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Orange College Football Teams Are Having A Moment

This college football season has been a little brighter than usual.

Two weeks ago, an orange crush of more than 100,000 fans converged on Neyland Stadium after the Tennessee Volunteers toppled the Alabama Crimson Tide on a last-second field goal. It was perhaps the most indelible image of the season yet — a status that lasted about an hour before it was one-upped by those same fans discarding the stadium goal post in the Tennessee River.

But Knoxville isn’t the only campus experiencing an orange surge. Nine weeks into the 2022 season, it’s shaping up to be a banner season for one of the brightest colors on the visible spectrum: orange. 

Two of the five ranked matchups this past weekend pitted an orange university against another orange university. Two teams in the top five of the AP PollTennessee and Clemson.

">1 claim orange as a primary color, as do three other programs in the top 25.Illinois, Oklahoma State and Syracuse. ">2 Orange represents two of the three highest-scoring offenses in the country and the nation’s stingiest defense. Two of the seven players with shorter than +4500 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, according to FanDuel, are also part of the orange renaissance. 

Furthermore, many of the biggest storylines in the sport seem inextricably linked to the color. Clemson has the second-best odds of any team to reach the playoff, according to our model.3 Tennessee is 7-0 for the first time since Tee Martin led the Vols to the 1998 national championship. Illinois sits atop the Big Ten West standings and is off to its best start since 1953. Syracuse, a team literally nicknamed after the color, had its best start since 1987 before losing a close one on the road at Clemson. Oklahoma State recently set a school record with its 13th consecutive home victory and has a 15 percent shot to represent the Big 12 in the playoff according to our model. Oregon State is receiving votes and is already bowl-eligible, a feat it’s only reached once since 2014. Bowling Green State has already matched its season-best win total since 2016. The UTSA Roadrunners have proven last season’s 12-win campaign wasn’t a fluke and currently lead Conference USA standings. Even Texas’ seeming inability to win one-score games under coach Steve Sarkisian can relish its series-best 49-point victory over archrival Oklahoma.state of Florida out of respect.


Technically, the shades of orange involved here are called things like “Beaver Orange” and “UTEP Orange.” But put aside any firmly held beliefs on hue, tint and tone for the remainder of this piece. For the sake of this exercise, we categorized team colors into the following categories based on their primary color: black, blue, gold, green, orange, purple, red and silver — as outlined by an index compiled by the University of Wisconsin and, where necessary, by considering each university’s color codes.

Traditionally, literal bluebloods dominate the hardwood while red-clad teams govern the gridiron. Half of the 10 winningest college football teams of all time claim a red primary, and of the 153 all-time national champions identified by, nearly half were won by “red teams.” 

Red is the color of college football champions

Most college football national championships by primary team color, 1899-2021

Primary Team Color National Championships
Red 71
Orange 26
Blue 25
Gold 16
Purple 7
Black 4
Green 3
Silver 1


That dominance hasn’t subsided since the College Football Playoff was introduced, either. Red teams account for 19 of the 32 all-time playoff berths and five of the eight national titles won during the Playoff Era.5

The college football playoff has been decked out in red, too

Most College Football Playoff appearances by primary team color, 2014-2021

Primary Color Playoff Appearances
Red 19
Orange 6
Gold 2
Green 2
Purple 2
Blue 1
Black 0


Clemson has done its best to represent the color orange well, with two national championships in the past six seasons. But it hasn’t been a dominant run for orange teams by any stretch — not until recently.

We can judge each primary color’s “performance” in the playoff era by averaging the Simple Rating System6 for each primary color’s standard-bearers. And using that method, we see that orange has leveled up in its success since 2014:

The 2021 season was a particular breakthrough campaign for orange-infused programs, with the average “orange team” checking in 3.71 points better than a typical Division I opponent, the second-highest average SRS of any color that season.7 Purple leads the pack in 20228 in terms of average SRS, but it’s also been a dominant run by the orange. 

Our College Football Playoff forecast model gives 10 teams at least a 1 percent probability of winning the national championship. Three of those teams have an orange primary color. There’s the possibility of a playoff field that’s half-orange. So no, the brightness settings on your preferred device don’t need to be recalibrated. It’s just a season in the sun for college football’s brightest teams.

Check out our latest college football predictions.

CORRECTION (Oct. 25, 2022, 5:14 p.m.): A previous version of this story listed Peyton Manning as Tennessee's starting quarterback during its 1998 national championship season. The Vols' quarterback that season was Tee Martin.


  1. Tennessee and Clemson.

  2. Illinois, Oklahoma State and Syracuse.

  3. All numbers in this article are as of Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern.

  4. We won’t talk about the orange-clad teams from the state of Florida out of respect.

  5. OK, so Alabama won three of them. Point taken.

  6. Which estimates how many points per game of margin above or below average a team is in a given season.

  7. Trailing Teal (3.98).

  8. James Madison, Kansas State, TCU and Washington have opened the season with strong showings.

Josh Planos is a writer based in Omaha. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.


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