I do love the NFL. I really do. It’s the 1B to College Football’s 1A in my favorite sports.
But I bleed college football. It’s part of growing up in a state where all you have are two extremely large universities with abnormally rabid fan bases. In South Carolina, you are USC or CU. You’re a Tiger or you’re a Gamecock. You’re Carolina or Clemson and if you claim to be both, you’re irrelevant. In 1998, the teams were 1-9 and 2-8 going into the game against each other. And 82,000 people packed a sold out stadium. I’m pretty sure both schools were in the Top 5 that year in revenue generated also. It’s larger than life.
My Gamecocks went 3-9 last year and lost to the Citadel. Yet, hope springs eternal. It’s because college football is special from an eternal hope standpoint. Here’s why:
1. In college football, you can turn it around super quickly.
In 2012, Auburn went 3-9 and didn’t win an SEC game. In 2013, they won the SEC and came within 30 seconds of winning it all. In 2013, Florida lost to Georgia Southern. Two years later, they won the SEC East.
Look, I get it that USC isn’t Auburn or Florida. But these turnarounds give me hope that I don’t have to settle for another 3 or 4-win season (which was our first losing season since 2003). In very recent SEC history, Vanderbilt–Vanderbilt!!!!–won 9 games in back-to-back seasons. And we are way above them. Even my own program less than 20 years ago went from 0-11 to 8-4 in one season. I believe this year will be special until the results prove otherwise.
2. Because College football is outrageously wild and unpredictable.
Last year in week 7, this happened:
The following week, this happened1:
The very next week, in Week 9, this happened (which the ACC says should not have counted):
And then, the very next week, as if they knew they had to top them all to be the mother of all crazy finishes, Arkansas pulled a lateral on a 4th and 25 to keep the game vs. Ole Miss alive, a play you have to see to believe:2
And that result ended up being crucial, since it knocked Ole Miss out of the SEC Championship and let Alabama go instead. Would Alabama have made the playoff without an SEC Championship? I don’t know.
Of course, maybe that isn’t the mother of all crazy finishes, since Auburn had two in 2013 that topped it, at least for significance, the first one being this…3:
…one week before beating Alabama on this play (in case you have not see it a a gajillion times)4:
But beyond the crazy plays, you never know what will happen in college football week to week. This is the sport that gave us Appalachian St over Michigan in 2007. And James Madison over ACC Champ Virginia Tech in 2010. The sport that gave us #2 Southern Cal losing the last weekend in 2006 to UCLA (a team it beat 50-0 the year prior) to knock them from the National title chase and give Florida a chance, kicking off the SEC reign of terror. This sport gave us the #1 and #2 teams both losing the last weekend in 2007, shaking up the title picture so badly we got a 2-loss champion. That sport that gave us #2 Oklahoma St., #4 Oregon and #5 Oklahoma all losing in Week 12 in 2011, opening the door for an all-SEC Championship game5. It gave us #1 Kansas St. and #2 Oregon both losing in Week 12 in 2012, opening the door for Alabama to sneak into the National Championship, violate Notre Dame and give the SEC 7 in a row. Keep in mind this is all from the last ten seasons of College Football and going back further in history would give us even more chill bumps.
We needed a playoff for justice, but not for excitement.
3. Because the rivalries make it fun just about every week.
Even though we were terrible last year, our season was nearly saved by upsetting eventual championship contender and undefeated hated rival Clemson in the last game. And even without a National Championship in the last 10 years, beating Clemson 5 times in a row from 09-13 brought all Gamecocks joy that may not even be matched by a championship.
But even beyond our fiercest rival, college football regularly gives rivarlies and moments that live on in infamy. Most sports fans know that Jadaveon Clowney knocked this guy’s head off three years ago…
…but true Gamecocks will remember with more fondness Clowney doing this as a freshman in his second game…6:
…because it clinched a huge road win vs. the Bulldogs in 2011. And make no mistake, after Clemson, we HATE Georgia. Older Gamecocks like me will remember beating Georgia on the road in 1993 when legend Steve Taneyhill called “Same play! Same play!” after Brandon Bennett got stuffed at the goal line with 20 seconds left and no time outs, leading to this:
Another classic 23-21 road victory over our SEC East rival. These games matter because beating Georgia matters. Every year. No matter how the rest of the year goes.
If you want to know who will contend for the National Championship (outside of the obvious repeat picks of Clemson and Alabama), there are reams of internet sites and magazines. If you want a Top 10 list, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I stink at predicting and no one really knows. I am sure tons had Bama pegged as Champion last year, but who foresaw a loss to Ole Miss, then Ole Miss losing to Arkansas on a fluke for it to happen?7 I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. But I can tell you why it matters. And why it’s fun. And why people like me get super giddy for college football. It’s the perfect storm of craziness, hype, rivalry hatred and unpredictabitly. And in places like South Carolina, it’s all they have for most of the sports calendar. On Saturdays in the Fall, nothing else is needed.
- “What a time to be alive!” ↩
- Unseen on this video is that Arkansas also got a break when Ole Miss seemingly ended the threat and the game but did so by pulling the Arkansas QB’s face mask, giving Arkansas another chance. And with apologies to my Razorback fan friends, I hate it that a win that really didn’t help their season in any meaningful way helped Bama win back to back SEC Championships. The world needed Ole Miss to win. Yet, the play is everything great about College Football. ↩
- The best part of this video is the reaction of Georgia QB Aaron Murray. I hated that guy. ↩
- The Auburn radio edit is the best version of this, but please forgive the multiple uses of God’s name in vain. ↩
- This is why we have a playoff now. There is zero doubt in my mind. ↩
- Aaron Murray! HA HA HA HA!!!!! You see Clowny in your nightmares to this day!! You and Tajh Boyd!!! YOU KNOW IT! ADMIT IT!!!! ↩
- Alabama fans may want me to point out that, while not the end of the game, Ole Miss had a huge luck play work out for them on a ricocheted pass in their win vs. Alabama. And that mattered in a 43-37 final. That play wasn’t nearly as lucky as Arkansas’ 4th and 25 though. ↩