As described on the Collegiate American Football main page, there are a lot of different conferences and programs in college football, the number and organization of which is apt to shift around from season to season. On any given Saturday in the fall, most of the major broadcast and sports networks on American television will feature matchups of these schools, often littered with references to 150+ years of history that the casual viewer might find confusing. These teams are also frequently featured, referenced, and parodied in other American media. This page lays out the alignments of college football conferences as of the current 2022 season and provides a description of their more prominent programs.
Football Bowl SubdivisionThe top level of NCAA Division I football, also known as FBS or occasionally by its former designation of "I-A" (pronounced "one-A"). The 10 conferences in FBS are the ones most casual football fans think of when they hear the term "college football", particularly the "Power Five" conferences that are currently granted a guaranteed berth into the "access bowls" for the College Football Playoffs. The remaining "Group of Five" are generally made of smaller schools that don't receive as much national attention. For more on the Power Five programs (except for Notre Dame), see their dedicated page.
Below are descriptions of each of the remaining conferences. Some non-Power Five programs, plus all of the FBS independents, also have descriptions. Win-loss records are (mostly) accurate as of the end of the 2021 regular season.note
"Historic" figures include names mentioned in the program description or who have entries on College or NFL pages. Individuals who have their own pages on this wiki, such as politicians and entertainers (including pro wrestlers), also qualify. Win-loss records are updated at the end of bowl season.
Power Five Conferences
See Collegiate American Football Power 5 Conferences. For Notre Dame, which is a non-football member of the Power Five Atlantic Coast Conference, see the "FBS Independents" folder.
Group of Five Conferences
Departing schools: Cincinnati, Houston, UCF (2023)
Arriving schools: Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, UAB, UTSA (2023)
Current commissioner: Michael Aresco
The American Athletic Conference (or just AAC or The American to avoid confusion with the ACC) was known as the Big East Conference before 2013. The Big East began life as a basketball conference and is more known for that sport rather than football. Its football had long been something of a laughing stock, especially after the ACC stole three of its top teams (Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College) in 2004-05. It rebounded somewhat until the early 2010s: West Virginia left for the Big 12 in 2012; Syracuse (a founding member) and Pittsburgh left for the ACC in 2013, as did non-football member Notre Dame; the next year, Louisville left for the ACC, and Rutgers left for the Big Ten. The seven non-FBS schools also left at that time, buying the "Big East" name (it fits the basketball schools much better than the expanded football footprint), while the original Big East took on the American name and invited multiple other teams. Temple joined for football in 2012 and all other sports in 2013; Houston, Memphis, SMU, and UCF also joined in 2013; and East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa joined in 2014. Navy joined for football only in 2015, allowing the league to launch a football championship game. UConn left in 2020 to join the reconfigured Big East (with football becoming an FBS independent). The American received special permission from the NCAA to keep their title game for the moment despite neither being split into divisions nor having a full round-robin schedule. However, in May 2022, the NCAA gave all FBS conferences full freedom to determine the participants in their title games, effectively legalizing The American's setup.
Three of the conference's most high-profile programsCincinnati, UCF, and Houstonare now preparing to move to the Big 12 in 2023. Shortly after those schools' departure was announced in 2021, The American launched a massive raid of Conference USA, with six of that league's 14 members (Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, UTSA) now set to make the move in 2023. Barring any further changes, this will bring The American to 14 members in both football (with Navy as a football-only member) and non-football sports (with Wichita State as a full member without football). Since three conferences announced shortly after the aforementioned change to championship game rules that they would eliminate football divisions,note it's now an open question whether The American will bother going to divisions.
School Established: 1819note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1885-1909, 1937-46, 1953-56, 1970-95)note , OAC (1910-25), Buckeye (1926-36), MAC (1947-52), MVC (1957-69), C-USA (1996-2004), Big East (2005-12), American (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 649-593-50 (.522)
Bowl Record: 1011 (.476)note
Colors: Red and black
Stadium: Nippert Stadium (capacity 40,000)
Current Head Coach: Luke Fickell
Notable Historic Coaches: Frank Cavanaugh, Sid Gillman, Watson Brown, Tim Murphy, Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, Tommy Tuberville
Notable Historic Players: Greg Cook, Urban Meyer, Jason and Travis Kelce, Desmond Ridder
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 16 (2 Buckeye 1933-34; 4 MAC 1947, 1949, 1951-52; 2 MVC 1963-64; 1 C-USA 2002; 4 Big East 2008-09, 2011-12; 3 American 2014, 2020-21)
The University of Cincinnati is primarily known as a basketball school (with two back-to-back national titles in the '60s) and has had an up-and-down history in football. Its historic high peak was serving as Sid Gillman's final college coaching stop before the launch of his pro career. After many years of under achieving and bouncing around second-tier conferences (including being a founding member of C-USA), UC joined the Big East in 2005 and soon after surged to national prominence under Brian Kelly in the late 2000s (helping him land his position at Notre Dame). Under current coach Luke Fickell, the school became one of the most esteemed non-Power Five programs, seen as fielding a team that could be playoff-worthy if they only played in a more competitive conference... until they finally made the playoffs in 2021, making them the first and only Group of Five program to reach those heights in the CFP era (even if they were quickly bested by Alabama). They won't be Group of Five for long, though: earlier that same season, they accepted a spot in the Big 12, joining in 2023.
UC has a fairly close professional relationship with its city's pro team, the Bengals. The Bengals played their first few seasons in the school's historic Nippert Stadium and continue to use UC's indoor practice facilities to this day rather than build their own. They have returned the favor by letting the Bearcats play in their own stadium during renovations or major games. Nippert is one of the oldest venues in college sports. The stands were officially dedicated in 1924, but the field has been in use since at least 1915. It is named after Jimmy Nippert, a UC player who died from blood poisoning in 1923 after a spike wound sustained during a game became infected, most likely from droppings left on the field from a chicken race earlier in the day; his grandfather was a co-founder of Procter & Gamble and paid to have his grandson honored in the name.
School Established: 1927note
Conference Affiliations: Lone Star (1946-48), Gulf Coast (1949-50), MVC (1951-59), Ind. (1960-75), SWC (1976-95), C-USA (1996-2012), American (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 460-381-15 (.546)
Bowl Record: 12161 (.431)
Colors: Scarlet and white
Stadium: TDECU Stadium (capacity 40,000)
Current Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen
Notable Historic Coaches: Bill Yeoman, Jack Pardee, Art Briles
Notable Historic Players: Wade Phillips, Robert Newhouse, Andre Ware, David and Jimmy Klingler, Case Keenum
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 11 (4 MVC 1952, 1956-57, 1959; 4 SWC 1976, 1978-79, 1984; 2 C-USA 1996, 2006; 1 American 2015)
The University of Houston is one of the largest public universities in Texas. It is most highly decorated in athletics for its golf program, which won an NCAA record 16 national titles from the 1950s-'80s, and is also known for its successful basketball program, best known for its "Phi Slama Jama" teams of the early '80s that produced Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, Hall of Famers who later brought their college town two NBA titles. The Cougar football program has quite the history of its own, being the point of origin for multiple innovative offensives that also generated multiple NCAA record-breaking quarterbacks. Coach Bill Yeoman used his innovative Veer offense to take the team from a middling independent to a powerhouse of the Southwest during his quarter-century as head coach (1962-86), including a record-setting 100-6 blowout of Tulsa in 1968, only to be fired from the program he helped build due to recruitment violations that essentially amounted to paying players.
Despite the sanctions Yeoman incurred, successor Jack Pardee kept the Cougars successful on the field through his innovative Run N' Shoot offense, which helped Andre Ware smash NCAA passing records in 1989 and win the Heisman. However, said sanctions also included a TV ban that ensured almost nobody actually saw many of these games, and Pardee was quickly poached by Houston's Oilers (which got their start playing in the university's stadium). The school continued its reputation for prolific passing numbers when David Klingler set many records of his own the following year, but his and Ware's failures at the pro level led to their accomplishments being credited to Houston's system and poor competition. After the team spent a decade as a bottom-feeder, QB Case Keenum helped revive their prospects while shattering many NCAA career passing records during his long tenure as starter (2007-11).
Houston's late arrival to the SWC, history with sanctions, and peaks and valleys during its time in the weak C-USA have largely excluded it from consideration as one of Texas's premier programs. However, as an urban school located in one of Texas's biggest metro areas, donors (most notably billionaire Houston Rockets owner and UH alum Tilman Fertitta, whose name graces the Cougars' basketball arena) have pushed hard for years to get the program up to the next level. It just missed joining the Big East before that conference collapsed, and Houston had to settle for the American despite the school investing millions into building a new stadium to prep for the leap.note However, all those years of campaigning are set to pay off soon; with its public school counterpart in Austin set to make the jump to the SEC in the coming years, Houston is now on its way to the Big 12 in 2023.
School Established: 1845
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1879-2014), American (2015-)
Overall Win Record: 729-586-57 (.552)
Bowl Record: 12111 (.521)
Colors: Navy blue and gold
Stadium: NavyMarine Corps Memorial Stadium (capacity 34,000)
Current Head Coach: Ken Niumatololo
Notable Historic Coaches: Gil Dobie, George Welsh, Paul Johnson
Notable Historic Players: Joseph "Bull" Reeves, Ed Sprinkle, George Welsh, Frank Gansz, Joe Bellino, Roger Staubach, Keenan Reynolds
National Championships: 1 (1926)
Conference Championships: 0note
The United States Naval Academy's football team is Exactly What It Says on the Tin; its athletes are all officers-in-training that hold the rank of midshipmen. Like its interservice rival Army, Navy has a very old and decorated football history, in part because one of its multiple stringent requirements for recruits is athletic participation. Navy football used to be a strong program, even winning a national title in 1926, before the allure of pro football careers greatly weakened its recruiting power. The school's performance plummeted in the mid-1960s, shortly after the team produced two Heisman winners, HB Joe Bellino and QB Roger Staubach, who both had to serve in Vietnam before they could begin playing for the NFL. After underperforming for several decades, the program returned to winning in the 21st century, helped by the record-setting rushing offenses of Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatololo, particularly when led by dual-threat QB Keenan Reynolds (2012-15). After well over a century as an independent, Navy joined The American in 2015; however, the program's main priority year in-and-out remains defeating Army in the final game of the season.
A live goat named Bill is used as the team mascot. Bill's been a regular target of kidnappings by Army cadets, who have a slightly higher success rate then many other schools due to the nature of their schooling but face much steeper potential costs, since Bill is technically the property of the most powerful military on Earth. Outside of their fellow military academies, Navy maintains strong rivalries with Notre Dame and nearby Maryland. Navy's non-football sports mainly play in the FCS Patriot League, also home to Army.
School Established: 1911
Conference Affiliations: TIAA (1915-17), SWC (1918-95)note , WAC (1996-2004), C-USA (2005-12), American (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 519-557-54 (.483)
Bowl Record: 7-9-1 (.441)
Colors: Red and blue
Stadium: Gerald J. Ford Stadium (capacity 32,000)note
Current Head Coach: Rhett Lashlee
Notable Historic Coaches: Hayden Fry, Bobby Collins, June Jones, Forrest Gregg
Notable Historic Players: Doak Walker, Kyle Rote, Raymond Berry, Forrest Gregg, Don Meredith, Eric Dickerson, David Stanley, Sean Stopperich, Josh McCown, Trey Quinn
National Championships: 3 (1935, 1981-82)note
Conference Championships: 11, all in the SWC (1923, 1926, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1947-48, 1966, 1981-82, 1984)
Southern Methodist University was founded as the flagship university of the Methodist church's southern branch, though it filed to split from the formal control of the church in 2019.note The Dallas-based school is otherwise most famous for being the home of the George W. Bush presidential center and for its unique football history. The Mustangs were once a powerhouse, notably claiming a national title in 1935, producing Heisman-winning back Doak Walker in 1948, and claiming another two titles in the early '80s under coaches Ron Meyer and Bobby Collins. However, SMU fell to near irrelevance almost immediately after those dominant seasons thanks to the infamous "death penalty" issued in 1987. For the first and only time in its history, the NCAA decided to terminate the SMU football program after it was discovered that the school had been paying the players on its national-title contending team out of a slush fund while under probation for other issues. The program was barred from all play in 1987 and from home games in 1988, but the school decided not to play at all in the latter season due to inability to field a remotely competitive team. The Mustangs immediately plummeted to the college football basement when they returned thanks to the heavy sanctions, and they spent decades struggling to even get above the .500 mark. SMU managed its first 10-win season in over 30 years in 2019.
For most of its history, SMU played in the Cotton Bowl (aka "The House That Doak Built") across town. After playing there for over forty years, the Mustangs moved into the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in 1978, just in time for their run of remarkable success; their equally remarkable fall from grace forced them to return to their much smaller on-campus stadium and the increasingly outdated Cotton Bowl before building their current home in 2000.note The consequences of the penalty ensured that SMU was left behind after the dissolution of the SWC. The school has been constantly campaigning to rejoin their former conference mates, only to be left out of the Big 12 during each realignment. This has been incredibly frustrating, as the Mustangs first had to watch hated crosstown rival TCU and geographically distant West Virginia join in 2012, then saw three fellow members of their own conference (including Houston) successfully apply in 2021.
School Established: 1884note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1894-1959, 1970-90, 2005-06),note Middle Atlantic Conference (1960-69), Big East (1991-2004, 2012), Mid-American Conference (2007-11), American (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 482-605-52 (.446)
Bowl Record: 3-6 (.333)
Colors: Cherry and white
Stadium: Lincoln Financial Field (capacity: 68,532)note
Current Head Coach: Rod Carey
Notable Historic Coaches: Pop Warner, Bruce Arians
Notable Historic Players: Bill Cosby, Joe Klecko, Paul Palmer
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 2 (MAC - 1967, American - 2016)
Temple University is an urban school in Philadelphia best known for its basketball program, one of the winningest in the nation that last won a national title in 1938, the year before the NCAA Tournament began. Its football program has been a historic underperformer most known as the last HC stop for Pop Warner and a springboard for a few other coaches to go on to bigger and better things. In many ways, the football program has been a massive hindrance for Temple; it was booted from the Big East in 2004 due to the team's poor performance, was brought back in during the conference's disintegration in 2012, then was forced to joined The American rather than the basketball-oriented Big East due to still having the football team few people wanted. The team managed to see a resurgence in the mid-2010s with a few ranked appearances before their coaching staff was mostly drained by other programs. The Owls (named as a reference to the school's history as a night school) have shared the field of the NFL's Eagles since the '70s.
Tulane Green Wave
School Established: 1834note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1893-94, 1966-95), SIAA (1895-1921), SoCon (1922-32), SEC (1933-65), C-USA (1996-2013), American (2014-)
Overall Win Record: 541-669-38 (.449)
Bowl Record: 6-8 (.429)
Colors: Olive green and sky blue
Stadium: Yulman Stadium (30,000 capacity)
Current Head Coach: Willie Fritz
Notable Historic Coaches: Clark Shaughnessy, Mack Brown, Tommy Bowden
Notable Historic Players: Eddie Murray, J.P. Losman
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 9 (1 SIAA - 1920; 4 SoCon - 1925, 1929-31; 3 SEC - 1934, 1939, 1949; 1 C-USA - 1998)
Tulane University is an old urban private school in New Orleans, initially founded as a state school prior to being privatized in the late nineteenth century. Its football program used to be competitive with the big teams in the South, but the administration chose to deemphasize athletics in the mid-1950s. The team has been a bottom-feeder ever since, save for a completely unexpected undefeated run under Tommy Bowden in 1998 that landed him the job in Clemson the next year. Besides that, the school was most notable for its on-campus stadium, a venue that was the birthplace/longtime home of the Sugar Bowl and and hosted three Super Bowls and the New Orleans Saints in that team's early years. The aging stadium was condemned in 1974, the year the Saints' Superdome opened; the Wave moved in and played there for decades (except in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleansnote ) before the Saints' owners helped pay for the construction of a new stadium in 2014. Their mascot and logo is a literal anthropomorphic green tidal wave with an adorable angry face nicknamed Gumby.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
School Established: 1892note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1895-1913, 1986-95),note OCC* (1914-28), Big Four* (1929-32), MVC (1935-85), WAC (1996-2004), C-USA (2005-13), American (2014-)
Overall Win Record: 638-519-27 (.550)
Bowl Record: 10-13 (.435)
Colors: Old gold, royal blue, and crimson
Stadium: Skelly Field at H. A. Chapman Stadium (capacity 30,000)
Current Head Coach: Philip Montgomery
Notable Historic Coaches: Francis Schmidt, Glenn Dobbs, John Cooper, Todd Graham
Notable Historic Players: Tommy Thompson, Glenn Dobbs, Hardy Brown, Jerry Rhome, Billy Anderson, Bob St. Clair, Jim Finks, Phil McGraw, Drew Pearson, Steve Largent
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 35 (5 OCC - 1916, 1919-20, 1922, 1925; 3 Big Four - 1929-30, 1932; 25 MVC - 1935-38, 1940-43, 1946-47, 1950-51, 1962, 1965-66, 1973-76, 1980-85; 2 C-USA - 2005, 2012)
The University of Tulsa is probably most notable for having the smallest undergraduate enrollment of any FBS school, with slightly less than 3,200 at last count. Despite that fact, they've become the Quietly Performing Sister Show to their cash cow instate counterparts Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Their peak came in The '40s, when they played in five consecutive New Year's Day bowls and achieved a #4 final ranking in 1942. Their star player in that era, Glenn Dobbs, returned to the school as AD and HC immediately after his pro career and the year after his former team went completely winless; he devised an offense that shattered NCAA passing records in the '60s. The program further served as the launch pad for John Cooper's career in the late '70s and early '80s. They've mostly underperformed since then, though they rode an era of strength in the 2000s to jump to C-USA.
Why is a team on the Oklahoma prairie called the Golden Hurricane? They originally had the more climatologically appropriate nickname of the Golden Tornadoes, but when they found out that Georgia Tech sometimes used that name as well, they switched to a more tropical storm.
School Established: 1963note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (D-III 197981, D-II 198289, I-AA 199095, I-A 19962001), MAC (2002-04), C-USA (2005-12), American (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 280-221-1 (.559)
Bowl Record: 67 (.462)
Colors: Black and gold
Stadium: FBC Mortgage Stadium (capacity 44,206)
Current Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
Notable Historic Coaches: Lou Saban, George O'Leary, Scott Frost
Notable Historic Players: Daunte Culpepper, Brandon Marshall, Matt Prater, Kevin Smith, Blake Bortles, Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin, McKenzie Milton
National Championships: 1 claimed (2017)note
Conference Championships: 6 (2 C-USA 2007, 2010; 4 American 2013-14, 2017-18)
While the University of Central Florida is one of the newer D-I schools by founding date and start of football, it has grown at a tremendous pace and now has the largest undergraduate enrollment of any single university campus in the country (close to 60,000), with only Texas A&M having a larger total enrollment.note The Knights football program has likewise had a momentous ascent from their first season in D-III in 1979, becoming the first football program to play at all four current levels of NCAA competition (James Madison became the second in 2022). Three years later, UCF moved to D-II, and later managed to lure former NFL coach Lou Saban, though he enjoyed far less success than in the pros, stepping down in the middle of his second season. The university nearly dropped football, but they began enjoying success in D-II in the last half of the '80s, and took the jump to Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1990. In their first I-AA season, they became the first team ever to qualify for the I-AA/FCS playoffs in their first season of eligibility and enjoyed reasonable success until making the jump to I-A/FBS in 1996. After modest success as an independent and a decline in the early 2000s as a football-only member of the MAC, the program was reinvigorated by the arrival of HC George O'Leary in 2004, who had been forced to leave Notre Dame in disgrace before coaching a game thanks to lying on his resume. While the Knights went winless in their last MAC season, they turned things around upon joining C-USA in 2005, winning two conference titles and playing for two others while making their first bowl appearances (though a win wouldn't come until their fourth try in 2010). O'Leary also oversaw UCF's move to The American in 2013, where they won conference titles in their first two seasons. However, his tenure ended in 2015 as it beganwith a winless season.
Scott Frost quickly righted the ship, making a bowl in his first season alongside program-redefining freshman QB McKenzie Milton. 2017 saw Milton set multiple school records while leading the Knights to an unbeaten season, finishing it off in the Peach Bowl by beating an Auburn team that had laid double-digit defeats on both participants in that year's CFP title game (Alabama and Georgia). The program claimed a national title on the basis of a single computer ranking, with Bama the consensus champion; Floridians were so incensed that the school was not even given the opportunity to fight for the title in the Playoff that the state legislature passed a resolution recognizing their title. The following year, with Frost gone to Nebraska and Josh Heupel replacing him, UCF again went unbeaten until losing to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, having lost Milton to a catastrophic knee injury in their final regular-season game. This success, along with UCF's explosive growth and location in a major media market, made it a frequent subject of realignment speculation. This finally bore fruit in 2021 with the announcement that they would join the Big 12 in 2023.
UCF was known as the "Golden Knights" before 2007; before that, the team had been known as the "Knights of the Pegasus", and before that (indeed, before the football program was founded) the mascot was briefly "The Citronaut"◊, an anthropomorphic orange that was also an astronaut (basically '60s Central Florida in a nutshell). The football team plays in what had been one of the most uniquely named stadiums in college football, the Bounce House. After playing in the off-campus Citrus Bowl for several decades, the university built a more modern facility on-campus in 2007. Unfortunately, the stadium wasn't exactly up to snuff; in addition to lacking water fountains on opening day (a code violation and a major problem in the Florida heat), the stadium noticeably shook when fans were on their feet, giving it the nickname that became official when naming rights sponsorships dried up in 2020 (though the stadium now shakes much lessand has waterafter renovations). The stadium eventually got a new corporate name in 2022.
Of note is that UConn tried to form a rivalry with UCF called the "Civil ConFLiCT" when they were in The American. UCF disavows the "rivalry" to this day.
School Established: 1956
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1997-2002), C-USA (2003-04), Big East (2005-12), American (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 160-137 (.539)
Bowl Record: 6-4 (.600)
Colors: Green and gold
Stadium: Raymond James Stadium (capacity 65,890)note
Current Head Coach: Jeff Scott
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players:
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 0
Like its greatest rival UCF, the University of South Florida has a young football program that saw a rapid rise through the conference ranks thanks in part to its massive growth in student population. Founded in 1997 as a Division I-AA program, the school made the leap to I-A in 2001 and soon developed a reputation for upsetting ranked schools; a string of such upsets in 2007 saw the school go all the way to #2 in the mid-season rankings before quickly falling back to Earth. The team has been mostly decent but inconsistent ever since. The Bulls play out of the NFL Buccaneers' stadium and light up their distinctive mushroom-shaped water tower bright green after every victory.
Departing schools: Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, UAB, UTSA (2023)
Arriving schools: Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State, Sam Houston* (2023)
Current commissioner: Judy MacLeod
Conference USA (or just C-USA) is one of the newer conferences, formed in 1995 by a merger of the Metro and Great Midwest Conferences, two non-football leagues; competition began immediately except in football, which started in 1996. They had been gaining some prestige as of late, throwing off the "SEC-Lite" nickname that came from the initially similar geographical footprint with the more prominent conference. However, they were raided by the then-Big East once that conference started losing members to other leagues in the early 2010s. Houston, Memphis, SMU, and UCF all left C-USA in 2013 for what would become The American. East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa made the same move in 2014, while Western Kentucky joined C-USA from the Sun Belt at that time. Old Dominion, a former FCS (see below) school, joined C-USA in 2013 and joined the conference's football side in 2014; it became a full FBS member in 2015. Also becoming a full FBS member at that time was Charlotte, which began football in 2013 in the FCS.note Right now, the league's two highest-profile teams are Florida Atlantic, thanks mostly to its former media-hound head coach Lane Kiffin (who's now taken his shtick to Ole Miss), and UAB (see below for details on their recent history). In 2021, the young program of UTSA had a breakout season similar to that of Sun Belt member Coastal Carolina in 2020, winning their conference with a 121 record (though the Roadrunners would lose their bowl game). Also of note is that Old Dominion, part of the mass exodus from C-USA announced in 2021 (see immediately below), was one of three FBS schools that didn't play in the COVID-affected 2020 season, and the only non-independent team among them.
In fall 2021, C-USA was on the brink of collapse due to massive raids by two other conferences. First, The American announced that Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA would move to that league, with their 2023 entry date being confirmed during the 2022 offseason. Soon after The American's raid, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss accepted invitations to the Sun Belt Conference taking effect no later than 2023. C-USA responded by announcing that current FBS independents Liberty and New Mexico State, plus current FCS members Jacksonville State and Sam Houston, will join in 2023. It was also the target of a raid from a third conference, with the Mid-American Conference courting Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky for MAC membership, potentially expanding its footprint southward. However, when MT announced it would stay put, that ended the MAC's interest in WKU.
In a more recent development, this conference shuffle turned truly ugly, with the three schools leaving for the Sun Belt (Marshall, Old Dominion, Southern Miss) jointly announcing that they intended to move for the 2022 season. They claimed that they had notified C-USA of their plans, but that C-USA did not try to negotiate any kind of settlement. For its part, C-USA insisted that the three schools were obligated to that league through 202223. Both C-USA and the Sun Belt released their 2022 football schedules with all three named schools as members, and Marshall and Southern Miss escalated the issue by filing lawsuits against C-USA in an attempt to leave early. In late March, C-USA and the three schools came to a settlement that allowed them to leave for the Sun Belt that July.
School Established: 1969note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1991-98), C-USA (1999-)note
Overall Win Record: 161-173-2 (.482)
Bowl Record: 23 (.400)
Colors: Forest green and old gold
Stadium: Protective Stadium (capacity 47,100)
Current Head Coach: Bryant Vincent (interim)
Notable Historic Coaches: Watson Brown, Bill Clark
Notable Historic Players:
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 2 (C-USA 2018, 2020)
When it comes to football, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is most notable for its tumultuous recent history, which saw the program fold, unexpectedly come back to life, and experience even more unexpected success after its return. The Blazers started out playing D-III football but were one of a group of schools that was forcibly reclassified as I-AA (now FCS) when the NCAA ruled that D-I members had to play all sports at that level (for more details, see the Pioneer Football League in the FCS section). They moved to I-A (now FBS) in 1996, the year after they became a C-USA charter member, though they wouldn't play C-USA football until 1999. Up into the 2010s, they were generally mediocre, with only one bowl appearance (a loss to Hawaii in the 2004 Hawaii Bowl).
UAB had one huge factor holding it back: its governance. UAB's president reports to the UA system's governing board... which, historically, has been packed with members that (allegedly) put Tuscaloosa first. The system board opposed UAB adding football in the first place and threatened to shut the program down in 2002. Four years later, it blocked UAB's planned hire of Jimbo Fisher as its new head coach before he went on to great success at other institutions. Still later, it killed a planned project to add new practice turf that a donor had fully funded, and never acted on a plan to build a new practice facility. Some of its members went so far to publicly hint that UAB shouldn't have an athletic program at all. UAB's home of Legion Field was one of the South's most storied stadiums but was increasingly decrepit and was too large for the program, even after the third deck was closed for safety reasons. The system board killed a plan to build a new stadium. All this culminated in a financial review, commissioned in 2013 and published in 2014, that concluded that football was a drain on UAB and should be shut down. The numbers in said report were shady at best and closer to blatant lies, but UAB's president nonetheless shut the program down in a move that was widely seen as motivated by in-state politics. This in turn led to a firestorm of criticism in both traditional and social media, along with a massively successful fundraising drive that led to the reinstatement of football shortly thereafter; the Blazers started play again in 2017. See these articles for the whole sordid story; all of them are worth a look.
The return of UAB football has so far been one of college football's biggest feel-good stories of recent years, with the Blazers qualifying for bowl games every season since their return (though COVID-19 scrapped their planned 2020 bowl game) and winning C-USA titles in 2018 and 2020. Equally significantly, the political pressure on the UA system board led them to let the Blazers move into a new (and smaller) city-owned stadium on the grounds of the downtown convention center that opened in October 2021. Later that month, UAB was announced as one of the six C-USA members set to move to The American. However, they'll be making their move without the coach responsible for their recent riseBill Clark, who came to UAB in 2014 and oversaw their so-far-triumphant return from the dead, retired shortly before the 2022 season due to a deteriorating back that required a (successful) spinal fusion.
Current commissioner: Jon Steinbrecher
The Mid-American Conference (or MAC), founded in 1947, has probably the strangest profile of any FBS conference. On the field, it hasn't accomplished a whole lot over the decades. No MAC school has ever won a national championship, and none have ever finished higher than #10 in the polls (Miami in 1974 and 2003, Marshall in 1999). In any given week, it usually has at least one entry in ESPN's "Bottom 10". Basically the entire point of the MAC is to be the little brother of the Big Ten, providing their teams (and other big-name teams) with some easy wins each year. But the MAC also has some deep tradition, with a number of notable coaches and players having passed through the conference on their way to greater things. Three MAC teams (Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois) won national championships on the D-II level earlier in their history. The MAC was slated to get relegated to Division I-AA in 1982, when all but two of its schools (Central Michigan and Toledo were the exceptions) failed to meet the NCAA's attendance requirement for I-A membership, but the conference successfully lobbied the NCAA to allow them to remain at the top level.
The MAC has had its share of big upsets and glory over the years. 2012 was a breakout year, with several impressive wins against Big Ten teams and conference champion Northern Illinois even playing in the Orange Bowl as the final BCS Buster. They then followed it up in 2016 when Western Michigan was one of only two teams to make it through the regular season undefeated (WMU lost its bowl game, however, to Wisconsin). To more devoted college football fans, the MAC is equally known as a land where anything can happen on any night of the week, with regular games between Tuesday and Thursday, leading to the #MACtion meme (the source of its web address). Incidentally, Eastern Michigan is one of only a handful of college teams with a non-green playing surface; theirs is gray. They're not the first or most famous example of thissee the next conference on our list for that one. The MAC is the only Group of Five conference to hold its championship game at a neutral site, having played said game at Detroit's Ford Field since 2004.*
UMass was effectively kicked out of the MAC after 2015. It was offered full membership, but declined.note
Another interesting piece of trivia: Although the MAC had two changes in football-only membership during the early-2010s conference realignment cycle,note it was the only FBS conference that did not gain or lose a core (i.e., all-sports) member during that time. It also has yet to have a core membership change in the 2020s. Following the American's and Sun Belt's 2021 raids on C-USA, poaching six and three members respectively, the MAC was rumored to be launching its own raid of the already weakened conference, courting Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky to expand the MAC's footprint southward, but MT decided to stay put, causing the MAC to lose interest in WKU.note
Central Michigan Chippewas
School Established: 1892
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1896-1949, 1970-74), Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (1950-69), MAC (1975- )
Overall Win Record: 635-432-36 (.592)
Bowl Record: 49 (.308)
Colors: Maroon and gold
Stadium: Kelly/Shorts Stadium (capacity 30,255)
Current Head Coach: Jim McElwain
Notable Historic Coaches: Roy Kramer, Brian Kelly
Notable Historic Players: Gary Hogeboom, Antonio Brown
National Championships: 1 in D-II (1974)
Conference Championships: 16 (9 IIAC - 1952-56, 1962, 1966-68; 7 MAC - 1978-80, 1990, 1994, 2006-07, 2009)
Located almost exactly in the middle of the Michigan "mitten", Central Michigan plays the role of Quietly Performing Sister Show to Michigan and Michigan State, having established its own tradition and winning legacy in the shadow of its bigger brothers. Second to Miami among MAC schools in both wins and winning percentage, CMU joined the conference in 1975, having won a Division II national championship the previous season,note and quickly established itself as a power. In 2004 they made the unusual move for an FBS school of hiring an HC from the D-II level by bringing in Brian Kelly from Grand Valley State, but in three seasons he guided them to a conference title, before departing for Cincinnati (and after that, Notre Dame and LSU). CMU is one of six schools who have permission from the NCAA to use a Native American nickname, since the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has formally approved use of the name.note
Kent State Golden Flashes
School Established: 1910
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1920-31), OAC (193250),note MAC (1951-)
Overall Win Record: 359-578-28 (.387)
Bowl Record: 14 (.200)
Colors: Blue and gold
Stadium: Dix Stadium (capacity 25,319)
Current Head Coach: Sean Lewis
Notable Historic Coaches: Don James
Notable Historic Players: Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, Jack Lambert, James Harrison, Josh Cribbs, Julian Edelmannote
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 1 (MAC - 1972)
Kent State University, a former teachers' college located 40 miles from Cleveland, has been a major Butt-Monkey for almost all of its football history; it has just one conference title to its credit and has the lowest overall winning percentage of any FBS team that's played more than 50 seasons. It once lost something called the Refrigerator Bowl.note The school itself is best known for the 1970 incident in which the Ohio National Guard fired on an anti-Vietnam war protest, killing four students (two protesters, two bystanders). And yet, look at that list of notable names above. There's a surprising number of former Golden Flash players who've gone on to greater success in either the NFL or college coaching. They've had just three winning seasons in this century, but the last two were memorable: In 2012 they went 11-3 and made the MAC championship game, losing in double overtime to Northern Illinois. In 2019, they finally won their first bowl game, knocking off Utah State in the Frisco Bowl.
School Established: 1809
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1888-1946), MAC (1947-)
Overall Win Record: 707-474-44 (.595)
Bowl Record: 85 (.615)
Colors: Red and white
Stadium: Yager Stadium (capacity 24,286)
Current Head Coach: Chuck Martin
Notable Historic Coaches: Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Mike Haywoodnote
Notable Historic Players: Earl "Red" Blaik* , Weeb Ewbank, Paul Brown, Ara Parseghian, Paul Dietzel, Bill Arnsparger, Bo Schembechler, Clive Rush, Ed Biles, Brian Pillman, John Harbaugh, Ben Roethlisberger, Sean McVay
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 22 (3 OAC 1916-18, 1921; 3 Buckeye 1931-32, 1936; 16 MAC 1948, 1950, 1954-55, 1957-58, 1965-66, 1973-75, 1977, 1986, 2003, 2010, 2019)
Miami Universitynote is less well-known on the national stage than the Florida school but has still had a great impact on football history. While the RedHawks have enjoyed periods of great success, their real legacy is on the sideline. Miami proudly calls itself the "Cradle of Coaches" because of the great number of prominent coaches in both college and the NFL who have played and/or coached at the school.note
And yes, Miami (Ohio) has played Miami (Florida), 3 times (1945, 1946, 1987), with the Florida team winning all the games (the score was 543 in '87).
School Established: 1872
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1917-20, 1948-51), Northwest Ohio League (1921-30), Ohio Athletic Conference (1932-47), MAC (1952-)
Overall Win Record: 561-443-24 (.557)
Bowl Record: 10-9 (.526)
Colors: Midnight blue and gold
Stadium: Glass Bowl (26,248)
Current Head Coach: Jason Candle
Notable Historic Coaches: Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel
Notable Historic Players: Emlen Tunnell*
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 14 (3 Northwest Ohio - 1923, 1927, 1929; 11 MAC - 1967, 1969-71, 1981, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2017)
While Miami has the MAC's best-looking historical football ledger, Toledo isn't too far behind. The Rockets have four AP final poll appearances to their credit and went on a 35-game winning streak from 1969-71. Nick Saban had his first HC job here, going 9-2 in 1990. They can also boast of having won the first overtime game in FBS history, a 40-37 defeat of Nevada in the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl.
Current commissioner: Craig Thompson
Formed in 1999 by a group of 8 disgruntled Western Athletic Conference schools unhappy with the arrangement of the WAC's "super-conference" alignment, the Mountain West Conference (or MW) began the CFP era as arguably the most competitive "Group of Five" conference, though The American has more recently claimed that crown and the Sun Belt is rising fast. Ironically, the MW has absorbed other former WAC schools during the realignment shakeups of the 2000s and 2010s (the most recent being San Jose State and Utah State, joining in 2013). Four of its members* had been courted by The American after it was raided by the Big 12 in 2021, but all chose to stay put, apparently leading to that conference's raid of C-USA. The MW team most familiar to casual fans outside its region is Boise State.
The MW adopted football divisions once it expanded to 12 teams in 2013Mountain (schools in the Mountain Time Zone) and West (those on Pacific Timei.e., the California and Nevada schoolsplus Hawaii). However, once the NCAA gave FBS conferences full freedom in setting up their title game pairings, the MW announced it would eliminate the divisions in 2023, simply having the two top teams in the conference standings play for the title.
Air Force Falcons
School Established: 1954
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1955-79), WAC (1980-98), MW (1999-)
Overall Win Record: 414-335-13 (.552)
Bowl Record: 14-13-1 (.518)
Colors: Blue and silver
Stadium: Falcon Stadium (capacity 46,692)
Current Head Coach: Troy Calhoun
Notable Historic Coaches: Buck Shaw, Bill Parcells
Notable Historic Players: Brian Billick*
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 3 (WAC 1985, 1995, 1998)
The youngest of the three major service academies, Air Force has managed to have the most consistent football success of all of them in the last few decades. While the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy was introduced in 1972 to go to the winner of the series between Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Falcons didn't win it until 1982. Since then, they've won the trophy 20 times, compared to 11 for Navy and 7 for Army in that span of time. Because the stringent requirements for admission to the academy limit the team's ability to attract top athletes, the Falcons require some special strategizing to be competitive. Head coach Ken Hatfield brought the option offense with him when he was hired in 1979, and the Falcons have run it ever since, even after most college teams abandoned the run-based option for looser passing or spread offenses. The discipline, finesse, and proactive nature of the option mesh well with military training, and after Air Force's success with the offense, Army and Navy have generally run it as well.
Boise State Broncos
School Established: 1932
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1933-47, 1968-69),note ICAC* (1948-67), Big Sky* (1970-95), Big West (1996-2000), WAC (2001-10), MW (2011-)
Overall Win Record: 473-176-2 (.728)note
Bowl Record: 127 (.632)
Colors: Blue and orange
Stadium: Albertsons Stadium (capacity 37,000)
Current Head Coach: Andy Avalos
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players: Kellen Moore
National Championships: 1 in NJCAA (1958), 1 in FCS (1980)note
Conference Championships: 20 (6 Big Sky 197375, 1977, 1980, 1994; 2 Big West 1999, 2000; 8 WAC 200206, 200810; 4 MW 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019)note
While the Broncos are most famous for their blue artificial turf, they've also developed a reputation for taking down much more highly regarded teams. As of the end of the 2020 season, BSU has the highest winning percentage of any school outside the Power Five and are only fractionally behind Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dameand that's counting all games as a four-year school. When only games played as a member of FBS and its predecessors are counted, Boise State actually leads the entire pack by a healthy margin.
The Broncos enjoyed great football success as a junior college, winning 15 conference titles (13 of them in a row) and one national title before becoming a four-year school in the late 1960s. They were regionally competitive until a surge in the early days of FCS, winning that level's national title in 1980. After some ups and downs, including a move to FBS (then I-A) in 1996, they truly emerged in the current century as a member of the WAC, with their coming-out party on the national stage being an epic overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, fueled by a series of trick plays that have to be seen to be believed. The Broncos reached even greater heights from 2008 to 2011 with Kellen Moore at QB, becoming the first FBS team ever to win 50 games in a four-year period (this was before the CFP) and making Moore the winningest FBS QB ever. Moore's final season was also the Broncos' first in the MW, where they've established themselves as a regular contender and one of the more dangerous Group of Five teams.
Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warriors
School Established: 1907note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1909-78),note WAC (1979-2011), MW (2012-)
Overall Win Record: 576-474-25 (.547)
Bowl Record: 8-6 (.571)
Colors: Green, black, silver, and whitenote
Stadium: Clarence T. C. Ching Athletics Complex (15,000 capacity)note
Current Head Coach: Timmy Chang
Notable Historic Coaches: Clark Shaughnessy, June Jones, Todd Graham
Notable Historic Players: Jesse Sapolu, Ken Niumatalolo, Jason Elam, Nick Rolovich, Timmy Chang, Cole Brennan
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 4 (WAC 1992, 1999, 2007, 2010)
The University of Hawaiʻi's football team has had a proud history as the most prominent athletic representative of their island home. A bit of a novelty for most of their history because of their exotic location, they joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1979 and became competitive under HCs Dick Tomey and Bob Wagner, who led them to a conference championship in 1992. The program's on-field peak came under the revolutionary passing offense of June Jones in the 2000s that helped QBs Timmy Chang and Cole Brennan break NCAA passing records. However, the Rainbow Warriors are most famous for their location and the various logistical challenges it provides. With the island chain sitting nearly 2,400 miles away from the nearest airport in the contiguous United States, the team is often by far the most traveled American athletic program every year despite only playing six or seven away games. The NCAA allows Hawaiʻi and all of its home opponents to play one extra game per season in an attempt to partially offset these expenses.note Until Hawaiʻi started trying to balance out its home-and-away schedule, it often played as many as 9 home games in a season! That's not to say home games are any easier. Hawaiʻi's 50,000-capacity Aloha Stadium, which had served as the team's home since 1975, has been a major concern for decades due to the architects not properly accounting for the effects of the island's climate; the ocean air led the stadium to rapidly rust, leading to the venue being essentially condemned in 2020 and forcing the team to move home games to their athletic practice field, where they hastily erected some bleachers. They'll play home games there at least through the 2025 season, while the current Aloha Stadium is demolished and a new 30,000-seat facility is built on the site (tentatively penciled-in for a 2026 debut). With all those challenges in mind, the team's successes only stand as more impressive.
Nevada Wolf Pack
School Established: 1874note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1896-1924, 1940-53, 1969-78), Far Western Conference (1925-39, 1954-68), Big Sky (1979-91), Big West (1992-99), WAC (2000-11), MW (2012-)
Overall Win Record: 573-501-33 (.533)
Bowl Record: 712 (.368)
Colors: Navy blue and silver
Stadium: Mackay Stadium (capacity 30,000)
Current Head Coach: Ken Wilson
Notable Historic Coaches: Buck Shaw, Chris Ault
Notable Historic Players: Marion Motley, Horace Gillom, Stan Heath, Bill Afflis, Chris Ault, Charles Wright, Trevor Insley, Nate Burleson, Colin Kaepernick
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 14 (3 Far Western 1932-33, 1939; 4 Big Sky 1983, 1986, 1990-91; 5 Big West - 1992, 1994-97; 2 WAC - 2005, 2010)
Until the rise of Marshall and later Boise State, Nevada was the gold standard for a team moving up to the I-A/FBS level and gaining success. While they already had a bit of a football tradition (early NFL star Marion Motley was an alum), the hiring of 30-year-old former Wolf Pack QB Chris Ault as head coach in 1976 set the team's rise in motion, as they went from a D-II independent to a national I-AA power to joining I-A in 1992 and winning a conference title in their very first season. Ault retired from coaching (twice!) to focus on his AD duties, but the Wolf Pack hit a Dork Age while he was gone. His return to the sidelines in 2004 gave the program a shot in the arm, aided by the launch of the Pistol offense and the arrival of QB Colin Kaepernick, who led them to their standout season in 2010 where they went 11-1 and finished at #11 in the final AP poll. After Ault retired for good in 2013, they've never quite reached the same heights but have performed modestly well. They're also notable for having a two-word singular form nickname (as opposed to the NC State Wolfpack) and the odd design of their stadium (the end zone bleachers are squeezed inside the track, with the track going underneath the south end zone stands).
New Mexico Lobos
School Established: 1889
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1892-1930), Border (1931-50), Skyline (1951-61), WAC (1962-98), MW (1999- )
Overall Win Record: 493-623-31 (.443)
Bowl Record: 481 (.346)
Colors: Cherry red and silver
Stadium: University Stadium (capacity 39,224)
Current Head Coach: Danny Gonzales
Notable Historic Coaches: Marv Levy, Dennis Franchione
Notable Historic Players: Don Perkins, Brian Urlacher, Katie Hnida
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 4 (1 Border 1938; 3 WAC 1962-64)
At a school where men's basketball is the main sport, the Lobo football team counts as The Determinator for the conference. They have the embarrassing distinction of being the only team who's been in the top level of college football for the entire existence of the AP poll (since 1936) to have never been ranked once, not even when they finished 10-1 in 1982 (they also got snubbed by the bowls that year). Their last conference title came when Lyndon Johnson was President. Yet they still keep plugging away. The last few decades have at least seen UNM become competitive, starting with the tenure of HC Dennis Franchione, who recruited future NFL Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher to the team in 1996 and ended the Lobos' 36-year bowl drought in 1997. They're also notable for fielding the first woman to play in an FBS game, placekicker Katie Hnida* , who played in a bowl game in 2002 and converted two extra points in a 2003 game.
San Diego State Aztecs
School Established: 1897note
Conference Affiliations: SCJCC* (1921-24), Ind. (1925, 1968, 1976-77), SCIAA (1926-38), CCAA* (1939-67),note PCAA* (1969-75), WAC (1978-98), MW (1999-)
Overall Win Record: 582-432-32 (.571)
Bowl Record: 10-9 (.526)
Colors: Scarlet and black
Stadium: Snapdragon Stadium (capacity 35,000)
Current Head Coach: Brady Hoke
Notable Historic Coaches: Don Coryell
Notable Historic Players: Joe Gibbs, Fred Dryer, Carl Weathers, Dennis Shaw, Isaac Curtis, Herm Edwards, Brian Sipe, Dan McGwire, Marshall Faulk, Donnel Pumphrey
National Championships: 3 claimed in D-II (196668)note
Conference Championships: 16 (2 SCIAC 1936-37; 5 CCAA 1950-51, 1962, 1966-67; 5 PCAA 1969-70, 1972-74; 1 WAC 1986; 3 MW 2012, 2015-16)note
San Diego State University's football history was initially forged in the small-college ranks. The Aztecs were generally a mediocre team with occasional flashes of brilliance until future NFL coaching great Don Coryell arrived in 1961. During his 12 seasons, he perfected the high-powered passing offense that he took to the pros, leading the Aztecs to small-college national titles in each of their final three seasons before moving to what's now NCAA D-I in 1969, generating a huge local following in the process (the 1967 Aztecs averaged 41,030 fans per home game, still an attendance record for a non-D-I team). They kept things going for a few years after Coryell left in 1972 but then entered into another up-and-down phase that really didn't end until the 2010s, a decade in which they made bowl games every season.
The Aztecs opened the new Snapdragon Stadium (Aztec Stadium behind the sponsorship) in 2022. After having played on campus in the Aztec Bowl* since 1935, they moved to the Chargers' new San Diego Stadium* in 1967, two years before that venue also became home to MLB's Padres. After the Padres moved to a park of their own and the Chargers returned to Los Angeles, SDSU was the only tenant in an increasingly run-down stadium that was far too large for its needs. Not long after the Chargers left, SDSU bought the stadium site and announced plans to redevelop it as a non-contiguous campus expansion parcel, with the 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium being the centerpiece of the development. In the meantime, they played in the LA Galaxy's Dignity Health Sports Park nearly two hours' drive away (not counting traffic delays); coincidentally, the Chargers also played at the LA Galaxy's home ground before the opening of SoFi Stadium.note
School Established: 1957note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1968-81), PCAA/Big West (1982-95), WAC (1996-98), MW (1999-)
Overall Win Record: 245-367-4 (.401)
Bowl Record: 2-2 (.500)
Colors: Scarlet and gray
Stadium: Allegiant Stadium (capacity 65,000)note
Current Head Coach: Marcus Arroyo
Notable Historic Coaches: John Robinson
Notable Historic Players: Randall Cunningham, Suge Knight, Ickey Woods
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 2 (Big West 1984, 1994)
Another case of a football team that struggles at a school where basketball is king, UNLV makes for an interesting contrast with Boise State. Both teams began playing at the four-year level in 1968 and became D-II powers over the next few years. In fact, Tony Knap, the coach who led BSU into the NCAA, left for UNLV in 1976. The Rebels elected to move to the I-A level in 1978 and immediately became competitive, producing a genuine star in QB Randall Cunningham, who led them to a conference title and bowl win in 1984. Things looked bright for UNLV's football future, but with coach Jerry Tarkanian's basketball program already under the NCAA's microscope, the football program was accused of various improprieties, including using ineligible players, plus several players getting into trouble with the law. The Rebels have never really recovered from these controversies. Since 1986, UNLV has had just five winning seasons. Outside of Cunningham and Cincinnati Bengals one-season wonder Ickey Woods, their two most famous ex-players are better-known for non-football endeavors: SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne was a backup QB, and Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight played nose guard for two seasons. The move to the new Allegiant Stadium has given Rebel faithful some hope that they can start attracting better talent.
Utah State Aggies
School Established: 1888note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1892-1913, 1962-77, 2001-02), RMAC (1916-37), Skyline (1938-61), Big West (1978-2000), Sun Belt (2003-04), WAC (2005-12), MW (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 570-555-31 (.506)
Bowl Record: 6-9-0 (.400)
Colors: Aggie blue (basically navy blue) and white
Stadium: Maverik Stadium (capacity 25,513)note
Current Head Coach: Blake Anderson
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players: LaVell Edwards, Merlin Olsen, Jim Turner, Bobby Wagner
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 13 (3 RMAC 1921, 1935-36; 3 Skyline 1946, 1960-61; 5 PCAA/Big West 1978-79, 1993, 1996-97; 2 MW 2012, 2021)
Located about a 90-minute drive from Salt Lake City in an isolated dairy-farming valley, Utah State University has alternated between great success and mediocrity over its history. Under coach Dick Romney (a distant relative of current Utah senator Mitt Romney), the Aggies challenged Utah for football supremacy in the Beehive State in the years before World War II (with BYU football as an afterthought in those years). The program peaked in 1961, when it finished with a #10 ranking led by star DT (and future NFL great, sportscaster, and actor) Merlin Olsen, who the school later named their playing surface after. However, the school's exclusion from the newly-created WAC in 1962 hobbled the program, and BYU's rise to football prominence (ironically led by former Aggie player LaVell Edwards) made USU the odd one out in the state, leading to it constantly bouncing around conferences. The most notable player from that era was QB Anthony Calvillo, who went on to a 20-year CFL career in which he set a North American pro record for passing yards (now held by Tom Brady). However, the last decade has seen a resurgence, with three more Top 25 finishes (2012, 2018, 2021) and two conference championships.
School Established: 1886
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1893-1904), CFA (1905-08), RMAC (1909-37), Skyline (1938-61), WAC (1962-98), MW (1999-)
Overall Win Record: 548-589-28 (.482)
Bowl Record: 8-8-0 (.500)
Colors: Brown and gold
Stadium: War Memorial Stadium (capacity 30,181)
Current Head Coach: Craig Bohl
Notable Historic Coaches: Bob Devaney, Pat Dye, Dennis Erickson
Notable Historic Players: Jim Kiick, Conrad Dobler, Josh Allen
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 14 (7 Skyline 1949-50, 1956, 1958-61; 7 WAC - 1966-68, 1976, 1987-88, 1993)
Wyoming's football team is the ultimate in local market domination: it's the only public four-year college in the state (and was the only four-year school period until the founding of Wyoming Catholic College in 2005). However, since the state just happens to be the smallest one in the union in population, the Cowboys have never been a major powerhouse. The big issue is that they've never been able to hold onto any of the multiple good coaches who pass through town. Bob Devaney lasted five years, then went to neighboring Nebraska and launched the meteoric rise of the Cornhuskers. Fred Akers spent two years in Laramie before moving to Texas, and Pat Dye and Dennis Erickson only lasted one year before moving on to high-profile jobs. They've had good stretches over the decades, particularly The '60s, peaking with a #5 finish and Sugar Bowl appearance in 1967. However, two years later, they took a huge hit over the "Black Fourteen" incident, in which 14 African-American players were kicked off the team after announcing their plan to wear black armbands in a game against BYU in protest of the LDS Church's (since disavowed) anti-black doctrines and practices. That episode caused Wyoming no end of recruiting problems for years.
Their 103-0 defeat of Northern Colorado in 1949 holds the record for the most points in a single game by a major college team since the end of World War II. Their home field at War Memorial Stadium has the highest elevation of any major college field, sitting at 7,220 feet above sea level.note
Current commissioner: Keith Gill
The Sun Belt Conference, or SBC, has been around since 1976 but only started sponsoring football in 2001, making it the runt among the current FBS conferences for several years. If you've ever heard of any of these schools, it's likely because (1) these are the teams typically scheduled to get slaughtered on the road to some of the traditional powerhouses (usually the geographically overlapping SEC) or (2) you saw We Are Marshall. Typically, when a team from a power conference is scheduling their homecoming game, this is one place where they look, as most of its teams didn't get winning records and even today very few of their players go on to the pros. However, the conference has grown the beard significantly in recent years, and the underdogs now frequently punch above their weight class. In Week 2 of the 2022 season, App State and Marshall both took down top-10 teams on the road (respectively Texas A&M and Notre Dame), and Georgia Southern went into Nebraska and stuck the final dagger into Scott Frost's disappointing tenure as the Huskers' HC. Nowadays, it's affectionately called the "Fun Belt".
For several years, the main conference power was Troy, which has gotten some decent players to the next level (DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora both played there).note More recently, Arkansas State won at least a share of the conference title 5 times in a 6-season stretch under four different head coaches.note Former FCS power Appalachian State has been dominant since its 2014 entry, earned in part due to its infamous victory over #5 ranked Michigan (see below for more details). Fellow former FCS power Georgia Southern (also below) also started strong, winning the conference title outright in their first FBS season in 2014, but had two off years in 2016 and 2017 before resurging again. Louisiana quietly rose to contention at the turn of this decade, with 2021 being the Ragin' Cajuns' third straight 10-win season. And in 2020, Coastal Carolina, previously best known for its teal field, came out of nowhere to draw national attention with an unbeaten regular season.
Like every other FBS conference except the MAC, the Fun Belt has gone through significant churn in the post-2010 college football landscape. The first changes came in 2014, with Western Kentucky leaving to join C-USA; App State and Georgia Southern joining from the Southern Conference; and Idaho and New Mexico State, which had been left stranded to become independents when the football side of the WAC disintegrated in 2012, becoming football-only members (in the early 2000s, Idaho had been a football-only member and New Mexico State an all-sports member). However, Idaho and NMSU found themselves stranded again when the Sun Belt bounced them from its football league after the 2017 season. At the time Coastal was announced as a future member, their arrival would have allowed the conference to stage a conference championship game, but only if it didn't lose any football members (read: boot out Idaho and New Mexico State). However, in 2016, a Big 12 proposal to allow all FBS conferences to stage football championship games, even if they have fewer than 12 members, was approved by the commissioners of the FBS leagues. Subsequently, the conference unanimously voted to hold a conference title game starting in 2018 (the same year Coastal became bowl-eligible). In 2017, the conference announced that the 10 football-playing schools would be divided into two divisions of five teams. Before the SBC's 2022 expansion, South Alabama played in the West Division for football despite playing in the East in all other SBC sports split into two divisions.
As noted in the C-USA folder, the SBC launched its own raid of that league, poaching Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss. James Madison made the jump to FBS and joined as well. All divisional sports (including football) have adopted a new dividing line along the AlabamaGeorgia border. The SBC had two non-football members before its most recent expansion in Little Rocknote and UT Arlington. Both schools have considered reviving their respective football programs in recent years. Little Rock's feasibility study in 2019 had recommended against doing so, at least for now. With the conference adding four football members, they saw the writing on the wall and amicably left in July 2022, with Little Rock joining the Ohio Valley Conference and UT Arlington returning to the Western Athletic Conference, where it had been a member in the 201213 school year.
The SBC is also notable as the first FBS conference to hire an African-American commissioner, namely Keith Gill in 2019. Gill was followed a few months later by Kevin Warren of the Big Ten Conference.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
School Established: 1899
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1928-30, 1968-71), North State/Conference Carolinas (1931-67),note SoCon (1972-2013), Sun Belt (2014-)
Overall Win Record: 648-346-28 (.648)
Bowl Record: 61 (.857)
Colors: Black and gold
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium (aka "The Rock"; capacity 30,000)
Current Head Coach: Shawn Clark
Notable Historic Coaches: Beattie Feathers, Mack Brown, Jerry Moore
Notable Historic Players:
National Championships: 3 in FCS (200507)
Conference Championships: 22 (6 North State 1931, 1937, 1939, 1948, 1950, 1954; 12 SoCon 1986-87, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2005-10, 2012; 4 Sun Belt 2016-19)
Nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina* , this mid-sized former teachers college is best known for going into Michigan in 2007 and beating the then fifth-ranked Wolverines, becoming the first FCS team ever to defeat a ranked FBS team. (It's happened six more times since.) However, App State's success goes well beyond one game.
While the Mountaineers (also affectionately "Apps") enjoyed periods of success in the small-college ranks and the early years of I-AA/FCS, they truly emerged as a national power at that level under Jerry Moore. During his 24 seasons, App State won 10 SoCon titles and peaked with three straight FCS titles in 200507, becoming the first school since the '40s to claim three straight national titles in D-I or its predecessors. After Moore retired at the end of 2012, the Mountaineers began a transition to FBS in 2013 and joined the Sun Belt Conference the next year. They started slow, but won their last 6 games in 2014, and have won at least 9 in every season since, a run that included shared conference titles in 2016 and 2017, plus wins in the first two Sun Belt championship games. Much like Arkansas State earlier in the decade, they saw both of the coaches who led them to title game wins immediately scooped up by more prominent FBS programs. The Apps also won bowl games in each of their first six seasons after completing their FBS transition (20152020), a record as yet unmatched by any transitioning school. (Current independent Liberty is the only other program with even a three-year streak of this type.)
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
School Established: 1954note
Conference Affiliations: Big South (2003-15), Sun Belt (2016-)*
Overall Win Record: 14980 (.651)
Bowl Record: 11 (.500)
Colors: Teal, bronze, and black
Stadium: Brooks Stadium (21,000 capacity)
Current Head Coach: Jamey Chadwell
Notable Historic Coaches: Joe Moglia
Notable Historic Players: Grayson McCall
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 8 (7 Big South 200406, 2010, 201214; 1 Sun Belt 2020* )
Coastal Carolina, a hop, skip, and jump from the tourist mecca of Myrtle Beach, started its life as a junior college in the 1950s, became a two-year extension of the University of South Carolina in 1960, and expanded into a four-year school in the 1970s before separating from USC (with that school's blessing) in 1993. However, football didn't start up until 2003. The Chanticleers (affectionately "Chants") soon emerged as a strong contender in the FCS Big South Conference, and the program grew even more in the 2010s under Joe Moglia, a former CEO of discount brokerage TD Ameritrade who oversaw Coastal's move to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference after the 2015 season. After spending 2016 as an FCS independent and non-football Sun Belt member, the Chanticleers joined Sun Belt football in 2017.
While Coastal was originally known by college football fans only for the teal-colored field it adopted in 2015 (or maybe the unusual background of its now-retired HC), it came out of nowhere in 2020 to draw national attention with an unbeaten regular season, complete with locker-room celebrations right out of WWE. That season also featured a matchup against then-unbeaten BYU scheduled with literally two days' notice, which ended up being one of the season's best games with a Down to the Last Play finish. All this gave it enough national media attention that it quickly got its own Wikipedia page. The Chants claimed their first bowl win the next year.
Georgia Southern Eagles
School Established: 1906note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1924-41, 1984-91)* , SoCon (1992-2013), Sun Belt (2014-)
Overall Win Record: 407-240-10 (.628)
Bowl Record: 3-1 (.750)
Colors: Blue and white
Stadium: Allen E. Paulson Stadium (25,000 capacity)
Current Head Coach: Clay Helton
Notable Historic Coaches: Erk Russell, Paul Johnson
Notable Historic Players: Tracy Ham, Fred Stokes, Rob Bironas
National Championships: 6 in FCS (1985-86, 1989-90, 1999-2000)
Conference Championships: 11 (10 SoCon 1993, 19972002, 2004, 201112; 1 Sun Belt 2014)
Based in Statesboro, a small rural city about an hour west of Savannah (immortalized in song by Blues legend Blind Willie McTell and famously covered by The Allman Brothers Band), Georgia Southern University started as an agricultural and mechanical school, then evolved into a teachers' college, a four-year college, and eventually a university by 1990, becoming the largest university in Georgia south of Atlanta. The football team was suspended for World War II and laid dormant for four decades before being resurrected as a club team in 1981, moving to varsity status in 1984. Erk Russell, longtime defensive coordinator under Vince Dooley at Georgia, was hired as HC. Russell led one of the fastest ascents in college football history, winning their first of six FCS championships in just their second varsity season (and fifth overall), despite having No Budget during the early years of the Eagles' modern era. Some of the team's traditions stem from this, such as the team's arrival on yellow school buses that were purchased surplus for $1 each from the local K-12 school system. Others were created by Russell himself, such as "Beautiful Eagle Creek", a drainage ditch near the team's practice fields whose waters serve as a Good Luck Charm, and the phrase "One more time", which was coined after the Eagles won back-to-back FCS championships; the phrase is chanted by Eagles fans after every kickoff. The colorful, beloved Russell carried over another tradition from his UGA days: headbutting his helmeted players bare-headed, often to the point of drawing blood; after Russell's death in 2006, a bronze bust of him was placed at the players' entrance at Paulson Stadium, and the players headbutt the bust before taking the field. In Russell's final season with the Eagles, he led the team to a 15-0 record en route to their third FCS championship, the first D-I team to do so in the 20th century.
After years of being very comfortable with its niche in the FCS ranks, Southern joined its SoCon rival App State in starting the jump to FBS in 2013 and moving to the Sun Belt the following year. The Eagles immediately won the conference title. Georgia Southern is also known for a spicy rivalry with another in-state school and fellow Sun Belt member, Georgia State; both schools have roots as teachers' colleges and share the same "GSU" initialism, though Southern chooses to use just "GS" in its athletic branding, as reflected in its athletic web address.
Georgia State Panthers
School Established: 1913note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (2010-11), CAA (2012), Sun Belt (2013-)
Overall Win Record: 5192 (.357)
Bowl Record: 3-2 (.600)
Colors: Blue and white
Stadium: Center Parc Stadium (25,000 capacity)
Current Head Coach: Shawn Elliott
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players:
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 0
Based in the heart of downtown Atlanta and the largest public university in Georgia by enrollment, Georgia State had long been considered a commuter school (having spent its first four decades as an extension campus of either Georgia Tech or UGA) and only attempted to shed that label near the end of the 20th century. As one of the newest college football programs in existence, the Panthers lack a rich football history; in the Panthers' first two Sun Belt seasons, the team went 1-23, with that lone win coming against an FCS program by one point. In 2017, following the closure and subsequent demolition of the Georgia Dome and Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves vacating Turner Field in favor of Truist Park in Cobb County, Georgia State acquired the former MLB ballpark, which in turn was the former main stadium for the 1996 Summer Olympics, and renovated the stadium for football with the surrounding area being redeveloped as a southern campus expansion, which includes a new basketball arena to the north and new baseball and softball parks within the footprint of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Marshall Thundering Herd
School Established: 1837
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1895-1925, 196975), WVIAC (192533, 1939-48), Buckeye (1933-39), OVC (1948-52), MAC (1953-69, 19972005), SoCon (197797), C-USA (200521), Sun Belt (2022)
Overall Win Record: 614-559-47 (.523)
Bowl Record: 126 (.667)
Colors: Kelly green and white
Stadium: Joan C. Edwards Stadium (capacity 38,227)
Current Head Coach: Charles Huff
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players: Frank Gatski, Troy Brown, Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich
National Championships: 2 in FCS (1992, 1996)
Conference Championships: 13 (3 WVIAC 1925, 1928, 1931; 1 Buckeye 1937; 3 SoCon 1988, 1994, 1996; 5 MAC 19972000, 2002; 1 C-USA 2014)
Marshall University, a medium-sized public school not far from where West Virginia meets Ohio and Kentucky, is one of the few schools at its level with a significant place in popular culture, mostly because of a tragedy in 1970. While the team was returning from a game at East Carolina, the chartered plane carrying the team crashed on its landing approach, killing all on board. The film We Are Marshall is a somewhat fictionalized version of the team's rebuilding in the aftermath of the crash.
On the field, the Herd played mostly in regional conferences until joining the MAC in 1954, only to be kicked out in 1969 after multiple NCAA rules violations. Marshall would join the Southern Conference in 1977, eventually becoming a dominant I-AA/FCS program in the '90s; in their last six seasons at that level (19911996), they made the playoff semifinals every year and won two national titles. Their last I-AA season, featuring future NFL stars Chad Pennington and Randy Moss, was one of the most dominant in history at that level; not only did they go unbeaten, but none of their opponents got any closer than two TDs. The Herd then returned to the MAC, winning the conference title in each of their first four seasons back (as well as five in six seasons) before (voluntarily) moving to Conference USA in 2005. Marshall has since settled in as a frequent threat for conference honors, though obviously not the national power they were in their final years in FCS. Most recently, Marshall became part of the mass exodus from C-USA announced in 2021, moving to the Sun Belt along with Southern Miss and ODU in 2022.
In the past, many schools, especially along the east coast, were able to fill out strong schedules without the need for a conference, but that largely ended once TV money became the focus of major-college sports. Now only seven remain, with the number dropping to four... or maybe two or three in the next couple of years. All of these schools belong to conferences for other sports; three of them have special circumstances that minimize their need for a football conference, although one of those three got an offer it couldn't refuse.
Army Black Knights
School Established: 1802
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1890-1997, 2005-), C-USA (1998-2004)
Overall Win Record: 714-532-51 (.570)
Bowl Record: 73 (.700)
Colors: Black, gold, and gray
Stadium: Michie Stadium (capacity 38,000)note
Current Head Coach: Jeff Monken
Notable Historic Coaches: Earl "Red" Blaik, Paul Dietzel, Lou Saban, Bobby Ross
Notable Historic Players: Robert Neyland, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Earl "Red" Blaik, Felix "Doc" Blanchard, Glenn Davis, Pete Dawkins, Alejandro Villanueva
National Championships: 3 (1944-46)note
Conference Championships: 0note
The United States Military Academy in West Point is the oldest of the three major academies that train officers for the US militarynote and set precedents for many military and civilian American universities that followed. Since the federal government funds all necessary academic operations, TV exposure and money are less of an issue for Army than for most other D-I schools. Also, being able to play a national schedule enables West Point to expose itself to potential cadets throughout the country, making the team a useful recruiting tool for the highly selective academy. The Black Knights used to be a powerhouse in college football in an era where a military career was likely to be more stable and respectable than playing a game for the rest of one's life. Much like the Army the school represents, the program peaked in prestige in the mid-1940s under legendary coach Red Blaik (1941-58), winning three straight national titles, posting multiple undefeated seasons, and producing three Heisman winners in the dominant FB/HB tandem of Doc Blanchard (1945) and Glenn Davis (1946) and future general Pete Dawkins (1958). However, as pro football salaries rocketed into the stratosphere in the '70s, West Point had a difficult time convincing great athletes to come play for them, as potential cadets faced the choice of spending the prime of their athletic potential in service to their country rather than making money and being famous. (Basically, the NFL stopped drafting Army players when the Army stopped drafting high school players.) The school bottomed out with a winless 1973 season and have since lost far more games than they've won, though current coach Jeff Monken (who inherited a program in 2014 that had one winning season in the last 17 years) has finally returned the Black Knights to consistent winning and bowl appearances.
The "Black Knights" nickname was only officially adopted in 1999, in reference of their black uniforms; prior to that, they had just been known as the Cadets, and their mascot is a mule. Army is a member of the Patriot League (see FCS section below) for (most) non-football sports, as is Navy; outside of football, the academy is known for its very competitive lacrosse team, which won eight pre-NCAA national titles. Outside of a relatively brief membership with C-USA, Army has been a football independent through all of its history and is the only service academy that is still unaffiliated. Back in the 1940s, the rivalry between Army and Notre Dame was arguably the most important in college football, as they claimed the majority of national championships and Heisman winners in that decade; it has greatly cooled in intensity since then. Army seems to have barely noticed, as the only rivalry—and, indeed, the only thing—that really matters to the program is with Navy. Said contest has kept the program in the spotlight for at least one Saturday a year, as the Army-Navy game is traditionally the last of the regular season and the only one played on that week. It is typically played at a neutral site, which means relatively few football fans get to see Army home games on TV these days; a shame, considering that the relatively small and asymmetrical Michie Stadium is often considered one of the most beautiful venues in the U.S., located right up against the shores of the Hudson River and nestled in a valley that looks truly breathtaking in the fall (weather permitting).
School Established: 1875note
Conference Affiliations: RMAC (1922-37),note Skyline (1938-61), WAC (1962-98), MW (1999-2010), Ind. (2011-)
Overall Win Record: 604-432-27 (.581)
Bowl Record: 16221 (.423)
Colors: Blue and white
Stadium: LaVell Edwards Stadium (capacity 63,470)
Current Head Coach: Kalani Sitake
Notable Historic Coaches: LaVell Edwards
Notable Historic Players: Virgil Carter, Brian Billick, Todd Christensen, Jim McMahon, Andy Reid, Bart Oates, Kyle Whittingham, Steve Young, Jason Chaffetz, Ty Detmer, Taysom Hill
National Championships: 1 (1984)
Conference Championships: 23 (19 WAC 1965, 1974, 197685, 198993, 1995-96; 4 MW 1999, 2001, 2006-07)
Known affectionately as "The Y", Brigham Young University is the second FBS member to have been founded by early Mormon leader Brigham Young, though it wouldn't actually be absorbed by the LDS Church until 1896. BYU had done little in football before LaVell Edwards, who had arrived at The Y as an assistant in 1962, was elevated to the head coaching position in 1972. A major contribution to this turn in football fortunes was the LDS Church disavowing its former anti-Black doctrines and practices in 1978, aiding the Cougars' recruiting; BYU did not admit Black students at all through the 1960s, far after most universities outside of the South, and its team accepted its first Black players in Edwards' first season, making it among the last programs to integrate. Edwards installed a high-powered passing offense that brought the Cougars quick success, making them the "Quarterback U" of the 1980s and helping them claim a national title in 1984 and a Heisman winner in Ty Detmer in 1990; they remain the last non-major school to win that latter award. Since Edwards' retirement after 2000, BYU has remained a generally winning program, though not quite at its 1980s heights.
BYU is well-known for taking its faith very seriously. The school has a strict honor code that reflects its church's doctrine, and every so often a player will get suspended or dismissed for a violation. Many of its players are also a bit older than typical college athletes. These older players are returned Mormon missionaries; the LDS Church strongly encourages (but does not require) its young men to spend two years as such, with most doing so immediately after high school graduation.* BYU also has a firm policy against Sunday play in any sport; while this generally doesn't affect football, it has dramatically affected other sports and caused headaches for scheduling of NCAA championship events. Though it bounced around a number of smaller conferences, BYU felt that it could make far more money as an independent with its built-in LDS following, following the model that Notre Dame established for Catholic fans, and set out on its own in 2011.* Nonetheless, a Power Five slot remained a goal for BYU, which it finally reached with a Big 12 invite that's effective in 2023. The Big 12 allowed BYU to maintain its no-Sunday policy; perhaps not coincidentally, it has two faith-based members (Baylor and TCU, though both will play on Sundays).
School Established: 1971note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (NAIA 197380; D-II 198187, I-AA 19882001, FBS 2018-), Big South (2002-17)
Overall Win Record: 278-249-4 (.527)
Bowl Record: 30
Colors: Blue, white, and red
Stadium: Williams Stadium (capacity 25,000)
Current Head Coach: Hugh Freeze
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players:
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 8, all in the FCS Big South (200710, 201214, 2016)
The most recent addition to FBS football before James Madison's move to the Sun Belt in 2022, and also the youngest university in FBS, Liberty University began its life in 1971 as an offshoot of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of divisive pastor Jerry Falwell (Sr.). The school immediately developed a reputation as a Strawman U of the St. Jim Jonestown variety and a headquarters for the evangelical branch of conservative politics. Considerable change did come under Falwell's son and successor, Jerry Jr., as the university became somewhat less legalistic and dramatically grew to become the largest single university in FBS... with a caveat. LU's actual on-campus enrollment is around 15,000, but it has an enormous online operation, pushing its total enrollment slightly above 100,000. However, the younger Falwell's tenure ended in 2020 after a particularly embarrassing sex scandal and allegations of questionable financial dealings, leaving the school in an awkward spot.
As for football, Liberty joined the FBS independent ranks in 2018 after moderate success in FCS. The Flames, rumored for years to be looking at an upgrade from FCS (and also lobbying heavily for an invite from the Sun Belt), pulled the trigger on the move in 2017. The NCAA gave Liberty a waiver from its transition rules, which normally require that a school have an invitation from an FBS conference before starting the transition. 2019 was the Flames' first season as full FBS members, and they've won bowls in each of their first three seasons of eligibility, joining Appalachian State as the only other school to have done so. With Conference USA having been raided to within an inch of its life in 2021, Liberty became attractive to that league and will join in 2023.
New Mexico State Aggies
School Established: 1888
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1893-1930, 1962-70, 2013, 2018-), Border (1931-61), MVC (1971-82), Big West (1983-2000), Sun Belt (2001-04, 2014-17), WAC (2005-12)
Overall Win Record: 438-658-30 (.402)
Bowl Record: 3-0-1 (.875)
Colors: Crimson and white
Stadium: Aggie Memorial Stadium (capacity 30,343)
Current Head Coach: Jerry Kill
Notable Historic Coaches: Warren B. Woodson, Charley Johnson
Notable Historic Players: Charley Johnson
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 4 (2 Border - 1938, 1960; 2 Missouri Valley - 1976, 1978)
New Mexico State is another example of a football team that struggles at a school with a strong men's basketball program. The undisputed peak of the program came in 1960, when they went undefeated under Hall of Fame coach Warren B. Woodson and QB Charley Johnson.note However, the Aggies (represented in mascot form by a pistol-wielding cowboy) have fallen off hard since Woodson's departure in 1967, with only five winning seasons and two completely winless ones in that half-century-plus span. They're a frequent member of ESPN's "Bottom 10" as "Whew Mexico State", living mostly in the shadow of New Mexico in their own state and even UTEP (a team bad enough to also frequently appear in the Bottom 10 as "UTEPID") in their immediate region. They have put up three completely winless seasons since moving to the major college ranks in the 1930s and have the worst win record of any of the FBS indies, which they became after being kicked out of Sun Belt football in 2017, shortly after their first bowl appearance since 1960. The Aggies also chose not to play in 2020 (though they pieced together two games against FCS teams in spring 2021, making them the only FBS team to play in the spring). With NMSU's current all-sports home of the Western Athletic Conference relaunching football in FBS in 2021, it was thought that NMSU would stay put in that league, which was talking about upgrading to FBS by the end of the decade. However, with C-USA suddenly depleted after the 2021 realignment shuffle, NMSU became a very attractive option (even for UTEP), so the Aggies will move there in 2023.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
School Established: 1842note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1887-)note
Overall Win Record: 929-331-42 (.730)
Bowl Record: 18-20 (.474)note
Colors: Blue and goldnote
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (capacity 77,622)
Current Head Coach: Marcus Freeman
Notable Historic Coaches: Pat O'Dea, Knute Rockne, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, Brian Kelly
Notable Historic Players: Knute Rockne, George Gipp, Curly Lambeau, The Four Horsemen (Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller, Elmer Layden), Buck Shaw, Frank Leahy, "Jumping" Joe Savoldi, Bill Shakespeare, Wayne Millner, Lou Rymkus, Angelo Bertelli, Frank Danciewicz, Johnny Lujack, George Connor, Leon Hart, Frank Tripucka, Johnny Lattner, Ralph Guglielmi, Paul Hornung, George Izo, Nick Buoniconti, Daryle Lamonica, John Huarte, Alan Page, Rocky Bleier, Bob Kuechenberg, Joe Theismann, Walt Patulski, Rudy Ruettiger, Dave Casper, Steve Niehaus, Joe Montana, Rusty Lisch, John Carney, Tim Brown, Ricky Watters, Allen Rossum, Rick Mirer, Derek Brown, Jeff Alm, Bryant Young, Ron Powlus, Jeff Faine, Jerome Bettis, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen, Manti Te'o
National Championships: 11 (1924, 1929-30, 1943, 1946-47, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988)note
Conference Championships: 0
The University of Notre Dame is the most famous Catholic university in the country, in no small part because it hosts the most famous remaining football independent and arguably the best-known program in the nation, notably being featured in high-profile sports biopics like Knute Rockne, All American and Rudy. Notre Dame itself features some of the most distinctive iconography in sports, from the oldest marching band in the nation to the giant mural of Jesus signaling a touchdown that overlooks the stadium from across campus to the fanbase that makes every game day look like St. Patrick's Day. It is a common joke (with a ring of truth to it) that certain American Catholics hold greater reverence for the Fighting Irish's polished golden helmets than any other aspect of their faith. The program's national following was built over decades of football success, including having produced a record-tying seven Heisman winners, more undefeated seasons than any college program (11),note and more consensus All-Americans (105), NFL draft picks (522), and Pro Hall of Famers (13note ) than any other school as of 2022.
Their football reputation launched in the 1920s under Knute Rockne (1918-30), whose success on the football field was perhaps only matched by his ability to market the team to a nationwide audience; his death in a plane crash in 1931 was viewed as a national tragedy. Rockne was the first of the "Holy Trinity" of Notre Dame coaches, followed by Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53) and Ara Parseghian (1964-74) who established the university as a football power, each claiming multiple national titles over the decades. Leahy's tenure saw the team regularly dominate the Heisman race, with Irish QBs Angelo Bartelli (1943) and Johnny Lujack (1947), end Leon Hart (1949), and HB Johnny Lattner (1953) claiming the trophy. Even during the team's worst Audience-Alienating Era in the 1950s, star Jack-of-All-Trades Paul Hornung was still able to win the 1956 Heisman on a losing team, and QB John Huarte won the trophy in Parseghian's first year for returning the Irish to their former dominance. Though subsequent coaches Dan Devine (1975-80) and Lou Holtz (1986-96) kept the school a power and won a championship apiece (with Holtz also producing the school's last Heisman winner, WR Tim Brown, in 1987), the program's level of success leveled off as the century wound down, and by the 2000s the Irish had become merely a very good team rather than one that could compete for national titles. Brian Kelly (2010-21) helped to restore some of Notre Dame's winning tradition in the 2010s, with an appearance in a BCS Championship Game after 2012 and multiple CFP berths, but the school still has yet to win a national title in over three decades. Observers have often attributed this to Notre Dame being one of the few universities at this level of competition to truly value education equally to athletics; its football players have some of highest graduation rates of any program in the nation.
As a result of all its success, Notre Dame can more or less dictate its own terms in the football world. The team—and the school itself—became famous in part due to national radio broadcasts dating back to the Rockne years, and it currently has a very lucrative TV contract with NBC to nationally broadcast its home games. Until the 1990s, they had been independent in all sports but eventually joined the original Big East in 1995. They took a half-step away from football independence when they joined the ACC in 2013, nominally remaining independent but agreeing to play five ACC teams each year. In turn, the ACC gave Notre Dame access to its bowl games in seasons when the Irish don't make the CFP or its associated bowls. Notre Dame's schedule once consisted primarily of old "rivalries" between it and its nearby Midwestern—which is to say Big Ten—neighbors. Trips to Michigan (the school's first ever opponent, which was often dominant at the same time as the Irish) and Michigan State (which is quite close geographically) historically were annual or near-annual occurrences but have been disrupted by the move.note Currently, in addition to its ACC commitments, the Irish still play Stanford, USC, and Navy every yearnote . The USC rivalry dates to the Twenties, when the Irish added them to its regular schedule in part to increase the program's recruiting power on the West Coast (Stanford joined the regular rotation in the '80s so they could rotate away game). As for Navy, the US Navy kept Notre Dame afloat during World War II by placing one of its many wartime officer training centers on the Notre Dame campus; the annual game with the Midshipmen is Notre Dame's way of paying them back. 2020 note
School Established: 1881note
Conference Affiliations: ALNESC (18971922),note New England* (1923-46),note Yankee* (1947-96), A-10 (1997-99), Ind. (2000-03, 2020-), Big East (2004-12), American (2013-19)
Overall Win Record: 512-593-38 (.465)
Bowl Record: 3-3 (.500)
Colors: National flag blue and white
Stadium: Pratt & Whitney Stadium (capacity 40,000)
Current Head Coach: Jim L. Mora
Notable Historic Coaches:
Notable Historic Players: Kirk Ferentz
National Championships: 0
Conference Championships: 26 (1 ALNESC 1901; 7 New England 1924, 1926, 1928, 1936-37, 1942, 1945; 15 Yankee 1952, 195660, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1982-83, 1986, 1989; 2 Big East 2007, 2010)
The University of Connecticut has enjoyed significant success in several sports since the late 1990s, most notably men's and women's basketball, respectively claiming 4 and 11 national titles. In fact, UConn has more official national team titles than any other Group of Five school, with 22 in all (the others being 2 in men's soccer and 5 in women's field hockey).note Football is another story entirely. While the Huskies had enjoyed off-and-on regional success in the small-college ranks and later in I-AA/FCS, that didn't continue after their move to FBS in 2002 (though they did share a couple of Big East titles).
By the end of the 2010s, the football team had fallen firmly into Butt-Monkey status, becoming a regular member of ESPN's "Bottom 10", with said column consistently calling them "U-Can't". To make matters worse, their bread-and-butter sports of men's and women's basketball were being visibly hurt by being in the geographically far-flung American (the women weren't hurt on the court, but suffered from an utter lack of in-conference competition). In the end, basketball won out, with the Huskies rejoining several of their former conference rivals in the Big East in 2020. As it turned out, UConn became the first FBS school (of three) to cancel its 2020 football season due to COVID-19.note Now rumored to be in talks with C-USA for potential football-only membership; stay tuned.
School Established: 1863note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1879-96, 1923-46, 2016-), ALNESC* (1897-1922), Yankee (1947-96), A-10 (1997-2006), CAA (2007-11), MAC (2012-15)
Overall Win Record: 576-621-50 (.482)
Bowl Record: N/Anote
Colors: Maroon and white
Stadium: Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium (capacity 17,000)
Current Head Coach: Don Brown
Notable Historic Coaches: Dick MacPherson
Notable Historic Players: Victor Cruz
National Championships: 1 in FCS (1998)
Conference Championships: 22, but none at the FBS level (17 Yankee - 1960, 1963-64, 1966-67, 1969, 1971-72, 1974, 1977-79, 1981-82, 1986, 1988, 1990; 4 Atlantic 10 - 1998-99, 2003, 2006; Colonial 2007)
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is its state's flagship public school, located in the western half of the state (just north of Springfield) and notable for its massive library. Its football team became independent by default, being effectively kicked out of MAC football after 2015. The Minutemen had been a quite successful FCS program, even winning a national title in 1998, but had little success after moving to FBS and MAC football in 2012; they and Texas State are the only FBS programs to never play in an FBS bowl game. After four seasons, they left to an uncertain future, with no FBS conference in their region willing to take them in. They've become a fixture in ESPN's "Bottom 10" as "UMess" and went completely winless in a COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Football Championship SubdivisionThe second level of D-I football, also known as FCS or its former designation of "I-AA" (pronounced "one-double-A"). It was created in 1978 when the NCAA split D-I football into two groups. In that first year, I-AA had five conferences (Big Sky, Ohio Valley, MEAC, SWAC, Yankee) and eight independent schools, for a total of 43 teams. Over the next few years, more independent teams and one conference (Mid-Continent, an early forerunner of the modern MVFC) were added. Membership numbers ballooned in 1982 when the NCAA set stringent criteria for I-A membership based on home game attendancenote and relegated around 30 I-A schools to the I-AA level. Any D-I non-football school which starts a new football program or a D-II program that transitions to D-I must start out in the FCS for at least two years.
FCS is distinguished from FBS by fewer scholarshipsnote , less restrictions on new recruits,note and no minimum attendance requirement.note It is also distinguished by having an official NCAA championship. The four-team College Football Playoff in FBS, which started in 2014, is not operated by the NCAA.
FCS was even more disrupted by COVID-19 than FBS, with so many conferences opting out of the fall season that the NCAA canceled the playoffs. With most of these conferences announcing plans for spring seasons, the NCAA rescheduled the playoffs for spring 2021, though a few schools chose to play partial fall seasons.note Additionally, due to the large number of conferences and teams that opted out, the playoffs were reduced from their normal 24 teams to 16.
Departing schools: Jacksonville State (2023)
Founded as the Trans America Athletic Conference in 1978, changed its name to the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2001, and adopted the ASUN branding in 2016. Throughout its history, its members have been mainly in the southeastern quadrant of the country. It technically started sponsoring football in 2021 but didn't start full conference competition until 2022; for several years, it had a football alliance with the Big South (more details are in that league's folder). In late 2020, it was widely rumored that the ASUN would launch an FCS football league once it got enough members to qualify for an autobid. With the impending arrival of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State as full members in July 2021, it announced it would launch a football league, but did not officially announce when conference competition would begin. With Austin Peay being announced in September 2021 as an incoming member, the ASUN will start its football league in 2022. This coincides with North Alabama completing its D-I transition and becoming playoff-eligible. It partnered with the WAC's relaunched football league for the fall 2021 season, and with each conference losing one of its intended playoff-eligible teams to FBS transitions in 2022 (ASUN: Jacksonville State, WAC: Sam Houston), they renewed that partnership for 2022. That was before the WAC lost two more such schools when Incarnate Word backed out of its planned move to the WAC and Lamar accelerated its planned 2023 return to the Southland Conference to 2022.
As of the 2022 season, the ASUN has eight members that aren't part of the football league; no member is required to add football or change its football status. Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Lipscomb, North Florida, and incoming D-II upgrader Queensnote don't play football at all. Stetson plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer League. Liberty is an FBS independent but headed off to C-USA in 2023. Bellarmine added football in 2022 but plays sprint football, a variant played under standard college rules but with an upper limit of 178 lb (81 kg) for player weight.
The ASUN boasts another oddly-colored football field in that of Central Arkansas, with purple and gray sections alternating every 5 yards.
Formed in 1963, the Big Sky Conference is one of the better FCS conferences. Popular among Western schools seeking easy wins, though two of its teams have delivered upsets over ranked FBS programs (Eastern Washington against Oregon State in 2013, Montana against Washington in 2021). The Medal of Dishonor in this respect would however go to North Texas, which ended up on the wrong end of a 667 shellacking by Portland State in 2015. At the Mean Green's homecoming.note It's also known for having another oddly-colored field (see Eastern Michigan, Boise State, Coastal Carolina, and Central Arkansas above), in this case Eastern Washington's red field, nicknamed "The Inferno". Idaho State's Holt Arena (formerly the Mini-Dome) is the oldest on-campus domed stadium in America, built in 1970. Two other conference teams play in domes: Idaho (the Kibbie Dome,* built in 1975) and Northern Arizona (the Walkup Skydome, built in 1977, not because of extreme heat, as you might guess, but because of the cold temperatures and heavy snow in Flagstaff, which sits at an elevation of 6,900 feet).
Idaho rejoined the Big Sky in 2014 (after an 18-year absence) but without its football team, which (as mentioned above) returned to the Sun Belt; however, after the Sun Belt decided to drop Idaho after 2017, the school decided to take up the Big Sky's standing invitation to return its football team to that league. The Vandals became the first team ever to voluntarily drop from FBS to FCS without extenuating circumstances.note Southern Utah left the Big Sky in 2022 to join the WAC and its revived football league.
Departing schools: Campbell, North Carolina A&T (2023)
The Big South Conference began in 1983 as a non-football league and did not sponsor the sport until 2002. Comprised initially of schools from throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, it usually had one or two good teams with a bunch of bottom-feeders, but most of the "good teams" left during the various realignments of the 2010s (most notably the aforementioned Coastal Carolina and Liberty). Six full members of the conference (High Point, Longwood, Radford, UNC Asheville, USC Upstate, and Winthrop) don't have football teams. Another full member, Campbell, played in the Pioneer Football League (below) through the 2017 season, but...
In an attempt to attract new football members, the Big South announced a football alliance with the ASUN Conference in 2016. With defections since 2014 of its biggest football schools, the Big South was in danger of losing its status as an FCS conference, as 6 members are needed for a league to maintain its automatic playoff berth. Under its terms, any current member of either league that added football or upgraded from non-scholarship to scholarship football had a guaranteed football home in the Big South.note It has held on since then, regularly swapping members to meet minimum requirements for operation. However, with the ASUN starting football in 2022 (taking two Big South football members with it) and Hampton moving on to the CAA, the Big South was put on the clock to restore its football membership to the "magic number" of 6... and its task got harder when North Carolina A&T announced it would move to CAA football in 2023 (with the rest of its sports joining in 2022). However, it was able to lure Bryant as a new football-only member in time for the 2022 season. Still later, Campbell announced that it too would leave for both sides of the CAA in 2023.
Effective in 2023, the Big South will merge its football league with that of the Ohio Valley Conference (below), another league that experienced major membership losses in the early-2020s realignment cycle. Whether the football league will be run by the Big South or OVC, or become a separate entity like the Missouri Valley Football Conference, is yet to be determined.
Arriving schools: Campbell, North Carolina A&T (2023)
CAA Football is the football arm of the Colonial Athletic Association (or just CAA). Legally, CAA Football and the all-sports CAA are separate entities, but both share the same administration. The all-sports CAA was created in 1979 as a basketball-only league. It added other sports in 1985, but did not start sponsoring football until 2007. However, CAA Football can trace its history to the late 1930s through three other leagues, including the Yankee Conference, one of the charter members of I-AA in 1978, though it's been the division's Revolving Door Band. Of the 1978 Yankee Conference teams, only Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island remain. Historically, it has been one of the better FCS leagues. In 2010, James Madison defeated then-#13 Virginia Tech in the second win by an FCS team over a ranked FBS team. The same school ended North Dakota State's five-year reign as FCS champions in the 2016 semifinals on the way to the FCS crown. (NDSU got its revenge by beating JMU in the 2017 and 2019 title games.) A large chunk of the schools in CAA Football are not members of the all-sports CAA. As of July 2022, only Delaware, Elon, Hampton, Monmouth, Stony Brook, Towson, and W&M are members of both sides; North Carolina A&T joined the all-sports CAA in 2022, but won't join the football side until 2023. Another North Carolina school, Campbell, will join both sides of the league in 2023. The all-sports CAA has five members without football teams (College of Charleston, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern, and UNC Wilmington).
Depending on definitions, CAA Football member Villanova (otherwise a Big East member) has a claim to the most NCAA D-I team titles of any FCS school, with 21 in all,note though Yale has a separate claim to this honor.note The CAA suffered a significant blow in the 2021 realignment saga when James Madison, which had spent the last 20 years openly seeking an FBS move, was announced as a future member of the Sun Belt Conference.note While JMU initially planned to join the Sun Belt in 2023, the move was pushed forward to 2022 after the all-sports CAA chose to enforce a provision in its bylaws stating that any school that announces its departure can be banned from the conference's postseason tournaments.* The CAA reloaded shortly thereafter, bringing football member Stony Brook into the all-sports league and also poaching Campbell, Hampton, Monmouth, and North Carolina A&T for both sides of the league to expand its football membership to 13 effective in 2022 and 15 in 2023.
Although the athletic Ivy League considers 1954 as its founding date, the member schools had agreed on common policies and scheduling in football in 1945,note and it claims the history of the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League, founded in 1901. Historically, it was the powerhouse of college football (with Princeton, Yale, and Harvard being especially good and Harvard-Yale serving as the Ur-Example of rivalry games)note , but the schools' collective decision to emphasize academics over athletics in the post-World War II era has made this a relic of the past. The league remained classified as a major conference until the NCAA's 1982 re-realignment of D-I. Yale actually met the attendance requirement to remain in I-A, but voluntarily reclassified to keep the league intact.
One artifact of the Ivy's former glory is that they have some of the oldest and largest stadiums in the FCS. Only Columbia and Dartmouth have stadiums that seat less than 20,000, with the Yale Bowl (at just over 61,000 seats) being the largest on-campus stadium outside of the FBS. Penn's Franklin Field (built in 1895) and Harvard Stadium (built in 1903) were among the first large college stadiums (the former having also served for many years as the NFL Eagles' stadium), and the Yale Bowl (built in 1914) is where the term "bowl" originated in its football sense. Only Columbia's Wien Stadium and Princeton Stadium were built after 1925, respectively opening in 1984 and 1998.
While it has an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs, the Ivy League chooses not to participate, citing academic concerns. Its members also limit themselves to 10 games each season instead of the 11 (or 12 in some years) allowed for FCS members. Most notably, the Ivies do not allow athletic scholarships, though student-athletes are eligible for the same financial assistance based on need as the rest of the student body (which, at schools that charge upwards of $50,000 in tuition, is usually necessary). Some outside observers feel that financial aid to athletes amounts to scholarships under a different name.
Formed in 1970, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) is a conference of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Like the MAC and Sun Belt in FBS, its colleges are often scheduled as easy wins. Savannah State, in particular, was criticized for regularly agreeing to play in vastly one-sided games against powerhouse schools, where they inevitably lost by over 70 or 80 points before dropping back to D-II in 2019. Due to a distinct lack of success in the FCS playoffs (no national championshipsnote and just 5 playoff wins total), it decided in 2015 to not participate in the playoffsnote (for the second time in the FCS era), opting instead for the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, pairing its champion and the SWAC (below) champion (the MEAC and SWAC champs had previously squared off in the Heritage Bowl from 1991-99). On a happier note, the MEAC was involved in the biggest point-spread upset in NCAA football history in 2017, when Howard won at UNLV as a 45-point underdog.
Two full MEAC members, Coppin State and Maryland Eastern Shore, don't play football. Since 2017, five football schools have left the conferenceHampton for the Big South in 2018; Savannah State for D-II in 2019; and three schools in 2021, with BethuneCookman and Florida A&M leaving for the SWAC and North Carolina A&T for the Big South. Needless to say, these moves raised serious questions about the future of MEAC football. The league has reportedly had talks with at least two possible D-II upgraders; watch this space.
Arriving schools: Murray State (2023)
One of two football-only leagues in FCS, the Missouri Valley Football Conference (or MVFC) has a history that is, to say the least, a Continuity Snarl. While the MVFC claims 1985 as its founding date, its history can be traced through two branches dating back as far as 1907, and involves four other conferencesone being the now non-football Missouri Valley Conference (note the missing word!) and another being a women's sports league. Nonetheless, it's at or near the top of the FCS pecking order, and its top teams are often competitive with the bottom half or so of FBS (with one in particular standing out; see below). North Dakota became the newest MVFC member in 2020, reuniting the Fighting Hawks with most of their traditional football rivals.
Though the MVFC and MVC are separate entities, they share a very close relationship. The two leagues have five members in common* , and along with the Pioneer Football League (see below), which includes two other MVC members* , operate out of the same office complex in St. Louis. The four Dakotas schools are members of the now non-football Summit League, another one of the precursor leagues alluded to in the previous paragraph. Murray State, which joined the MVC in 2022, is playing the 2022 season in its previous all-sports home of the Ohio Valley Conference before joining the MVFC in 2023.
The MVFC is home to the other four FCS schools that play in domes, namely Northern Iowa (the UNI-Dome, pronounced "uni-dome"), North Dakota (the Alerus Center), North Dakota State (the Fargodome) and South Dakota (the DakotaDome). South Dakota has a similar stadium setup to that of ACC member Boston College; USD's domed stadium and basketball arena are physically attached, and some luxury boxes allow their occupants a full view of events at each venue.
North Dakota State Bison
School Established: 1890note
Conference Affiliations: Ind. (1894-1921),note NCC (1922-2003),note Great West (2004-07), MVFC (2008-)
Overall Win Record: 75437234 (.665) note
Bowl Record: 5-1 (.833)
Playoff Record: 35-13 (.729) in D-II; 373 (.925) in FCS
Colors: Green and yellow
Stadium: Fargodome (19,000 capacity)
Current Head Coach: Matt Entz
Notable Historic Coaches: Gil Dobie
Notable Historic Players: Gus Bradley, Carson Wentz
National Championships: 17 (8 D-II - 1965, 1968-69, 1983, 1985-86, 1988, 1990; 9 FCS - 201115, 201719, 2021)
Conference Championships: 37 (26 NCC - 1925, 1932, 1935, 1964-70, 1972-74, 1976-77, 1981-86, 1988, 1990-92, 1994; 1 Great West - 2006; 10 MVFC - 2011-19, 2021)
North Dakota State University is one of the most decorated programs in college sports, having been very strong in the second tier of college football since the 1960s and utterly dominant since the 2010s. From 2011-19, the Bison won eight FCS titles, the same number of games they lost in that time span. In that era, NDSU produced two Top 5-drafted QBs (Carson Wentz and Trey Lance), went 6-for-6 against FBS teams (including one over ranked Iowa in 2016), and had an FCS-record 39-game winning streak that wasn't snapped until spring 2021. That performance resulted in the program being ranked at one point as high as #27 in the country, higher than any non-FBS team.
While fans and observers have speculated for years whether the school would be able to make the jump to the FBS and continue to compete at a high level, NDSU has refrained from doing so, mainly for financial reasons. Its tiny and remote home marketnote presents a tremendous obstacle for making money as it is, and the added travel, scholarship, and facilities cost of the FBS could bankrupt the school (especially if the team's performance ever plateaued). Instead, the program seems mostly content to continue to dominate its local competition and let its win record serve as its main recruiting tool.
Formed in 1981, the Northeast Conference (or NEC) did not sponsor football until 1996. It is in the lower tier of FCS, largely because it restricts football scholarships to a shade over two-thirds of the FCS maximum (45 instead of 63). As of the 2022 season, two of the NEC's 9 full members don't play football: Fairleigh Dickinsonnote and the aforementioned St. Francis Brooklyn. Until fairly recently, those ranks included two other schools: LIU Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary's. First, Long Island University merged the Brooklyn athletic program with the D-II LIU Post program (which did play football) into a single D-I LIU program effective in 201920. The football team that played as the LIU Post Pioneers in 2018 accordingly became the LIU Sharks. As for Mount St. Mary's, it left the NEC in 2022 for another non-football league, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Merrimack joined the conference in all sports from D-II in 2019. As per the rules for transitioning between the divisions, they are ineligible for the playoffs until completing their transition in 2023. While technically an NEC football member, they didn't play a full NEC schedule in their first D-I season. Now that they're playing a full NEC schedule, they're eligible for a conference title, but not the playoffs. However, the NEC lost full member Bryant in 2022 to the non-football America East Conference, with Bryant football joining the Big South (and thus likely becoming a part of the new Big SouthOVC football combo in 2023), as well the aforementioned Mount St. Mary's. The conference replaced Bryant with another D-II upgrader in Stonehill, which started its own D-I transition upon joining in 2022.
Departing schools: Murray State (2023)
Founded in 1948, the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) was once a I-AA power but is now in the middle of FCS, though Jacksonville State (the one in Alabama) made the 2015 FCS title game as an OVC member. They are popular among southern schools seeking an easy win. Tennessee State was the only Division I HBCU school not in either the MEAC or SWAC, before Hampton and North Carolina A&T decided to leave the MEAC. TSU will also make history in 2023 as Notre Dame's first-ever FCS opponent.
One full OVC member, Morehead State, plays football in the Pioneer League. Three other full members don't play football at all, namely Little Rock, SIU Edwardsville, and Southern Indiana.
The OVC has gone through significant churn in the current decade. Founding OVC member Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State left in 2021 for the ASUN Conference, playing the 2021 season as de facto members of the new WAC football league before the ASUN started its own league in 2022. In July 2022, another founding member, Murray State, left for the Missouri Valley Conference (not to be confused with the MVFC above), with non-football member Belmont joining them in this move, and Austin Peay left for the ASUN. Murray State, however, did keep football in the OVC for the 2022 season while it sought to join the MVFC, eventually being accepted into that league for 2023.
Three new members arrived in 2022, although only one of them plays football. Little Rock, a non-football Sun Belt member for over 30 years, saw the writing on the wall with the SBC's coming football expansion and moved to the OVC. Two D-II upgraders, football-sponsoring Lindenwood (out of the St. Louis area) and non-football Southern Indiana, also arrived. While all this was going on, the OVC and the Southland Conference, another league that experienced major membership losses, announced a football scheduling alliance for 2022 and 2023... but then the OVC and Big South announced they would merge their football leagues in 2023. (The OVCSLC alliance will apparently remain in place, since it only called for each SLC team to play a couple of OVC teams per season.)
Founded in 1986 as the football-only Colonial League, it became the Patriot League in 1990 when it added other sports. Basically an "Ivy League Lite"its members are relatively smallnote , academically strong schools, though not quite at the Ivy level. The league was actually founded to give the Ivies a chance to fill out their football schedules with schools that shared their academic focus. The conference did not allow athletic scholarships at all until permitting them for basketball in 1996. Scholarships were extended to all non-football sports in 2001, but football scholarships were not allowed until 2013note , and Georgetown still doesn't award football scholarships. Unlike the Ivies, the Patriot League participates in the FCS postseason. The league has only reached the championship game once: Colgate in 2003. They lost 400 to Delaware.note It's also home to the most-played and longest continuous rivalry in all of college football, namely LafayetteLehigh. The Leopards and Mountain Hawks have played 157 times through the (fall) 2021 season, and have played at least once in each season since 1897.note
Five more schools are full members but don't play Patriot League football. Army and Navy play in the FBS, while American University (dropped football in 1941), Boston Universitynote (dropped it in 1997) and Loyola University Maryland (dropped it in 1933) no longer field football teams.
The Pioneer Football League (PFL) is the other football-only league in FCS. It began in 1993 and exists entirely because of a 1991 NCAA rule change. Before then, some schools that were D-I for the majority of their sports were allowed to play football in D-II or III. Typically this route was chosen by smaller schools or schools whose athletic focus was outside of football (typically basketball). D-III was an especially attractive football option, since a school didn't need to spend money on football scholarships, but this immediately opened up the possibility of some Loophole Abuse: schools could recruit a player for football, then award him a scholarship in another sport. Dayton, a school with a deep basketball tradition, competed in D-III football and became a powerhouse at that level, making five D-III championship games from 1980-91 and winning two of them (1980, 1989). The 1987 D-III championship game paired two D-I schools playing in D-III, Dayton and Wagner (Wagner won 19-3). The perception that slumming big boys were dominating D-III football (and accusations about the scholarship issue mentioned above, which the schools denied was happening) angered the D-III schools, and they got the NCAA to require all D-I members to conduct all sports at their own level by 1993 (this is usually called "the Dayton rule"). Many schools forced up to D-I in 1993 wanted to keep running their program the same as they had in D-II or D-III, without additional scholarship expenses, so they banded together to form the league.note All Pioneer members are small private schools except Morehead State, a small public school that elected to de-emphasize football. We're not kidding about the "small" part. The largest school, St. Thomas, has barely over 10,000 total students, with only a little more than 6,000 being undergraduates; most have undergraduate enrollments less than 5,000, and the PFL is home to the smallest D-I school (including the non-football schools!) in Presbyterian, with barely over 1,000 undergrads. As noted in the MVFC folder, the PFL operates out of the same St. Louis office complex that also hosts the MVFC and the non-football Missouri Valley Conference.
The latest arrivals came in 2021, specifically the aforementioned Presbyterian and St. Thomas of Minnesota. Presbyterian effectively replaced Jacksonville (FL), which dropped football after 2019. While technically independent in 202021, the Blue Hose nonetheless played a full Pioneer League slate that spring; they weren't eligible for the league title but were eligible for individual awards. As for St. Thomas, the Twin Cities school was involuntarily kicked out of its D-III league for being too strong in multiple sports, and soon got an invite from the D-I non-football Summit League. With the Summit's backing, St. Thomas successfully obtained a waiver of an NCAA rule that would have effectively barred them from a direct move to D-I. The Tommies joined the Pioneer League for football, going through the same four-year transition process used for moves from D-II.note
Founded in 1921, the Southern Conference (or simply SoCon) is probably most notable for having spawned two of the current FBS power conferences, the SEC and ACC. The conference remained at the major college level until 1982, when all of its schools were relegated to I-AA by the NCAA. For many years, it was at the very top of the FCS ladder, but conference realignment took a major toll, with three members leaving in 2014. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, with nine FCS championships between them, left for FBS and the Sun Belt; Elon stayed in FCS but left for the CAA. At the same time, Mercer and VMI (the latter a former member) joined for all sports including football, while East Tennessee State (also a former member) rejoined for non-football sports. ETSU resurrected its dormant football program in 2015, playing that season as an FCS independent before joining SoCon football in 2016. Of note, Appalachian State made history in 2007 when they upset a #5-ranked Michigan and became the first non-transitionalnote FCS team to defeat a ranked FBS team. The SoCon has only one non-football member, UNC Greensboro.
Founded in 1963, the Southland Conference (sometimes SLC) was a strong lower level conference in its early years (then-league member Louisiana Tech won the initial NCAA D-II championship in 1973), before moving to the major college level in 1975. The Independence Bowl began in 1976 as a postseason home for the Southland's champion. In 1982, the league moved to I-AA after most of its members failed to meet the requirements for I-A membership (McNeese did meet the requirements but voluntarily reclassified with the rest of the conference). Long considered one of the top FCS leagues, five schools left following the spring 2021 season. One of the departing schools, Sam Houston, won the FCS title on its way out. Another one of the departing schools, Lamar, decided that its destination of the WAC wasn't as good of a fit as it thought; it originally planned to return to the SLC in 2023, but wound up returning for 2022.
The SLC has two full non-football members in New Orleans and Texas A&MCorpus Christi. It added D-II upgrader Texas A&MCommerce in 2022, and its football future was further secured when Incarnate Word, which had announced a move to the Western Athletic Conference and its newly reestablished football league for 2022, backed out of that move and stayed in the SLC. As noted above, the SLC and OVC entered into a scheduling partnership, though it didn't keep the OVC from announcing its plans to merge its football league with that of the Big South. The SLC has announced that it plans to adopt a new name in the near future.
The oldest FCS conference, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (or SWAC) was founded in 1920. Like the MEAC, it consists entirely of HBCUs. It's used an EastWest divisional setup since 1999, with the divisional winners playing in a championship game. It has a longer-standing policy of not sending its champion to the FCS playoffs than its HBCU sister conference, effectively giving it up in The '90s, though, as with the MEAC, a non-champion is still eligible for an at-large bid (and Florida A&M received one in 2021). There are three reasons why the SWAC rejects an automatic bid: three conference schools have tradition-steeped (and lucrative) rivalry games on Thanksgiving weekend that conflict with the first round of the playoffs* ; the SWAC championship game and the Celebration Bowl are big moneymakers; and the SWAC is winless in 20 playoff games (Florida A&M's playoff wins predate their conference membership).
As noted above, BethuneCookman and Florida A&M joined in July 2021. Both were placed in the East Division, with Alcorn State switching to the West.* Florida A&M is the only HBCU to win an FCS national championship (the initial 1978 I-AA title).
Departing schools: Sam Houston (2023)
Arriving schools: UTRGV (non-football WAC member likely to add football in 2025)
Started in 1962 by six schools in the intermountain West, the Western Athletic Conference (or WAC) flourished as a major conference until an ill-advised expansion in 1996 started two decades of turmoil. Eight schools left in 1999 to form the Mountain West Conference, and further instability eventually saw the WAC lose all but two of its football schools during the early-2010s realignment cycle, leading the conference to drop football after the 2012 season. The 2020 arrivals of Tarleton and Utah Tech (then Dixie State), both D-II upgraders with football, led to speculation that the WAC would eventually reinstate football at the FCS level. That speculation proved true in January 2021, when the league announced that five FCS schools would join the league as all-sports members in 2022 (four Southland members out of Texas and one from the Big Sky), at which time WAC football would return. When the Southland responded by kicking out its departing members (the so-called "Texas Four"), the WAC in turn brought the arrival of those schools, as well as the return of football, forward to 2021. They solved the numbers problem for playoff qualification by bringing incoming ASUN members Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State in as football members, originally intended for that season only, in what was officially called the "ASUNWAC (or WACASUN) Challenge". However, they only got their automatic bid after successfully lobbying the NCAA for a rules change that accommodated the new alliance. With Sam Houston starting an FBS transition in 2022 ahead of its 2023 departure for Conference USA, dropping the WAC to 5 playoff-eligible schools, the WAC and ASUN renewed that alliance for 2022. The WAC's playoff-eligible lineup dropped to 4 when Incarnate Word, which had planned to join from the SLC, backed out of that move and stayed put, and then to 3 when Lamar pushed its planned 2023 return to the SLC forward to 2022.
The WAC was widely rumored to be planning a return to FBS by 2030, but that became less likely when New Mexico State, an FBS independent that's otherwise a full WAC member, and Sam Houston, which had been rumored for years to be planning an FBS move, announced their departure for C-USA. One of the Texas Four, Lamar, ended up spending only one year in the WAC before returning to the SLC in 2022.
The WAC currently has five non-football members in California Baptist, Grand Canyon, Seattle, UTRGV* and Utah Valley. While Chicago State left the WAC in 2022, the conference welcomed two schools at that time. Southern Utah is a full member with football, while UT Arlington (which had been in the WAC for one year in the 2010s) returned as a non-football member. UTRGV initially announced it would start an FCS football program no later than 2024, but has apparently put that off to 2025. As noted above, New Mexico State currently plays as an FBS independent but will move to C-USA in 2023.