For many college students, Saturdays in Autumn are the apex of the college experience. Nothing beats the fun and camaraderie of making their way to the stadium hours before a game to eat, drink, and play with friends, or the electricity of thousands of fans cheering on the team in a big game, or the pride and excitement of reliving glorious moments in the team’s past. Football has been a part of college experiences for almost 150 years. And while it has little bearing on the educational value of a school, it has tremendous influence in the life of college students and their ongoing allegiance to their alma maters. There is no doubt that for the football fan, football can have an affect on prospective students’ decisions as to which school they want to attend.
With that in mind, College Choice has compiled a list of the 25 best schools for college football. It will be no surprise that the list is filled with schools that have had success on the field in recent and distant history. But there is more to the football culture of a school than just on-field success. In compiling our ranking, we have taken into consideration four major categories: on-field success, alumni success, game-day experience, and culture and influence.
Given football’s long history in university life, success on the field can ebb and flow. To calculate this portion of a school’s score, we considered a school’s overall win-loss record, their history in the Associated Press poll, the number of national championships won during the poll era, and the number of bowls or playoffs they have played in, with bonuses for BCS bowls.
Alumni success was measured largely by taking account of the professional careers of schools’ former players. These players indicate not only the ongoing success of a football program, but they also become sources of pride for current students and alumni of the universities. So in that way they continue to contribute to the culture and experience of the school. To calculate this portion of a school’s score, we considered the number of Heisman winners in a school’s history, the total number of NFL players, the current number of NFL players, the total number of Pro Bowl players, and the total number of Hall of Famers from each school.
On the field success and the success of alumni can be measured pretty objectively by counting players, looking at poll history, and such. Assessing a school’s game-day experience requires a bit more subjectivity. Still, it is true that a student’s experience on the days of games apart from the games themselves has a lot to do with the memories made and the overall impression of the greatness of a football school. Some things like crowd size and the number of times a school has appeared on ESPN Gameday can be counted and scored. But we also wanted to take into consideration things like stadium atmosphere, tailgating, and unique game-day traditions. To those ends we relied on online rankings to compile a composite score for a school’s overall game-day experience.
Finally, we also wanted to consider the way that a football program contributes to the school financially, the way the town adds to the college football experience, and the overall influence of the football program to student life. This last portion of a school’s College Choice score was calculated by looking at a football program’s revenue, a composite of online rankings for best college football towns, and a school’s score from a student survey on athletics conducted by Niche.com.
What are the best football schools in America?
Football fandom and what makes for a good college football experience will certainly vary from student to student. We hope this list will give you some ideas about what schools have nurtured a college football culture that lends a lot to an overall memorable college experience.
Ohio State University
College Choice Score: 100.00
Ohio State University is home to the Ohio State Buckeyes. This team can be found on the school’s main campus in Columbus, Ohio, and it competes in the Big Ten Conference. Urban Meyer is the current head coach of this team.
University of Notre Dame
College Choice Score: 95.84
The University of Notre Dame might be the most famous collegiate football team in the country. It is located in Notre Dame, Indiana and is an Independent within the NCAA, although the team does play five games a year in the ACC. The team is coached by Brian Kelly.
University of Alabama
College Choice Score: 94.38
The University of Alabama’s football team is known as the Alabama Crimson Tide, and it is one of the most beloved football teams in the NCAA. It is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at the institution’s main campus and is part of the SEC Conference. Nick Saban has just celebrated his tenth year coaching the team.
University of Southern California
College Choice Score: 90.75
The University of Southern California is home to the USC Trojans, one of the best football teams in America. It is located in Los Angeles, California, and is part of the Pac-12 Conference. Clay Helton is in his third year of head coach of the team.
University of Oklahoma
College Choice Score: 87.09
University of Michigan
College Choice Score: 84.39
The University of Michigan houses the Michigan Wolverines. This team is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is part of the Big Ten Conference. The head coach is Jim Harbaugh.
University of Texas
College Choice Score: 80.99
The University of Texas houses the Texas Longhorns. It is located in Austin, Texas, and is part of the Big 12 Conference. This team is currently coached by Charlie Strong.
University of Nebraska
College Choice Score: 79.29
The University of Nebraska is home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. This team is part of the Big Ten Conference and can be found in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the school’s flagship institution. Mike Riley is the current head coach of this team.
Louisiana State University
College Choice Score: 78.70
The LSU Tigers, also known as the Fighting Tigers, are the Louisiana State University’s sports team. This team is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and it competes in the SEC Conference. Ed Orgeron is serving as the interim coach for the foreseeable future.
Florida State University
College Choice Score: 72.90
The Florida State Seminoles are the Florida State University’s football team. It is located in Tallahassee, Florida, and is part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Jimbo Fisher is the team’s head coach.
University of Florida
College Choice Score: 72.83
The University of Florida is home to one of the best known collegiate football teams in America. The Florida Gators is part of the SEC and is located in Gainesville, Florida. The team is coached by Jim McElwain.
Penn State University
College Choice Score: 72.62
Penn State University is where the Nittany Lions can be found. This team is housed at the school’s main campus in State College, Pennsylvania and is part of the Big Ten Conference. It is coached by James Franklin.
University of Tennessee
College Choice Score: 72.32
The University of Tennessee is home to the Tennessee Volunteers, the school’s football team that had its first season in 1891. It is lovingly known as “UT” or “Vols” by fans. This team is located in Knoxville, Tennessee and is part of the SEC Conference. The team is currently coached by Butch Jones.
University of Georgia
College Choice Score: 71.54
The Georgia Bulldogs make their home at the University of Georgia. The team is located at the Athens, Georgia, campus and is part of the SEC Conference. Kirby Smart is in his second year as head coach.
College Choice Score: 71.23
Auburn University is home to the Auburn Tigers, the school’s football team. This team is located in Auburn, Alabama, and is a member of the Southeastern Conference. The head coach is Gus Malzahn.
University of Miami
College Choice Score: 64.10
The Miami Hurricanes is the name given to the University of Miami’s football team. It is located in Miami Gardens, Florida, and competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The head coach is Mark Richt.
Texas A&M University
College Choice Score: 63.50
Texas A&M University is home to the Texas Aggies, or Aggies as the fans endeavor to call them. This team is part of the SEC Conference and is located in College Station, Texas. The Aggies are currently coached by Kevin Sumlin.
University of Wisconsin
College Choice Score: 60.29
The Wisconsin Badgers are the University of Wisconsin’s football team. The team is located in Madison, Wisconsin and is part of the Big Ten Conference. The team is coached by Paul Chryst.
College Choice Score: 59.74
Clemson University is home to the Clemson Tigers, also known simply as the Tigers. The team is located in Clemson, South Carolina, and is part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tigers are coached by Dabo Swinney, who is celebrating his tenth year as head coach.
University of Oregon
College Choice Score: 58.81
The Oregon Ducks are the University of Oregon’s football team. The team, which is located in Eugene, Oregon, belongs to the Pac-12 Conference and its head coach is Mark Helfrich. This school holds four division titles, 12 conference titles, and has produced one Heisman winner and eight All-Americans.
University of Washington
College Choice Score: 54.88
The University of Washington is home to the Washington Huskies. This team is located in Seattle, Washington, and is a member of the Pac-12 Conference. The school is best known for having one of the longest-running winning streaks in the nation, including a 27-season winning streak between the late 1970s and the early 2000s. It is also known for being one of the best producers of quarterbacks for the NFL, listing 17 out of the last 20 team quarterbacks that have gone on to the NFL. This team is coached by Chris Petersen.
University California Los Angeles
College Choice Score: 53.99
The University of California at Los Angeles houses the UCLA Bruins. The team is best known for always being ranked in the top ten of every AP Poll of football teams at least once every decade. The team, which is located in Pasadena, California, plays in the Pac-12 division and is coached by Jim Mora.
Michigan State University
College Choice Score: 53.55
Michigan State University’s football team, the Spartans, represent the school in the Big Ten Conference. The school is known for winning six national championships and nine conference championships, the last coming in 2015. This team, which is located in East Lansing, Michigan, and has been coached by Mark Dantonio for the past ten years.
This is great news for the Spartans, as the school has a large fan base at home. In fact, the school is considered to be in the top 25 teams based on game attendance. The most popular games are those played by the schools’ rivals, which include Notre Dame, Indiana, the University of Michigan Wolverines, and Penn State. As of 2015, MSU holds all trophies won in these annual games.
University of Arkansas
College Choice Score: 52.47
The University of Arkansas is home to the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that is counted among the top 25 teams in number of wins in college football history. This team, which is located at the school’s flagship campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is coached by Bret Bielema, who has held the position since 2013. The school plays in the Southeastern Conference.
University of Pittsburgh
College Choice Score: 51.73
The University of Pittsburgh and football are inseparable. The school, which is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has had a football team since 1890, and it is known for its involvement in making changes to the sport, including desegregating the Sugar Bowl. The team, known as the Pittsburgh Panthers, are coached by Pat Narduzzi. The school plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference of the NCAA.