Above is the ending of the Auburn-Georgia game in 2013 that helped keep Auburn undefeated. At the time, it seemed like it might be the craziest thing that happened in the SEC a few years back.
If you’re a dude, you invariably get into a lot of bar conversations across your 20s and 30s (and logically beyond) about whether you’re an NCAA guy, an NFL guy, or something else. When the fall comes around, this is a much bigger topic; I’ve been in two of these discussions just today. There are arguments on all sides and ultimately it’s a personal decision, but I’m an NCAA guy.
Real quick on that: I love the NFL, and I’ve wasted many a Sunday of my life watching games like Chargers-Raiders (when neither team was good and I lived on the opposite coast) at some local dive bar. I think gambling and fantasy have a lot to do with the rise of the NFL, but also the connections back to the cities / communities and the whole notion of “top-tier.” I get all that. I like it a lot.
I really like the NCAA, though, because it’s always seemed to me that the sheer notion of involving college — kids away from home, legions of alumni (in the cases of some schools), parents of the kids away from home (who may also be alumni) — increases the passion. Think of it like this: you can live in Tampa, but you don’t have to give a crap about the Buccaneers. Flip side: it’s very hard to go to UT-Austin or Ohio State or Virginia Tech and not remotely care about that team.
Your life gets more complicated as you get older, and responsibilities mount — but there’s something about the school you went to when it all seemed a little easier running out onto the field that seems to inspire passion in even people in their 60s and beyond.
That might be simplistic, but I’ve always felt like that’s part of it.
The other thing: upsets. Remember this?
An upset in the NFL, to me, just doesn’t mean as much. Maybe it’s because you can get into the playoffs from some divisions at 8-8 — but in college, you can’t really get into anything (except maybe a Dec. 21 bowl game) at 6-6. A little scrappy school knocking off an SEC school (which admittedly doesn’t happen much) seems more relevant and meaningful than the Jaguars beating the Patriots in Week 9; that latter outcome doesn’t ultimately mean anything — the Jaguars won’t make the playoffs, the Patriots will, and life will continue on unabated. But if Scrappy U. wins that game against Auburn, people at Scrappy U. will remember that for years. Do you think random citizens of Jacksonville remember that Week 9 win even in Week 12?
I grew up in NYC (not a college football hotspot, although lots of alums from different schools), went to college at Georgetown (not a college football school), lived in Houston for a while (pre-Sumlin and Case Keenum), and then bounced around — never really being in a place where college football was a big deal. I live a few miles from TCU right now — preseason No. 2, baby! — and that’s interesting, but sometimes I think my passion behind it comes partially from never having that real context. It’s like it’s always been something I’ve been chasing.
For example, I’ve watched this clip maybe 1,000 times if I’ve watched it once:
Straight passion. Again, a regular-season game with tremendous meaning. In the NFL, I only ever feel that way about playoff games.
Another point: the 3:30pm (ET) games. They’re usually ending around the same time, and also around the time 5pm (Pac-12 / WAC) games are going on, and maybe a 6pm / 6:30pm ESPN SEC game. A lot’s happening at once. Years ago, I worked for ESPN. This game:
… ended at basically the same time as this game:
Literally within about 8 real-time minutes of each other. People were going nuts in Bristol.
The thing is … that happens every Saturday. It will happen this Saturday, and it will happen in late October too. That’s honestly what drives a college football Saturday.
Drama and passion.
Super Bowls have great endings, no doubt — remember Roethlisberger vs. the Cardinals — but so many college title games have amazing conclusions. There’s always this:
But even last year’s had a good run:
Again … drama and passion.
I love it and I’m glad it’s back. Whether or not you want to compare it to the NFL, or think the NFL is better — or don’t like how college kids don’t get paid, etc. — that’s your own decision and I can’t necessarily try to influence you. But college football is a truly amazing experience week-in and week-out — and last season might have been one of the craziest of recent vintage — so I hope you take notice a bit here and there this time out.
Also, you get cool cheerleader shots and some nice fan costumes up at the pro level, but do you see this kid?