This is part 1 of a 2 part post. The second part will focus on which states, regions, and metros are sending the most players to the NFL.
College Football returns tonight, thus beginning a Saturday ritual through the fall for millions of people. The sport is big business, and commands incredible loyalty from alumni and fans of dozens of schools. It is also a big part of cities and regions, both in terms of attracting visitors, and drawing in economic activity, but more so in terms of providing a school or city or area with a big part of its identity.
With the season kicking off, I looked at where the big college programs – the 127 schools in the top division – are located, and which locations are home to the most successful ones on the field.
Which States Have the Most Programs?
Several large states, and football-mad southern states, show up on this list:
On a per capita basis, you see those southern states stand out again, along with midwest and interior west states.
What About the Big States?
Unlike most pro sports, College Football isn’t the domain of the biggest markets. Looking at the 10 largest states by population, you see a discrepancy in terms of how many major football programs are found, both overall and per capita.
It’s no secret that (college) football is big in Texas, and the numbers back it up here. Southern and midwest states like North Carolina and Ohio show well, while northern states like New York and Illinois much less so.
Which Metros Stand Out?
Only a handful of large metros are home to more than one FBS program, and none have more than three:
You can also see how the bulk of schools are found outside of the 50 largest metro areas, compared to its share of the population, with 40% of schools while being home to 53% of the country’s population:
Many of the biggest schools are found in traditional college towns or other small metros, rather than the biggest markets where you’d find the top level of professional teams.
What About the Mega-Regions?
College Football is very much a regional activity (if not national) as far as supporters and attendees go. I decided to look at the 11 Mega-Regions of the United States to see which parts of the country have the biggest presence:
And per capita sees the southern and interior states stand out, while the Northeast and Southern California lag:
Which States Are the Most Successful?
So far, I’ve looked at the number of programs in the top division. Now, I want to see where the successful programs are located.
I looked at the final AP Top 25 of each season since 2000, assigning an inverse valued point to each ranking (ie. 25 for 1st, down to 1 for 25th). Grouping the schools by state, you can see which ones have earned the most points overall and per capita.
And per capita:
Which Mega Regions Are The Most Successful?
Using the same metrics on performance:
And per capita:
Cascadia, behind Boise State and the Oregon schools, shows best per capita, ahead of Piedmont Atlantic – the overall points leader – and the Utah-driven Front Range.
Another thing I found interesting from this breakdown is that the most successful Texas schools are primarily in the Triangle, not the Gulf Coast. Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech lead the way for the former region. The populous Northeast region does the worst per capita, demonstrating that its wanting in both numbers and success.
Big Metros Don’t Necessarily Have Big Programs. The balance of top programs are found all over the country, but primarily in the south, midwest, and interior west. Many major northern metros do not have significant college football teams.
Smaller Places Perform Well Per-Capita Based On One Successful School. Idaho, for one, stands out based entirely on Boise State’s run of success. Similarly, small states with one strong program (West Virginia, Kansas, Iowa) stand out for their per capita success. Most states or smaller regions, though, seem to have one big program, and a few that see occasional successful years. It’s rare to find a state outside the big football states (Florida, Texas, Alabama) that have more than one perennial Top 25 team.
Power Mapped Would Form a Horseshoe Through the South. If you were to map the most successful states and regions, it would extend from the Piedmont (Virginia south), down the coast, then west across the Gulf, south of the Applalachians, through Texas and Oklahoma, and into the interior west. There are, of course, scattered successful programs and areas outside of that (USC, the state of Ohio), but the power base in terms of number of top programs and the success they’re realizing, can be found there.
College football reigns in the south, west, and pockets throughout the midwest. The next post will focus on which ones are producing the players you like to watch on Sundays.