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What Are NFL Teams’ College Football Counterparts?

  • Daniel Olinger
  • June 6, 2023
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What if a bar conversation came to life in an article?

That’s the goal today. There is no tangible value to these comparisons. There is no straight-line logic to these comparisons. It’s just a fun topic. What college football and NFL teams match each other in vibes, history, and playstyle? Which fan base on either side of the comparison is going to be more upset at being told “you are like them”?

Let’s dive in:

Dallas Cowboys = Michigan Wolverines 

Both have a long and rich history of winning that’s been used to buttress their failures in the 21st century (given, the past two years of Michigan football have hurt this argument). Both might call themselves the most successful team in the sport’s history despite most people having a better memory of their worst losses than anything else. Ask an NFL fan or a Big Ten fan what they think of the Cowboys and/or Michigan, and you’re likely to see a hint of disgust in their tone.

Undoubtedly the Cowboys and Michigan are two staples of football at the collegiate and professional levels, and they really have won more than almost anyone else in the sport. But they’ve fumbled the bag a lot in the past two decades, and I think a lot of people have had plenty of fun watching that. 

Green Bay Packers = Ohio State Buckeyes

If you hear a national analyst talk about the history of Ohio State football, the phrase “never been bad” comes up almost immediately. Buckeye fans were disgusted with the 2011 season following Jim Tressel’s dismissal, as the seven losses they suffered that year were the most in the ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM. They had their most losses ever and still made a bowl game and had a win over Russell Wilson’s Wisconsin. 

Likewise, the Packers have been good and relevant for as long as anyone can remember. They won the first two Super Bowls on record and have had a generational franchise quarterback for essentially 30 straight years. They’ve won 15 of the last 25 NFC North titles. Being a Packers fan rarely includes losing seasons. 

And yet … both fan bases probably feel like they’ve massively underachieved over the past 20 years. They each have one title to their name with the 2010 and 2014 seasons, so it’s not a complete failure, but both Green Bay and Ohio State fans think often about all their teams during the 2010s that should have been winning titles but somehow disappointed again and again. 

The Packers fumbled away potential if not likely titles with postseason collapses in 2011, 2014, 2020, and 2021 (their four worst playoff defeats, in my opinion). Just this past year, Ohio State blew a golden opportunity to dethrone Georgia and likely roll over TCU for its first title since the Cardale Jones miracle run.

They’re both great teams who are always good, but they feel like they should be great a little more often.

New York Giants = Auburn Tigers

Both are wellsprings of weirdness, from the Giants employing Joe Judge and letting him call a QB sneak on 3rd-and-9, to every Auburn game including some 1-in-1,000,000 happening that either gives Auburn a win or makes them blow a 20-point lead. They’re both teams integral to the history of their respective sports and seemingly have more rivals than should be humanly possible. 

And yet, despite both more often spending seasons as comedic relief than as contenders, each had two incredible runs a decade or more ago that ended in a title or close to it. The 2007 and 2011 Giants’ Super Bowl runs are two of the most baffling outcomes of all time considering how that team both pulled off the feat and subsequently collapsed in the years after 2011. Auburn is so bizarre that they went from undefeated 2010 champs with the best CFB player ever, to a 3-9 disaster in 2012, to near champs again in 2013 on the back of the two most improbable wins perhaps ever. 

Just weird, WEIRD teams. 

New England Patriots = Alabama Crimson Tide

I should not have to defend this one.

Detroit Lions = Kansas Jayhawks

Your entire existence in the football universe has been about how you’ve had a bad time, and you should probably stop because it’s clear you are cursed. 

If you need more evidence these two moribund teams are connected, look no further than 2007, when Kansas put together the most improbable 12-1 season of all-time, which in 2008 was immediately followed by the Lions becoming the first ever 0-16 team in NFL history. It was our way of being told that this sport can only handle one of the Lions or Kansas being good at a single time. The 0-16 campaign and the Orlovsky safety was an order-restoring act.

Denver Broncos = LSU Tigers

With three titles each in recent history (yes LSU fans, I know you also won a title in 1958), both the Broncos and the Tigers have been home to some of the sport’s most talented teams and have seemingly always been in contention for at least some 3-5 year stretch during each decade. 

They both, however, have also been prone to very public and comedic missteps. The Broncos post-2015 Super Bowl have hired and fired three different head coaches and employed enough quarterbacks that you’d think the position had been listed on LinkedIn. LSU followed up maybe the greatest collegiate season ever in 2019 with an immediate 11-12 stretch that was bad enough to cost Ed Orgeron his job. 

Pittsburgh Steelers = USC Trojans

People might disagree with this due to the mythos of the Steel Curtain from the 1970s Steelers’ dynasty and how current USC and west coast football as a whole is perceived. The Steelers are forever the team built on defense and hard-hitting, while Lincoln Riley-led USC wants to win each game 62-55. 

I perceive these two in tandem because things were really popping for a time. The Steelers long held the claim that their franchise was the greatest to ever do it and that no one could ever truly catch their success. USC claimed five national titles from the 1960s and 1970s, and just like the Steelers, rose back to prominence in the mid-2000s to claim two more. Travel back in time to 1979 and ask a football fan who the two standards of the sport are and the two most common answers would be the Steelers and USC. 

But that’s the sad part—even though you used to be the unstoppable juggernaut in the sport, that time is clearly past now. Things end, dynasties fall, and USC and the Steelers no longer rule us all.

Miami Dolphins = Texas Longhorns

This is a step down from the level of success both the Steelers and USC achieved, but the same step-by-step analysis can be applied. It’s a good thing both the Dolphins and Texas did some historic winning in the past because that stuff ain’t ever coming back. 


Jacksonville Jaguars = South Carolina: Have never won anything but both the teams and the fan bases themselves are very funny to watch at times.

Buffalo Bills = Wisconsin: Love the cold, love to drink, and have had a lot of great teams, but have never won it all—and likely never will. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers = Kansas State: Up through the 1980s, both were two of the most depressing teams to support. But in the 21st century, they’ve both been very fun and successful?

Cleveland Browns = Duke: This is mainly so I can shoehorn in the absurd fact that Duke football went 10-82 over an eight-year stretch from 2000-2008 that included three winless seasons. That’s a Browns-esque stretch if I’ve ever seen it. 

Chicago Bears = Iowa:  Except for one random year in the 1980s, both teams have essentially never been good at offense. EVER.

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Daniel Olinger