Monday, March 25, 2019

Just like in the NFL, college football is broken down into divisions and conferences. But that’s where the similarities end. College Football’s structure is completely different. And weird.

Okay. So, in college, the divisions are DI, DII, and DIII. Division I is the best so that is the one we are going to focus on. Within each division there are conferences. And then….within that structure, there are actually two subdivisions.

  1. Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS)
  2. Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)

The teams that make up the FBS are the games that everyone tunes into. In fact, when I started to tell my roommate (a huge Ohio State fanatic) about all I had learned about the FBS and the FCS, he looked at me like I grew seven heads and said “um yeah, no one cares about that. The FBS  games are what we watch.”

So why aren’t all teams in the elite FBS? Because the NCAA divides the DI schools into division based on their attendance at games and their scholarships (in other words, do they have enough cash and financial backing for their program to be in the elite).

college football team map


The Football Bowl Subdivision is comprised of

  • Six “Powerhouse” Conferences. They are like the A-list celebrities that you want at your party.
  • The “Mid-Majors” The high end B-listers.
  • The Independents: The randoms celebs that everyone accepts as must-haves at the party, but have no idea why… like Paris Hilton….

In 2009, there are 120 schools that make up the FBS. More can join every year as long as they prove themselves worthy.

The Football Championship Conference is comprised of the other conferences. In other words, these are the people at the party that can provide good entertainment value but no one really cares if they don’t show up.

Oh and one more point, conferences with 12 or more schools are allowed to split into more divisions (i.e. east/west) and can have divisional championship games within their own conference.

The Powerhouse FBS Conferences:

The Atlantic Conference (ACC)
East                                                                  Westacc logo
Boston College                                        Virginia Tech
Clemson                                                    Georgia Tech
Florida State                                           Miami
Maryland                                                 Virginia
North Carolina State                           North Carolina
Wake Forest                                           Duke

The Big Eastbig east logo
West Virginia

The Big 10big 10 logo
Penn State
Ohio State
Mich State

The Big 12big 12 logo small

Colorado                                 Baylor
Iowa State                              Oklahoma
Kansas                                    Oklahoma State
Kansas State                          Texas
Missouri                                 Texas A&M
Nebraska                                Texas Tech

Pacific-10:pac-10 logo
Wash State
Arizona State
Oregon State

Southeastern Conference (SEC):sec logo
Mississippi State
South Carolina

The Mid-Majors:

I’m not going to spend time running through all the teams in these conferences.

  • Conference USA:
  • Mid-American (MAC):
  • Mountain West:
  • Sun Belt
  • Western Athletic (WAC)

The FBS Independents

Somewhere in between the Powerhouses and the Mid-Majors come the Independents. They split from their conferences for various reasons but still participate in the high profile games.
They are:

  • Notre Dame
  • Army
  • Navy


The rest of Division I college football conferences make up the Football Championship Subdivision.

These conferences don’t partake in the whole Bowl Phenomenon that everyone else is so crazy about. Mostly because of financing. The schools in these conferences don’t pull in enough attendance and financial backing to support a bowl game. Instead, they have a 16 team elimination process/playoffs at the end of their season—like most other NCAA sports.

I’m not going to go too in depth with the FCS because, like I said earlier, all of the attention in college football is on the FBS but here is a quick rundown of the conferences:

Big Sky, Big South, Colonial Athletic, Great West, FCS Independents, Ivy League, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Missouri Valley, Northeastern, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Pioneer, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic.

The FBS & The BCS

bowl championship

As if it wasn’t confusing enough, the college football bigwigs created the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to really complicate it.

So remember those six powerhouse conferences of the FBS? Not only do they make up the core of the Football Bowl Subdivision, they are also the six BCS conferences.

Breaking it Down:
Let’s take the Florida Gators (Go Gators!) as the example.
Florida is in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) so: The Florida Gators are in a powerhouse conference in both the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Bowl Championship Series.
Memorize that. It will score major brownie points (although, not if the crew you are out with are FSU or Oklahoma fans!)

So what’s the deal with the BCS?
Way back in the beginning there was only one bowl: The Rose. By the 1940s it grew to 5 and in the ’70s swelled to 11. Currently there are 34 college football bowls, So over the course of time, and as more and more bowl games started to pop up in the post season, the elite wanted to separate themselves from the pack.

The BCS is made up of five key bowl games: The Rose, The Orange, The Sugar, The Fiesta, and the Bowl National Championship Game. Think of them as the Limoges of college football bowls.

bowl championship series bowls

Each bowl features a conference and the top ranked team of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC have an automatic place in their host’s bowl (i.e. the ACC hosts the Orange Bowl so the No. 1 team in the ACC automatically gets to play in the game). Oh, and Notre Dame automatically gets to go if they are ranked in the top 8 because their athletics director helps with BCS standings and decisions. (Sure, that seems fair and not at all like bribery).

In addition to competing to be No. 1 in their respective conferences, all the teams are battling to be the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked BCS teams in the country because those two head to the BCS National Championship Game. The winner of that game is declared the national champ and No. 1 team in the country for the season. To some people.

How it works:


The BCS uses a very complicated set of stats, polls and math to determine the top teams in the country. This is widely debated and topic of controversy every season. I would break it down, but I really have no idea. Even seasoned college football fans have a hard time understanding how the rankings come to be. Because shock of all shocks, they had to go and make it all complicated with all sorts of crazy rules. Think I’m kidding? Check out the BCS Football Selection Procedures if you don’t believe me.

One rule that you should be aware of is that a team cannot play in a BCS Bowl came and then compete in the BCS National Championship. bcs logo

Take last year for example. Oklahoma was the No. 1 team for the Big 12, meaning they had an automatic spot in the Fiesta Bowl. And Florida was the No. 1 team for the SEC, meaning they should play in the Sugar Bowl. But the BCS committee determined that Florida and Oklahoma were the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country and wanted them to be in the Championship. So they were. And Texas played in the Fiesta Bowl in Oklahoma’s spot and Alabama was selected to play in the Sugar Bowl. The newly selected teams do not have to be a part of the host’s original conference (Big 12, SEC in this case).

Yes, my head hurts too from all of this. But apparently it has really helped college football because it was all chaotic before they installed this system. Hmm.

About the author: Jennifer Taglione is the owner of this fabulous website Stiletto Sports. Despite writing well over 500 posts, she still maintains that she is not a sports writer! She is however a huge fan of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Sanchez, the Celtics, and totally kicks butt on March Madness brackets! Connect with her by following her on Twitter @StilettoSportsJ and subscribing to her weekly newsletter. For more info check out the About the Editor page!

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5 Responses

  1. Mike Said,

    Yeah I thought I understood college football, but after reading this…it turns out I had no clue what was going on!

    When is the BCS going to get with it and go to a playoff system?

    Posted on December 4th, 2009 at 4:40 pm

  2. College Football Cafeteria Said,

    Chaotic before they installed this program? Sounds a lot worse now! This is actually one of the best explanations I’ve found about the BCS and how it all works…or doesn’t work, depending on your point of view. I’m of the opinion that this is the most insane way possible to decide a champion in college football. If the FCS and other divisions can have a playoff, why can’t the FBS?

    Posted on December 4th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

  3. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Thank you very much! I researched for a very very very long time to fully understand it myself.
    And I think it’s stupid too.
    Don’t even get me started on the actual rankings of teams which is completely arbitrary–in both ncaa football and basketball!
    But I’m very glad I could help!
    Did you read about hash marks in the differences between nfl & college cuz that one really makes my head hurt

    Posted on December 4th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

  4. Drew Said,

    I have a feeling the great state of Louisiana would be very sad to find you omitted LSU from the SEC.

    Posted on May 2nd, 2011 at 8:03 pm

  5. Stiletto Jen Said,

    it happens! lol! thanks for the heads up

    Posted on May 25th, 2011 at 11:03 am

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