After the second-ever College Football Playoff was played out this past December-January, we now know who the most powerful college football team is in the country - Alabama. But what would the results be if it came down to fan bases?
College football - the most popular amateur sport in our country - has hundreds of fan bases, and many of them are monstrous. There are really only a few dozen, however, that are unwavering in their support, win or lose. We're here to highlight the top 16.
We've taken into account program worth, program revenue, television contracts, social media followings, attendance and a number of other factors.
Our list features teams from all five major conferences - along with one independent. You can guess which one.
Without further ado, the 16 most powerful fan bases in college football.
Get Started: No. 16 - Oregon >>>
Oregon may not be a traditional power like many of the other programs on our list, but the Ducks certainly have their support. The Ducks, according to Forbes' report this past December, are the 14th-most valuable college football team in the country, and the most valuable in the Pac-12. How, you ask? Oregon has done a solid job of turning itself into a national brand. They have fans from all around the country.
The Ducks have a killer partnership with Nike, which results in the sport's flashiest uniforms - which obviously attracts the younger crowd. Oregon's social media followings are huge too. The Ducks boast over 130,000 Twitter followers and over 850,000 Facebook likes. As noted, a good portion of those fans aren't from the state of Oregon - they just like what the Ducks have done with their program over the past decade or two. But don't worry, the Ducks also sell out their facility - Autzen Stadium - every contest anyway.
Oregon has reached the national title game twice in the past decade, yet it's still searching for its first championship. Whenever it comes, expect the Ducks to jump up this list.
Next: No. 15 - USC >>>
USC, on the other hand, does have the history of being a power program. The Trojans are the highest-ranked Pac-12 team on our list, coming in at No. 15. Their fans can also boast that their program claims 11 national titles.
USC fans certainly have options in Los Angeles, but few teams - even those at the professional level - can capture the city's attention quite like the Trojans. USC has the 20th-most-valuable program in college football, coming in at around $66 million. They also have sizable social media followings on both Twitter and Facebook. Throw in an iconic uniform and one of the most historical venues in the country - the Coliseum - and you've got the makings of a powerhouse.
The Trojans also boast a number of celebrity fans - most notably Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell. While they may not sell out every game like some of the others on this list, they're easily the most popular college football program in a major metropolitan area.
Next: No. 14 - Florida >>>
Florida is the first SEC school included on our list, but as you might guess, it isn't our last. The Gators are one of three huge fan bases from the state of Florida. With a valuation of $72 million, they are the 15th-most valuable program in the country. You could argue that when they were winning national titles, they'd have been higher on that list too.
Florida, a member of the SEC East, benefits from the league's television contract with ESPN. The Gators also boast massive social media followings. Florida's Twitter account has 138,000 followers. The team has two main Facebook pages - one dedicated to the Gators on a school basis, which has 1.6 million likes - and one dedicated to its football team, which has over 530,000 likes. That's serious reach.
Florida also has one of the biggest stadiums in the country - Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, affectionately known as "The Swamp", holds just under 89,000 fans. Anyone who's played against UF inside it can tell you - it gets loud. That being said, there are still five SEC squads with bigger, badder fan bases.
Next: No. 13 - Oklahoma >>>
Oklahoma may not be able to compete with Texas when it comes to the sheer number of fans, but Sooners supporters are about as loyal as it gets. The Sooners - who come in ranked 9th overall at a valuation of $96 million - boast perhaps the most passionate fan base in the country. Their Twitter following - at over 250,000 - is particularly impressive. It also shows that the program has a nice mix of support when it comes to age.
Oklahoma, which saw a resurgence last year and reached the College Football Playoff, also has huge Facebook followings. The school has close to 700,000 likes. The football team is right behind it, at over 550,000. The team's facility - Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium - is the second biggest in the Big 12, holding over 82,000 fans. It's pretty much a guarantee that if you're from the state of Oklahoma, you root for Oklahoma football - unless of course you live near Stillwater.
It also doesn't hurt the cause that Oklahoma has faired well against its two main rivals in recent history. The Sooners have won four of their last six against Texas and 11 of their last 13 against Oklahoma State. Boomer Sooner.
Next: No. 12 - Florida State >>>
12. Florida State
Florida State is the only ACC squad included on our list, but they're the second from the state of Florida. The Seminoles have a loud, passionate fan base that does not shy away from having its voice heard. Just ask anyone who's ever been targeted by #FSUTwitter.
FSU has the biggest stadium in the league - Doak Campbell - at just over 82,000 seats. FSU's Twitter following sits at around 180,000, but as noted, they are particularly powerful. Between their general FSU page and their FSU Football page, they boast over 1,000,000 likes on Facebook. Simply put, since the arrival of Bobby Bowden back in 1976, FSU has been a national brand. Three claimed national titles prove that.
According to Forbes, Florida State is worth $70 million - good enough for 17th overall. That'll continue to rise if the Seminoles can continue to compete for national titles. This fan base is not going anywhere.
Next: No. 11 - Georgia >>>
The Bulldogs are unquestionably one of the biggest brands in college football, valued at $102 million. They're also one of just 28 programs in the $100 million revenue club. Georgia definitely makes good off being THE program in-state. Sure, Georgia Tech is a rival, but the fan bases of the two schools can't be compared.
A member of the powerful SEC, UGA plays its home games at Sanford Stadium, which with 92,746 seats is the 10th-largest college football stadium in the country. During a 10-year period from Sept. 2001 to Sept. 2011, the Bulldogs sold out 64 consecutive home games. Additionally, nearly 300,000 people like the program's official Facebook page and over 229,000 people follow the program's official Twitter account.
That's a lot of folks.
Under former head coach Mark Richt, the Bulldogs were a model of consistency, with 10 seasons of double-digit victories in 15 years. A national championship has evaded the program since 1980, and that's the only thing missing. Otherwise, you can't do much better than Georgia.
Next: No. 10 - Texas A&M >>>
10. Texas A&M
Texas is still the top dog in the Lone Star State, but the Aggies aren't far behind. According to CBSSports' report, A&M pulled in $110 million in revenue last year. The program has raised its national profile in recent years. That's what happens when you have a Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel), a Super Bowl MVP (Von Miller) and ink a lucrative sponsorship deal with adidas.
Iconic Kyle Field seats 102,733 but fit in 110,631 people in 2014 when the Aggies set an attendance record against Ole Miss. The tradition of the 12th Man is one of the most enduring in college football, and the crowd at Kyle has been known to make the stadium press box shake with its boisterous cheering.
The Aggies have made seven consecutive bowl games, and nine bowls in the last 10 seasons. They only have one 10-win season during that time frame, and if Kevin Sumlin can get the program over the hump to reach consistent elite status, they could surpass some of the teams ahead of them on this list.
Next: No. 9 - Tennessee >>>
Like Georgia and LSU, the Vols are the unquestioned big dogs in their home state. Tennessee is also the No. 3 most valuable college football program in the country according to Forbes. The program has an exceptional social media presence thanks to Facebook (over 544,000 likes) and Twitter (over 252,000 followers). VFL Films also does an awesome job promoting UT football year-round.
Neyland Stadium, with a capacity of 102,455, is the second-largest stadium in the SEC and sixth-largest in the entire world. The stadium set a noise record during the Tennessee-Oklahoma game last September.
One of the top teams in the nation during the 1990s and early 2000s, the Vols took a step back in 2005. Butch Jones arrived in 2013 and has jump-started the program and reinvigorated the fan base. Tennessee is a strong bet to capture the SEC East in 2016.
Next: No. 8 - Penn State >>>
8. Penn State
Penn State trails just Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten in terms of program value and revenue, and ranks in the top-12 nationally in each category. Much of the Nittany Lions' brand was crafted, developed and expanded by and under the guidance of former head coach Joe Paterno. The Jerry Sandusky Scandal may have sullied Paterno and PSU's reputation nationally and put the program under NCAA sanctions, but it didn't decrease the size and loyalty of the fan base or put a dent in Penn State's bottom line.
Beaver Stadium is the second largest stadium in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest in the world. The program's annual "White-Out" game has been copied by countless schools, but it was Penn State that started that tradition.
A championship program throughout much of Paterno's tenure, PSU has been seemingly stuck in neutral the past few seasons as it tries to recover from its NCAA penalty. Still, Penn State will always be a name-brand in the world of college football.
Next: No. 7 - Nebraska >>>
The Cornhuskers aren't the financial behemoths that other programs on this list are, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more loyal or rabid fan base. Dating back to 1962, Nebraska has sold out 347 straight home games. Yes, you read that right. A fall Saturday spent at Memorial Stadium is the hottest ticket in the state for sure.
Over 600,000 people follow the Huskers on Facebook and nearly 300,000 follow them on Twitter. In addition to being known as hospitable hosts, Big Red fans also travel well to watch their team play.
While Nebraska isn't the program it was 20 years ago, its name still carries weight nationally. If Mike Riley can get the Huskers back to prominence, Big Red will be an even more formidable fan base.
Next: No. 6 - Texas >>>
The Longhorns are tops in the nation in value and revenue. They have an incredible brand, a humongous fan base and possibly the most powerful and influential donors in college football. You could argue they should be a little higher on this list.
Over 1 million people "like" Texas Athletics' official Facebook page, and Longhorn athletics boasts nearly 1 million Twitter followers.Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium is one of the largest facilities in the nation, and there have been discussions in recent years to make renovations to it.
Mack Brown revived the glory years in Austin before his recruiting took a tumble. Now, it's up to Charlie Strong to turn things around. He's struggled in his first two seasons at the helm, but a strong 2016 class combined with a maturing team seems to signal that the arrow is once again pointing upward for UT.
Next: No. 5 - LSU >>>
When a fan base can rally around its coach and have a huge role in saving his job - especially when administrators' minds seemed made up on firing him - it is pretty telling. LSU fans did just that during this fall's regular season finale - a 19-7 win over Texas A&M - chanting Les Miles' name throughout the game, which ended in him being carried off the field in victory by his players.
LSU's fans are influential, and they show up in droves. Tiger Stadium holds 102,321 fans, and the Tigers sold out the team's first three home games (Auburn, Eastern Michigan, Florida) while falling just a few hundred fans short in games against Western Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. That high attendance came despite a pretty mediocre season, by LSU standards. The Tigers are well represented online, with over 1.2 million Facebook likes, 270,000 Twitter followers, and 185,000 Instagram followers. The program has reaped the financial benefits as well. Forbes' values LSU's program at $111 million, fourth in college football. LSU athletics also ranked fourth in 2014-15 revenue, at $138.9 million.
LSU fans tailgate hard, travel incredibly well, but also seem like a group of good people. This season, they hosted South Carolina after the game had to be moved from Columbia due to the area's horrible flooding. The hospitality the Tigers showed for the Gamecocks team and fans was awesome to see.
Next: No. 4 - Michigan >>>
During the 2014 season, it would be hard to put Michigan fans on this list. At least, not nearly this high. Ahead of the team's game against Minnesota, Michigan gave away tickets with bottles of Coke, until the internet caught on and shamed the promotion away. Michigan fans were done, and the demand for tickets at The Big House showed.
Athletic Director Dave Brandon resigned, and Brady Hoke was fired soon thereafter. Jim Hackett nailed the hiring, landing favorite son Jim Harbaugh, and he wasted no time in turning Michigan football around. The fan base was quickly re-energized, and it paid off this season. Michigan Stadium has a listed capacity of 107,601. This season, the Wolverines' average home attendance was 110,168, with two games (Michigan State, Ohio State) clocking in at over 111,000 fans. That's incredible.
Online, Michigan football has over 1.5 million Facebook fans and 383,000 Twitter followers. The program was valued at $105 million by Forbes, fifth in the nation, and Michigan Athletics posted a revenue of $132.3 million in 2014-15. That number surely rose this season, as the team improved from 5-7 to 10-3. As Jim Harbaugh continues to rebuild the team into a powerhouse, the fans will continue to pump money into the program, and fill the sport's largest stadium. Watch out for Michigan, Big Ten.
Next: No. 3 - Alabama >>>
Alabama is the most consistently excellent college football program there is, and their fans are a big reason. Of course, it is easy when faith is repaid in a national championship every few years under Nick Saban, but packing 101,821 seats at Bryant-Denny Stadium every week is an accomplishment no matter what. Alabama fell just short of averaging a sell-out, at 101,285 fans per game, but they sold out the games that mattered: Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, and even Charleston Southern.
1.2 million people 'like' Alabama on Facebook, and the program boasts 427,000 Twitter followers. Alabama is farther down than you'd probably imagine in terms of program valuation, coming in 8th at $99 million, but in terms of revenue, the Crimson Tide is a real power at $150.6 million in 2014-15. 2015-16 featured a national title, which should help that number jump in a big way, even if Crimson Tide fans are used to that by now.
As Nick Saban continues to add to his legacy, it is hard to argue against Alabama as the greatest program in college football, with perhaps the two greatest coaches in the sport's history. None of that is possible without a loyal, ravenous, powerful fan base. The Crimson Tide has that in spades.
Next: No. 2 - Notre Dame >>>
2. Notre Dame
Influential fans and donors are a big part of any program. At Notre Dame, they are a major reason why the Fighting Irish still march to the beat of their own drum. While conference realignment has shifted the college football world forever, for better or worse, Notre Dame maintains its independence, signing a five game per year deal with the ACC to secure a home for basketball and the Olympic sports.
Most former independents joined leagues long ago, but Notre Dame values its scheduling flexibility and long-standing rivalries so much that is is still holding out. We're yet to see if that will negatively affect a Notre Dame team in College Football Playoff contention, but if the Fighting Irish run the table, we doubt it. If not for the program's fans speaking out against joining a league, the Irish would probably be a full ACC member right now, or playing in the Big Ten.
Notre Dame's fan base is unlike any other in the sport. Despite being a private school in a small town in Indiana, the Irish sold out every game at Notre Dame Stadium (80,795), drew huge crowds to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and even posted solid showing for a game at Fenway Park. Many Notre Dame fans have nothing to do with the university, but they are still die-hards, even if they've never been to South Bend. Other fan bases make fun of the Irish for that fan identity, but it is undeniable that the national brand keeps ND relevant in recruiting on a national stage. The program has over 660,000 Facebook fans, and 169,000 Twitter followers on its official pages. Forbes gives Notre Dame football its second highest value at $127 million, and the athletic department reportedly raked in over $123 million in 2014-15, according to CBS.
Notre Dame football hasn't been truly great in two decades, and resists the shifting norms of college football. However, no other school has an agreement for every home game to be broadcast on a network like NBC, while selling out every game at home, and drawing tens of thousands of fans to games across the country. There's a reason Notre Dame is allowed to play by its own rules; they have a ton of fans, and they wield a lot of power.
Next: No. 1 - ??? >>>
1. Ohio State
Ohio State has always been among the strongest programs and fan bases in college football, but winning the 2014 national championship seems to have woken something up in the Buckeye fans. Buckeye fans showed up in a big way during that College Football Playoff run, which included wins over two of the other teams on our list: Alabama and Oregon. Heading into this season, those fans helped drive hype for OSU through the roof, and while the team didn't quite hit the heights that were expected of it, the players received tremendous support throughout.
Buckeye fans exceeded the capacity at Ohio Stadium in six of seven games, averaging 107,243 fans against a listed capacity of 104,944. The Buckeyes' official athletics Facebook page has over 2 million fans, while the football team's page has another 635,000 likes. On Twitter, OSU has over 247,000 followers. Ohio State does incredibly well in value and revenue numbers as well. The Buckeyes football program is worth $100 million according to Forbes, and OSU athletics pulled in $170.9 million in 2014-15 after the football team's national championship, second only to Texas and over $20 million more than Alabama.
The team never quite reached its potential this season, but the fans never really wavered and the combination of Ohio State and Notre Dame made the Fiesta Bowl one of the more successful in terms of television ratings this bowl season. While Ohio State's absence isn't the main reason for the College Football Playoff's struggles this year, it is hard to argue that an Ohio State vs. Alabama rematch wouldn't have drawn more eyeballs, and probably would have been more competitive than Michigan State. That doesn't mean the Buckeyes deserved it, though.
Ohio State loses a ton of talent on the field next year, but they still have Urban Meyer, J.T. Barrett, and over 100,000 fans who will show up to The Horseshoe no matter what. That counts for a lot.
Next: College Football's 15 Hardest Schedules >>>