It’s odd that given a choice between the best pro-athletes and amateurs, one would choose amateurs. Most college football players are not pro-level talent, and the older you get, the more it dawns on you that you are watching people not old enough to drink hit each other. So when the weekend rolls around, why watch football on Saturday instead of/in addition to Sunday?
For one, the game itself is different at the college level. The rules are somewhat different, like only needing one foot in bounds to make a catch, having wide-ass hash marks (20 ft. wider than the NFL), the clock stops to reset the chains on first down, and no sudden death overtime to name a few. But no one cheers for the rules. It’s actually the varied level of talent and skill sets that make college football fun.
Most pro offenses have a pocket passer who occasionally scrambles when a play falls apart, and defenses are tailored to that type of offense. College football, in contrast, is madness and chaos. Sometimes a team has a quarterback whose biggest strength is not throwing. I’ve seen a college quarterback punt. Coaches still have preferred offense styles, but they need to get creative with the talent they have in order to be successful. Sometimes success looks really weird, and that is awesome.
The game becomes something else when you don’t always have the biggest, strongest, most talented guys playing against each other. The variety of offenses, how that affects defensive play, the way anything can happen, adds to the experience of watching college ball. No team is safe, especially in this upset-prone year. For example, (at the time) unbeaten number two Ohio State lost to unranked Penn State. Ohio State is still the better team, but some Angels in the Outfield shit went down.
This brings me to my next point. Take a look at what happens after Penn State wins the game. As a reminder, this was not after a bowl game or a championship game.
Sure, spectators get pretty hyped up at NFL games, but it’s different. I don’t think I’ve ever seen people cry at NFL games, and you sure as hell can’t rush the field. There are no student tickets, no marching bands, and no weird trophies for rivalry matches in the NFL. In college football, it’s like everyone has agreed to keep a strange, old patchwork of random crap we’ve liked since the late-1800s (apparently that includes pig statutes, skillets, and long lineages of various dogs) and engage in something akin to group hysteria once a week. That’s called tradition, folks.
Another part of tradition is that the teams don’t move. Notre Dame football will never move to L.A. to get more money. There is something about trying to maintain an institution and style of play for over a hundred years in the same place that appeals to people. I would argue especially in America since we’re still a young country compared to the rest of the world.
I’ll let Stephen Fry explain some of this wonderful ridiculousness:
Okay, so if you’re newish to college football who should you watch?
If you’re interested in following a team that will have a shot at the National Championship, you have a few options. The Alabama Crimson Tide has been ranked number one for several weeks running for good reason. While they’re not the flashiest team, they get ‘er done. The Michigan Wolverines are ranked number two with one of the best defenses in college football. For the ACC I’m skipping over number three Clemson to tell you to follow number five Louisville because they’re more fun to watch. (You wanna fight about it, Clemson?!) The Cinderella story in the rankings is number four Washington; a team that historically has been overshadowed by the Oregon Ducks, but who beat their asses with a dynamic offense and solid defense.
Honestly though, the National Championship isn’t why people love college football. Most fans are happy if their team gets into a bowl game and wins their rivalry games. If you want to see college football at it’s peak, I’d actually recommend setting aside November 26th for some intense viewing. There’s Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Notre Dame vs. USC, and many more great rivalries. Of course, there’s also Michigan vs. Ohio State, which ESPN has ranked as one of the greatest rivalries of all.