USA Today's Top 10 Toughest Places to Win (Football)

Submitted by ndekett on June 22nd, 2018 at 7:54 AM

USA Today yesterday released its top 10 toughest places to win in football (from the perspective of a coach/fan, not from that of a visiting opponent). They are:

  1. Oregon St
  2. Vandy
  3. Duke
  4. Indiana
  5. K-State
  6. Kansas
  7. Iowa St
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Wash St

I, for one, think it is egregious that the highest Big Ten team is Indiana, rather than Buttgers. The article's author cites the fact that Indiana is a basketball school first, so that hurts them. I've only been a CFB fan since 2005, but my qualitative opinion is that Rutgers (sp?) is the hardest place to win right now. They have been a perennial laughingstock since joining the Big Ten, constantly have their best in-state talent poached, and have zero street cred outside of the Northeast.

I won't take the time to develop my own Big Ten list. But, I think one could make the case that MSU would be surprisingly high on this list since they have to, historically, play second fiddle to their in-state rivals on the recruiting trail and my understanding is that their assistant payrolls are not very good. OSU (not the one on the list above), would probably be about the easiest place to win nationally. The only factors I can think of that work against them are weather and the fact that a recruit would almost certainly have to live in Ohio, since commuting is probably not an option.

What say you?



June 22nd, 2018 at 11:04 AM ^

Everyone hates playing in Pullman. It’s brutal to travel to, the weather is weird (snow in September, sudden 50 mph winds), games are played late into the night, teams that stay overnight have to room 70 miles away in Spokane, and the students are notoriously drunk/rowdy.

This does not make Wazzu a great football team, but there’s no question that  they have a huge homefield advantage. 


June 22nd, 2018 at 8:10 AM ^

Rutgers has some history, is in a good recruiting footprint, and Rutgers was tied for 9th in the B10 standings last season.

Also, you really aren't sure how to spell Rutgers...?


June 22nd, 2018 at 8:23 AM ^

It was a bad joke. Buttgers.

Of the teams they finished ahead of, I think only Illinois and Indiana are close in terms of tough places to win in the long run.

Rutgers may be in a solid recruiting footprint geographically, but it seems interest in college football is so low in the Northeast that solid recruits don't really care to stay there. I think Rutgers had a good season in the mid- to late- 2000's, but I think things have gotten worse for them since joining the Big Ten.


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:04 AM ^

A true testament to how bad a joke is is how much detail you have to provide to demonstrate that it is, indeed a joke.

The joke was that it is actually spelled "Buttgers" and that "Rutgers" is a misspelling of their name. I promise I know how to spell Rutgers. I won my third grade spelling bee, fergodsakes. I have not, however, won any comedy competitions. 


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:16 AM ^

I got the joke now... It was early.

I just think our current impression of Rutgers and how bad they've been since joining the B10 is influencing our opinions. Indiana has the lowest all time win % of any P5 team, followed by Northwestern.

I think Northwestern is an incredibly hard place to build a program, but we don't see it that way because of how good of a job Pat Fitzgerald has done.


June 22nd, 2018 at 10:49 PM ^

Well I think being the academic institution that it is, it puts a ceiling on teams like NW. Or at least makes it that much harder to win. But I also think it helps you build a solid program. There are always going to be some players who think academics are as important and they're in that niche market.

I think the OP makes a good point about a lack of interest in the Northeast too. Even if the talent is there, it's going to be hard to keep them around when they don't have a strong pull to that university because no one cares about Rutgers.


June 22nd, 2018 at 8:27 AM ^

I think Illinois should be on there...Illinois has really been worse than Rutgers in the last 20 years or so. People forget because they'll have a random really good year like the year they made the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, but theyve had 15!! losing seasons in the last 20 years. 


June 22nd, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

This list isn't about how successful a team has been, but about how hard it is to build a team, period. They have Washington State there, which as some have observed has actually done pretty well. But they're talking about the overall position of the program, not just recent history: facilities, recruiting base, funding, alumni, everything.

Illinois isn't a sleeping giant, per se, but I would argue that it's a sleeping mid-major that should be better than it is. It's not a black hole like Kansas or Oregon State, or like Indiana for that matter.

Bluebells and maize

June 22nd, 2018 at 9:39 AM ^

Underachievers, not disadvantaged.

Admittedly haven't read the full article yet, so apologies if I missed the point, but Illinois and Rutgers have no business being on such a list because they both SHOULD be so much better than they are. Large schools with at least regional appeal, lots of resources, etc. I mean Illinois' biggest in state (a very populous state I might add) is Northwestern (who has a strong case to be on the list). Similarly, NJU is a huge regional school in a recruiting bed so amazing it produced Peppers and Gary just a couple years apart.

To me, however, the biggest historical underachiever is Minnesota. Huge school, great metropolitan campus, deep (but remote) history but never a B1G contender.


June 22nd, 2018 at 10:32 AM ^

Exactly - Illinois & Rutgers under-achieve. 

They don't have the structural advantages of a U-M or Ohio State. 

But they definitely have structural advantages over the likes of Indiana or Northwestern. 

Those latter 2 are the most disadvantaged schools (from a football POV) in the B1G, IMO.


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:01 AM ^

I think the list is pretty bad overall.  How can Washington State and Kansas State be included?


Here is my list in no particular order:

Oregon State






Wake Forest


Texas Tech


(Maybe swap out Iowa State for Wake?)


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:08 AM ^

That's a solid list. I didn't think of Wake Forest. I think Illinois belongs on the list, but that's splitting hairs. Also, Kansas state was included, according to the author, that they have only won in the last thirty years because Bill Snyder is a demi-god (my words). I guess I could see his point, but it's an odd thing to speculate about when you have programs like Rutgers and Illinois out there.


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:09 AM ^

Depending on one’s definition of winning, Schiano won at Rutgers. He did it in great part by “building a wall around New Jersey” and securing most of a consistantly solid high school football program   for Rutgers, year after year. If somebody from Rutgers ever wakes up and actually thinks about rebuilding that program, they’re gonna go looking for a great recruiter, that has connections in state in order to re-apply that plan. Worry about that one if you’re looking for a new worry for today.

Indiana has no shot. They were fun for a minute, but haven’t been good since John Pont and the “cardiac kids.”


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:10 AM ^

Historically, Rutgers had a moment or two where they've done OK for themselves, so if that's the reason for not including them here, I suppose I can buy it. If the list is talking about recent success or lack thereof, then they probably should be here and Kansas State and Washington State, among others, should fall off. Indiana is more or less an all-timer, as is Kansas, when it comes to the sheer inability to piece together a relevant football program. I do agree with Iowa State being here, as it is one of the few programs that would sell its mother - if it had one to sell - for an 8-4 season.

SMart WolveFan

June 22nd, 2018 at 9:16 AM ^

Hey USaToday, how about:

Toughest College football programs to be competitive with.


College football geographical oddities, programs that are always two weeks away from winning.

Or anything not so ambiguous.

Arb lover

June 22nd, 2018 at 9:29 AM ^

Vandy kind of has a nitch as sort of the Northwestern of the SEC since they have the academics but not really the blue blood legacy. It's also one of the cooler places to live in SEC territory. I'd put vandy lower on the list, tbh.


June 22nd, 2018 at 9:56 AM ^

Rutgers actually shouldn’t be THAT difficult. 

I mean they’re in a bad place right now, but the state of New Jersey has some really good talent and they’re not far from the DMV area that produces a lot of talent. 

If they can get their finances sorted out and begin to properly fund their program, they have the potential to be pretty good. 

It’s an uphill battle for sure, but there are plenty of schools I’d say it’s more difficult to win at. 

Hotel Putingrad

June 22nd, 2018 at 11:08 AM ^

As a Vandy alum, I can only nod my head in agreement. You just can't recruit the kind of depth necessary to compete in the SEC on any sustainable basis. But that's okay. I'll take the occasional good year with all the bad. Academic standards are worth it, and their guys are legit students. 


June 22nd, 2018 at 11:58 AM ^

Who did they possibly ask - I cant imagine a single SEC team that doesn't go its a road game but it Vanderbilt. I am sure Bama, LSU and Georgia get the shivers when they travel there.


This list is crap


June 22nd, 2018 at 1:00 PM ^

I don't know about this list. Duke and Vandy make sense. But Wazzu, Texas Tech, K-State, and even Oregon State have been good in the last 15 years. The latter two programs make up for lack of recruiting hotbeds with juco transfers successfully. 

I think the following are more difficult, due to some combination of lack of historic success, tepid institutional support, and high academic standards: Stanford, Rutgers, Northwestern, Cal, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Virginia. 


June 22nd, 2018 at 2:35 PM ^

It's funny how recency bias impacts this list. 30 years ago Northwestern would have been top of the list undisputed. Also at that time, California was known for churning out a very large volume of prospects. While still a leader, it does not seem like California produces the same volume as before. That has impacted the Washington & Oregon schools. So has conference realignment which now sees Utah & Colorado with a much larger emphasis on recruiting California.

If you go by a few factors (geography, proximity to recruiting base, school emphasis, and history) my list would like this. I'm discounting any influence an individual head coach may have had over the years.

- Kansas & Kansas St. (Far enough away from Texas recruits that proximity is a tough sell. Kansas City is the closest large urban area. Basketball is definitely top dog at Kansas. KSU historically so as well.

- Utah. Remote...from recruiting, from large urban areas. Salt Lake City is a unique urban area which will not appeal to everyone. Traditionally more of a focus has been on basketball. There recent history in football is really amazing and a testament to the coaches they have had.

- Syracuse. Proximity to recruiting bases in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but you have to fight Penn St, Pitt, OSU & Michigan for them. Buffalo is nice, but not really a large urban area. Huge emphasis on basketball. Their on and off history of success in football is really amazing given the circumstances.

- Mississippi & Mississippi St. Despite the recent success due to, well, coaches (one good and one bad) Mississippi is not traditionally a talent rich state despite being in the south. What good talent they produce often goes to more traditional programs in LSU, Alabama, Auburn, and Arkansas. Drawing kids from out of state can be a problem as well due to culture.

- Nebraska. I know people will question this, but things have changed for them. No longer part of the Big 8 or Big 12 they have limited appeal to Texas recruiting. Can't really claim ties to St, Louis, Twin Cities or Chicago. They have the history and the dedication, but I would not say it is easy. Frost may do well and that could carry on the tradition, but the gap between Osborn and Frost has proven Nebraska could fall off the map pretty quickly if the right coach does not exist.



June 22nd, 2018 at 11:37 PM ^

Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois should not be on the list. Lots of talent in those states to recruit and all are schools relatively convenient to get to. Illinois and Rutgers also have some history of success. Since 2000, Illinois has beaten Ohio State as many times as has Michigan. 

Franklin won at Vandy. Spurrier won at Duke and Cutcliffe has had success. Both are convenient and located in good recruiting territory. Like Northwestern and Stanford they actually have high admission standards for athletes unlike some schools whose fans claim they do. But there has been success at all four. 

Tough to win based on location and low local/regional talent - K State, Wash State, Oregon State. Could argue Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska, but for the history at the last two. 

Love it when Michigan fans bash their rival Rutgers which has only beaten 5 Big Ten teams since joining the conference - Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Illinois, and of course Michigan. Oh yes, that was before your savior arrived. But finish better than third in the East and then you can talk smack about Rutgers.