Ranking the college football teams with the most fans

Ranking the college football teams with the most fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Here are four words fans from across the country have been longing to hear: College football is here.

The action will get underway on Saturday, Aug. 27, with 11 games in Week 0. The action will pick up the following week once teams in the top 25 finally take the field. 

The early-season slate will see some of the sport’s most popular teams face one another. While there is a ranking for how strong each team is entering the season, someone took things a step further by measuring those teams’ fans.

By combining several studies from The New York Times and FiveThirtyEight, 2020 U.S. Census data, Google trends and more, Tony Altimore of Altimore Collins & Company was able to analyze the size of 130 FBS fanbases, including breakdowns by school and conference. 

Here’s what Altimore’s findings tell us ahead of the 2022 college football season:

Which college football team has the biggest fanbase?

The biggest fanbase in college football resides in Columbus, Ohio.

Altimore estimates that Ohio State has 11.26 million fans in all. The Buckeyes are the only team with an eight-figure fanbase in his findings.

Notre Dame ranks second with over 8 million fans. The two programs with the biggest fanbases will go head-to-head in Week 1 of the college football season, as the Fighting Irish will head to the Horseshoe for a primetime battle on Sept. 3.

Texas, Penn State and Michigan round out the top five, while SEC powerhouses are also well-represented among the most popular teams.

Here are the 16 college football teams with the biggest estimated fan bases, per Altimore:

1. Ohio State: 11.26 million

2. Notre Dame: 8.21 million

3. Texas: 7.82 million 

4. Penn State: 6.36 million

5. Michigan: 6.26 million

6. Florida: 5.89 million

7. Oregon: 5.54 million

8. Alabama: 5.34 million

9. Wisconsin: 4.57 million

10. USC: 4.46 million

11. LSU: 4.02 million

12. Georgia: 3.99 million

13. Texas A&M: 3.87 million

14. Syracuse: 3.45 million

T-15 Auburn: 3.27 million

T-15. Tennessee: 3.27 million

Which college football conference has the most fans?

The two conferences that are adding notable programs in the coming years own the largest fan bases. Altimore has the SEC (54.1 million) and Big Ten atop the list for conferences with the most fans.

Here are the 10 conferences with the most fans, according to Altimore’s findings:

1. SEC: 54.1 million

2. Big Ten: 44.6 million

3. ACC: 31.7 million

4. Pac-12: 23.5 million

5. Big 12: 11.6 million

6. Mountain West: 4.9 million

7. AAC: 3.3 million

8. Sun Belt: 1.8 million

9. Conference USA: 1.1 million

10. MAC: 0.7 million 

It is worth noting that Altimore’s numbers are a bit premature. Texas (7.82 million) and Oklahoma (3.2 million) are included in the SEC figures even though they are not expected to officially join the conference until 2025.

USC (4.46 million) and UCLA (2.35 million) were grouped with the Pac-12 in Altimore’s initial publication. He later released an addendum to his charts by placing the two California schools in the Big Ten, though their change of conference hasn’t taken place yet.

With that said, even with Texas, Oklahoma, USC and UCLA placed in their proper, current conferences, the SEC and Big Ten would still hold the top two spots, respectively.

The ACC figure is also skewed since it includes Notre Dame, which plays a predominantly-ACC schedule but is not an official member of the conference in football. Without Notre Dame’s fans included, the ACC would be in a tie with the Pac-12 as the conference with the third-most supporters.