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Six maps and charts that explain the state of college football

Data shows how transfers, recruiting, conference consolidation and dominance have changed the sport.
The USC Trojans play during an NCAA football game
The University of Southern California Trojans play in 2022. This year, 46% of the team’s players came from out of state, far below the national average among top teams of 60%.John Cordes / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images file

The college football season begins in force this weekend. But the sport that kicks off this year — the 10th year of the college football playoff — looks different compared to a decade ago.

Several years of shifting alliances, conference consolidations and new rules around athlete earnings and transfer opportunities have profoundly changed the landscape of college football. During that time, two conferences — and one state in particular — have come to dominate the landscape.

Here are six charts and maps that show the state of college football as it heads into the new season.

The South is a football factory

Recruiting new players is a large part of developing a winning football program, and when it comes to producing top players, no region of the country does it like the South. When adjusted for population, 6 of the 10 states that have produced the most players on this year’s Associated Press top-25 preseason teams are in the South: Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida. Only Hawaii has produced a higher rate of top-25 players than Georgia or Alabama, the states that are home to the last three national champions.

When it comes to raw numbers, California’s Los Angeles County ranks No. 1. More student athletes playing on top 25 teams  — 524 — have been recruited from there in the past decade.

The big two conferences get richer

The Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference have long been at the top of college football,  producing seven of the champions in the playoff era. But this year’s preseason rankings really show the strength of the conferences. This season every team in the AP preseason’s top 5 — a signal of a serious championship contender — is a member of either the Big Ten or the SEC.

The preseason rankings come amid continued reorganization within the sport, the top conferences slated to only grow bigger and stronger in the coming seasons.

In 2024, the Big Ten will grow to 18 teams after poaching four high-profile schools — the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Oregon and the University of Washington, from the West Coast’s Pac-12 conference. A decade ago the Big Ten was at 12 teams.

The Pac-12, meanwhile, has lost 10 schools since last season, including two on Friday.

Players on the move

But it’s not just teams moving around. New rules around transferring and eligibility — which some coaches have criticized — have led to an explosion in player movement between schools. In 2021, the year these changes went into effect, 1,770 players entered the transfer portal — a database used by college football’s governing body to manage student transfers. In 2023, that figure jumped to roughly 2,500, a 41% increase.

Recruitment since the transfer portal was introduced has changed as well. In 2023, 60% of the players on the AP’s top 25 teams came from out of state. In 2017 that figure was 55%.