The start of a New Year always brings a lot of things with it. Resolutions, big time football games, and, of course, my birthday. I’m typically steadfast in my resolutions, usually keeping to them for at least a week and half. The football games, be it NFL playoffs or the big name bowl games, rarely disappoint, except when they do. And lately, the bowl games in particular have disappointed me more and more. As we get closer (one week!) to my *gulp* 25th birthday, I’m forced to reflect on all the bowl seasons I’ve been through and figure out why a time, and sport, that used to be sacred to me no longer is so.
The clear answer is that I don’t really care as much anymore, but why? I still love football and follow it religiously, but the college game doesn’t stoke my fire as intensely as it once did. I used to be able to name countless players on every team and be able to essentially predict the entire draft. Now, I only know the first round guys, and even then I don’t really learn about them until late. Like I know there’s a great Ohio State cornerback, but only because I assume there’s always one and couldn’t tell you his name. I assume there’s a great defensive lineman from Florida, only because for at least ten years in a row one has been taken in the top 10, and most of them are all the same. I legit had no idea who Artie Burns was this time last year, and he was the best athlete on Miami. The best athlete on Miami is someone who I should know about for years, and I had no idea who he was.
The players are still good. In fact, at least athletically, they’re undeniably better than when I was in middle and high school, the peak of my college football fandom. So why does it feel like there’s so much less name recognition? Am I ignorant or is there less star power? Does anyone else feel the same way? Does anyone else care? Well, the last question doesn’t matter because I’m going to write this anyway.
I think a major reason is the demise of the NCAA Football video game. I used to spend hours upon days upon weeks upon months playing those games, and, after downloading the roster that had all the players names, would pretty much have it all memorized after a while. Now, I don’t begrudge the people who brought the lawsuit. Lord knows I’d want some of that EA money if they used my likeness (pick up your copy of Blogging ’18 this July!) and I do think big time college athletes deserve to be paid. But, come on. I care more about my enjoyment than your bank account. Let me play as Texas A&M QB #2 again.
Another reason is that I don’t really have a team. I always liked Oregon growing up, but it’s harder to claim allegiance to teams that become good out of nowhere without being called a bandwagon jumper. I’d rather die. Plus, they stink now. And, as a UConn graduate, there’s not much to cheer for on the football field. The closest thing I have to a team I legitimately root for is Wyoming because I like their jerseys (I know you’re wondering, so here’s the top five college football jerseys: 1. Wyoming 2. USC 3. Oklahoma 4. Oregon 5. Auburn). Other than that, it’s a year to year thing. I love high flying offense, but that’s not all that unique anymore (we’ll get to that). I always like the “mid-major” that goes undefeated a la Western Michigan, but if they keep winning it becomes less fun. So I wind up rooting for a bunch of good games which doesn’t always pay off.
I think, for me, though, the primary reason is that everyone, for the most part, plays the same way. I’m a diehard spread guy. More specifically, I’m a diehard run n’ shoot guy. There’s a reason I consider Colt Brennan my favorite athlete of all time. Those Hawaii teams were amazing. My man June Jones dialing up 10,000 quick slants and five yard hooks a game. I’ve jerked off to less. When Graham Harrell showed up at Texas Tech and picked up Colt’s baton, I was happy. Then, as I got older, Chip Kelly’s spread grabbed my attention. But now, everyone plays that way. Everyone goes uptempo, everyone has pieces of the Air Raid, everyone uses the spread. It’s hard to pick teams out. There used to be so many distinctive styles. Hawaii and Texas Tech were the only teams that passed every play. There were teams like Arkansas with Darren McFadden who ran the Wildcat exclusively. It seemed like a novelty to see mobile quarterbacks dominating teams running spread option, which is what made guys like Vince Young and Pat White so exciting. Now, the teams bordering on curiosities are teams that run slow, boring, pro-style offenses. Pure pocket passers are rare on the best college teams. And again, I love the spread. If you know me, then you know I love the passing game. But it loses some luster when Joe Flacco throws for 4,000 yards, just like the spread loses something when teams like Alabama, the oldest and stodgiest of the old and stodgy blue bloods is running read option 50 times a game.
And, obviously, the playoff has killed the other bowl games. Which I’m fine with. I’d rather have a playoff than not. But it’s just harder to commit 3 hours to a mid December game between two random teams than it used to be. All these talking heads haven’t really put that together yet. Players are more comfortable sitting these games out because they’re totally meaningless now. Sure it’s another game with the team, but the games are more of a marketing ploy for the two schools and the bowl sponsors and an outlet for gambling than a meaningful, legitimate football game. I guarantee all but the most try-hard, coach’s son-iest of players would say they don’t want to play. Most just don’t have the luxury of an NFL future to get them out of them.
I think that’s it. If you made it this far, congratulations. You’ve made it though an awful lot of kvetching. I hope you agree with some of what I’ve said. I hope you disagree with some. Either way, don’t get it twisted. I still love football and I still love college football. Staring my own mortality in the face has just stirred up some nostalgia. Give me a summer with no football and I’ll be ready to commit every second of fall Saturdays to college football once again.