The pinnacle of success for any football team is to win a national championship. But, for the 667 football teams that participate at the NCAA levels of the sport, there are just four national championships to go around.
For the rest of the hundreds of schools that don’t go on to claim the ultimate prize in their respective divisions, there has to be some other motivation to keep them striving for excellence. Over the next week, Sports Unbiased is awarding state championships for the 2014-15 college football season for all 50 states.
All 667 schools are eligible for the prize in their home state, bragging rights through a long offseason until the 2015-16 season commences and hope renews for every fan base. This year 31 FBS schools won their state championship, while a dozen FCS schools took the title. That left seven other slots for Division II and Division III schools, either because of a dearth of Division I schools in the state or an exemplary level of excellence that couldn’t go unrewarded.
Yesterday we covered the first 15 schools of our comprehensive look. Stay tuned all week — today we’re looking at schools 26 through 35, tomorrow we name the bottom of the top 25, we evaluate teams six through 15 on Thursday, and conclude with the top five state champions on Friday.
As we move on through the rest of the first 25, we’re still largely in the territory of lower-division schools. Some are historic programs that de-emphasized football long ago, while others are nouveau riche players on the I-AA scene. Here you’ll also find the first national champions among the bunch, as a few states show off some surprise champions. Remember as you read that this exercise isn’t designed to definitively determine which team is the most talented, but rather the one that had the season that is the envy of every other school in its state.
35. New York (Fordham Rams/FCS)
The pickings are slim to begin with for college football in New York. At the FBS level you have your choice of either 3-9 Syracuse or 5-6 Buffalo, neither of which impressed in 2014. So instead of the Orange or the Bulls, we’ll celebrate the recent resurgence of a long-lost FCS powerhouse school in New York City with the state championship. Fordham invoked the legend of the Seven Blocks of Granite this season, securing 10 of its 11 victories by at least three touchdowns to finish undefeated in the Patriot League and qualify for the FCS tournament. There the Rams destroyed Sacred Heart 44-22 in the opening round before falling to eventual semifinalist New Hampshire in the second round, but that was more than enough to win the Empire State.
34. Pennsylvania (Villanova WIldcats/FCS)
There are far more renowned programs in the state — Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Penn have all won national titles, after all. Yet none had as great a season as Villanova, whose three losses came by a total of five points. They opened their season at Syracuse, falling 27-26 when coach Andy Talley went for two points and the win in the second overtime. Richmond was the only team to beat Villanova in conference play, knocking off the Wildcats 10-9. Then Sam Houston State ended hopes of a national title with a 34-31 upset of the sixth seed in the FCS quarterfinals. Though the school missed out on its second FCS national title, Villanova still enjoyed a better season than any other squad in Pennsylvania.
33. New Hampshire (New Hampshire Wildcats/FCS)
New Hampshire finished ahead of Villanova in the Colonial Athletic Association, winning the league outright with an 8-0 conference record en route to the top seed in the FCS playoffs. After getting blown out 54-20 at Toledo in the season opener, the Wildcats reeled off 12 straight victories to reach the final four of the national tournament. There they paired off against Illinois State, with two early touchdown runs extending to an 18-6 lead in the second half after Brad Prasky’s 25-yard field goal against the Redbirds. But then Illinois State scored 15 points in the final quarter, reversing the deficit and stealing away New Hampshire’s hopes of squaring off against North Dakota State fell by the wayside.
32. Wisconsin (Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks/D-III)
Lance Leipold has moved on to take over as head coach of Buffalo, but before he left Wisconsin he led his alma mater to an undefeated 15-0 national championship over traditional D-III foe Mount Union. Sure, the Badgers won the Big Ten West and defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl, but they also got crushed 59-0 by Ohio State and lost their second head coach in three seasons. Meanwhile, the Warhawks extended the longest winning streak in all college football by snatching their second straight national championship and ninth Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in the past decade. Sure, UW-Whitewater will open 2015 with a new leader, but for now they reign atop their state’s hierarchy.
31. Washington (Eastern Washington Eagles/FCS)
Washington State still hasn’t turned around during Mike Leach’s time in Pullman. Washington experienced growing pains under new head coach Chris Petersen. That left Eastern Washington, the team with the bright-red turf and deep runs in the FCS tournament in four of the past five seasons. The Eagles nearly upset the Huskies in Seattle, falling in a shootout 59-52 after taking a lead into the fourth quarter. Then they rolled off wins in nine of their next 10 games, claiming the fourth seed in the postseason and a bye before facing conference opponent Montana in the second round. But a run-in with Illinois State proved to be EWU’s undoing, and the Eagles were forced to settle for the Washington state championship.s