College Football Capitals: 2010's Best Teams In All 50 States
It's been an awfully long time since I took a social studies class.
Anyone else remember being quizzed on state capitals? Anyone else remember failing miserably?
Suffice it to say, the memory has only eroded with time, and if you're telling me that Chicago isn't the capital city of Illinois, well that's just ridiculous.
To simply matters for all of us geographically challenged sports fans, let's just put civics in a college football context. Because we all know dang well that Knoxville is the capital of Tennessee seven Saturdays every fall. Who knows who runs that state the other 358 days of the year.
I know it ain't Lane Kiffin.
So let's endeavor to pinpoint 2010's top college football program in each of our 50 glorious states, in alphabetical order, so as not to ruffle any feathers.
Actual Capital: Montgomery
The Best: Alabama
The Rest: UAB, Auburn, Troy
If only they could all be this straightforward. Defending national champions, defending Heisman Trophy winner. That was easy.
Actual Capital: Juneau
The Best: Bartlett Golden Bears
The Rest: Chugiak Mustangs
Apparently, this was the large-school high school championship matchup in 2009. Who knew.
*Image courtesy: tripadvisor.com
Actual Capital: Phoenix
The Best: Arizona
The Rest: Arizona State
That Nebraska bowl debacle would be a reason to hesitate were there any in-state competition.
But the air-ground attack of Nick Foles and Nic Grigsby plus a home-friendly schedule for the Wildcats are more than enough to tip the scales in U of A’s favor.
Actual Capital: Little Rock
The Best: Arkansas
The Rest: Arkansas State... and Harding (D-II favorite of mine)
Well, I guess it’s unanimous, then.
Actual Capital: Sacramento
The Best: Stanford
The Rest: Cal, Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State, USC, UCLA
With Pete Carroll’s departure, (and based on their head-to-head history, maybe even before it) the Cardinal now has the best head coach in the Pac-10.
With Jeremiah Masoli suspended, the Cardinal now has the best quarterback in the conference.
And with Toby Gerhart gone, the Cardinal also has the biggest void to fill in the western time zone.
Because of the latter, and in spite of the two former, I like Stanford by a hair over Cal—knowing the Bears have owned the series of late—and a completely unpredictable Lane Kiffin-led USC.
Actual Capital: Denver
The Best: Air Force
The Rest: Colorado, Colorado State.
Definitely not the Rams, coming off a nine-loss season and a last place finish in the Mountain West.
With the Big 12 in transition and Dan Hawkin’s back against the wall, the Buffaloes might enjoy a slight uptick.
But nearly the entire skill package is back in tact at Air Force, and the Falcons are still the class of Colorado.
Actual Capital: Hartford
The Best: Connecticut
The Rest: ESPN’s Flag Football Team
If coaches were stocks, I’d buy Randy Edsall. And with 17 returning starters, including leading rusher Jordan Todmann, the Huskies are not a bad pick to win the Big East.
Actual Capital: Dover
The Best: Fightin' Blue Hens
The Rest: No Applicants
*Image courtesy: udel.edu
Actual Capital: Tallahassee
The Best: Florida
The Rest: FAU, FIU, FSU, Miami, UCF, USF
Could be the year Miami breaks through. Florida State landed a huge recruiting class and returns the ACC’s biggest arm. USF already had a reputation for knocking off some big name teams, and now the Bulls land an upset-minded coach in Skip Holtz.
All that to say, the Sunshine State is still Gators country until proven otherwise.
John Brantley sets a spring game record for completion percentage and Urban Meyer has Trey Burton at his disposal as well? That’s an embarrassment of riches.
Actual Capital: Atlanta
The Best: Georgia
The Rest: Georgia Tech
The Bulldogs return too many, and the Yellow Jackets sent too many to the NFL Draft.
Plus, despite a disappointing 2009 campaign, Georgia still flexed state supremacy in the head-to-head meeting between these two last fall.
Actual Capital: Honolulu
The Best: Hawaii
The Rest: None
Not sure what kind of returning roster Punahou High School has coming back in 2010, but a year ago, they might have given the Warriors a run for their money. They also boast a rather famous alum.
Actual Capital: Boise
The Best: Boise State
The Rest: Idaho
It’s really not a fair fight for the Vandals. Idaho is coming off its best season in more than a decade, was the second most-improved college football team of 2009, and it’s still not enough.
Boise Blue is the state color as the Broncos make a run for the BCS Championship.
And they’ll host the Vandals on November 12 in prime time.
Actual Capital: Springfield
The Best: Northwestern
The Rest: Illinois, Northern Illinois
It’s surprising that Pat Fitzgerald wasn’t a more popular horse in the off-season coaching carousel.
Or maybe behind the scenes, he was. He just likes what he’s building at Northwestern more.
Either way, he’s won two straight over Ron Zook and the crew from down I-57, and gets a home game against the Illini late in 2010.
Actual Capital: Indianapolis
The Best: Notre Dame
The Rest: Purdue, Indiana, Ball State
There are question marks all over the Hoosier state, so this very well may prove to be the most controversial pick in the Union. However, there’s no disputing the fact that the Irish boast the most talented roster in Indiana. Add a head coach with actual head coaching experience, an ever-so-manageable schedule, and the natural progression is a first-year bump as the Brian Kelly era gets underway.
The X-factor here is Robert Marve. If the Miami-turned-Purdue quarterback proves more game-ready than Notre Dame’s Dayne Crist, this opinion could be revised following the opener in South Bend. Purdue is just too thin and too injury depleted to make that prediction.
Actual Capital: Des Moines
The Best: Iowa
The Rest: Iowa State
I certainly appreciate what first-year head coach Paul Rhodes and quarterback Austen Arnaud were able to accomplish in 2009.
Sure, I had to shield my eyes to avoid being traumatized by that Insight Bowl grinder against Minnesota, but hey, 7-6 is 7-6.
All that to say, the Hawkeye State is still just that. Kirk Ferentz has a legitimate national championship contender on his hands, and the Cyclones will still be cast in the role of spoiler when these rivals collide at Kinnick on September 11.
Actual Capital: Topeka
The Best: Kansas State
The Rest: Kansas
The Wildcats caught fire midway through the 2009 campaign, then stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their final four.
The Jayhawks turned into a grease fire, and absolutely imploded, dropping seven straight before firing Mark Mangino.
Neither option is very compelling, but at least we know what Bill Snyder is capable of. Turner Gill has yet to prove it.
Actual Capital: Frankfort
The Best: Kentucky
The Rest: Louisville, W. Kentucky
We’re really scraping the barrel here, as both teams will enter 2010 projected to finish at-or-near the bottom of their conferences, with new head coaches at the helm.
In Charlie Strong, I think Louisville made the better hire. However, Joker Phillips appears to have slightly more to work with in the immediate timeframe, and more continuity in his program, despite significant losses on defense. He also has four-times as many Twitter followers…
When in doubt, go with the SEC.
Actual Capital: Baton Rouge
The Best: LSU
The Rest: LA-Monroe, LA-Lafayette, Tulane
LSU is not the imposing state presence it has been in years past, but the Bayou Bengals are still the preeminent beast in this jungle.
Defense will always be there. The running game is expected to be back in Baton Rouge. But after spring practice, Les Miles still doesn’t know what to expect from Jordan Jefferson, and of course, no one knows what to expect from the Mad Hatter.
Actual Capital: Augusta
The Best: Maine
The Rest: Really, Maine doesn’t even qualify
The Black Bears do have a win over a FBS opponent, taking down Mississippi State in 2004. We’ll have to remember that when we get to Mississippi in a few slides…
Actual Capital: Annapolis
The Best: Navy
The Rest: Maryland
Don’t laugh: Navy is a fringe Top 25 team.
Coming off a 10-4 season and a dismantling of Missouri in the Texas Bowl, the Midshipmen have a stud at quarterback in Ricky Dobbs, and head coach Ken Niumatalolo is every bit as good as his predecessor, Paul Johnson—maybe better.
Actual Capital: Boston
The Best: Boston College
The Rest: New England Patriots Practice Squad
Happy birthday to Dave Shinskie!
The Eagles sophomore—yes, sophomore (he played baseball for a few years)—quarterback turns 26 on Tuesday.
Dave figures to have more competition in his second season in the ACC than he did in this in-state evaluation.
Actual Capital: Lansing
The Best: Michigan State
The Rest: Michigan, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan
First, what’s the deal with Southern Michigan? The Timberwolves need to get it in gear and join D-I college football to complete this compass rose, already!
I know the Wolverines will scream, but in my mind, this is an easy call—so long as the Spartans suspensions don’t deplete the roster.
Michigan State knows who’s its quarterback will be—Kirk Cousins. I keep waiting for reigning co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones to run out of eligibility. It never happens. So on both sides of the ball, MSU is ahead of the rival Wolverines.
Actual Capital: St. Paul
The Best: Minnesota
The Rest: Joe Mauer’s flag football team
Nine starters lost on defense, a new offensive coordinator for Adam Weber to adjust to, plus Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State all on the conference schedule.
Oh wait, looks like some team named “USC” is on there, too.
Don’t expect the Golden Gophers to be back bowling this postseason—unless the “New Era Pinstripe Bowl” and “Dallas Football Classic” create room for a 5-7 team.
Actual Capital: Jackson
The Best: Ole Miss
The Rest: Mississippi State, Southern Miss
Martevious Young is back in Hattiesburg. So is his favorite target, DeAndre Brown.
I’m almost be willing to say, Southern Miss. That is, if taking a CUSA team over two SECs wouldn’t cost me all college football credibility.
Flip a coin when it comes to the instate rivals from Oxford and Starksville. Having seen the Rebels defense up close and personal at January’s Cotton Bowl, I’m more inclined to lean on the bulk of Jerrell Powe and the speed of Kentrell Lockett along that Ole Miss line.
Actual Capital: Jefferson City
The Best: Missouri
The Rest: None
I’m one game location away from picking Missouri to win the Big 12 North. The fact that the Tigers have to travel to Lincoln the night before Halloween is the difference.
Missouri’s scheduling draw from the South doesn’t help: home to Oklahoma and Texas A&M, at Texas Tech. But the Tigers don’t have to play Texas, and Nebraska does. So ultimately, the Big 12 scheduling imbalance should be a wash.
Blaine Gabbert and company have to love that the Huskers are the sexy pick so far. Certainly, they’re anxious to erase the memory of that 2009 monsoon.
Actual Capital: Helena
The Best: 2009 FCS Champion, Montana
The Rest: Musical interlude
Picture of Joe for comic relief, only.
Actual Capital: Lincoln
The Best: Nebraska
The Rest: There’s only one
Zac Lee, meet Wally Pip.
With the Huskers incumbent starter sidelined for the spring due to injury, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez has been all the rage.
Passing for two touchdowns in his first three drives of the spring game, you could hear all the “see-I-told-you-sos” echoing inside Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska doesn’t need much offense—only some. With his feet alone, Martinez may give the Huskers an element they sorely missed a season ago.
Actual Capital: Carson City
The Best: Nevada
The Rest: UNLV
Vai Taua. Colin Kaepernick. Better that 2,500 rushing yards coming back for season seasons.
What else needs to be said?
Actual Capital: Concord
I’ll take, “Pass” for 200, please.
*Image courtesy: visitusa.com
Actual Capital: Trenton
The Best: Rutgers
The Rest: New Jersey Recruiting
Probably have to give the nod in the Big East to the two-time defending champion Bearcats, but in a wide open 2010 conference race, Rutgers has as good a shot as any with Tom Savage throwing to a young, but gifted receiving corps, led by sophomore Mohamed Sanu.
How about the attendance at the Scarlet Knight’s spring game? A Big East best 20,114. That alone says something about the expectations in New Jersey.
Actual Capital: Santa Fe
The Best: New Mexico State
The Rest: New Mexico
I was really dreading having to decide between a three-win team and a one-win team. However, I’ll take State, because three wins are more than one, and one of those three came against New Mexico last season.
Let’s move on, shall we?
Actual Capital: Albany
The Best: Syracuse
The Rest: Army, Buffalo
Buffalo loses the coach who made the Bulls (somewhat) relevant. Syracuse loses quarterback Greg Paulus, wide receiver Mike Williams, and had to suspend running back Delone Carter.
Almost enough to take Army by default.
However, Carter will be back on campus in time for the season—barring any further run-ins—and Syracuse should have enough on the roster to dispatch the Bulls and Black Knights head to head. So a begrudging nod to Doug Marrone’s bunch.
Actual Capital: Raleigh
The Best: North Carolina
The Rest: Duke, ECU, NC State, Wake Forest
The Tar Heels have no fewer than four pros—and potentially NFL first-rounders—on defense: Robert Quinn, Bruce Carter, Marvin Austin, Deunta Williams.
Look for this group to raise some ruckus in what should be another intensely competitive ACC season.
If Butch Davis can find enough offensively, UNC could be a BCS-crasher.
Actual Capital: Bismarck
Hey, whatever happened to North Dakota State’s Ben Woodside? Remember the guy who nearly took down Kansas single-handedly in the 2009 NCAA Tournament?
Wikipedia says he currently plays for Gravelines-Dunkerque, a professional team in northern France.
That dude was good, and we don’t often get to mention North Dakota on Bleacher Report.
*Image courtesy: SportsIllustrated.com
Actual Capital: Columbus
The Best: Ohio State
The Rest: Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Kent State, Miami, Ohio, Toledo
A consensus top three pick for 2010, the question really isn’t whether the Buckeyes are the best Ohio has to offer, it’s whether they’re the best in the nation.
There isn’t much to find fault with on the roster. The head coach has been to the promised land. And Ohio State finally has the BCS monkey off its back.
So long as the Buckeyes can navigate the Big Ten, they’ll get the chance to answer the question.
Actual Capital: Oklahoma City
The Best: Oklahoma
The Rest: Oklahoma State, Tulsa
A year ago, there was certainly some debate within the Bedlam State.
In 2010, the status quo has been restored. The Sooners grunted out a Sun Bowl win over Stanford, while the Cowboys left the Cotton Bowl with their pistols bent out of shape.
So much attention was devoted to all the OU talent taken off the board early in the NFL Draft. Truth of the matter is, the Sooners are much-better equipped to replace Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams and Jermaine Gresham than Oklahoma State is to fill the void left behind by Russell Okung, Dez Bryant and Zac Robinson.
Actual Capital: Salem
The Best: Oregon
The Rest: Oregon State
The suspension of Jeremiah Masoli certainly threw Oregon off balance, but it isn’t enough to tip the balance in the Pacific Northwest.
The Fightin’ Nikes are still Top Ducks, coming off back-to-back wins in the series, both over ranked Oregon State teams.
The Beavers have issues of their own at quarterback. Ryan Katz is unproven and produced mix results in the spring game (9-of-20, a touchdown and an interception). He’ll be thrown into the fire early, thanks to a murderous non-conference schedule that starts with a home date against TCU and includes a road trip to Boise State.
Actual Capital: Harrisburg
The Best: Penn State
The Rest: Temple, Pittsburgh
This is actually not as obvious as it normally would be.
Temple has 17 starters returning from a 9-3 team, so the Owls are definitely going bowling again this Christmas.
But not even Santa Clause could deliver a win in Happy Valley.
Dion Lewis and Pitt are also a good bet in the Big East.
Actual Capital: Providence
Rhode Island wants to lift the Federal ban on sports betting, so at least the folks are interested in college football.
Actual Capital: Columbia
The Best: South Carolina
The Rest: Clemson
This amounts to a quarterback coin flip.
Who’s ready to take the bigger step forward: Stephen Garcia or Kyle Parker?
The Gamecocks signal called was effectively dressed down by his head coach recently. May have just been a motivational tactic, or it could be a serious sign of distress in Columbia.
Kyle Parker is dominating the diamond for the Clemson baseball team this spring. It remains to be seen whether he’ll have a similar statistical spike in the fall, especially without C.J. Spiller in town.
Actual Capital: Pierre
Included for geographical continuity purposes only. What team do South Dakotans root for, anyways?
Actual Capital: Nashville
The Best: Tennessee
The Rest: Memphis, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee St.
It’s a good thing Memphis and Vandy are both rebuilding, too, or this could have been the most embarrassing demotion for Tennessee yet.
Actual Capital: Austin
The Best: Texas
The Rest: Baylor, Houston, North Texas, Rice, SMU, Texas A&M, TCU, UTEP, Texas Tech
The Longhorns are a clear No. 1, but Texas is just as clearly the most competitive state in college football—both in terms of quantity and quality.
Of the nine challengers to the throne, at least three have a legitimate chance against the ‘Horns this season (or would, if given the chance): Texas A&M, TCU and Texas Tech—especially since it’s in Lubbock.
Baylor and Houston? Eh, who knows?
Actual Capital: Salt Lake City
The Best: Utah
The Rest: BYU, Utah State
Supremacy will probably be cyclical in the state of Utah for the foreseeable future, especially if the current coaching regimes remain intact.
Under Kyle Wittingham and Bronco Mendenhall, respectively, the Utes and Cougars are legitimate college football powerhouses and two of the driving forces behind the Mountain West’s bid for BCS inclusion.
Dennis Pitta and Max Hall’s departure combined with the uncertain status of Harvey Unga tilts 2010 in favor of Utah.
Actual Capital: Montpelier
I bet the Flying Tomato would make a mean special teams player.
Actual Capital: Richmond
The Best: VaTech
The Rest: UVA
Tops in the conference with one of the most established coaches in the game versus ACC basement and first-year head coach Mike London.
You make the call.
Actual Capital: Olympia
The Best: Washington
The Rest: Washington State
In hindsight, Jake Locker looks smarter than any of us gave him credit for.
2010 was a horrible Draft year for anyone not named Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow, so things may just play out in Locker’s favor.
As for Washington State, if they don’t win more than two games this season, we’re demoting the Cougars to FCS.
Actual Capital: Charleston
The Best: West Virginia
The Rest: Marshall
The Mountaineers have more returning starters than any other Big East foe, and a legit Heisman contender in Noel Devine.
A road trip to LSU stands as one of 2010’s best intersectional contests, and the conference will likely hinge on the Back Yard Brawl, as has recently been the case in the Big East.
Have to put West Virginia’s chances on par with all of the top contenders.
Actual Capital: Madison
The Best: Wisconsin
The Rest: No Challengers
John Clay is the best running back that no one talks about.
Returning for his junior season as the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, most of the country still probably couldn’t tell him apart from P.J. Hill or Ron Dayne if they were in the same room wearing Wisconsin gear.
Kind of the same story about the Badgers on the whole.
Scott Tolzien isn’t a name Mel Kiper’s familiar with, yet he wins games—albeit, mostly by turning and handing the ball to Clay.
And while the Big Ten buzzes about Ohio State and Iowa’s BCS title hopes, Wisconsin has the pieces to take the money and run.
Actual Capital: Cheyenne
The Best: Wyoming
The Rest: To wrap this up, here's an updated, preseason national Top 10 for 2010.
2) Ohio State
4) Virginia Tech
5) Boise State