Four years ago, the NFL won a close election (293-to-245) against college football in my first electoral map of football. For those new to this concept, the electoral map of football is my best attempt to determine if a state is more of a college football or NFL state based on my understanding of the residents and their fandom, a lot of which is based on feedback I get from Twitter- as well as plain common sense.
This concept was born out of my frustration of being a California resident vastly outnumbered by NFL fans in my social circle who had absolutely no interest in college football, and thought it was weird I preferred college football to the NFL. But like so many things, our preferences are often determined by where we grew up, where we live now, and where we went to school. We often don’t realize that if we don’t spend time out of our own bubbles. With that in mind, let’s get started with the final map below.
Solid NFL: 190 Votes
States that are solid NFL, and by a very significant, reliable, and sizable margin.
California (55) – A lot of moving parts here, with the Raiders moving out of state and the Chargers moving north. Yes, the state has four Pac-12 teams (all four of which have plenty of empty seats on most weeks), but generally speaking, those four programs are significantly overshadowed in their home markets by not only NFL teams, but also NBA and MLB teams.
The reality is that areas like the Bay Area, San Diego, and Sacramento will never be college football areas. Los Angeles now has two NFL teams, and while that NFL fandom will take some time to grow, UCLA and USC haven’t done much to put a dent in the state’s overall NFL lean down in the L.A. area. The country’s biggest electoral map prize is a safe NFL state and will continue to be.
New York (29) – The Jets are trash. The Giants are trash. Still, New York City has the biggest concentration of NFL fans in the country. Add in the Bills’ resurgence of late, and the already massive lead from New York City widens further even when adding in Syracuse’s fanbase. There just isn’t a world where New York would ever be a college football state.
Illinois (20) – The Bears are a top-five NFL team in terms of following and brand. Illinois and Northwestern just don’t move the needle enough to really make this state in play for college football.
New Jersey (14) – Two NFL teams play in New Jersey, and the Eagles play right across the New Jersey border. Meanwhile, Rutgers is Rutgers and will always be Rutgers. There might not be a state as blue as New Jersey.
Massachusetts (11) – Tom Brady has left, and the Patriots look like they might not reign over the division, let alone the conference and NFL like they have the past twenty years. That said, any drop in Patriots fandom comes after two decades of growth to feverish levels. More importantly, there isn’t much to point to in terms of any college football fandom in the state (sorry UMass).
Maryland (10) – Lamar Jackson has Ravens fans thinking Super Bowl in the near future. While Maryland did beat Texas twice, I think most would agree that Maryland is a basketball school that will largely struggle to find much relevance given their annual schedule includes Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan.
Colorado (9) – Colorado and Colorado State do have some surprising followings after a modest amount of success the past few decades. The Broncos’ revolving door of quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired hasn’t helped, but still the Broncos are one of the bigger NFL brands and the state’s most popular team by a huge margin.
Connecticut (7) – There’s no NFL team in Connecticut, but a few not that far away. UConn is a basketball school with the football team stuck at the bottom of the FBS. Despite no NFL team, there are plenty of NFL fans that make Connecticut a safe blue state.
Nevada (6) – Nevada was already a safe blue state before the Raiders got there. Two pretty meh college football teams don’t move the needle that much compared to the amount of interest the NFL generates in the betting capital of the world. As the Raiders become more rooted in the state, you might see Nevada become the most blue state there is.
New Mexico (5) – A couple of FBS college football teams in the state, but they’re largely afterthoughts. Like many states, the NFL’s national popularity is enough in a lot of these smaller states despite not having a team in them, especially those without any significant college football followings.
Maine (4) – The northeast is solidly NFL without any major college program to win over fans. Maine fits in this bucket.
New Hampshire (4) – See above. No major college program or NFL team, but proximity to the Patriots. Solidly blue.
Rhode Island (4) – The Northeast rule applies here. I’ve still yet to meet anyone from Rhode Island and question if it’s just made up.
Alaska (3) – The NFL carries another state by default where there’s no real rooting interest in the state either way.
Delaware (3) – You’d be surprised that Delaware and Delaware Stare have some considerable fanbases for not being D1 bowl division (this will come into play a lot more as you read this). But there are 3 NFL teams within about an hour drive of the state, making it blue.
District of Columbia (3) – The popularity of the organization now known as the Washington Football Team has cratered considerably, but that doesn’t change much here. D.C. is a heavy pro sports area, and that’s especially true for the NFL, although a lot of transplants certainly give college football some following here. Despite Dan Snyder’s best attempt, D.C. remains an NFL state.
Vermont (3) – Same northeast rule as the other states in that corner of the country. No major college program and a lot of Patriots fans.
Likely NFL: 59 votes
States that are firmly NFL, but not at margins that make it impossible to move into the lean category at some point in time- but could also easily move to solid states.
Pennsylvania (20) – Pennsylvania lands here despite a similar setup to Ohio, with two NFL teams on opposite sides of the state and one very popular college football team in the middle. The big difference in Pennsylvania is that the NFL playoffs almost always feature one or both of the teams. Additionally, Ohio State doesn’t lose to Indiana. The Steelers and the Eagles are two of the NFL’s blue-chip brands with decades of history that have endeared them to fans across the state. Temple and Pittsburgh give college football enough of a boost to move the state out of the solid bucket, but it’s still a very solid NFL state.
Washington (12) – There have been some interesting years recently in which Washington and Washington State have both been ranked and contenders for the Pac-12. However, Pete Carroll has reliably had the Seahawks in the playoffs and Russell Wilson is one of the NFL’s biggest stars. There’s some path to Washington becoming more of a swing state or even flipping entirely. But we’re not close to that at all, with recent coaching changes at Washington and Washington State, and with the Seahawks being one of the most exciting teams to watch in the league right now.
Kansas (6) – Kansas State has a pretty devout fanbase. Kansas does as well, but for basketball- and Les Miles hasn’t done much to get KU basketball fans to equally embrace the football team. Meanwhile, the Chiefs — who straddle Missouri and Kansas — are Super Bowl champs, and look to chase down a few more championships with Patrick Mahomes inked to a long-term deal. Kansas is an NFL state with just enough college fans — that include other Big 12 schools and Nebraska — to squeak into this category vs. being a solid NFL state.
Arizona (11) – The Cardinals were so bad the first half of my life that I suspect there were presidential years that had Arizona as a college football state, especially during some of Arizona State’s better stretches. Arizona is a basketball school, who while capable of an occasional football upset, rarely makes any national noise. Meanwhile, the Cardinals seem to be on their way with Kyler Murray, and thus this state remains out of play for college football.
Minnesota (10) – The Gophers have a solid following spanning football, basketball, and even hockey. That said, the Vikings are the most popular team in the state by a huge margin and are regularly in the playoffs. If there was another Power Five school in the state, perhaps Minnesota would be more of a toss-up.
Lean NFL: 35 votes
States that are competitive, but for now are NFL states.
Indiana (11) – Indiana remains one of the toughest states to call. Notre Dame, Purdue, and IU give it some college football juice for sure, but a lot of that is equaled by the Colts. What pushes this into the NFL category for me is the fact (besides Indiana and Purdue’s meh success on the football field) that the state has a pretty significant amount of Bears fans. Should Notre Dame win a championship, the Colts enter into a decade of awfulness, or Purdue regularly ends up in conference championship games, we could see this flipping. But for now, it’s just not there.
Wisconsin (10) – The Packers have had great QB play for 25+ years and a couple Super Bowls, and historically Green Bay is one of the NFL’s best teams. That said, UW really represents the soul of the state, and is the more popular team in a large part of the state. I’d be very tempted to make Wisconsin red if there were another college team or two in the state, but the Packers to go with some Bears fans in the state make it blue for now.
Missouri (10) – With the Rams leaving, this state was in good position to become a college football state. However, I think Missouri’s Big 12 departure and subsequent SEC struggles have really crushed the state’s chances of flipping. That, and the fact that the Chiefs play in Missouri and have a plausible path to becoming a dynasty, swings this into the NFL category for now.
Hawaii (4) – Hawaii has had moments as a football program that would have swung into the college football side of the ledger, but those days are long gone. Without a program regularly making noise, it’s hard to overcome the NFL’s stature that just has a higher floor of fandom in states without much of a specific rooting interest in either direction.
Solid college football: 92 votes
States that are solid college by a very significant, reliable, and sizable margin
Tennessee (11) – I’m already having second thoughts on putting this in the solid bucket. The Titans are still fairly new to the the state compared to other NFL franchises. It’s not hard to see this as a swing state in a decade, especially if we see the Titans in the playoffs more regularly. All that said, despite a decade-plus of struggles, UT is still the state’s biggest rooting interest. Throw in a second SEC team in Vanderbilt, as well a good amount of fans other SEC teams in the state, and you have a pretty significant margin of college football fans here. But it’s one to keep an eye on.
Alabama (9) – Potentially the reddest state on the map, with Alabama and Auburn, and no NFL team. No need to explain any further.
South Carolina (9) – See above for Alabama. No NFL team and two Power Five schools, with one of them a perennial national contender. A very dark red state.
Kentucky (8) – I was a little tempted to put this in the likely college football bucket given the Bengals are right across the river. Kentucky has shown signs of life over the last decade, and Louisville seems to make a splash every few years. Until the Bengals are not the Bengals, Kentucky will remain a pretty red state.
Oklahoma (7) – Similar to Alabama with two contenders and no NFL team. One of the reddest states on the map.
Oregon (7) – You find a decent amount of 49ers and Seahawks fans here, but with Oregon State and especially Oregon, the state is definitely firmly a college football state.
Arkansas (6) – Arkansas has fallen considerably the last four years, but this is SEC country and that means college football rules. Without an NFL team, it’s a very red state no matter how bad the Razorbacks are.
Iowa (6) – No NFL team, although a decent amount of Bears, Packers, and Vikings fans exist in the state. That said, the Hawkeyes are the state’s biggest fan base by far, and the Cyclones certainly help the cause in making this a very red state.
Mississippi (6) – Two SEC teams and no NFL teams makes this a a very easy call.
Utah (6) – BYU and Utah are both underrated fan bases and programs in general, with Utah State being no slouch either. No NFL team to compete with, and Utah is solidly red.
Nebraska (5) – Another contender for most red state, although it’s been quite a while since the Cornhuskers were a national contender. Not much to explain here.
West Virginia (5) – The Mountaineers are everything to West Virginia, and let’s not forget Marshall. Despite both programs’ nominal success of late, this is a state that has no path to flipping.
Idaho (4) – Boise State isn’t the national power they once were. but the Broncos are annually in the top-25 mix. You also have the University of Idaho. Given how few people there are in Idaho, and how popular Boise State is, this is a solid red state.
North Dakota (3) – North Dakota and North Dakota State are both good programs at their level, with North Dakota State achieving dynasty status. They put butts in the seats, and while I imagine a lot of these fans are rooting for the Eagles now because of Carson Wentz, it’s hard to imagine that there are enough NFL fans to overcome the local success of these smaller college programs.
Likely college football: 93 votes
States that are firmly college, but not at margins that make it impossible to move into the lean category at some point in time- but could also easily move to solid states.
Florida (29) – Probably right on the fringe of moving into the lean category. Yes, Florida has three NFL teams in the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Buccaneers. But I’d argue that Florida and Florida State have larger fan bases than at least two, and perhaps all three of those NFL teams. While the Buccaneers are an NFL darling right now with Tom Brady, in most years over the last decade none of these teams have actually made the playoffs. Meanwhile Florida, Florida State, Miami, and even UCF have jumped into the top-10 at certain points of time. Throw in USF, and Florida has a pretty unrivaled buffet of college football rooting interests, while the NFL franchises mostly rotate trying to find a QB savior in the draft.
Ohio (18) – I was close to putting Ohio in the solid category, but there’s probably a thin path for the state to one day be a NFL state. The reality is that the Browns and Bengals are mostly allergic to the playoffs, and Ohio State is by far the biggest ratings driver in college football the last two decades. Even if the Browns and Bengals suddenly became the Ravens and the Steelers, Ohio State’s grip on the state is pretty firm. Throw in six MAC schools, as well as a very good Cincinnati program (and hell, even Youngstown State), and you have a lot of pockets of really engaged college football fans.
Michigan (16) – Even with Michigan State trending downwards, the state’s biggest fan base might be Michigan. Throw in a smattering MAC schools, and you have a pretty sizable college football fan advantage- especially with the Lions placed at the bottom of the NFC North for much of the last few years.
Georgia (16) – The Bulldogs being a top-10 program, along with the Falcons’ constant collapses, means UG has more fans than the Falcons in the state. Georgia Tech hasn’t been great, but another Power Five team puts Georgia into the likely category, and not a lean college football.
Louisiana (8) – Very tempted to put this in the lean category, especially with the Saints’ recent success. However, LSU is coming off their National Championship and are by far the biggest rooting interest in the state, and especially outside of New Orleans. The door is open for this to flip one day, but certainly not while LSU is a top-10 program.
Montana (3) – One of my flips from 2016. University of Montana has enough of a following despite not being an FBS school to get it on the college football side of the fence, and with a little margin to spare.
South Dakota (3) – I feel like I heard from the whole damn state in 2016 when I put them down as an NFL state, but made North Dakota a college state. What I’ve learned is that the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are a D1 subdivision powerhouse with a sizable following (for South Dakota at least). You also have the South Dakota Coyotes. So there ya go.
Lean college football: 93 votes
States that are competitive, but for now are college football states.
Texas (38) – You can actually argue Texas is neither and it’s actually a high school football state, but we won’t go there. The Cowboys are the state’s biggest fan base, and there’s another NFL franchise in the Texans, though both have struggled to make much hay in the playoffs. That said, the sheer volume of D1 schools makes this a red state on our map. While Texas, A&M, and Texas Tech haven’t exactly made much noise of late on the national scene, they’re three very sizable and engaged fan bases. Add in programs like TCU, Baylor, and Houston and this state is red… for now.
North Carolina (15) – One of the hardest ones to call, and one of my flips from last time. My initial read was to make it a lean NFL call with the Panthers in mind. While NC State, Wake Forest, Duke, and UNC are all primarily basketball schools, the sheer amount of Power Five programs in the state wipe out the Panthers’ advantage. UNC ascending a bit under Mack Brown, the Panthers rebuilding, and throwing in a sturdy Appalachian State program gives college football a slight edge. The state also seems to be accruing a growing Clemson contingency, which adds slightly to the close 2016 margin.
Virginia (13) –
Another very tough one to call, and one of our flips from four years ago. While Virginia has improved a bit, Virginia Tech hasn’t reclaimed its former stature. That said, the Washington Football Team’s struggles — both on and off the field — have really undercut the state’s NFL leaning to the point it’s flipped. Another thing to consider- the apparently rabid James Madison fans (who knew?). Virginia seems like they’re going to be right on the fence every four years.
JMU fans are a particularly terrifying breed of Virginian. They love college football more than the rest of the state loves anything. Virginia is blue.
— Jilly (@jilldubs) October 6, 2020
Wyoming (3) – While at first glance you’d think this should go along with South Dakota and Montana as states with some college football fandom and no NFL team, I’m told that there are an awful lot of Broncos fans in the state- and hence it’s a bit closer, especially when Wyoming is struggling and the Broncos are good. For now, we’ll keep them here.