FBS Football Overview

Divisions
FBS Football Overview

What Does FBS Stand For?

FBS stands for the Football Bowl Subdivision played under the NCAAF Division I. It was formerly called Division I-A and featured 130 teams for the 2021 college football season. Three more schools are expected to join FBS for the 2022 season.

D1 FBS College Football History

The first college football game dates back to the 19th century with Princeton and Rutgers both honored as the first official champions in 1869 by the National Championship Foundation. However, most would consider the 1936 Associated Press national champions, Minnesota, as the first modern-era FBS championship because the 1937 AP poll was the first poll to officially name a champion. The polls continued to dominate the championship selections for the next six decades, sometimes resulting in split national championships depending upon the poll. That changed in 1998 with the introduction of the Bowl Championship Series, a formulaic poll that pitted the top-two teams at the end of the season against each other in the national championship game.

Tennessee won the inaugural title in 1998, the first of six different SEC schools to win a national title and the conference won nine BCS national championships. The BCS was designed to unite the various polls and create one definitive national champion, but controversy arose in 2003 when three teams finished with nearly identical one-loss records. USC was left out of the BCS national title game, but the 12-1 Trojans finished as the No. 1 team in the AP poll, marking the only time since 1998 that there were multiple national champions officially recognized by the NCAA.

Finally in 2014, the conferences abandoned the BCS and created a committee to select the four teams for a playoff that would decide the national champion. Ohio State was a controversial selection for the first edition of the College Football Playoff, but the Buckeyes ended up winning the tournament. No team has won consecutive national championships in the playoff format so far, though Alabama has a chance to become the first in 2021.

D1 FBS Teams

This list of FBS football teams and FBS football conferences is current of as of the 2021 season. It does not include the future realignment that is scheduled to take place over the next few years within various Division I-A conferences. Changes will be made once schools officially join a new conference and officially join the list of FBS schools.

American Athletic Conference (AAC)

In the ruins of the Big East deciding against sponsoring football and collapsing in 2013, the American Athletic Conference rose from the ashes. The old Big East is technically the same conference as the AAC for football records purposes, so it should not be confused with the rebirth of the Big East a few years ago in most other sports. The AAC found itself in a weird position in the college football landscape, falling out of the major conferences but still hosting that next tier of premier teams along with the Mountain West. After taking over the Big East in 2013, the AAC added a trio of teams in 2014 then Navy joined in 2015, completing the conference until the next round of realignment takes place in a few years when there will again be a shift in the conference membership.

  • Cincinnati Bearcats
  • East Carolina Pirates
  • Houston Cougars
  • Memphis Tigers
  • Navy Midshipmen
  • South Florida Bulls
  • Southern Methodist Mustangs
  • Temple Owls
  • Tulane Green Wave
  • Tulsa Golden Hurricane
  • Central Florida Golden Knights

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

It’s weird to call the Atlantic Coast Conference a disappointment given the fact it has won a national championship recently. However, no one in the league has really rivaled Clemson over the past decade with the exception of a few good years from Florida State. The league itself has some consistently good programs, but none that have been able to reach Clemson’s level. It took a poor year from the Tigers in 2021 to keep them from winning the conference, and the league did not have a representative in the College Football Playoff as a result. There are a lot of traditionally successful programs like Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech that need a reboot and hopefully will be able to actually challenge Clemson in the near future.

  • Boston College Eagles
  • Clemson Tigers
  • Duke Blue Devils
  • Florida State Seminoles
  • Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
  • Louisville Cardinals
  • Miami Hurricanes
  • North Carolina Tar Heels
  • North Carolina State Wolfpack
  • Pittsburgh Panthers
  • Syracuse Orange
  • Virginia Cavaliers
  • Virginia Tech Hokies
  • Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Big 12 Conference

The Big 12 is the Power Five conference that continues to get torn apart and yet is has still survived. This is the conference with the most potential, though, with programs like Baylor and Iowa State undergoing a massive run of success over the past decade or so. Oklahoma State has also become a stronger program in recent years while Kansas State and Texas Tech have had their moments, too. However, this league depends largely on Oklahoma and Texas to make the College Football Playoff, and the Longhorns have fallen well short of expectations. The Sooners are still the class of the league until they leave with Texas in the years to come, but there is at least a group of programs ready to take over the mantle and prove themselves on a national level.

  • Baylor Bears
  • Iowa State Cyclones
  • Kansas Jayhawks
  • Kansas State Wildcats
  • Oklahoma Sooners
  • Oklahoma State Cowboys
  • Texas Longhorns
  • Texas Christian Horned Frogs
  • Texas Tech Red Raiders
  • West Virginia Mountaineers

Big Ten Conference

The Big Ten has an overall excellent level of depth, but there is a strong imbalance in recent years to the East division. That division includes three of the traditional powers in Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, which has led to a massive discrepancy in Big Ten titles in recent years. The West isn’t a slouch of a division with Iowa and Wisconsin consistently strong and Northwestern having won the division twice in the last four years. This league has a strong Midwestern presence, but it was among the first to expand its footprint to embrace the growing role of digital media. The Big Ten Network’s success has helped the conference tremendously and the additions of Maryland and Rutgers opened up the league on the East Coast to rival the ACC.

  • Indiana Hoosiers
  • Illinois Fighting Illini
  • Iowa Hawkeyes
  • Maryland Terrapins
  • Michigan Wolverines
  • Michigan State Spartans
  • Minnesota Golden Gophers
  • Nebraska Cornhusker
  • Northwestern Wildcats
  • Ohio State Buckeyes
  • Penn State Nittany Lions
  • Purdue Boilermakers
  • Rutgers Scarlett Knights
  • Wisconsin Badgers

Conference USA

Conference USA is a befitting name for a league that spans a wide swath of this country from the shores of Virginia to the beaches of south Florida and the heat of south Texas. This is the sort of catch-all conference it feels for FBS programs that are stuck without a league and aren’t prestigious enough to move up to the second tier leagues. There have been many successful coaches and players that have come through these programs in the past, but none of these teams are anywhere near being a national championship threat. Instead, it’s a collection of schools that can field quality football teams and has a lot of parity when competing for conference championships.

  • Charlotte 49ers
  • Florida Atlantic Owls
  • Florida International Panthers
  • Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
  • Marshall Thundering Herd
  • Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
  • North Texas Mean Green
  • Old Dominion Monarchs
  • Rice Owls
  • Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
  • UAB Blazers
  • UTEP Miners
  • UTSA Roadrunners
  • Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Independents

The independents are a group of teams that either by choice or lack of options do not have conference affiliations. Army and Notre Dame both prefer independent lifestyle to help make themselves more national brands and give them flexibility to play many different opponents. BYU was in a conference for a long time, but then made a few changes in the athletic department that gave the football team more scheduling versatility as well. Then there are programs like Connecticut, UMass, Liberty and New Mexico State that are trying to find the right fit for their football programs within the limits of the other sports in the athletics departments.

  • Army Black Knights
  • Brigham Young Cougars
  • Connecticut Huskies
  • Liberty Flames
  • Massachusetts Minutemen
  • New Mexico State Aggies
  • Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Mid-American Conference

The Mid-American Conference is the quintessential mid-major league in FBS football. Many of the best pro players of the past 20 years have come from MAC schools whether it be Ben Roethlisberger, Khalil Mack or Julian Edelman. Most of the underrecruited high schoolers who end up making a name for themselves came from the MAC, where the level of competition is just as fierce as many other leagues. There has been an excellent level of parity and cyclical champions in the league with every program able to find the right young coach that becomes the next hot commodity for the bigger schools. It is the feeding ground for the rest of FBS football, and these schools don’t like it, but have grown to accept it.

  • Akron Zips
  • Ball State Cardinals
  • Bowling Green Falcons
  • Buffalo Bulls
  • Central Michigan Chippewas
  • Eastern Michigan Eagles
  • Kent State Golden Flashes
  • Miami Redhawks
  • Northern Illinois Huskies
  • Ohio Bobcats
  • Toledo Rockets
  • Western Michigan Broncos

Mountain West Conference

What the American is for the eastern seaboard, the Mountain West is for the west coast. This is the other premier second-tier college football conference in the country, featuring programs many fans will recognize for success. The league doesn’t produce the same dominant champion that the AAC has tended to have, but these teams are consistently competing against and beating Power Five programs both on and off the field. This is one of the first conferences picked over by the larger leagues when realignment comes along, and they do an excellent job at maintaining the integrity of the league each time.

  • Air Force Falcons
  • Boise State Broncos
  • Colorado State Rams
  • Fresno State Bulldogs
  • Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
  • Nevada Wolf Pack
  • New Mexico Lobos
  • San Diego State Aztecs
  • San Jose State Spartans
  • UNLV Rebels
  • Utah State Aggies
  • Wyoming Cowboys

Pacific-12 Conference

You almost have to feel bad for the Pac-12 as it continues to cannibalize itself in the regular season. There have been many great teams from the conference who failed to reach the College Football Playoff because of how difficult it is to go undefeated in the conference. Only two Pac-12 teams have ever played in the national semifinals since 2014, and the results are mixed. The lack of a dominant team makes many people criticize the league, but the parity that shows is incredibly important to the success of the league as a whole. That type of competitive environment makes the conference unique and allows there to be a lot of great teams that thrive instead of one or two premier programs that tend to dominate the rest.

  • Arizona Wildcats
  • Arizona State Sun Devils
  • California Golden Bears
  • Colorado Buffaloes
  • Oregon Ducks
  • Oregon State Beavers
  • Stanford Cardinal
  • Southern California Trojans
  • UCLA Bruins
  • Utah Utes
  • Washington Huskies
  • Washington State Cougars

Southeastern Conference (SEC)

The SEC is the pre-eminent college football conference and the standard by which every other league is judged. Most of the most dominant teams of the past two decades have survived this gauntlet, though the West division has been much more difficult than the East over the past decade. Five different schools have won a national championship since 2000, and three of those programs have won multiple titles over the past 20 years. There is a good reason the SEC has gained the reputation it has as the conference in college football with the number of NFL players that hail from one of the 14 schools.

  • Alabama Crimson Tide
  • Arkansas Razorbacks
  • Auburn Tigers
  • Florida Gators
  • Georgia Bulldogs
  • Kentucky Wildcats
  • Louisiana State Tigers
  • Mississippi Rebels
  • Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • Missouri Tigers
  • South Carolina Gamecocks
  • Tennessee Volunteers
  • Texas A&M Aggies
  • Vanderbilt Commodores

Sun Belt Conference

The Sun Belt is the up and coming league that features several programs that are ready to break into the national conscience. Coastal Carolina has done some of that over the past two years, but Appalachian State has been historically very successful while most of the other programs in the league have reached a bowl game in the past three years. When we think of the best mid-major football programs in five or 10 years, many of them will be in the Sun Belt where these Southern schools have learned to find and develop some of the best undiscovered young talent in the talent-rich areas of the country.

  • Appalachian State Mountaineers
  • Arkansas State Red Wolves
  • Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
  • Georgia Southern Eagles
  • Georgia State Panthers
  • Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
  • Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
  • South Alabama Jaguars
  • Texas State Bobcats
  • Troy Trojans

D1 FBS Schedule

The college football schedule can be very confusing for those who don’t fully understand the way it is set up. The first official week of the season is the Saturday before Labor Day in the United States with the final week of the season coming the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So the season starts for most teams in late August or early September and ends in late November. Most teams schedule 12 games for the regular season with eight or nine coming from the conferences and the other three or four scheduled by the schools themselves. In many years, there are 13 weeks in which for teams to play their 12 games before the conference championship games at the beginning of December. However, there are some years with an extra Saturday and therefore teams have two off weeks during the season.

There are also special rules put in place for teams that are going to travel to play Hawaii during the regular season in order to help facilitate teams being willing to make that trip. Any team playing a regular season game in Hawaii may play in the unofficial Week 0, which is the weekend before the Saturday before Labor Day, in order to accommodate an off week for those who have to travel to Hawaii and back for a game.

The postseason structure is where FBS football differs greatly from the other divisions. Every other division has a formal tournament structure where there is a playoff that leads to a national champion and no one else plays after the season ends. FBS has a collection of more than 40 bowl games, including the national semifinals and national championship game of the new College Football Playoff. Any team that finishes .500 or better (six wins) with no more than one win against a non-FBS team, is eligible to be selected for a bowl game. Bowl games have contracts with specific conferences that they must fulfill before looking elsewhere, but bowls have free reign to pick any eligible team to help maximize profits and television ratings.

D1 FBS Stadiums

Some of the most iconic stadiums in the United States host FBS football teams, whether they are on campus or just rented out by the university. When we think about the cathedrals of football in this country, many of them are on campuses at FBS schools around the U.S. We can’t talk about cathedrals without starting with Notre Dame Stadium and the Touchdown Jesus mural overlooking the field. The Fighting Irish are one of the biggest brands in college football, but their stadium is just as big of a draw with its history and beauty in the middle of Indiana. It is the quintessential college football experience for those who love the history of the game.

In many ways, Notre Dame Stadium is in a class of its own, but there are plenty of other classic college football stadiums around the country. There are a few that rival the allure of Notre Dame Stadium, and most of them are in the Midwest. The Horseshoe, or Ohio Stadium officially, hosts Ohio State football and is one of the most well-known stadiums in the country. The same can be said about The Big House, or officially Michigan Stadium, that hosts the Buckeyes’ arch-rival, Michigan. Maybe you’re more interested in the pageantry that comes from a game at Michie Stadium in West Point, New York, home of Army, one of the most traditional schools in all of the sport.

A special tradition can make a college football stadium iconic for FBS programs, like Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, which is most known for its yearly whiteout games. There is the newly-instituted Wave at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa to wave at the local children’s hospital between the first and second quarters. There’s the maniacal Jump Around at Camp Randall between the third and fourth quarters at Wisconsin. We can also put in the infamous blue turf at Boise State in this category. Others are popular because they earned fierce monikers like The Swamp at the University of Florida or Death Valley at LSU or Clemson that give their teams a distinct home-field advantage.

The fourth class of famous stadiums have gained acclaim for nothing more than the team that plays on the field. That is true at places like Bryant-Denney Stadium at Alabama or Memorial Stadium at Nebraska, which aren’t the biggest stadiums, aren’t the fanciest, but just host a very popular (and oftentimes successful) football team.

Then there are the multi-purpose stadiums that are iconic for their own reasons that have nothing to do with the specific teams playing there. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum hosts USC football, but that stadium has also hosted the Olympics and other premier sporting events. The same is true across town at the Rose Bowl, which hosts UCLA football but is far more iconic for the yearly bowl game of the same name. In that same ilk, there’s the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl that still host college football games, but have far more historic value well beyond whichever teams are playing there that Saturday.

FBS College Grants & Scholarships

When people think about college football recruiting, they tend to think about the 85 scholarships allowed per FBS football team. As it currently stands, FBS teams can only add 25 new players per year, though there are some ways teams massage those numbers to add more in a given year. Almost all scholarships offered by coaches are full-cost scholarships, which means it covers tuition, room and board as well as various other necessities like books, food and other fees. In a normal year, FBS teams can only carry 85 scholarship players on the roster, though there are currently some waivers for COVID-19 related exceptions to the rule.

Actually getting recruited to play college football is a completely different process. Most FBS coaches don’t start offering recruits until the summer after your sophomore year once your body has started to mature and develop. It is only then that Division I FBS coaches have a better sense of what positions you can play as well as your growth potential when evaluating their future roster needs. Still for a majority of players, offers won’t roll in until a player’s junior year or later because the rosters are more fluid at the bigger programs with so much competition for playing time. It is the smaller FBS schools and most FCS programs that extend early verbal offers in hopes of securing an early commitment to help bolster the class. However, student-athletes also need to be aware there are sometimes timelines on offers from programs that might be recruiting three or four players for the same position.

The recruiting calendar is broken up into four different types of periods, each with their own set of rules for contact between a player and coach. The easiest one to explain is the dead period because that is when all recruiting activities must cease between a recruit and college coach. There is no contact permitted either on or off campus and student-athletes are not allowed to be on an official or unofficial visit. This does not prohibit a prospective recruit from visiting college campuses for his own tour, but there won’t be any help or meeting with the coaching staff at the school.

A quiet period is the next step from the dead period because recruiting contact is allowed on campus. This opens up the door for on-campus visits, but it limits college coaches from holding recruiting events off campus. These are the weeks when official and unofficial visits take place for prospective student-athletes. Then you have the evaluation periods when college coaches are on the road and watching recruits on their home territory off campus. There cannot be any contact between the recruit and the player during these periods, but coaches will watch recruits practice and play games, and they have a chance to talk to coaches and school administrators about potential recruits.

Finally, there is the free-for-all that most people think about when they hear the word “recruiting,” the contact period. This is when anything allowed by the NCAA manual is permissible on and off campus, and these periods typically occur after the regular-season ends through the signing periods in December and February. It’s the last-ditch effort for many coaches to close the deal with recruits who haven’t made a verbal commitment and try to persuade them to sign their national letters of intent.

The National Letter of Intent is the contract a recruit signs to officially accept the scholarship and athletic aid package from the school. It is only after the school receives and verifies the NLI that coaches can publicly talk about a recruit. These letters are vital for FBS programs because often, high-profile recruits are being recruited up until the last minute regardless of whether or not they made a verbal pledge to a school. National Signing Day is always filled with last-minute flips and surprises as schools battle to earn a piece of paper with that player’s signature on it.

D1 FBS Awards

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious Player of the Year award in college football with the iconic statue becoming a symbol of a player’s success. Bryce Young won the award in 2021, joining a long list of winners since the award was first handed out in 1935. Archie Griffin is famous for being the only two-time Heisman winner, but three players who would have awards named after them also won the Heisman. Some other famous winners include Steve Spurrier, O.J. Simpson, Doug Flutie, Bo Jackson, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton.

The Maxwell Award has been handed out annually to the best player in FBS football by the Maxwell Football Club since 1937. There have been several players who do not win the Heisman, but are recipients of the Maxwell Award, including quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Vince Young. Only two players have won the award twice, Notre Dame’s Johnny Lattner in 1952 and 1953 as well as Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007 and 2008. Bryce Young, however, did win the 2021 award as well for his efforts.

The Walter Camp Football Foundation also names a national player of the year, and it isn’t uncommon for the foundation to recognize someone that didn’t win the Heisman. Among those honored by the Walter Camp Football Foundation is Larry Fitzgerald, Andrew Luck, Darren McFadden and the 2021 winner, Kenneth Walker III. Colt McCoy won this award twice in 2008 and in 2009, joining O.J. Simpson and Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners of the award.

Most of the national player of the year awards have become a pseudo-offensive player of the year award, although defensive players have won the awards before. However, there are two awards specifically for recognizing the best defensive players in the country. The Bednarik Award is also awarded by the Maxwell Football Club and was first awarded in 1995 to Pat Fitzgerald, who then won the award again in 1996. Many other high-profile defenders such as Julius Peppers, Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald and Chase Young have also won the award.

The Football Writers Association of American awards the Bronko Nagurski Trophy to its best defensive player, and has done so since 1993. Fitzgerald won the award in 1995 and 1996 as well and remains the only two-time winner of the award. There have been plenty of years when the Nagurski winner differed from the Bednarik winner. Champ Bailey, Terrell Suggs and Luke Keuchly are among those who won the Nagurski Trophy but not the Bednarik Award. That list grew again in 2021 when Georgia lineman Jordan Davis won the Bednarik Award but Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. won the Nagurski Trophy.

A few different organizations name a Coach of the Year, but the Football Writers Association of America votes on the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. The honor has been bestowed since 1957 and has had a wide range of winners over the years from outside the Power Five conferences. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell won the award in 2021, taking over for Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell, who won the award in 2020. On four occasions, the winner did not even finished ranked in the final polls, with Bill Clark in 2018 the last to accomplish the feat.

The Broyles Award has been given annually to the best assistant coach in college football since 1996. Many of those who have won the award went on to become head coaches themselves, including David Cutcliffe, Randy Shannon, Gene Chizik, Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley.

Most of the individual positions also have their own individual awards. The Davey O’Brien Award highlights the best quarterback in the nation, the Doak Walker Award honors running backs while the Biletnikoff Award is for the receivers and the John Mackey Award rewards the best tight end in the country. It is rare for these award winners to surprise college football fans, though there are occasions where one quarterback may win the Davey O’Brien but not win the Heisman such as 2016 when Lamar Jackson won the Heisman but Deshaun Watson won the O’Brien.

For the big men on the line of scrimmage, there are two different awards to be won depending upon where on the line you play. The Rimington Award is given to the best center in the nation whereas the Outland Trophy is awarded to the best interior lineman in the country. The Outland Trophy has been awarded to both offensive and defensive linemen with six of the last 15 winners coming on defense and the other nine on offense. Dave Rimington, who is the namesake for the Rimington Award, is the only player to win the Outland Trophy twice.

All of the defensive position groups also have their own awards as well with the Dick Butkus Award for linebackers and the Jim Thorpe Award for defensive backs. The Ted Hendricks Award honors the best defensive ends in the nation, but has a history only dating back to 2002. In addition to the defense, the kickers are honored with the Lou Groza Award and the Ray Guy Award is given to the best punter in the country.

D1 FBS Football Alumni

There are so many alumni of FBS football who made an impact in professional football that we could not possibly name them all. So we will focus on those who made the biggest impact on the professional game and ended up in Canton, Ohio, enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The museum honors the greatest players, coaches and general contributors to the game, and it is a very select group that has earned a bust in Canton. As of the 2021 class’ induction in August 2021, Notre Dame and Southern California are tied with 13 Hall of Famers each followed by 11 from Michigan and 10 from Ohio State. Fifty-five of the 66 Power Five schools plus Notre Dame have graduated a Hall of Famer as well. Among the smaller schools with one Hall of Famer is Akron (Jason Taylor), Kent State (Jack Lambert), San Jose State (Bill Walsh) and Wyoming (Marv Levy).