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.
Today we’re covering the first 15 schools of our comprehensive look. Stay tuned all week — we’ll look at schools 26 through 35 on Tuesday, name the bottom of the top 25 on Wednesday, evaluate teams six through 15 on Thursday, and conclude with the top five state champions on Friday.
The teams we are looking at today, in some cases, won their state championship by default. Others legitimately earned their position but were buried below the top tier of the sport, student-athletes competing far from the spotlight at smaller stadiums. Only four FBS schools appear among our first 15 state champions; while some of the names are certainly familiar, you may not yet have heard about some of these strong seasons enjoyed around the country. All, for one reason or another, are fitting champions for their respective states as we look back on the 2014-15 season.
50. Alaska (vacant championship)
Surprise! There’s no college football team in Alaska… certainly not at the FCS or FBS levels, and not anywhere to be found in Division II or Division III. Alaska-Fairbanks last fielded a team for the state in 1952, meaning this state championship has been vacant for over six decades. Alaska-Anchorage has seen a grassroots push to start a program, though only a club team currently exists at the school.
49. Wyoming (Wyoming Cowboys/FBS)
The least populous state in the United States is naturally home to just one football program at any collegiate level, making the Cowboys winners of the title by default every year. This year a junior college might have been more deserving, if any of the Wyoming juco schools fielded programs. The Pokes finished just 4-8 in the Mountain West, their only wins coming to FCS Montana, Air Force, Florida Atlantic, and Fresno State.
48. Hawaii (Hawaii Warriors/FBS)
Like Wyoming, the Warriors are the only program in their state, making a state championship academic even in 4-9 seasons. Hawaii gets slotted ahead of their fellow Mountain West also-ran by virtue of a head-to-head win over the Pokes in October. Their other victories came over FCS Northern Iowa, San Jose State, and UNLV, though they also played close contests against Pac-12 opponents Washington and Oregon State.
47. Delaware (Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens/FCS)
The Fightin’ Blue hens didn’t have a great season, finishing with a 6-6 record to place sixth in the 12-team Colonial Athletic Association. The FCS middleweight played just one FBS opponent, losing 62-0 at Pitt in the season opener. Yet their .500 record in a FCS conference was still more impressive than either Wyoming or Hawaii, and Delaware also knocked off rival Delaware State to seal the state title.
46. Vermont (Middlebury Panthers/D-III)
There aren’t too many teams to choose from in Vermont, and the best in the bunch was clearly Middlebury. The Panthers finished in third place in the NESCAC standings, rebounding from losses to Wesleyan and Amherst in their first two home games to finish on a five-game winning streak. Sure, they’re a Division III school that didn’t even play in that division’s playoff, but they’re also the first team with a winning record.