Across all 32 teams in the National Football League, there are a total of 124 quarterbacks going into the 2020/21 season. But the discrepancy in where they’re from provides a unique insight into football culture around the country.
While on a state basis California has provided the most quarterbacks to the current NFL, the South has just over 40% of quarterbacks coming from the area. The division of the geographical areas was done in line with the United States Census Bureau definition.
Some consideration has to be given to the fact of the number of states constituting each area, and the size of those given states. The South, for example, has 16 states and includes Texas, while the West has 13, including California. The Northeast, by comparison, is comprised of nine states and the largest of those is New York. The state is only the 27th largest in the country by square kilometres.
Another noticeable pattern for quarterbacks is the amount that elect to remain in their geographical area. 63.71% of quarterbacks remain for their college career. Of the 79 that stayed within their region, 26 (32.91%) of those remained in their home state.
But the cause behind the varying numbers of quarterbacks produced could be perceived as somewhat basic. This spread of player bears a correlation to the number of high schools within each state. California has the highest, at 9,551. Texas follows with 8,543 and Florida just edges Illinois for third-highest with 4,128.
Additionally, players are more likely to attend those colleges which increase their chance of success. Considering the likelihood of a player to stick within their geographical region, it’s unsurprising that particular areas are providing more athletes. But while the disparate number of high schools is one factor, so too are the NCAA Division I-A colleges rankings since 2000.
The last 20 years is a useful timeframe because the 2000 NFL draft is the furthest back in which an active quarterback was taken. Tom Brady, famously with the 199th pick and now widely accepted as the greatest draft steal of all time. In those 20 years, colleges in the South and Midwest have dominated NCAA Division I-A football rankings.
In the last 20 years, both the West and the Midwest have had the top college ranking just twice. The former with the University of Southern California in 2004 and 2005, and Ohio State for the latter on both occasions, in 2002 and 2014.
In that time, a college from the South has been top in the country an astonishing 16 times. The University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, the college team of Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovaiola, is the most successful. They’ve finished top of the leaderboard five times. The most recent number one was Joe Burrow’s Louisiana State University, the 2020 College Football Playoff National Champions.
It comes as a surprise that the West has significantly worse college performances than the Midwest, given the aforementioned number of high schools and quarterbacks likely to stay within their area. Additionally, California alone has over 1,200 colleges and universities in the state, according to UnivSearch. The next highest is New York with 632, then Texas with 506.
California is also home to three NFL teams, the joint highest in the league. The Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, and the San Francisco 49ers all call the West Coast home, while the Oakland Raiders have just moved to Las Vegas. Florida also has three with the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Jacksonville Jaguars. Texas has two, the same as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
So there’s a question on what it is that breeds and nurtures footballing culture to a different extent outside of the West. Why does the West, with its high football output, fall way behind at a collegiate level? Evidently, California knows how to create the quarterbacks, but the fine-tuning to prepare for a professional career is all done in the limited-spaces of elite college systems found in the South and Midwest.
The discrepancy is partially created by the fact that college teams typically have three quarterbacks on their roster. This is the same as the NFL, and only a certain amount can be drafted. The others may play for less superior teams, but their starting berths enable them to challenge for a spot in the league. Of the 124 active quarterbacks in the NFL, a combined 52 of those have come out of California, Texas and Florida alone.
Additionally, there’s a particular focus on football programmes in the South, with 11 of the top wealthiest in the area. At the top is Texas, which has a budget of $143.1m assigned to the Longhorns. But the West does feature in the top 20, twice, through Washington (17th, $81.1m) and Oregon (20th, $70.5m).
When it comes to the starting quarterbacks in the league, the numbers follow the trend of California and and Texas leading the way – but Florida drops off the mark slightly, with three of the ten starting. The worst performing state is Georgia, with one starter out of six.
The state with the best ratio of those with more than one active quarterback is Ohio; three of the state’s four quarterbacks are starters for their team; Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers).
At its core, it’s relatively simple to determine quite why the South produces such significantly higher quarterbacks than the rest of the country. If you remove California from the West, the South accounts for nearly 53% of those in the league. Although this makes sense due to the size of the state, it also shows California to be an outlier.
One ranking which is somewhat inverse to the number of quarterbacks is the wealth across the United States. While it dominates the above charts, the only Southern state in the top 20 wealthiest is Virginia (tenth). The next is Texas, at 24th. Socioeconomic factors are a significant driver in football culture. Sport often provides a realistic escape route from poverty, despite the intense competition for limited places. Athletics also become a tool for many to achiever higher education, unable to afford the otherwise hefty fees.
The combination of year-round football and the community-driven aspect encourages the intensity of the sport in the South. The annual average temperature in Florida, for example, is 21.5 C, and in Alabama, it’s 17.1. Indiana is 10.9, but New York and Colorado drop to just over seven.
When high school football games are able to attract crowds upwards of 40,000, it’s no surprise there’s such a high level of athletes coming forward. The Texas record, set at the Allen v Pearland game in 2013, is 54, 347. Perhaps there’s no better example of cultural devotion than Friday Night Lights.
Additionally, the aforementioned budget allocation reveals the extent to which the South prides itself on collegiate football. 19/30 of the wealthiest budgets are in the South. The fanbases are similarly inclined, with 85% of the Birmingham population follows college football, as does 41% of Atlanta. In Los Angeles, it’s 17% and 19% in Chicago.
But it isn’t those areas alone which pay attention to football in the South and beyond. Of the top ten supported schools around the country, six are in the South, three in the Midwest, and one in the Northeast.
Ultimately, California is able to put forward a remarkably high level of quarterbacks, and inevitably flood the system due to this number. But the calibre of honing beyond the West is the sought after gold of collegiate football.
Extreme loyalty has fostered a culture that now exudes, and demands, a quality that is essentially professional its calibre. It has become the identity of specific locales, a point of pride and a mark of the area’s standing.
The tradition of football is etched into the tapestry of the United States, and this is by no means to suggest it’s limited to specific parts of the country. But for some it’s entertainment, and for others, the sport has become a quasi-religious feature of life.