Twice so far at the Upshot, we’ve published maps showing where fan support for one team begins and another ends — once for baseball and once for basketball. Now we’re pleased to offer another one: the United States according to college football fans.
Unlike professional sports, the college game is much more provincial, with scrappy regional programs dominating their corners of the country. Texas and Oregon are two of the most popular teams, but together they account for only 25 percent of territory in the lower 48 states. There is no team with a level of national support that approaches that of, say, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Lakers.
If you squint while looking at the college football map, you might even think you’re looking at a state map. In the Southeast, strong programs like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana State and Oklahoma dominate their states — and stop right at the border.
But there are enough exceptions to make this quite different from the state maps we all grew up learning. The Minnesota Golden Gophers have been so mediocre for so long — failing to finish in the top 15 nationwide since the Kennedy administration — that fans have moved their support to the Wisconsin Badgers. And Nebraska! They do love their Cornhuskers across much of the Great Plains.
But programs can divide a state, too. Seven colleges, led by the Longhorns, lay claim to at least some part of Texas. Elsewhere, some teams have managed to carve out bits of territory, extending only a bit beyond their campus: Vanderbilt around Nashville; U.C.L.A. on the west side of Los Angeles; and Oregon State, around Corvallis, south of Portland. Then there’s the Northeast, with its relative lack of interest in college football. Once you’re east of the Hudson, no team dominates, and many teams claim a small percentage of fans.
All told, 84 programs can reasonably claim to be the most popular college football team somewhere in the United States.
Like the other sets of maps, these were created using estimates of team support based on each team’s share of Facebook “likes” in a ZIP code. We then applied an algorithm to deal with statistical noise and fill in gaps where data was missing. Facebook “likes” are an imperfect measure, but as we've noted before, Facebook likes show broadly similar patterns to polls.
Cool map, but definitely could've been better by using team logos.