If you’re following American sports, then you might have heard about College Football (CFB), which is a category of American football consisting of teams of college athletes, typically from universities, colleges, or academies. Although this is considered the second tier of football (behind NFL Pro Football), it still sparks plenty of interest and entertainment across the country.
Therefore, you can imagine the popularity of college football, and this is why thousands of athletes are given scholarships to play for college teams while also being able to complete their studies. The highest level of college football is known as the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), which features some of the top schools and colleges.
Whether you are a football enthusiast or a high school athlete who is looking to progress to the next level, this guide is designed to familiarize you with all the knowledge you need regarding college football. So, let’s dive in and see what the fuss is all about!
What does FBS stand for?
FBS is the abbreviation for Football Bowl Subdivision, which is commonly known as NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision. It is considered to be the highest level of college football and features schools that are in the top positions in the National College Athletic Association (NCAA). Currently, there are 10 conferences and 130 FBS schools that actively participate in the FBS football season.
Collegiate football is massively popular in the United States and is also considered one of the largest spectator sports. You can gauge the popularity of the FBS football teams from the fact that they rake in millions of dollars through match tickets and merchandise. Moreover, FBS football games are held in the largest American stadiums, all of which are filled to capacity.
The FBS was established in 1978 and prior to this, college football teams used to play according to the normal NCAA playoff format. Instead of a knockout tournament to decide the champion, teams are ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, which determines the playoff format. College teams are ranked according to recommendations by college committees as well as media analysts throughout the year.
At the end of the year, when the AP Top 25 is finalized, the top four teams are entered into the National Championship Bowl. The final game, called the National Championship game, is what determines the national champion. The other top teams in the rankings determined by the media analysts are eligible to compete in other bowls across the US, some of which are the Peach Bowl and the Rose Bowl. This makes it the only NCAA sport where the national champion isn’t determined through an endorsed championship event.
The 10 conferences of the FBS also feature what is known as the Big 5 conferences, and these include the PAC-12, Big 10, Big 12, Athletic Conference, and SEC. The FBS gains more prominence mainly because high-performing and talented high school prospects are recruited with lucrative scholarships. A total of 85 scholarships can be awarded by FBS programs, which is higher compared to FCS schools.
Now, you must be wondering what FCS schools are, and we are going to discuss them in the next section.
What is the Difference Between FBS and FCS Schools?
By now, you know that FBS schools refer to colleges that play in the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision, which is the highest tier of college football. Apart from it, you also have FCS schools, which refer to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision Independent Schools. These are four-year institutions in the US, and their football programs aren’t a part of the same football conferences as FBS schools. Therefore, they are independent of conference matches and don’t have to follow a schedule.
The Football Champion Subdivision comprises 14 conferences, some of which include the Ivy League, Patriot League, Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), and the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). The FCS playoffs feature 24 teams, which are determined by the FCS Playoff Selection Committee. The teams compete with each other according to a traditional playoff bracket.
As compared to FBS, FCS schools are less popular and commercial since they fail to attract the best high-school prospects, which usually go to FBS programs. Moreover, they offer fewer scholarships compared to the former.
In one way, FBS and FCS are similar because they involve teams at the Division I level. Although there is quite a lot of diversity in the talent between the two subdivisions, both of them play at a competitive level, and they abide by the rules of the NCAA. Moreover, both of them have produced fantastic players for the NFL.
How Many Division I College Football Teams are There?
The NCAA Division I level features the best FBS programs in the US, and they are categorized into FBS and FCS. In both subdivisions, college athletes have quite a hectic schedule, particularly with their academics.
There are a total of 129 Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, as well as 125 Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision teams. There are a total of 14 conferences in the FCS, whereas FBS has 11 different conferences. This means that there are a total of 254 Division 1 football teams. Apart from the first division or D1, you also have the D2 and D3, which are the lower tiers of collegiate football.
In totality, there are almost 900 schools that have FBS programs, which means that high school football players have a lot of options to choose from. They can easily decide which football program suits them, and they can also understand the differences between the divisions. Plus, it will also become easier for parents to choose a suitable college for their child, according to the athletic and academic features that it offers.
What are the Different Conferences in FBS?
The number of conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision continues to change from time to time. First came the Big Ten, which was known as the Western Conference back in 1896. Following this, various schools also formed different conferences. This led to the creation of the Southern Conference, Southwest Conference, Pacific Coast Conference, Mountain States Conference, Border Conference, and the MVIAA.
In 1928, six teams left the MVIAA and formed their own conference, called the Big Six. By the 1950s, it was expanded to the Big Eight, while the other schools formed the Missouri Valley Conference. In 1932, some of the Southern schools broke away from the Southern Conference and formed the Southeastern Conference, and several other schools also broke away from the conference to form the American Athletic Conference. Some Midwestern schools also followed suit and formed the Mid-American Conference in 1946.
In the earlier years, the elite Northeastern schools formed the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League, and its members signed an agreement to set up a conference for college football. This led to the creation of the Ivy League in 1954, and in 1959, the Pacific Coast Conference was dissolved. Most of its members started the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which is known as the PAC-8.
In 1962, FBS schools from the Border Conference and Mountain States Conference formed the Western Athletic Conference. Later in the 60s, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (PCAA) was formed by Division 2 schools looking for promotion to Division 1. It later became known as the Big West Conference.
In 1978, Division I was broken to form Division I-A, which was the predecessor to the FBS, and Division I-AA, which later formed the FCS.
Moving on to current times, there are a total of 10 conferences in FBS football, which include the following:
American Athletic Conference
The American Athletic Conference was founded in 1979 as the Big East Conference, and it featured the Providence Friars, St. John’s Red Storm, Georgetown Hoyas, Syracuse Orange, UConn Huskies, Boston College Eagles, and the Seton Hall Pirates. The FBS Schools of Holy Cross Crusaders and Rutgers Scarlet Knights were also invited but declined to join. Later, the Villanova Wildcats and Pittsburgh Panthers were added to the AAC. The conference has its headquarters in Irving, Texas.
Currently, the following FBS schools are part of this conference:
- University of Central Florida – UCF Knights
- University of Cincinatti – Cincinatti Bearcats
- East Carolina University – East Carolina Pirates
- University of Houston – Houston Cougars
- University of Memphis – Memphis Tigers
- University of South Florida – South Florida Bulls
- Southern Methodist University – SMU Mustangs
- Temple University – Temple Owls
- Tulane University – Tulane Green Wave
- University of Tulsa – Golden Hurricane
- Wichita State University – Wichita State Shockers
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Atlantic Coast Conference features FBS schools from the eastern US and has its headquarters in North Carolina. It is a highly popular conference and has 14 members, which are divided into the Atlantic Division and Coastal Division.
Here is the list of the members from the Atlantic Division:
- Boston College – Boston College Eagles
- Clemson University – Clemson Tigers
- Florida State University – Florida State Seminoles
- University of Louisville – Louisville Cardinals
- North Carolina State University – NC State Wolfpack
- Syracuse University – Syracuse Orange
- Wake Forest University – Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Here are the members of the Coastal Division:
- Duke University – Duke Blue Devils
- Georgia Institute of Technology – Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
- University of Miami – Miami Hurricanes
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – North Carolina Tar Heels
- University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh Panthers
- University of Virginia – Virginia Cavaliers
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Virginia Tech Hokies
Big 12 Conference
The Big 12 conference also has its headquarters in Irving, Texas, and it features ten full-member FBS schools. The Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns have decided to leave the conference, while four new members will be joining soon. Here are the members that constitute the conference and play college football:
- Baylor University – Baylor Bears
- Iowa State University – Iowa State Cyclones
- University of Kansas – Kansas Jayhawks
- Kansas State University – Kansas State Wildcats
- Oklahoma State University – Oklahoma State Cowboys
- Texas Christian University – TCU Horned Frogs
- Texas Tech University – Texas Tech Red Raiders
- West Virginia University – West Virginia Mountaineers
Here are the future members of the conference:
- Brigham Young University – BYU Cougars
- University of Central Florida – UCF Knights
- University of Cincinnati – Cincinnati Bearcats
- University of Houston – Houston Cougars
Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten Conference was formerly known as the Western Conference and the Big Nine Conference, and it is known to be the oldest D1 college athletic conference in the United States. It has its headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois. It has a total of 14 FBS schools, divided into the East and West divisions.
The East Division constitutes the following members:
- Indiana University Bloomington – Indiana Hoosiers
- University of Maryland, College Park – Maryland Terrapins
- University of Michigan – Michigan State Spartans
- Ohio State University – Ohio State Buckeyes
- Pennsylvania State University – Penn State Nittany Lions
- Rutgers University – Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The West Division features the following FBS level teams:
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign – Illinois Fighting Illini
- University of Iowa – Iowa Hawkeyes
- University of Minnesota-Twin Cities – Minnesota Golden Gophers
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln – Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Northwestern University – Northwestern Wildcats
- Purdue University – Purdue Boilermakers
- University of Wisconsin-Madison – Wisconsin Badgers
The Conference USA features teams from the Southern United States, and its offices are located in Dallas, Texas. It features a total of 14 members, many of which are departing the conference soon. These include the UAB Blazers, Florida Atlantic Owls, Marshall Thundering Herd, Charlotte 49ers, North Texas Mean Green, Old Dominion Monarchs, Rice Owls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, and UTSA Roadrunners.
Here are the remaining and future members of Conference USA:
- Florida International University – FIU Panthers
- Louisiana Tech University – Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
- Middle Tennessee State University – Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
- University of Texas at El Paso – UTEP Miners
- Western Kentucky University – Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
- Jacksonville State University – Jacksonville State Gamecocks
- Liberty University – Liberty Flames
- New Mexico State University – Aggies
- Sam Houston State University – Sam Houston Bearkats
The Mid-American Conference covers the area between Western New York and Illinois. It is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and its 12 members are divided into the East and West Divisions. The East Division includes:
- University of Akron – Akron Zips
- Bowling Green State University – Bowling Green Falcons
- University at Buffalo – Buffalo Bulls
- Kent State University – Golden Flashes
- Miami University – Miami RedHawks
- Ohio University – Ohio Bobcats
The West Division comprises:
- Ball State University – Ball State Cardinals
- Central Michigan University – Central Michigan Chippewas
- Eastern Michigan University – Eastern Michigan Eagles
- Northern Illinois University – Northern Illinois Huskies
- University of Toledo – Toledo Rockets
- Western Michigan University – Western Michigan Broncos
Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference covers the Western region of the US, and its headquarters are located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A total of 11 FBS teams play in this conference, which includes:
- United States Air Force Academy – Air Force Falcons
- Boise State University – Boise State Broncos
- California State University, Fresno – Fresno State Bulldogs
- Colorado State University – Colorado State Rams
- University of Nevada, Reno – Nevada Wolf Pack
- University of New Mexico – New Mexico Lobos
- San Diego State University – San Diego State Aztecs
- San Jose State University – San Jose State Spartans
- Utah State University – Utah State Aggies
- University of Wyoming – Wyoming Cowboys
The Pac-12 Conference features college teams from the West and Southwest regions, and its headquarters are based in San Francisco, California. It has twelve FBS teams, and they include some of the top college teams:
- University of Arizona – Arizona Wildcats
- Arizona State University – Arizona State Sun Devils
- University of California, Berkeley – California Golden Bears
- University of California, Los Angeles -UCLA Bruins
- University of Colorado Boulder – Colorado Boulders
- University of Oregon – Oregon Ducks
- Oregon State University – Oregon State Beavers
- University of Southern California – USC Trojans
- Stanford University – Stanford Cardinal
- University of Utah – Utah Utes
- University of Washington – Washington Huskies
- Washington State University – Washington State Cougars
The Southeastern Conference, or SEC, is an athletic conference that features FBS teams from the South Central and Southeastern regions. It features 14 FBS teams divided into East and West Divisions. The East Division includes the following FBS programs:
- University of Florida – Florida Gators
- University of Georgia – Georgia Bulldogs
- University of Kentucky – Kentucky Wildcats
- University of Missouri – Missouri Tigers
- University of South Carolina – South Carolina Gamecocks
- University of Tennessee – Tennessee Volunteers
- Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt Commodores
The West Division features these FBS teams:
- University of Alabama – Alabama Crimson Tide
- University of Arkansas – Arkansas Razorbacks
- Auburn University – Auburn Tigers
- Louisiana State University – LSU Tigers
- University of Mississippi – Ole Miss Rebels
- Mississippi State University – Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Texas A&M University – Texas A&M Aggies
Sun Belt Conference
The Sun Belt Conference features FBS teams from the Southern United States, and its headquarters are located in New Orleans, Louisiana. The conference features 12 FBS football teams, out of which the Little Rock Trojans are planning to leave the conference. By 2023, the James Madison University Dukes, Marshall Thundering Herd, Old Dominion Monarchs, and Southern Miss Golden Eagles will play the national championship game in the SBC. Other teams in the conference include:
- Appalachian State University – Appalachian Mountaineers
- Arkansas State University – Arkansas Red Wolves
- Coastal Carolina University – Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
- Georgia Southern University – Georgia Southern Eagles
- University of Louisiana at Lafayette – Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
- University of Louisiana at Monroe – Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
- University of South Alabama – South Alabama Jaguars
- Texas State University – Texas State Bobcats
- University of Texas at Arlington – UT Arlington Mavericks
- Troy University – Troy Trojans
Division I FBS Independents
This technically isn’t a conference. Instead, it’s a collection of schools whose football programs aren’t part of the NCAA-affiliated conference. The BYU Cougars, Liberty Flames, and New Mexico State Aggies are going to depart the conference soon. The James Madison Dukes are going to join it next year. Including them, there are a total of seven members in the conference, which include:
- United States Military Academy – Army Black Knights
- University of Notre Dame – Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- University of Connecticut – UConn Huskies
- University of Massachusetts Amherst – UMass Minutemen
This brings us to the end of our guide on the Football Bowl Subdivision and how student athletes get the chance to play football while also getting a quality education. Plus, if playing football at the college level is your passion and dream, then you just have to research which division and FBS programs are suitable for you. Who knows, maybe you will become the next big NFL star.