There is absolutely nothing about 2020 that's normal. That's what living amid the COVID-19 pandemic gets you. Our health and safety is paramount and everything else, frankly, takes a back seat. But maybe, with a little bit of luck, we'll get a full football season spanning the fall and spring. Maybe.
The ACC, Big 12, SEC, AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt will try to play football this fall with the Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC and Mountain West giving it a go in the spring. For the time being, however, we are the mercy of this thing, and that is a hard concept to wrap our heads around. Times like these evoke yearnings for simpler days. It'd be nice to simply argue about top 25 rankings or, as we do annually here, the best team in each state.
Good news, friends. Once again, Barrett Sallee and I have put our collective (thick) skulls together to come up just suck a list.
We evaluated Division I programs from the FBS and FCS that 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 to decide.
Before we dive into our choices, a few guidelines:
- This is not a list of the programs that have had the most all-time success in each state.
- Instead, we take a look at last year's (2019) results along with a deeper dive over the last two or three years in some cases. Other considerations like head-to-head matchups, championships won and the like were taken into account as necessary.
- This is not a projection of the upcoming season. It never has been, but it definitely can't be/shouldn't be now given all of the mayhem of 2020. In fact, I'd venture 2020-21 has a more marginalized impact on next year's picks.
With that in mind, here are our choices for the top football program in each state. Did we get it right? Wrong? Check them out below.
Alabama -- Alabama: Even though the Tigers have won two of the last three over the Crimson Tide, Alabama has won eight of the last 12 Iron Bowls over Auburn and doesn't suffer the consistency issues that plague the Tigers. That's enough to get Nick Saban's crew the nod. -- Barrett Sallee
Alaska: No Division I college football team.
Arizona -- Arizona State: The Sun Devils have been perfectly fine under coach Herm Edwards. In two years with him as its CEO, Arizona State has beaten Arizona twice -- a critical point -- and pulled off some unexpected wins, like it did against Oregon last year. Arizona has … not been as perfectly fine under Kevin Sumlin, who needs a turnaround effort in 2021 to get off the hot seat. -- Ben Kercheval
Arkansas -- Arkansas State: Arkansas has eight wins over the last three seasons, including back-to-back two-win seasons under the recently-departed Chad Morris. That isn't just bad … it's terrible. Are the Red Wolves a Sun Belt juggernaut? Not really. They haven't won 10 games since 2012 and are coming off of a 7-5 season. That's enough to take home the honors though. Maybe the two teams should play each other heads up and settle this thing once and for all. -- Barrett Sallee
California -- USC: San Diego State had a legitimate case here. The Aztecs won at least 10 games in four of the last five years while going 5-2 against Pac-12 opponents (and 14-4 against teams out of California) in that span. USC hasn't been its traditional powerhouse self lately, but it did bounce back from its 5-7 season in 2018 to win eight games a year ago, including three against the Pac-12's three other California-based schools. And those back-to-back New Year's Day bowl appearances in 2016 and 2017 weren't that long ago. The Trojans get the title by the skin of their teeth. -- Ben Kercheval
Colorado -- Air Force: Colorado took this crown last season, but it's impossible to ignore Troy Calhoun and the Falcons. Fresh off of an 11-win season and bowl game win over Washington State, they were one of the top picks to take home the Mountain West crown prior to the shutdown. -- Barrett Sallee
Connecticut -- Yale: The options here are UConn, Yale, Central Connecticut and Sacred Heart. UConn has been brutal in recent years, so eliminate it. That brings us down to the FCS where Yale gets a slight edge over Central Connecticut. Both teams had one regular season loss last year, and Central Connecticut lost in the first round of the FCS playoffs. But Yale put up 40 or more points in seven games last year and 50 or more in its final three. -- Barrett Sallee
Delaware -- Delaware: It sure isn't Delaware State. Going 5-7 isn't a major accomplishment for Delaware, but Delaware State has been even worse lately. The Fighting Blue Hens also beat the Hornets on a regular basis. -- Ben Kercheval
Florida -- Florida: Dan Mullen's crew has been to back-to-back New Year's Six bowl games and should be in contention for the College Football Playoff in 2020. Meanwhile, Florida State and Miami (FL) have fallen on hard times, and UCF has taken a step back from its faux national title in 2017. -- Barrett Sallee
Georgia -- Georgia: The Bulldogs nearly won the national title three years ago, played in de facto national quarterfinals in the SEC Championship Game in each of the last three seasons and have won 16 of the last 19 games over Georgia Tech in the rivalry known as Clean, Old Fashioned Hate. Checkmate. -- Barrett Sallee
Hawaii -- Hawaii: Congratulations to the Rainbow Warriors for being the only Division I school on the islands. That being said, they won 10 games last season and made it to the Mountain West Championship Game. That won't hurt, either.. -- Ben Kercheval
Idaho -- Boise State: Boise State is the only FBS team in the state after Idaho dropped to the Big Sky Conference in FCS to join Idaho State. The Broncos have four straight double-digit win seasons and 17 of the last 21. This is a no-brainer. -- Barrett Sallee
Illinois -- Northwestern: If Illinois had actually defeated Northwestern as part of its surprising six-win season in 2019, the Illini would have had a case. As it is, though, one down (3-9) year isn't going to undo what coach Pat Fitzgerald has done in Evanston in recent years. The Wildcats enjoyed four straight winning seasons, including two 10-win seasons, from 2015-18. -- Ben Kercheval
Indiana -- Notre Dame: Notre Dame has double-digit wins in four of its last five seasons, made an appearance in the College Football Playoff in 2018 and should be one of the favorites to unseat Clemson now that it's a quasi-member of the ACC for 2020. Indiana, Purdue and Ball State can't hang with the Fighting Irish. -- Barrett Sallee
Iowa -- Iowa: Iowa has taken home the Cy-Hawk Trophy over Iowa State in five straight seasons, including a wild 18-17 thriller in Ames last season. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 10-3 season which included a win over USC in the Holiday Bowl. Sure, the Cyclones have star quarterback Brock Purdy. But he's going to have to top his intrastate rival before his team can even have a case here. -- Barrett Sallee
Kansas -- Kansas State: I say this with the utmost respect … there are junior colleges in the state that can beat Kansas. No, Kansas State isn't contending for national titles. But it has been to bowl games in nine of the last seasons, including an 8-5 season and berth in the Liberty Bowl last year. -- Barrett Sallee
Kentucky -- Kentucky: Kentucky not only took former wide receiver Lynn Bowden and put him at quarterback last year, but it destroyed cross-state Louisville 45-13 in the rain last year. The Cardinals could be one of the ACC's best teams in 2020. But we will have to see it live and in-person before writing them in. -- Barrett Sallee
Louisiana -- LSU: I'm about to tell you what you already know … LSU is good. Really good. Fresh off of one of the most magical seasons in the sport's history, the Tigers will be looking to keep the momentum going in 2020. There is no case for any other team in the state, and there won't be for a long time. -- Barrett Sallee
Maine -- Maine: The Maine Black Bears are the only Division I program in the state, so it doesn't matter that they went 6-6 in 2019. Still, it could have been worse and the program made the FCS semifinals recently in 2018. -- Ben Kercheval
Maryland -- Navy: After a lean year in 2018, the Midshipmen stormed back with authority to reclaim their crown as the best team in Maryland. Navy went 11-2 in 2019 with its only two losses coming against Memphis and Notre Dame. Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry should have been a Broyles Award finalist for top assistant coach. -- Ben Kercheval
Massachusetts -- Boston College: BC wasn't bad last year, but let us never forget that it lost to Kansas (!) by a score of 48-24 (!!). Still, it's not like UMass, Harvard, Holy Cross or Merrimack were strong enough to make a case. The Eagles keep their title for another year. -- Ben Kercheval
Michigan -- Michigan: In previous years, Michigan was one of our most contested states. Not this time. Michigan State made this choice easier by losing to Michigan in each of the last two seasons while finishing with fewer wins. Maybe new coach Mel Tucker can get the program back to where it was in its height under Mark Dantonio. For now, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been consistently good enough to be named the best team in the state. -- Ben Kercheval
Minnesota -- Minnesota: Minnesota is the only Division I program in the state, but the Gophers aren't hurt by a breakout year in 2019. It's a shame we won't get to see their follow-up effort in 2020 with quarterback Tanner Morgan and receiver Rashod Bateman, the latter of which opted out. -- Ben Kercheval
Mississippi -- Mississippi State: Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore pretended to pee like a dog after a touchdown in the waning seconds of the last season's Egg Bowl. The extra point was missed, the Bulldogs celebrated a rivalry game win and the college football landscape in the state has been changed forever. Could first-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin take the title back from first-year Mississippi State coach Mike Leach? Maybe. But clang those cowbells for now. -- Barrett Sallee
Missouri -- Missouri: Missouri State went 1-10 … so eliminate the Bears from the jump. Southeast Missouri State went 9-4 last season, but one of those four was a 50-0 schellacking at the hands of state power Missouri. As you can see, records and be deceiving. -- Barrett Sallee
Montana -- Montana State: With only two Division I programs to choose from -- Montana and Montana State -- this state is cut-and-dry. Montana State has won the last four against Montana and made the FCS semifinals a year ago. The Bobcats win again. -- Ben Kercheval
Nebraska -- Nebraska: Nebraska is the state's only Division I program, so it wins by default. That might be a good thing since the Cornhuskers went 5-7 last year. -- Ben Kercheval
Nevada -- UNLV: I'm not going to lie … we were conflicted on this one. Very conflicted. As in, we went back and forth and changed opinions multiple times. On one side we have Nevada, a team that went 7-6, had a big win over Purdue in the season opener, topped No. 24 San Diego State on the road and went to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. On the other side is UNLV, a team that went 4-8 but beat the Wolf Pack 33-30 in overtime last year -- its second straight win in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon. While those big wins by the Wolf Pack are nice, the Rebels get the nod here based on the last two meetings. -- Barrett Sallee
New Hampshire -- Dartmouth: Dartmouth went 9-1 in 2019 and won a share of the Ivy League title. That's good! The Big Green's only Division I competition, New Hampshire, went 6-5. Not bad, but not as impressive as Dartmouth. -- Ben Kercheval
New Jersey -- Monmouth: Look at the Monmouth Hawks, winning 11 games and the Big South title while making it to the second round of the FCS playoffs in 2019. Princeton has also been consistently very good out of the Ivy League. Meanwhile, Rutgers improved to two wins in 2019 after winning just one game in 2018. -- Ben Kercheval
New Mexico -- New Mexico: This one is easy. Sad, but easy. New Mexico and New Mexico State both went 2-10 last season and the Lobos topped the Aggies 55-52 -- their second straight win in the Rio Grande Rivalry. -- Barrett Sallee
New York -- Buffalo: Army took a step back, Syracuse spun its wheels, and the FCS programs in New York don't exactly compare to Buffalo. The Bulls went 8-5 and rolled over Charlotte in the Bahamas Bowl. I still have faith that the Orange will get back to state prominence. It hasn't happened yet, though. -- Barrett Sallee
North Carolina -- Appalachian State: North Carolina is on the rise, but that rise included a 34-31 home loss to Appalachian State early last season. The Mountaineers have nine or more wins in five straight seasons and did so last year after hiring Eliah Drinkwitz to his first head coaching job. Drinkwitz was one-and-done, so let's see if that consistency stays in place with Shawn Clark running things. -- Barrett Sallee
North Dakota -- North Dakota State: Let's see, North Dakota State just won its eighth national title, and third straight, since joining the FCS while enjoying a 37-game winning streak. So, yeah, it's not going to be anyone else. I would have loved to see the Bison face Oregon this fall, but we'll get one look at likely first-round quarterback Trey Lance against Central Arkansas on Oct. 3. -- Ben Kercheval
Ohio -- Ohio State: Ohio State has won three straight Big Ten championships and took home a national title in 2014-15. There's no shortage of Division I programs in Ohio, but none of them come close to topping the Buckeyes, one of the top programs anywhere in college football. -- Ben Kercheval
Oklahoma -- Oklahoma: Like Ohio State, Oklahoma makes things easy in the race for state superiority. The Sooners have won the last five Big 12 titles, made three straight College Football Playoff appearances, and beat Oklahoma State in each of the last five years. And that's not even including any individual accolades, like their back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. It's not a debate. -- Ben Kercheval
Oregon -- Oregon: The Ducks have won 11 of 12 over the Beavers, and that streak has no end in sight. The program has been one of the most consistent programs in the country and has played for national titles following the 2010 and 2014 seasons. -- Barrett Sallee
Pennsylvania -- Penn State: Pitt and Temple have been consistently decent over the last several years. They have not, however, been as good as Penn State. The Nittany Lions, in fact, have three straight wins over the Panthers. They also have a Big Ten championship in 2016 and are regular New Year's Six bowl participants. And while it may not matter relative to the rest of Pennsylvania football, Penn State has proved to be Ohio State's biggest challenger in the Big Ten. -- Ben Kercheval
Rhode Island -- Rhode Island: What an absolute mess Rhode Island football is in at the moment. The state's three Division I schools -- Brown, Bryant and Rhode Island -- finished with a combined record of 8-26 in 2019. Bryant had the "best" record at 4-8 but lost to Brown, which then lost to Rhode Island. And the Rams kind of, sort of gave Virginia Tech a run for its money, so … congratulations? -- Ben Kercheval
South Carolina -- Clemson: Clemson has national titles in two of the last four seasons, and has neither lost more than two games in a season nor missed the CFP since 2014. That's it. That's the end of the analysis. Do better, South Carolina. -- Barrett Sallee
South Dakota -- South Dakota State: South Dakota fans will be quick to point out last year's 24-21 win over South Dakota State, but the Jackrabbits had previously owned that rivalry. Moreover, South Dakota State has made trips to the FCS playoffs and played hard against FBS opponents. South Dakota has two winning seasons in the past decade. -- Ben Kercheval
Tennessee -- Memphis: Tennessee won six straight games to close the season and then watched Memphis play in the Cotton Bowl as the Group of Five's best team. Those Tigers haven't finished with fewer than eight wins since 2013. I have no doubt that Jeremy Pruitt's Volunteers are on the rise, but until they become even an ancillary part of the national conversation, Tennessee is a Tiger state. -- Barrett Sallee
Texas -- Baylor: Texas was hard because of how many teams are spread over different leagues. Winners here tend to be more of the year-to-year variety. It's doubtful Baylor will be the best team in the state in 2020, but it went 3-0 against other Texas-based Big 12 teams and made the conference championship game last year. The Bears also won three more games against other Texas-based opponents. SMU has a case as well after winning 10 games a year ago, but the overall consistency hasn't been there. Texas A&M had a ludicrous schedule but didn't beat any of its notable opponents in the regular season. And one year after making the Big 12 title game, Texas took a step back. It's Baylor, for now, but this state is as fluid as any. -- Ben Kercheval
Utah -- Utah: The Utes make this an easy choice. They've won their last four against BYU and played in two straight Pac-12 Championship Games while enjoying 20 wins in the past two seasons. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham continues to do one of the best jobs of any coach in the country maximizing this program's potential. -- Ben Kercheval
Vermont: No Division I college football team.
Virginia -- Virginia: They did it. The Cavaliers finally broke a 15-game losing streak over the Hokies with a 39-30 win at the end of last season. That win capped off a 9-3 regular season and earned them a berth in the ACC Championship Game. The season ended on a sour note with a loss the following week to Clemson and then to Florida in the Orange Bowl. But that shouldn't take away from Virginia's magical season. Hokies coach Justin Fuente needs to step it up. -- Barrett Sallee
Washington -- Washington: Mike Leach is gone, but it really doesn't matter. Washington is the clear-cut choice over Washington State and the FCS schools in the state. Coach Chris Petersen and the Huskies took a step back and only won eight games last season following three straight double-digit win seasons. Petersen is gone and now it's Jimmy Lake's show in Seattle. He has big shoes to fill. -- Barrett Sallee
West Virginia -- West Virginia: Le sigh. If West Virginia and Marshall would just play, this could be so much easier. The Mountaineers were atrocious on offense a year ago, and coach Neal Brown duct taped that team to five wins. Marshall had the better record at 8-5 and flustered Boise State on the Smurf Turf, but there have been no major wins lately to indicate it could be a giant killer. And even though the Friends of Coal Bowl is defunct, the 'Eers literally never lost that matchup. They still reign (for now). -- Ben Kercheval
Wisconsin -- Wisconsin: Another year, another season of Wisconsin just pounding teams into the ground. They have double-digit win seasons in five of the last six, went to the Big Ten Championship Game last season and lost a thriller to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. -- Barrett Sallee
Wyoming -- Wyoming: Wyoming is the only Division I football team in the state, so this really is no contest. But shout out to the Cowboys for going 8-5 and topping Georgia State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl last season. -- Barrett Sallee