Midnight yells, firing a cannon at kick-off, a human tunnel of freshmen—the nation’s most rabid college football fans are arguably found right here in Texas. But does fanaticism always translate to happiness? Apparently not, according to ESPN, which recently ranked every Division 1 college football program in its “Fan Happiness Index.” It’s hard to argue with the top three—Ohio State, Florida State, and Alabama—as those fanbases have been lucky enough to enjoy championship titles in three of the last four seasons. But ESPN’s rankings gave fans in the Lone Star State something to get disgruntled about—you know, if they weren’t apparently so unhappy already.
Before we get to the rankings, let’s go over the methodology of the index, which gives us an idea of why ESPN thinks fans in Texas are so sad. The rankings pull from data like strength of records for the last four years, and the program’s current Football Power Index rating versus the rating over recent history—so, basically, how well the team has performed of late versus the expectations longtime fans have for the program based on prior success or failure. It also takes into account how well the team has played against rival programs, coaching stability, recruiting patterns, revenue growth, and the percentage of positive fan tweets. Most of the “historical” data is only pulled from the last four seasons.
It’s a super wonky attempt to quantify human emotion, so it’s going to have some questionable results. Here’s where Texas teams ranked:
At number 21, TCU ranks with the happiest fans in Texas, with ESPN giving them an “elated” rating. But TCU fans are in danger of dropping lower on the index. “Clearly, TCU fans think this year will be more like 2015 than 2016,” ESPN writes, referencing the five-win difference between those two seasons. “Because if not… they’ll fly down this list.” Notably, the index did not take into account the fact that the real-life namesake of TCU’s mascot, the Horned Frog, is an endangered species quickly disappearing from the state, a harsh reality that surely weighs heavily on the mind of TCU fans each Saturday in the fall. Looking past possible amphibian demise, it’s a good ranking from ESPN: TCU has one of the strongest programs in the nation, and arguably has been the most solidly successful program in Texas over the last decade, winning eight of ten bowl game appearances in that time span—though when you look at the fanbases ESPN ranked as happier than TCU’s, things get a little questionable. Northwestern is ranked number nine. Appalachian State is number ten. Even Toledo somehow snuck in above TCU, at number nineteen. Something seems amiss here, ESPN.
It only gets worse.
Baylor is the next Texas team ranked, coming in at number thirty on the index. ESPN says Baylor fans are “content.” Perhaps “conflicted” would be a better way to put it. Baylor, of course, has had tremendous on-field success over the last five years or so, but the football program is currently mired in a seemingly never-ending sexual assault scandal, that resulted in the firing of head football coach Art Briles, and the resignation of the athletics director and the university president. ESPN puts it mildly, writing only that new Baylor coach Matt Rhule “faces a rebuilding project” after the firing of Briles. The program’s “Twitter Buzz” ranking, though a lowly 36, is still suspiciously high. Anyone who has ever come across a Baylor Bear fan online knows that those folks are almost always Internet Angry at something—usually it’s a perceived media bias favoring UT-Austin that sets this digital fanbase off. (Don’t believe it? Scroll down to see the comments on this article.) The bottom line: ESPN’s ranking of fan happiness at Baylor seems too high.
Next up is the University of Texas at Austin, number 37 on ESPN’s index, earning a rating of “content.” That’s a strange one, too. Lately, the Longhorns have disappointed under former head coach Charlie Strong, but the fans still have four national titles and the fourth-most wins of any program ever. That’s, uh, a lot to be happy about. And despite recent struggles, the Longhorns seem to be back on track under new head coach Tom Herman, who helped land UT in the preseason top 25 rankings this year and is putting together an impressive recruiting class. But according to ESPN, Longhorns fans are somehow less happy than fans of bottom-feeding programs like Syracuse, NC State and Tulsa, the three teams ranked immediately ahead of Texas. And how unhappy could Longhorn fans possibly be when their mascot is Bevo? UT’s fanbase deserves to be higher on this list.
University of Texas at San Antonio is, inexplicably, the next happiest fanbase in Texas. ESPN ranked fans of the Roadrunners forty-third on the index, calling them “content.” Most of the program’s individual ratings are pretty low, but ESPN bizarrely gave these guys a 99 rating (out of 100) in the recruiting category. The ESPN Index blurb writers say UTSA “recruited like crazy in 2017, hauling in 16 three-star recruits, which exceeded previous expectations.” That’s great for UTSA, but ESPN’s separate 2017 recruiting class rankings had the Roadrunners at just 73rd—hardly a ranking that will vault UTSA into the top tier of college football teams. UTSA does not belong this high. There’s just no way fans of a middling low-level program like this one can be so happy.
Questionably, UTSA was ranked four slots above the University of Houston. The supposedly “content” Cougars have the 47th happiest fanbase in the country, according to ESPN. “This is holdover Tom Herman happiness,” ESPN wrote, noting the departure of the Cougar’s head coach to UT. There may be some drop-off under new coach Major Applewhite, but Cougars fans have still got to be floating on cloud nine after suffering through years of mediocrity. Two seasons ago UH went 13-1 and won the Peach Bowl, and last season’s 9-4 record showed the program’s resurgence was no one-hit wonder. UH fans also have a still-sparkling new 40,000 seat stadium to enjoy, where loyal Cougar-cheerers were treated to an unforgettable 36-10 slaughter of then-third-ranked Louisville in November last season. And yet Old Dominion, Duke and Tulane all have happier fanbases than Houston, according to ESPN’s Index. Come on.
Then there’s Texas A&M. Surely the vaunted “12th Man,” the formidable Aggies fanbase, with its Yell Leaders and maroon-clad crowd, is highly valued by ESPN’s index, right? Wrong. Aggie fans are the next Texas team on the list, ranked way down at number 91. ESPN describes A&M’s fan base as “disappointed,” writing that head coach Kevin Sumlin’s seat is “red-hot.” While Aggie fans may, in fact, be perpetually disappointed, ESPN’s coaching stability rating of one out of 100 doomed A&M here, unfairly sinking the rest of the program’s solid marks—an 84 in program power and a 99 in Twitter buzz. Among the programs who purportedly have happier fans than Texas A&M: San Jose State, Fresno State, and Rutgers. In 2016, those three teams won fewer games combined than A&M did. This is dumb, ESPN.
After A&M’s disrespectful ranking, things get even uglier for Texas teams. UTEP is ranked 101st; ESPN says the Miners fanbase is “distraught”, which may not be inaccurate, but is definitely rude. Texas Tech is way down at 113. “Fans might be happier if the Red Raiders could play a little defense,” writes ESPN. That’s… not wrong, but still, Tech had its moments last year, beating Texas rivals TCU and Baylor and falling short in an exceedingly entertaining 66-59 loss to Oklahoma, when both teams combined for an NCAA-record 1,708 offensive yards. Tech has also won two bowl games since 2012, and fans were able to watch quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was talented enough to be selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. ESPN seems to be overstating the level of woe in Lubbock. After Texas Tech, SMU is next at 114, which seems pretty fair, given the consistent struggles that program inflicts on its fans.
Down at the bottom of the list, three of the unhappiest fan bases in college football are in Texas, according to ESPN’s Index. North Texas sits at 123 (“It’s hard for fans to show much enthusiasm when 5-8 is a giant leap in the right direction,” ESPN writes); Rice is at 125, and poor Texas State fans are ranked dead last at 128. Sorry, Bobcat fans. All is lost.