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College football thoughts

Posted by Doug on July 21, 2006

Yesterday's promise of a creative set of quarterback rankings is on hold while I work out the programming. Meanwhile, I'll do a Friday rant.

When I was a kid, I followed the NFL, college football, college basketball, and major league baseball religiously. I also kept pretty close tabs on the NBA. If I had time, I would still be doing that. But when I turned about 18, I found that I no longer had enough time. Ever since then, I have had to make some tough decisions.

There was a period when I was an NBA freak, but right now I am only vaguely aware of what's going on with those guys. I have had stretches of being a rabid baseball fan and stretches where I haven't paid any attention at all. I completely lost interest in the NFL in the early 90s. That interest was revived by fantasy football in the mid-90s and is obviously still raging today. I honestly don't know if I would give a whit about the NFL right now if it weren't for fantasy football, but that's not really important. College hoops was my #1 love when I was young, but it is almost completely off the radar now. I don't even check the standings until Christmas. If I find my Oklahoma State Cowboys looking like a contender, then I'll start paying attention. Otherwise not.

College football was totally out of the picture for almost the whole decade of the 90s. But two things brought it back to my attention.

First, Sooner football was re-born, which gave me something to care about: hating the Sooners. I started watching Sooner games, hoping to see them lose. Then I found myself watching other teams' games, hoping to convince myself that one of them would be able to beat the Sooners later in the year.

Second, the BCS introduced me to some interesting mathematics. In the process of learning about the math behind the so-called computer algorithms, I gradually got to know the teams a little better and started following the action. The process was somewhat similar to that described in the ten thousand stories rant.

Hatred and math are a potent combination. My interest in college football seems to be growing by the year and it is now solidly in the #2 position. I'm sure there are lots of blogs devoted to college football. If I knew where they were I'd point you to them. But I don't. With the exception of some insight into the inner workings of the BCS algorithms, I don't think I can offer anything that those blogs don't offer. I truly am nothing more than a casual fan. So I will probably refrain from blogging too much on the college game.

Nonetheless, I bought my annual college football preview magazine this week and can't help but share some of the thoughts that went through my head while I flipped through it.

  • I love the NFL, but the TV timeouts kill me. There is a point where the ratio of commercials to game action is so high that it's just not worth watching. I don't know exactly where that point is, but sunday afternoon NFL is getting mighty close to it. And I'm not sure Monday Night Football isn't already past it. In this regard, watching a college game (at least during the regular season) is very refreshing. Sometimes, you can even watch three straight drives or more without a break. I almost feel like I'm getting away with something when that happens.
  • On the flip side, college halftimes are eternal compared to the snappy NFL halftimes. Because of this, the college game gives back almost its entire advantage over the NFL from the previous point.
  • Memo to SEC fans: your conference is nothing special. Just like the other major conferences, it is great some years, mediocre some years, and weak some years. Sometimes it has a great team but no depth. Sometimes (like last year) it has a lot of good teams, but no great one. It's just like every other conference. I will, however, concede that SEC fans are the best fans in the country. From what I can gather, the atmosphere at a big SEC game is unparalleled. I mean that sincerely, SEC fans. Just don't go thinking that makes your teams any better than they are.
  • Question: when your team's coach has success and then moves on to a better program (I'm thinking of Les Miles here), are you supposed to root for him because he used to coach your squad? Or are you supposed to root against him because he left?
  • If you ask anyone what they think about the BCS, they'll say, "I hate the BCS." But the funny thing is, everyone seems to hate something different about the BCS. Some hate the fact that computers are involved. Some hate that Notre Dame has a special deal. Some hate that it kills the tradition of the bowls. Some hate that the at-large teams are selected on the basis of drawing power rather than merit. Me, I don't hate the BCS. I view it as being a litte better than the old system and a lot worse than an 8-team playoff. But given the glacial pace of change in college football, it's about as good as we can expect right now.
  • On a related topic, March Madness is great and all, but college football's system allows for something that you just cannot get in college basketball: early-season games with serious national title implications. When LSU and Auburn play in September, it is essentially a playoff game. When Duke and UNC play in February, it's totally meaningless.
  • Doesn't it seem like the Big 12 and SEC always have a strong division and a weak division? The Big 12 North continues to be horrible while the South has two legitimate national title contenders. It used to be the other way around. The SEC is more balanced right now, but for most of its two-division history, the best two teams in the conference have come from the same half. If I were in charge, there would be some kind of clause (details to be negotiated) that would allow for, e.g., a Texas-OU rematch in the Big 12 championship game if both of those teams were in the top 10 and the North winner was outside the top 20. I realize this would take away, just a little, from what I wrote in the bullet above, but it's a price I'd be willing to pay to get some decent conference championship games.
  • Some real shockers in the preseason top 10 this year: Ohio State, Texas, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, Notre Dame, Florida State. Not far off are Georgia, Penn State, Michigan, and Miami. I still don't understand how some people can bash major league baseball for having a system where teams "buy championships" and not hold college football to the same standard. Oklahoma and Texas dominate Big 12 football to the same extent that the Yankees and Red Sox dominate the AL, and the reason is the same. I don't know this, but I'd bet the ratio of Florida State's football budget to Duke's is at least as great as the Yankee/Devil Ray ratio. But you never hear anything about the "problem" in college football.