this title away from the Hawkeyes. -- Sallee
Kansas -- Kansas State: There are only two Division I football programs in Kansas, and one of them is Kansas. So it's not like the bar is high to maintain state bragging rights. Kansas State became a force under Bill Snyder, has won the Governor's Cup over the Jayhawks 10 straight times and is in good hands with new coach Chris Klieman. -- Sallee
Kentucky -- Kentucky: Louisville held this spot heading into last season -- the first without quarterback Lamar Jackson. Then Bobby Petrino forgot how to coach football, Mark Stoops led Kentucky to a 10-win season and the Wildcats thumped the hapless Cardinals 56-10 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. Kentucky has stability, a pedigree of success and hope in 2019. -- Sallee
Louisiana -- LSU: The Tigers don't have much in-state competition, but that hasn't stopped them from becoming a consistent force in the state between the white lines and on the recruiting trail. Louisiana Tech played the Tigers relatively close last year in Death Valley, but even an upset wouldn't be enough for the Bulldogs to make a case. -- Sallee
Maine -- Maine: The Maine Black Bears are the only Division I program in the state, so it doesn't matter that they went 10-4, won the Colonial and made the FCS playoffs … but it doesn't hurt, either. -- Kercheval
Maryland -- Maryland: This had been Navy's state to lose, but last year neither the Midshipmen nor Maryland finished above .500. However, the Terrapins had the better record (5-7) and beat Texas while giving Ohio State a massive heart attack. This could be Navy's to reclaim this time next year, but for now, the Terps have the edge. -- Kercheval
Massachusetts -- Boston College: This team was OK last year, but it lost to every one of its ranked opponents (and its bowl game vs. Boise State was canceled). Still, it would have had to take UConn-like collapse for anyone other than the Eagles to be selected. UMass was 4-8 and FCS teams like Harvard and Holy Cross weren't nearly good enough to be considered. -- Kercheval
Michigan -- Michigan: Oh boy. This is probably not going to go over well with Michigan State fans, and understandably so. The Spartans have been overachievers under coach Mark Dantonio, winning a Big Ten title and a playoff spot in 2015, and at one point, winning seven of eight against the Wolverines from 2008-15. However, Michigan has made up ground. Jim Harbaugh's group has won two of the last three vs. Sparty and posted a pair of 10-win seasons in that span as well, going to the Peach Bowl last year. Relative to expectations, Dantonio has bested Harbaugh, but in the last few years, Michigan has been the overall better program in the state. -- Kercheval
Minnesota -- Minnesota: The Gophers are the only Division I program in the state, so they can keep rowing that boat. Coach P.J. Fleck should have an interesting team this year, too, as a possible Big Ten West dark horse. -- Kercheval
Mississippi -- Mississippi State: First-year Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record, one-year after Dan Mullen left for Florida. Meanwhile, Ole Miss finished 5-7 during its second season under Matt Luke. The Bulldogs destroyed the Rebels 35-3 in the Egg Bowl and regained state pride in a series that has gone back-and-forth over the last four seasons. -- Sallee
Missouri -- Missouri: Southeast Missouri State went 9-4 and made the second round of the FCS playoffs last year, which deserves at least a little bit of recognition. That pales in comparison to Missouri's 8-5 season, .500 record in the SEC, dismantling of Florida and pattern of success under coach Barry Odom. It would take a complete debacle to have any team other than Missouri in this spot in the near future. -- Sallee
Montana -- Montana State: With only two DI programs to choose from -- Montana and Montana State -- this state is cut-and-dry. Montana State had the better record in 2018, and not only won the head-to-head against Montana, but the two before that as well. With their three-year records being similar, Montana State is the king. -- Kercheval
Nebraska -- Nebraska: Yes, it's the state's only Division I program, so it wins by default. That does not mean we aren't excited about Year 2 with coach Scott Frost and quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Huskers are a trendy dark horse pick to win the Big Ten West in 2019, and at the very least, should be bowl bound this season. -- Kercheval
Nevada -- Nevada: This was tough because Nevada went 8-5 and won the Arizona Bowl but lost to rival UNLV 34-29 -- which finished 4-8 -- in the regular season finale. So what matters more? Nevada has won the Fremont Cannon 11 of the last 14 seasons, which outweighs the result of just one head-to-head matchup. -- Sallee
New Hampshire -- Dartmouth: They lost to just one team last season: Princeton, which, as you'll see next, is a darn good team in its own right. Even then, the Big Green held the Tigers to their lowest scoring output of the season by a significant margin in a 14-9 loss. Dartmouth's only competition was New Hampshire, which finished 4-7. -- Kercheval
New Jersey -- Princeton: Sorry Rutgers, but we can't let it slide if you go 1-11 and field literally the worst scoring offense in the FBS (13.5 ppg). Princeton, on the other hand, was known for its offense -- so much so that its offensive coordinator, Sean Gleeson, is now at Oklahoma State. The Tigers had an unblemished record in 2018 and scored 47 points per game while outscoring opponents by an average of 34 points per game. Ivy League, stand up! -- Kercheval
New Mexico -- New Mexico: Choosing this one was sad, depressing and relatively easy. Both programs finished last season 3-9, and one of New Mexico's wins was over New Mexico State. What's more, the Lobos have won 11 of the last 16 meetings in the Rio Grande Rivalry. -- Sallee
New York -- Syracuse: Army owned this spot a year ago, but Syracuse's resurgence under Dino Babers earned the Orange the title this year. Consider this … had the Orange held on to earn their second straight victory over Clemson, they would have won the ACC Atlantic by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Army owns the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, but Babers and Co. own momentum in the Empire State. -- Sallee
North Carolina -- Appalachian State: NC State was solid, but Appalachian State takes home the prize here. The Mountaineers went 11-2, won the Sun Belt and took Penn State to overtime in Happy Valley. How sustainable is it now that former coach Scott Satterfield moved on Louisville and Eliah Drinkwitz is in town? That remains to be seen. -- Sallee
North Dakota -- North Dakota State: This FCS powerhouse just won its seventh national title since in that division. So, no, it's not going to be anyone else. This will be an interesting period moving forward, though, with coach Chris Klieman taking the Kansas State job. The Bison have played at a high level through coaching changes before, though. -- Kercheval
Ohio -- Ohio State: Easy. Ohio State has won three of the last five Big Ten championships, including last season's crown, and took home a national title in 2014-15. There's simply not much competition in the state to leapfrog the Buckeyes, who are one of the top programs anywhere in college football. -- Ben Kercheval
Oklahoma -- Oklahoma: I'll continue to point out that Oklahoma State has significantly closed the gap between itself and Oklahoma. Last year's Bedlam game was decided by a failed two-point conversion from the Cowboys. Still, the Sooners are the top team in the state, having won 14 of the last 16 Bedlam games. Oklahoma has also been to three College Football Playoff semifinals and produced back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. -- Kercheval
Oregon -- Oregon: Also easy. Oregon won the Civil War 55-15 over Oregon State, and has won 10 of the last 11 meetings between the two Pac-12 schools. Portland State (FCS) is the only other Division I option in the state, and might have a case against Oregon State. But the Ducks are light years ahead of those two. Paddling beneath the surface? Nah. These Ducks might as well be walking on top of the water. -- Sallee
Pennsylvania -- Penn State: I know, I know. How could we possibly disrespect ACC Coastal champion Pitt? I suppose it starts with losing to the Nittany Lions 51-6 last year and continues with the fact that Penn State has been consistently better over the past few seasons. To wit, Penn State has a Big Ten championship in 2016 and a pair of New Year's Six bowl appearances while playing in one of the toughest divisions in college football. -- Kercheval
Rhode Island -- Rhode Island: Yikes, this was perhaps our lowliest state with only three teams from which to choose: Brown, Bryant or Rhode Island. Brown wasn't any good (1-9), while Bryant and Rhode Island finished with identical 6-5 records. However, Rhode Island finished with a net plus point differential and gave UConn a run for their money. But that probably says more about UConn. -- Kercheval
South Carolina -- Clemson: All Clemson has done this decade is win two of the last three national championships, five ACC titles, and had double-digit wins every year since 2011. In the process, the Tigers have topped South Carolina in each of the five seasons. Coach Dabo Swinney has been dominating the state, the ACC and now the nation, and it doesn't look like it will change anytime soon. -- Sallee
South Dakota -- South Dakota State: Like Montana, South Dakota has just two Division I teams from which to pick: South Dakota and South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits have won their last seven against South Dakota going back to 2012, and have been playoff bound in each of the last two seasons. -- Kercheval
Tennessee -- Memphis: Vanderbilt topped Tennessee at the end of last season to make a bowl game, but that pales in comparison to what's going on at the western edge of the state. Memphis has been to the AAC Championship Game in each of the two seasons and has become one of the highest-profile Group of Five teams in the country. Vanderbilt is in good hands with Derek Mason at the helm and Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt should get the Vols turn around at some point. But until that happens, Tennessee is a Tiger state. -- Sallee
Texas -- Texas: It's been a minute since we said Texas was the best team in its own state, which is a good microcosm for the program over the last decade.Last year was the Longhorns' return to prominence, though. They beat the Big 12's three other Texas-based schools and made a run to the Big 12 title game. Expectations for 2019 are just as high. -- Kercheval
Utah -- Utah: This is typically one of the more fascinating states, especially with the rise of Utah State in more recent years. BYU and Utah have always fought for state bragging rights in one of college football's more underrated rivalries. This year, we're going with the Utes since they made the Pac-12 Championship Game a season ago. They've also won their last seven against BYU and Utah State dating back to 2013. -- Kercheval
Vermont doesn't have a Division I football team.
Virginia -- Virginia Tech: This is one of the hardest states to figure out. Virginia went 8-5 last year and appears to be on the rise under coach Bronco Mendenhall. But one of those losses was a wild overtime defeat to Virginia Tech -- a team that finished 6-7 but has topped the Cavaliers 15 times in a row. That's too big of a streak to ignore. -- Sallee
Washington -- Washington: With all due respect to Mike Leach and Washington State, the Cougars might need to get a few wins in the Apple Cup to make this a reasonable discussion. The Huskies have six straight wins in the rivalry, and have won nine of the last 10 meetings. Leach might be a pirate, but Washington coach Chris Petersen swings the sharpest sword. -- Sallee
West Virginia -- West Virginia: If West Virginia and Marshall played tomorrow, I'd wager that the Thundering Herd would at least cover and maybe even spring the upset. The Mountaineers could be in for a serious reset in 2019. But they don't play, and West Virginia has never lost in the 12 times they've met. Plus, West Virginia had a similar record last year in a much stronger conference. The 'Eers stay in front for now. -- Kercheval
Wisconsin -- Wisconsin: The Badgers entered the Big Ten Championship Game two years ago with an unblemished record and a College Football Playoff berth in sight. It didn't work out, but it was the third straight double-digit win season for coach Paul Chryst. The 2018 season didn't go so well, but it doesn't wipe away what the Badgers have become, which is a force in the Big Ten. -- Sallee
Wyoming -- Wyoming: The Cowboys are the only Division I football team in the state, so this really is no contest. But shout out to Wyoming for winning six or more games in three straight seasons. -- Sallee
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