You've been tasked with founding a university for the sole purpose of playing college football at it (as if universities are for anything else).
If you could plant a new school with a football program anywhere in the country (or elsewhere!), where would you put it? It's not as easy to answer as it seems, since plenty of other schools have already had the same idea you just had. There are lots of college football programs in Texas already, I'm saying.
Thus, the first of our guide charts: a glance at the competition at each level for the near future (by BCS, I mean the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12). See any battlegrounds ripe for the conquering here?
How about we make a pick for each level? Here's my first:
FCS in South Florida?
Florida is the best recruiting state. Texas often produces more elite prospects, but it also has more than five million more people and more college teams at every level than Florida does.
And south Florida might be the country's best region. Not only are Miami, the Glades, Tampa, Fort Myers and so on rich in talent, the only bordering state is, um, north Florida. Also Cuba and the Bahamas. Let's just start a program in the Bahamas. Every other recruiting hotbed in the country, from east Texas to New Jersey to east Virginia to Ohio to southern California, either butts up against or is very near bordering states and rival school cultures.
And while Miami, Florida, Florida State, the other Florida schools and - sigh - Alabama all have claims to the area, it's a FCS ghost town. The closest FCS school to south Florida is non-scholarship Stetson, three or four hours from Miami.
Look at this FCS-only map, also courtesy Redditor clemalum07:
USF famously took four years in FCS to reach the top level, the pinnacle among them an 8-3 effort. Howard Schnellenberger led FAU to two winning seasons in four years before the Owls reached FBS. UCF raced from Division III to FCS in just 11 years, then to FBS after six successful years. And FIU sprinted from FCS to FBS in a mere three years, all of them losing seasons.
If a program ever stuck around in south Florida at the FCS level, rather than barreling toward hypothetical glory, I'd reason it could build itself a dynasty in a hurry, as UCF was on pace to do. (Yes, I know the dollars programs are chasing when they scramble to FBS - what happens if we're patient, though?) Establishing a fanbase in Florida does not sound easy, but winning is the way to do it, especially if it's providing a unifying identity to a place. Then, if the numbers line up, one day we take that legit fanbase up a level, rather than expecting it to appear just because we play in the Sun Belt.
If I could plunk a university with a football program anywhere, I'd set it just north of Miami, either near Fort Myers or West Palm Beach, and start out at the FCS level. We'd let it ride there for at least a decade, hanging banners and making friends and definitely not hiring Ron Turner.
But what if we were to start out in FBS?
FBS in Phoenix? East Texas?
At the next level, let's look for talent opportunities, but let's also look at areas with growing populations. We want a program that will be solid in 100 years, not just 10.
2010-2012 state data via U.S Census Bureau. City data via Forbes.
Among these, Arizona is an underserved football market, with decent recruiting resources but only three Division I teams and none at the mid-major level. And the two BCS schools have bad track records of keeping talent in-state, combining to land just 26 percent of in-state four- and five-stars over the past five years - 13 programs around the country do better than that solo. We should assume both Arizona and Arizona State are on upswings after making solid coaching hires, but [Todd Graham joke].
We could set ourselves up a Mountain West-ish program right in Phoenix and attempt to keep some of those kids from Chandler, Peoria and Tucson home. Worst-case outcome: beating New Mexico all the time.
Basically what I'm pitching to you is that the University of Phoenix should start up a football team and that you and I should run it together. It's already got the Fiesta Bowl's stadium named after it!
Elsewhere, Texas has enough players to sustain 20 Division I football programs (though we could argue about how sustained a few of them are), and it'll only ramp up as the state continues to bloom, with hordes of those new Texans coming in from recruiting-talent rival California. What's one more lil ole mid-major team?
The question, though: where in Texas?
Austin is right out, as the Longhorns would severely cap our growth. Dallas is large, booming and football-friendly, but also home to SMU and a neighbor of TCU and North Texas. We're not afraid of North Texas. I'm just saying.
For a little bit more room, we could try out slightly more booming Houston, which has just UH and Rice and is also home to a NFL team much less mindshare-hoggy than the Cowboys. And we're not often going to fret about Rice. The primary concern would be carving an identity very distinct from the Cougars', but that's another story.
Now how about aiming straight for the top?
BCS in Washington, D.C.?
The nation's No. 7 TV market and 11th-fastest-growing city (were it a state, it would be No. 1). If Maryland and Virginia formed a single body, it would rank as the country's fifth-best recruiting state, based on 247 Composite ratings:
And even though the Big Ten Terrapins are only half an hour from our campus (heck, I think we'll simply purchase East Potomac Park, and there's nothing you can do about it), by my thinking, D.C. is also the biggest TV market without a true college football presence, among those that could use them, at least. Let's scan the top 10:
- New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston: We will not try to be the school that makes these locales care about college football. I'm thinking we can make D.C. work because it's transient and close to both the South and, all of a sudden, the Big Ten. This is the gamble.
- Los Angeles: Already has two BCS teams.
- San Francisco: Two BCS teams already in the Bay Area.
- Dallas, Houston, Atlanta: Plenty saturated at the BCS level.
The only in-town competition would be Georgetown and Howard, plus [/mumbles] one of the NFL's most popular teams. We'd be close to Maryland, Virginia, Navy, West Virginia, Penn State and Rutgers and could surely drum up a rivalry with somebody, especially after trouncing them in recruiting.
On that note, we turn to D.C. resident Andrew Sharp, who's expertly attuned to the wavelengths of today's prospects:
How does one recruit the nation's capital? First, you have to pretend to like Go-Go and/or Wale. This is non-negotiable.
Second, you have to apologize for Ron Zook since he recruited D.C. better than anybody and oh God look how that turned out for everyone.
And then ... Money, mostly. And free lunches, and concert tickets, and favors for family members, and the carefully calculated media-driven character assassination of any opposition, and wow I guess college football recruiting is pretty much exactly the same as lobbying in D.C. Or maybe it's the other way around.
Either way, college coaches should be right at home.
More in College Football: