NCSA's Best Football Colleges: 2019 NCSA Power Rankings

NCSA's Best Football Colleges: 2019 NCSA Power Rankings


NCSA's Best Football Colleges: 2019 NCSA Power Rankings


USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities and play at the college level. Joe is a former college athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

Choosing the right college is a big decision for any high school football player. Where do you want to spend the next four years of your life? What do you want to study? Should you play NCAA Division I or Division II? The rankings below are designed to get you started on your college search by learning about schools that you may not have thought to consider.

NCSA Power Rankings are based on proprietary analysis of NCSA Favorites data obtained from the college search activity of the over 2 million student-athletes on the NCSA recruiting network, U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, IPEDS graduation rates, and IPEDS average cost after aid.

The goal of these ranking is to help families find the right college fit athletically, academically, socially and financially.

Best Football Colleges

There are over 600 4-year colleges that offer opportunities to play college football. The 2019 overall rankings are dominated by “name brand” schools at the top, there are several NCAA D1-FCS colleges, 9 NCAA Division III colleges and three NCAA Division III colleges.

  1. Stanford University
  2. University of California Los Angeles
  3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. University of Florida
  5. University of Michigan

See the top 100 colleges for football student-athletes

Best NCAA Division I Football Colleges

There are over 250 NCAA Division I colleges, large and small, and in all corners of the US. Fully funded programs can offer up to 85 scholarships per team (FBS) or 63 scholarships per team (FCS). While many families know of the Power Five schools they see on TV, this year’s rankings have a mix of FBS and FCS colleges, showing that the “right college” is really up to the recruit to find.

  1. Stanford University
  2. University of California Los Angeles
  3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. University of Florida
  5. University of Michigan

Top 100 NCAA Division I Football Colleges

Best NCAA Division II Football Colleges

The NCAA Division II level has 170+ colleges with football teams. Division II football teams can offer up to 36 scholarships per team and, unlike FBS programs, coaches can divide the scholarships up among multiple athletes. While most student-athletes think of Division I schools when considering college, they are surprised to find that athletes at the Division II level often have the talent to be Division I, but chose Division II for a better fit.

  1. Bentley University
  2. Truman State University
  3. Grand Valley State University
  4. Colorado School of Mines
  5. Augustana University — South Dakota

Top 100 NCAA D2 Football Colleges

Best NCAA Division III Football Colleges

There are over 240 football colleges competing at the NCAA Division III level. While you may know NCAA Division III schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, most families don’t realize Division III athletes can get several other forms of financial aid (academic scholarships, grants and aid) that can make these schools competitive with any other division levels scholarship offer.

  1. Amherst College
  2. Williams College
  3. Pomona-Pitzer Colleges
  4. Trinity University — Texas
  5. Occidental College

Top 100 NCAA D3 Football Colleges

Best NAIA Colleges

There are just over 80 colleges that have football teams at the NAIA level. Fully funded teams can offer up to 24 scholarships per team. The average roster size is around 100 athletes with scholarships frequently being divided up among athletes as partial scholarships. While an NAIA college might not have been the school you grew up dreaming about, with a little research, you might find it is just what you are looking for.

  1. Northwester College – Iowa
  2. Olivet Nazarene University
  3. University of St. Francis – Illinois
  4. Indiana Wesleyan University
  5. Concordia University – Nebraska

Top 100 NAIA Football Colleges

What to look for in a college as a student-athlete

Student-athletes have even more to consider about a college than their non-athlete peers. Recent research published in an NCSA report shows that nearly 45 percent of college athletes aren’t listed on their teams roster the next year. In more basic terms, too many student-athletes are choosing colleges that aren’t the right fit and end up leaving the team. The below criteria can help families quickly decide if a school is worth considering.

  • Athletic Fit – This is less about knowing how good you need to be to play at a certain level and more about knowing what level is right for you. Would you rather be a starter and get significant playing time or compete at the highest level you can, even if you don’t see much game time?
  • Academic Fit – Having good grades ensures you will have more opportunities at the next level. But you also want to make sure you pick a school that has the major you might want and a manageable academic workload. It is okay if you don’t know these answers initially, like everything in the college search process, they can change.
  • Social Fit – Even before you get the opportunity to get to know a coach or the team, you should think about things like location, school size, weather, distance from home and other important factors. Once you get the opportunity to meet the coach and team, ask questions about coaching style, practice philosophies and how playing time is determined.
  • Financial Fit – Getting a full-ride athletic scholarship is far from the norm in college sports. Families should expect to cover some, if not all of the cost of college for some of the years in school. Rather than focus on just the sticker price of colleges, learn to evaluate schools on your expected contribution. You should know what you are prepared to pay. Realize that it takes time to understand what your final costs might actually be once you talk to a coach.

College list template: How do I make my college list?

Knowing how to evaluate potential schools is only one part of the game. With so many unknowns in the recruiting process — will the coach stay, what if I get hurt, what if I get a lot better next year — you want to have a range of schools on your list. Below, we breakdown how to build a college list that will set you up for success.

  1. Reach School (5-10 schools): Everyone has a dream school. They might be a dream because you aren’t good enough athletically yet, your grades are borderline or maybe it is looks too expensive. You should always have these types of schools on your list because you never know what opportunities might open up, but don’t only have dream schools on your list or you risk never finding an opportunity at the next level. These are schools where you have less than a 5 percent chance of making on the team.
  2. Target School (10-20 schools): These are schools you know you qualify for now or with a conservative estimate on how much better you will get in the near future. Keep in mind, even if a school is a good fit athletically or academically, you are competing against other recruits and there are no guarantees. These are schools where you stand more than a 25 percent chance of making the team and getting into the school.
  3. Safety School (3-5 schools): Imagine everything goes wrong, the coach quits last minute, you get a career-ending injury or just have a big change of heart and decide to go another direction for college. You need safety schools on your list to ensure that, even in the worst-case scenario, you can still make progress towards your degree. These are schools where you have more than a 90 percent chance of getting in and making the team.


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