A tragedy of college football’s structure is that America’s most geography-obsessed sport doesn’t have state championships.
So, in classic CFB fashion, determining state-by-state superlatives falls to us, the internet. The end of the 2010s is a good occasion to name a TEAM OF THE DECADE for every state and D.C.
First, some guiding rules:
This is not an index of each states’ most powerful teams — i.e., who’d win head-to-head — but of the teams that had the best decades. Success is success, no matter the level.
You don’t have to be an FBS team. (In fact, most of the teams here are not.) Teams from every NCAA division are eligible, along with junior colleges and NAIA programs. Head-to-head results, overall record, and championships won are key criteria. The question I’m aiming to answer: Who enjoyed the best decade?
There’s some subjectivity involved, but I’ll explain everything below.
Here is the 2010s Team of the Decade map across all 50 states:
If you want, you can click to enlarge it.
And now, explanations for every pick:
- Alabama: Alabama.
- Alaska: America’s largest state by land area is its smallest by number of college football teams (zero). Thus, as usual, I appoint the good dogs who run the Iditarod as the top college football team in Alaska.
- Arizona: Arizona State won seven of 10 Territorial Cups and got through the decade with just one losing season. Rival Arizona made the best bowl of anyone (the 2014 season’s Fiesta) but lost it and had a lousy decade otherwise, which included not maximizing Khalil Tate’s superhuman talents. None of the state’s lower-level teams did anything of great note.
- Arkansas: Ouachita Baptist was awesome in Division II’s Great American Conference, posting a winning record every year and sprinkling in postseason appearances. FBS Central Arkansas has excellent purple-and-gray turf and, in 2019, beat an FBS team that went on to destroy Arkansas, prompting the creation of STATE CHAMPS shirts. But the nod goes to Arkansas State, which would’ve regularly beaten the Razorbacks if they’d played each other, did win five Sun Belt championships, and functioned as arguably the best pipeline of head coaches anywhere — losing Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, Gus Malzahn to Auburn, and Bryan Harsin to Boise State after one year each, but still not missing much of a beat under Blake Anderson after that.
- California: The state’s many teams almost all had unimpressive decades, most notably USC. The clearest exception, before things got really bad in 2019: Stanford. Three New Year’s Six or BCS bowl wins between 2010 and 2015 (including Christian McCaffrey’s legendary smacking of Iowa in ‘15’s Rose Bowl) makes the Cardinal the easy pick.
- Colorado: Air Force had three 10-win seasons and made a bushel of bowls, and Colorado State had a nice run that helped get a beautiful stadium built. Colorado School of Mines was briefly a national spread-offense influencer under then-coach Bob Stitt. But CSU-Pueblo was a Division II power, winning the Rocky Mountain five times and winning the 2014 national title.
- Connecticut: Central Connecticut won the NEC three times and made a couple of brief playoff appearances. I’ll go with Yale, which won two Ivy League titles. I’m sort of bending the wins are wins creed, but winning the Ivy is a bigger deal than winning the NEC, and I bet the Bulldogs would’ve done more damage in the playoffs.
- D.C.: Howard went 40-72. Georgetown went 40-70. But the Bison took a few of those losses against FBS teams. More importantly, Georgetown is an annoying neighborhood.
- Delaware: Division III Wesley won double-digit games eight times, easily enough to beat out DI’s Delaware and Delaware State.
- Florida: Computer systems say Florida State’s 2013 champion has a case as the best in college football history that didn’t spawn from World War II’s weird roster environment. Despite how badly things went later, that’s enough to win a decade. Special plaudits to UCF for a national title-ish 2017 and DII upstart West Florida for winning the title in just its fourth season (with another title game appearance before that).
- Georgia: Valdosta State won the DII title in 2012 and 2018. Hey, this is a good time to say again that this map is not intended as a predictor of head-to-head results.
- Hawaii: Hawaii, both because it’s the only team in the state and was deeply fun to watch, year in and year out. Cole McDonald will be a BVP Award hero forever.
- Idaho: Boise State owned the Potato State (I’m pretty sure that’s Idaho’s nickname) [it’s the Gem State] for another decade. They’d be the pick even if Idaho hadn’t wound up struggling in FCS.
- Illinois: Division III North Central won seven conference championships and capped the decade by beating Goliaths Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater to win a national title. Also: In 2010, St. Xavier won NAIA. Let’s also recognize NIU, because a) five straight double-digit-win seasons in FBS is extremely rare, and b) so is a MAC team making a prolonged run as the best non-power in the country.
- Indiana: Two NAIA teams from the Hoosier State won two national titles apiece. I’m taking Marian over Saint Francis, because the Knights had a slightly better record across the 2010s and mustered an additional championship game appearance. Meanwhile, Notre Dame kept earning trips to big bowls and then getting thrashed in them.
- Iowa: NAIA Morningside won back-to-back national championships.
- Kansas: Pittsburg State won the DII championship in 2011. An honorable mention: NAIA Ottawa, which won the highly competitive Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference three times, more than anybody else.
- Kentucky: Louisville had Lamar Jackson. That is enough, but they also won a Sugar Bowl and sort of nearly made the 2016 Playoff.
- Louisiana: LSU pretty consistently had the state’s best years, especially 2019.
- Maine: DIII Husson won the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference four times, all with unbeaten records, before moving to the Commonwealth Coast. That puts them ahead of the flagship school in FCS, which won the CAA twice and made three playoffs.
- Maryland: Johns Hopkins is more than a lacrosse or medical school. The football Blue Jays won the DIII Centennial Conference nine times. Honorable mention: Navy, which might’ve gotten this nod if it hadn’t stopped owning Army toward the end of the decade.
- Massachusetts: DIII Western New England won the New England Football Conference/Commonwealth Coast (it rebranded) five years in a row to close the decade. That’s superior to Harvard’s four wins and shares of the Ivy crown.
- Michigan: Michigan State won six of 10 games off Michigan, which really shouldn’t happen, and was the only Michigan team to make a Playoff. (Do not ask what happened once there.) There was a ton of parity among the lower-level teams.
- Minnesota: DIII St. Thomas was so good, its peers in the Minnesota Intercollegiate kicked it out of the league. The Tommies are now going DI. They’re almost the easiest pick on this list.
- Mississippi: East Mississippi was the juggernaut in JUCO, winning six national titles. The Lions are also the best-known program anywhere for a whole demographic of people: those who don’t watch college football but do watch Netflix’s Last Chance U.
- Missouri: Northwest Missouri State won three DII titles from 2013 to 2016. The Bearcats were the most dominant program at any level of college football during that stretch, going 55-2 over four years — and a clean 45-0 in the three years that ended with titles.
- Montana: NAIA Carroll won the whole thing in 2010, and that stood up as the state’s lone national title. Nobody else really lit it up, either.
- Nebraska: Wow, this is bleak. The state’s NAIA teams failed to produce a single conference championship. Three DII teams were all bad. I’m picking Nebraska, because the Huskers have a big fanbase and they’ll be more likely to share this post on Twitter.
- Nevada: Nevada was generally better than UNLV and went 6-4 in the Battle of Nevada.
- New Hampshire: New Hampshire made eight FCS playoff appearances and won a couple of CAA titles, one of them solo. That puts UNH ahead of Dartmouth, with two shared Ivy titles.
- New Jersey: Princeton shared the Ivy League crown three times. I will also note here that Princeton would’ve beaten Rutgers if they played each other most years in this decade, in a rematch of the violent soccer game they played a century and a half earlier.
- New Mexico: DII’s Eastern New Mexico had very few embarrassing seasons, which is a key metric in this state.
- New York: Hobart won or shared five titles in Division III’s Liberty League, which meant the Statemen drubbed a lot of fellow New Yorkers. DIII Brockport put up a good showing with three titles in the Empire 8, also a New York league. FBS Army, Buffalo, and Syracuse spent most of the decade not being great, though all had their moments.
- North Carolina: I’ve decided to split this state into two, giving Appalachian State the western mountains and North Carolina A&T the eastern farmland and coast. That makes sense geographically for the Mountaineers and Aggies. More importantly, both deserve recognition for truly rare achievements. App State aced a transition to FBS like no one had in a generation, won four straight Sun Belt titles, and won more games (12) in 2019 than any North Carolinian FBS team ever had in a season. Meanwhile, A&T dominated the Celebration Bowl with four wins in its first five years, becoming one of the best HBCU dynasties ever.
- North Dakota: North Dakota State had the most dominant decade by any post-high school football team ever. No big deal!
- Ohio: Mount Union won three DIII national titles, a continuation of a dynasty that started in the ‘90s. Two other programs (UW-Whitewhater and Mary Hardin-Baylor) basically entered into a timeshare with the Purple Raiders atop that level, but three titles remains a lot. Please don’t send me mean comments, Ohio State fans. Things are going fine for you.
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma closed the decade by winning the Big 12 five times in a row, made as many Playoff appearances as anyone not named Bama or Clemson, and fielded what advanced metrics say are some of the greatest offenses ever, which yielded back-to-back Heisman winners and first overall picks. They also owned Oklahoma State, continuing to ensure Bedlam does not live up to its rivalry nickname. On the list of every team that’s ever hovered right below national title contention for about a whole decade (as in, never actually playing for a title), 2010s OU must be near the top.
- Oregon: DIII’s Linfield won nine straight Northwest Conference titles, most in exceedingly dominant fashion, to take the honors. (NAIA Southern Oregon won a national title, but the scale of Linfield’s success was really something.) Linfield had a better decade than the FBS Ducks, despite Oregon winning a lot of stuff and nearly deserving a national title. I also need to show you Linfield’s logo, because it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen:
- Pennsylvania: Nobody in FBS had that incredible a decade, all things considered. At the lower levels, there was so much Pennsylvanian parity that picking out of DII teams like Slippery Rock, West Chester, IUP, and Kutztown was hard. Pitt did ruin a lot of years. But I’m awarding the PA title to the best college football thing in the state: Saquon Barkley’s smile.
- Rhode Island: Salve Regina, out of the DIII Commonwealth Coast, had a .673 winning percentage. That’s a ways better than Bryant (.509), Brown (.450), or Rhode Island (.230).
- South Carolina: Clemson only spent the decade becoming Nick Saban’s greatest foil ever and elevating itself to possibly eternal blue-blood status.
- South Dakota: South Dakota State got repeatedly ruined by rival NDSU, but the Jackrabbits still had a great decade, making the playoffs regularly and even getting a few over on the Bison. Fans of the Jacks have had to deal with being NDSU’s rival, and they’ve done so admirably.
- Tennessee: Memphis had an awesome close to the decade and made six bowls but was bad for the first four years. Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt each made five bowls, while the Vols made four. Vanderbilt also went 5-5 against the Vols, meaning the ‘Dores have a slight edge. But this honor goes to another Tennesseean team that wears orange: DII Carson-Newman, which had eight winning seasons and became a somewhat regular playoff participant.
- Texas: Mary Hardin-Baylor won the Stagg Bowl twice to top DIII. We don’t care that the NCAA vacated one of those titles.
- Utah: Utah transitioned from excellent non-power to one of the best teams in the Pac-12 and, by 2019, a Playoff contender until two days before Selection Sunday.
- Vermont: Middlebury didn’t have any losing seasons and had three years with one loss or fewer. That tops fellow DIII schools Norwich and Castleton.
- Virginia: James Madison was the only team to interrupt North Dakota State’s dynasty in the middle of the Bison’s run. The Dukes beat them in 2016 in the Fargodome, then went on to win the national title against Bo Pelini’s Youngstown State.
- Washington: Eastern Washington also managed to sneak in a national championship in the North Dakota State decade, right at the beginning (2010). National titles generally win states in this project, despite Washington making an FBS Playoff and beating Wazzu nine times out of 10. Because you know who else beat Wazzu (and Oregon State and nearly several other Pac-12 teams) this decade? EWU.
- West Virginia: WVU was fine, and Marshall was arguably better. But Division II Shepherd won the Mountain East (est. 2012 and consisting of mostly West Virginian teams) four times in six years before leaving for a Pennsylvania conference because it wanted more of a challenge.
- Wisconsin: UW-Whitewater won four national titles in DIII.
- Wyoming: Wyoming, the only team in Wyoming.
What did I get wrong?
At least half the fun is arguing about it, so let me know. We can also discuss which rivalry trophies to create for each state.