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America’s State and Regional College Football Factories

The Band

This is part 2 of a 2 part post. The first part focused on where the (successful) colleges are.

One of the major attractions of college football – for players, schools, and fans alike – is that it serves a launching pad to the pros, particularly the wildly popular National Football League.

Using the list of ESPN’s list of players sorted by college, I examined which states’ colleges are producing the most players overall and per capita, and where the most successful ones are coming from.

States Whose Colleges Produced Most Current NFL Players
Unsurprisingly, many of the largest states show up atop the list, with only the football-mad southern states of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina noticeably outperforming their size. The leading large states all have multiple programs feeding the NFL, while Ohio only has one (Ohio State). In California, Cal, USC, and Stanford all produce NFL players, while UT, TCU, A&M, and Tech boost Texas’ numbers. Florida places third in large part on the strength of Miami. I was surprised to find out that The U has provided the most players to the NFL this year (59), while no other school even reaches 50.

On a per capita basis, you see smaller states with successful programs rise to the top, with Nebraska, Idaho (Boise State), Utah (Utah and BYU), West Virginia (WVU and Marshall), and Iowa joining the southern schools. Lower down in the top 10, Oregon (Oregon and Oregon State) and Oklahoma (OU and State) are in the middle in terms of state size, but are boosted by two successful programs each, plus smaller schools such as Portland State and Tulsa, respectively.

Mega-Regions Where Colleges Produce NFL Players

Using the 11 Mega-Regions once again, we see the Atlantic and interior south (Piedmont Atlantic) and midwest-north (Great Lakes) leading the way. The Northeast, not known as a college football hotbed, falls into the middle of the pack despite its large population.

The Piedmont, 4th in population, holds its lead on a per capita basis, while Cascadia stands out as well. The Northeast falls back, along with Southern California – a surprise, given how successful USC has been over the past decade.

Where Do The Best Players Come From?
Colleges don’t just look to turn out players who go pro. A big selling feature is being able to produce future stars. I looked at players who have received accolades – Pro Bowl invitations, All-Pro Team recognition, and major awards such as Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Awarding points for each accolade, here are how states and region’s colleges fare.

Star-Powered States
Florida leads the way, behind former ‘Canes such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Devin Hester, and Andre Johnson. The state of California has produced stars such as Troy Polamalu (USC), Tony Gonzales (Cal), and Maurice Jones-Drew (UCLA).

Alabama shows up high on the strength of many ‘Bama and Auburn stars, while Tennessee boasts some guy named Peyton Manning, who starred for the Vols.

On a per capita basis, Idaho jumps out in front on the strength of Jared Allen (Idaho State), and Boise State stars Ryan Clady (All-Pro LT) and defensive back Quintin Mikkel New Mexico’s showing is entirely from standout LB Brian Urlacher. Oklahoma boasts a number of Sooners and Cowboys who have made the pros, while stars like Steve Smith (Carolina) and Eric Weddle (San Diego) launched their careers at the University of Utah. Oregon boasts Ducks like Haloti Ngata, and Beavers like Steven Jackson and Chad Johnson. Meanwhile, West Virginia can thank former Marshall player Randy Moss for their showing.

Mega-Regions and Star Players
On a regional level, the same trend plays out as when looking at the entire list of players. The Great Lakes and Piedmont lead the way, with Florida following suit.

The Front Range jumps out just ahead of the Piedmont on a per capita basis, thanks to stars like Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), and the aforementioned Utah and New Mexico players. Florida and Cascadia (Idaho, Oregon, Washington) follow closely.

What stars the Northeast does produce (Ray Rice of Rutgers, Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselbeck of Boston College) don’t perform nearly enough to pull up the region’s ranking. I was surprised by the per capita scores of both the Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast too. The former region, while the most populous of the 11, has many small schools that have churned out stars (Antonio Gates and James Harrison went to Kent State, Michael Turner to Northern Illinois, Ben Roethlisberger at Miami-Ohio) in adding to stars who went to big schools like Michigan (Tom Brady and Charles Woodson), Ohio State (Nick Mangold and AJ Hawk), and Pittsburgh (Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis). The Gulf Coast’s score is boasted by perennial Pro Bowler and All-Pro punter Shane Lechler (Texas Tech). Aside from him, none of the other active A&M stars, or players from schools such as LSU, have fostered many accolades. Without him, they would have ranked far worse.

The results here align in large part with those in yesterday’s post. Many of the suspected big players (Ohio, Florida, Texas) do well, with the schools of smaller interior west states like Utah and Idaho showing well on a per capita basis. If there is a single winner, it appears to be the Piedmont Atlantic area, whose success in both raw numbers and per capita shows that the south is king in college football.

I plan to repeat this analysis using the hometowns of NFL players instead, to look at which metros, states, and regions are producing the most players who eventually make the big league.


Where College Football is King

Marching Band

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.