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.
Monday we covered the first 15 schools of our comprehensive look. Yesterday we took a look at schools 26 through 35. Today we name the bottom of the top 25. Stay tuned the rest of the week, as we evaluate teams six through 15 on Thursday and conclude with the top five state champions on Friday.
Now we’ve reached the top 25 of our look at the champions for all 50… er, 49 states (thanks to Alaska’s lack of any college football programs), which means that from here on out you will only find teams from Division I. There are still FCS teams to be found in the mix, but for the most part we are now discussing the nuances of power-conference schools and perennial mid-major contenders. These schools significantly separated themselves from the 25 schools we looked at on Monday and Tuesday, and the hierarchy by nature could be sorted any number of ways. This is merely my best-faith effort, but feel free to voice your criticisms below or on Twitter at @zbigalke.
25. Massachusetts (Harvard Crimson/FCS)
It is a shame that the Ivy League won’t let its members participate in the FCS playoffs, because Harvard could have potentially done some damage had they made it into the 24-team field. The Ivy League champs held seven of 10 opponents to two touchdowns or fewer, and eight of their wins came by double digits. The Crimson won their eighth straight over rival Yale in the season finale, capping a perfect 10-0 season. Though they missed a chance at claiming the school’s 10th national championship thanks to conference rules — or, perhaps, because of the league rules — Harvard ended the year as the only team in all of Division I to finish undefeated in 2014-15.
24. Louisiana (Louisiana Tech Bulldogs/FBS)
Normally, the state of Louisiana would be dominated by LSU. But the Tigers fell to fifth in the SEC West this season, and that cracked the door open for Louisiana Tech to ride a five-game midseason winning streak to the state title. The Bulldogs started inauspiciously, opening the season 2-3 with losses to Oklahoma and Auburn as well as FCS Northwestern State. But wins in six of their last seven regular-season games drove Tech to the Conference USA Championship Game, and the Bulldogs nearly knocked off Marshall in Huntington for the league title. They rebounded emphatically to finish with nine wins, knocking off Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
23. New Jersey (Rutgers Scarlet Knights/FBS)
It was a good but not great year for football in New Jersey. Princeton finished dead even at 5-5 in Ivy League play, though losses to Yale and Dartmouth to end the season buried them in fourth in the conference table. Their opponent in the first-ever college football game in 1869, Rutgers, had a much better year transitioning to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights beat Washington State out of conference to start the season, upset Michigan along the way, and reached bowl eligibility despite the move to a tougher overall schedule. They even beat offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen’s alma mater and the team he formerly coached, Maryland, in the regular-season finale. A win in the Quick Lane Bowl over North Carolina was icing on the cake.
22. Nebraska (Nebraska Cornhuskers/FBS)
Was it a pretty year by past standards for Nebraska football? Obviously not, after the Cornhuskers lost four games for the seventh straight season. They’ll enter 2015 with a new head coach after Bo Pelini was fired before the bowl game, and a close loss to USC in the Holiday Bowl didn’t help matters any more. But things aren’t all terrible in Lincoln. The Huskers were less than 10 points away from a Big Ten West title and a spot in the conference championship game, and after all… who else are Nebraskans going to root for in the state? The fact that Memorial Stadium becomes one of the largest cities in the state every autumnal Saturday is certainly a strong point in their favor as the hottest show in the state.
21. Kentucky (Louisville Cardinals/FBS)
Bobby Petrino returned to the place where he made his name as a head coach, and his first season back in Louisville after nearly a decade away qualified as a success. The Cardinals moved from the AAC to the ACC, and they ended up third in the stacked Atlantic Division behind Florida State and Clemson. In addition to losses against the Seminoles and Tigers, Louisville also stumbled at Virginia. They finished off the regular season with wins over Boston College, Notre Dame, and Kentucky to have a chance at 10 wins, While a Belk Bowl loss against Georgia concluded the season at 9-4, the combination of Louisville’s win over their SEC rival as well as Western Kentucky’s concurrent stumble upon moving to Conference USA make the Cardinals the champion of the Bluegrass State.