Saturday, October 1, 2022

Picking the best college football team in each state entering the 2022 season

College football is one of the biggest and most popular sports in the country, though it’s regional in its roots. Intra-state rivalries like the Iron Bowl, Egg Bowl and Old Oaken Bucket provide bragging rights for residents and fans for 365 days. Simply put, state pride has been the foundation of the sport for more than a century.

Teams like Clemson and Georgia have dominated their in-state rivals recently, while the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been fairly even for the better part of a decade. 

“Talking season,” as legendary coach Steve Spurrier famously named the period leading up to the season, is coming to a close. With that in mind, it’s time to make our picks for the best team in each state. These picks are based on a wide variety of factors, including recent success, rivalry results and hope for the future. 

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CBS Sports Graphic

Alabama — Alabama: The Crimson Tide boast the best record in the sport since 2008 and have won six national titles under coach Nick Saban. They have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner — quarterback Bryce Young — and the best player in football — edge threat Will Anderson Jr. As one of the favorites to make the College Football Playoff this season, Alabama belongs to the Crimson Tide for the foreseeable future. — Barrett Sallee

Alaska — n/a

Arizona — Arizona State: It isn’t a huge compliment to be dubbed the best team in the Grand Canyon State, but there’s no doubt that the Sun Devils have the edge. NCAA issues are factored in a little bit, but they have won five straight Territorial Cups and, more importantly, didn’t go 1-11 last year like Arizona did. Still, it’s a critical year for ASU coach Herm Edwards, who will need success in the Pac-12 as a whole this year rather than simply within the state. — Sallee

Arkansas — Arkansas: Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman has created a competent program in just two years at the helm, which is more than enough to jump last year’s winner — Arkansas State — in this annual story. Winners of nine games in 2021, the Hogs have a dynamic offense, a stout defense and are one of the biggest threats to Alabama in the SEC West. It’s going to be hard to unseat Arkansas based on its trajectory. — Sallee

California — USC: This state can turn on a dime with so many quality programs, and the Trojans pulled off the biggest coup of the offseason by landing the trio of coach Lincoln Riley, quarterback Caleb Williams and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at receiver. That, coupled with a 12-3 conference record between 2019 and 2020, was enough to hold the top spot. UCLA made a push, while San Diego State enters 2022 as the dark horse after making the Mountain West Championship Game. For now, though, California is Trojans country. — Shehan Jeyarajah

Colorado — Air Force: The Falcons put together another tremendous season with a 10-3 campaign, capped off with a win over Louisville in the First Responder Bowl. The losses against Mountain West champ Utah State, San Diego State and Army came by a combined 16 points. Air Force is the class of Colorado and it’s not all that close. — Jeyarajah

Connecticut — Sacred Heart: The Pioneers picked up the top spot by default last season after UConn, Central Connecticut and Yale all opted against playing football during the pandemic. In 2022, Sacred Heart earned the honor on the field. Mark Nofri’s squad won its third Northeast Conference championship in the past four years and earned a trip to the FCS playoffs with an 8-4 record. Pioneers football is looking up. — Jeyarajah

Delaware — Delaware: The 2021 Blue Hens won’t go down in the record books, but the recent history of success is still plenty to keep Delaware over Delaware State for the top spot. Delaware reached the FCS semifinals in 2020 as part of two playoff appearances in the last four years. Plus, the Blue Hens got back to basics over the offseason by hiring Ryan Carty as their head coach after he helped K.C. Keeler win the 2021 national championship at Sam Houston. — Jeyarajah

Florida — UCF: Florida held this title last year, but a disastrous 2021 season that resulted in the dismissal of coach Dan Mullen can’t be ignored. Florida State and Miami are still trying to get back on track, which makes it hard to pick either one of them. UCF has at least nine wins in four of its last five seasons and topped the Gators in last season’s Gasparilla Bowl. The Knights’ grip on the state is tenuous, but the Sunshine State is still black and gold for now. — Sallee

Georgia — Georgia: The Bulldogs claimed their first national title since 1981 and have played in four of the last five SEC Championship Games. They were again picked to win the SEC East in the media vote that took place during SEC Media Days. It’s going to take a miracle for any other team in the Peach State to unseat the Bulldogs anytime in the near future. — Sallee

Hawaii — Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors are the only Division I team in the state, so consider this a no-contest. As a bonus, they have finished over .500 in three of their last four seasons. — Sallee

Idaho — Boise State: The sky is falling in Boise … at least by Broncos standards. The 2021 season was the worst by record since 1998, as Boise State lost every game by 11 or fewer points. Also, to be clear, that “disaster” was still a promising 7-5 campaign under first-year coach Andy Avalos that laps the rest of the Idaho programs many times over. Boise State remains a Group of Five power. — Jeyarajah

Illinois — Illinois: Northern Illinois makes a heck of a case for the top spot after shockingly capturing the MAC championship with a 9-5 record. However, Illinois showed enough interesting signs in Bret Bielema’s first season to hold off NIU, Northwestern and a handful of exciting FCS squads. The Illini beat ranked Penn State and Minnesota, and edged out Nebraska in a Week Zero game. Keep an eye on new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr., who’s a rising star. — Jeyarajah

Indiana — Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have posted at least 10 wins in each of the last five seasons and made two College Football Playoff appearances during that tenure. They lost coach Brian Kelly, the architect of that success, when he took the vacant job at LSU. However, new coach Marcus Freeman is recruiting his tail off and eased the transition to a new era in South Bend. — Sallee

Iowa — Iowa: The Hawkeyes have won six straight Cy-Hawk trophies over arch-rival Iowa State and finished in the AP Top 25 in each of the last four seasons. They also went 10-4 last season, winning the Big Ten West  Coach Kirk Ferentz has established one of the most stable programs in the country, and that doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy anytime soon. –– Sallee

Kansas — Kansas State: The Wildcats have had a stranglehold on the state for virtually the entire 21st century, and nothing seems to be changing under well-regarded coach Chris Klieman. Kansas State bounced back from a disappointing pandemic campaign with another 8-5 season. The 2022 team could be the best since the 2012 Fiesta Bowl squad. Bet on Kansas coach Lance Leipold to take the program back to competitiveness, but, uh, not yet. –– Jeyarajah

Kentucky — Kentucky: The Wildcats finished last season 10-3, their second 10-win season in the last four years. They have established themselves as a constant threat in the SEC East, plus they’ve topped rival Louisville for the Governor’s Cup in three straight seasons. Heading into 2022, Kentucky boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Will Levis. Coach Mark Stoops has transformed Kentucky from a “basketball school” into one that matters in football, too. –– Sallee

Louisiana — LSU: The Tigers have been a disaster in each of the last two seasons, but the 2019 national title, coupled with the ninja-like hiring of Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame, has them clinging to their perch atop the Pelican State. The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns have a case in this matter, but we are going to hold off on seeing what they look like in the post-Billy Napier era. — Sallee

Maine — Maine: The Black Bears rank as the only Division I team in the state and pulled an upset over No. 24 Rhode Island at the FCS level to reach a solid 6-5 campaign. Now, former Yale associate head coach Jordan Stevens will have an opportunity to put his stamp on his alma mater. — Jeyarajah

Maryland — Maryland: Navy used to own the state, but not anymore. The combination of its struggles and the rise of Mike Locksley’s Terrapins to a somewhat competent team is enough to unseat the Midshipmen from the top spot. The Terps went 7-6 last year, capping off the season with a 54-10 win over Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. — Sallee

Massachusetts — Boston College: The Eagles get some serious competition from Holy Cross, which beat UConn, won the Patriot League and edged Sacred Heart in the FCS playoffs. However, Boston College showed some promising signs under second-year coach Jeff Hafley to reach another bowl game despite injuries to star quarterback Phil Jurkovec. A breakout season could be coming soon. — Jeyarajah

Michigan — Michigan: Last season, the Wolverines topped Ohio State for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, won their first Big Ten championship since 2004 and earned a College Football Playoff berth. Yes, they also lost to intra-state rival Michigan State on Oct. 30, which at least has to be considered here. However, the accomplishments listed above far outweigh the head-to-head result. — Sallee

Minnesota — Minnesota: Minnesota is actually a fascinating state for small college football with Minnesota State winning the Division II national championship in 2019 and St. Thomas making the jump from Division III to DIvision I. However, the Golden Gophers still reign supreme after going 9-4 to reach a third bowl in four years. Coach P.J. Fleck has an impressive 35-23 record in six seasons at Minnesota. — Jeyarajah

Mississippi — Ole Miss: The Rebels pulled off a 10-win regular season and went to the Sugar Bowl last year. They have two straight wins over intra-state rival Mississippi State, and coach Lane Kiffin has established his offense as one of the most dynamic units in the country. That plays well between the lines and on the recruiting trail. — Sallee

Missouri — Missouri: The Tigers are the only FBS team and one of three Division I programs in the Show Me State, which makes this pick relatively easy. With that said, coach Eli Drinkwitz is 11-12 in two seasons at a program that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2018. He is still relatively new as a head coach, and there’s plenty of promise for the future in Columbia based off the way that running game clicked last season. — Sallee

Montana — Montana: The Brawl of the Wild between Montana and Montana State is easily one of the most underrated rivalries in all of college football, and there’s no better way to determine the best team in the Treasure State than on the field. Montana State ended up going on a Cinderella run to the national title game in Brent Vigen’s first season, but Montana crushed the Bobcats 29-10 in Missoula. — Jeyarajah

Nebraska — Nebraska: The greatest 3-9 team in college football history follows it up with an unanimous selection as the best team in the state. Pretty good, considering the Cornhuskers are the only Division I football team in Nebraska. — Jeyarajah

Nevada — Nevada: The Wolf Pack finished 8-5 with an appearance in the Quick Lane Bowl last season. One of those eight wins included a 51-20 victory over rival UNLV. Coach Jay Norvell led Nevada to four straight winning seasons before leaving to take the Colorado State job. — Sallee

New Hampshire — Dartmouth: Coach Buddy Teevens has Dartmouth on a special run with consecutive Ivy League titles and a 56-14 record since 2014, and standout players include All-Americans Jake Guidone and Jalen Mackie. The success is more than enough to hold off New Hampshire. — Jeyarajah

New Jersey — Rutgers: As one of three Division I teams — and the only FBS program — in New Jersey, you’d think Rutgers would be an easy choice for the top spot in the Garden State. However, Princeton has made it difficult to stump for the Scarlet Knights in the past. That said, a Gator Bowl appearance after the second season of Greg Schiano’s second stint as coach is enough for the top spot here. — Sallee

New Mexico — New Mexico: The Lobos weren’t good in 2021, but rival New Mexico State was deeply terrible, which led to the end of the Doug Martin era. A 3-9 record for New Mexico in Danny Gonzales’ second season feels better by comparison. — Jeyarajah

New York — Army: This one is a no-brainer. The Black Knights have won nine games in each of the last two seasons, been to bowl games in five of their last six seasons and asserted themselves as the top service academy in the nation. Jeff Monken has completely turned around a tradition-rich program that struggled for the better part of the last few decades. –– Sallee

North Carolina — Wake Forest: This is always a fun state to examine because there is usually an argument for two or three schools every year. This year, however, it took about two seconds. The Demon Deacons are coming off of an 11-win season, and they have finished over .500 in four of the last five seasons. Coach Dave Clawson has established one of the most consistently explosive offenses in the country. The question isn’t if Wake Forest deserves this designation this year, the question is if it’s sustainable moving forward. –– Sallee

North Dakota — North Dakota State: After losing early in the 2021 spring FCS playoffs, North Dakota State came back with a vengeance and bulldozed its way to its ninth national championship since 2011 with a 38-10 domination of Montana State. The Bison machine doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. — Jeyarajah

Ohio — Ohio State: Cincinnati is the first true competitor to Ohio State in years after the Bearcats earned a trip to the College Football Playoff, but the Buckeyes’ track record is second to none. Ohio State is an early favorite to reach the national championship and perhaps bring the ultimate prize home for the first time since 2014. — Jeyarajah

Oklahoma — Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy finally got the best of Oklahoma for the first time since 2011 to earn a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game, and his Cowboys beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma has a long history of success, but an external coaching hire for the first time since 1998 provides the narrow opening for Oklahoma State to control the state. — Jeyarajah

Oregon — Oregon: The Ducks finally broke out in 2021 and reached national contention behind a top NFL draft pick in Kayvon Thibodeaux and a solid coach in Mario Cristobal. Dan Lanning is steering the ship now after helping Georgia to a national championship, and Oregon State is nipping at Oregon’s heels, but the Ducks still have the inside track in the state. — Jeyarajah

Pennsylvania — Penn State: This was a hard one to nail down. On one hand, you have a Penn State program that is steeped in tradition and has finished in the top 20 in four of the last six seasons — three of which were top-10 results. Meanwhile, Pitt is fresh off of an ACC title and quarterback Kenny Pickett went to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. That was Pitt’s first 10-win season since 2009, while Penn State has three since 2016. Moving forward, the Nittany Lions should be able to sustain success more than their cross-state rival. — Sallee

Rhode Island — Rhode Island: Providence hasn’t played college football since 1941, so congratulations, Rhode Island, you’re undisputed champs. The Rams did have a solid 7-4 record in the rough-and-tumble CAA and reached No. 12 in the FCS rankings before a three-game skid in October. –– Jeyarajah

South Carolina — Clemson: A 10-win season was considered a “down” year for the Tigers and coach Dabo Swinney. That in and of itself is enough to show you just how powerful they are. Throw in two national titles since 2016 and seven straight wins over intra-state rival South Carolina, and this is an easy choice. — Sallee

South Dakota — South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits earned a trip to the NCAA Division I Football Championship during the spring 2021 season. Then, they followed that up with an 11-4 campaign and a playoff berth in the fall. If not for North Dakota State in its own conference, South Dakota State might be a household name. — Jeyarajah

Tennessee — Tennessee: The Volunteers have been spinning their wheels for more than a decade, which allowed Memphis to slide into the spot on multiple occasions. Not this year, though. Tennessee went 7-5 in the regular season and earned a berth in/deserved to win the Music City Bowl. Coach Josh Heupel has established one of the most dynamic offenses in the country. Hope is a beautiful thing … especially on Rocky Top. — Sallee

Texas — Baylor: What a difference a year makes. After going 2-7 in Dave Aranda’s first season, the Bears nabbed the top spot in the Lone Star State after winning their first Big 12 Championship Game, setting a program record for wins and capturing a Sugar Bowl title. Reaching two title games in three seasons is enough to hold off Texas A&M for the top spot. The Aggies and Bears will unquestionably be the top two contenders for the best in Texas title in 2023, but don’t be surprised if Houston enters the chat, too. — Jeyarajah

Utah — Utah: This was a fun discussion because there are legit points for the Utes and rival BYU. We settled on the Utah due to its 2021 Pac-12 title, three 10-win seasons since 2015 and nine wins in the last 10 meetings with the Cougars in the Holy War. Moving forward, the Utes look like they could become a dynasty in the Pac-12 (if they stay) when USC and UCLA bail. — Sallee

Vermont — n/a

Virginia — Virginia Tech: The Hokies finished under .500 in each of the last two seasons, but they have topped rival Virginia in 17 of the last 18 meetings. That’s too much to ignore. A weak case could be made for Liberty, but it’s too soon to put that much faith in the Flames having long-term success. — Sallee

Washington — Washington State: The state of Washington ranked among the most difficult selections on the board. The Apple Cup finally went Washington State’s way for the first time since 2012, but both UW and Wazzu dealt with major distractions off the field. Eastern Washington made an elite FCS case behind Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Eric Barriere. However, the second half of Washington State’s season under Jake Dickert was too impressive to ignore, including a 40-13 win over Washington. –– Jeyarajah

West Virginia — West Virginia: The Mountaineers remained competitive in the Big 12 with another bowl appearance, but reinforcements are on the way in the form of ex-Georgia quarterback JT Daniels and Air Raid offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. The promise is enough to hold off Marshall during a transition under second-year coach Charles Huff. — Jeyarajah

Wisconsin — Wisconsin: The Badgers win this by default since they’re the only Division I team in the state, but they also deserve the recognition for consistency and success in the Big Ten. They run the ball, play defense and are always a threat to win the Big Ten championship no matter who’s taking the snaps, running the football and manning the front seven. — Sallee

Wyoming — Wyoming: The Cowboys had one of their more inconsistent teams under former North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl. Wyoming had narrow wins over UConn and Montana State, along with a loss to New Mexico, but followed it up with victories over Kent State and Utah State. Regardless, Wyoming is the only Division I team in the state, so the decision is easy. — Jeyarajah

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