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. Tuesday we took a look at schools 26 through 35. Yesterday we named the bottom of the top 25. Today we’ll evaluate teams six through 15 on Thursday, and tomorrow we conclude our week-long look at the champions of each state with the top five teams in the country.
The competition is getting fiercer as we move into the top 15 of the state champion rankings. Here is where the list of contestants thins to the point where almost every candidate is an FBS team from one of the Power Five conferences. Mid-major schools and even the FCS national champion can be found in today’s list, but for the most part the names below are among the most well-known programs in the country. Half of the teams from sixth through 15th played in New Year’s Six bowl games this season, the top shelf of bowl games in the new College Football Playoff era. Seven out of the 10 won either a division or conference championship this season. Is your favorite team among those listed?
15. South Carolina (Clemson Tigers/FBS)
For the past several seasons, South Carolina and Clemson have battled back and forth for supremacy in the Palmetto State. This year’s swoon by the Gamecocks essentially conceded the state to the Tigers, and Clemson’s 35-17 head-to-head victory was merely affirmation of their position as the best team in the state. Dabo Swinney’s crew couldn’t get past Florida State to compete for the ACC title, but they rebounded from a 1-2 start to the season to finish with 10 wins for the fourth straight season. Though they were forced to play without freshman phenom quarterback Deshaun Watson after he tore his ACL, Clemson still emphatically won the Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6 thanks to one of the nation’s top three defenses. For the season, the Tigers allowed just 195 points in 13 games; only Ole Miss and Stanford allowed fewer points per game.
14. Missouri (Missouri Tigers/FBS)
For the second straight season, Missouri surprised the country to snatch the SEC East title and play for the conference championship. Once again they lost in Atlanta, but the Tigers were the best show going in the Show Me State. Losses to Georgia and Alabama were understandable; falling to Indiana was inexplicable. A large part of that, however, was in the way Mizzou won its games in 2014. Gary Pinkel’s crew, so renowned for their offense wen in the Big 12, won this year’s division crown thanks to strong defensive play that allowed the 19th-fewest points per game in the country. Maty Mauk was serviceable if not great in his first year as the starting quarterback in Columbia, and tailback Russell Hansbrough managed to eclipse the 1000-yard rushing mark for the season. The recipe resulted in a Citrus Bowl victory over Minnesota as the Tigers reached double digits in the win column for the third time in five seasons.
13. Mississippi (Ole Miss Rebels/FBS)
For a while in October, it appeared as though the Egg Bowl might be a play-in game for the SEC championship game and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Then the wheels came off of the fairy-tale season. Ole Miss lost at LSU and home to Auburn on either side of Halloween, and Mississippi State dropped their first of the year to Alabama two weeks later. Both teams were still selected to play in New Year’s Six bowl games affiliated with the College Football Playoff, but both were soundly beaten in their appearances. First Ole Miss was trounced by TCU in the Peach Bowl, then later on New Year’s Eve the Bulldogs fell to ACC runner-up Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Mississippi State finished with one more win and a better spot in the SEC West standings, but the Rebels win the Magnolia State thanks to their two-touchdown win over the Bulldogs in their rivalry game to end the regular season.
12. Tennessee (Memphis Tigers/FBS)
The Volunteers reached their first bowl game in five seasons, then knocked off Iowa by 17 points in the TaxSlayer Bowl for the first bowl win since 2008. In the process they unseated Vanderbilt as the top SEC team from Tennessee. But neither had as good a season as Memphis, which finished with 10 wins for the first time since Allyn McKeen led them to a perfect 10-0 record in 1938. The Tigers ended the season in the top 25 for both scoring offense and scoring defense, outscoring opponents by an average of 17 points per game. On the way they nearly knocked off UCLA in Pasadena, fell to Ole Miss, and stumbled against Houston before rattling off seven straight wins to end the season. Memphis shared the AAC title, then knocked off BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl for the team’s first postseason win since 2005. Not even a postgame fight in Florida could mar the Tigers’ position as the best team in Tennessee.
11. Arizona (Arizona Wildcats/FBS)
It was a banner year for the state of Arizona, as a high-stakes Territorial Cup between the Wildcats and Sun Devils determined which school would win the Pac-12 South. Losses to USC and UCLA didn’t prevent Rich Rodriguez’s school from taking the division crown, and Rodriguez claimed Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors for his masterful efforts. Arizona was also the only team besides the national champs to knock off Oregon, upsetting the Ducks in Autzen Stadium in October. Freshman quarterback Anu Solomon threw for nearly 3800 yards and 28 touchdowns, and fellow freshman Nick Wilson led the team on the ground with 1375 yards and 16 scores. The Wildcats fell in their Pac-12 championship rematch with Oregon, and then stumbled in a failed comeback against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, but it was still a historic year in Tucson as a young team grew up quickly to take the Grand Canyon State title.