College football has become big business and big money, and as we move towards a College Football Playoff, the business and money side of it will grow into even more of a monster than it is now. Conference strength, strength of schedule, and ‘what the computers say’ are as much of the lexicon anymore as touchdown, blitz, and RUN THE DAVE.
For folks like us, who come to blogs to read and share opinions, college football is in our blood, and there was something—a player, a team, a moment in time--that made us love this sport and not let go.
For one day in the Big Ten, every game gave us a reason to remind us why we love college football.
Ohio State at Purdue: If you’re a fan of a program like OSU, you marvel at the greatness of a player like Braxton Miller, rejoice in the winning streak and remember that times like these are all too fleeting, and enjoy this wild ride wherever it takes us. I have been mesmerized by the ever expanding Buckeye leaves on the helmet, and as October turns to November, the helmet stickers now fill up one side of the helmet and move to the other. And now I know that The Game is ever closer, and I await it like a little kid at Christmas time. Purdue fans, cheer up. You follow a bad team now, but you hang with them, because some day they’ll be good again. Every program has been where you are, and every program will be there again. You remember Basketball On Grass and Purdue Harbor, and it will make it all the sweeter when those days return.
Illinois at Penn State: Both teams in this game have struggled and stubbed their toe at points in their schedule, Penn State isn’t going to a bowl, and Illinois probably isn’t. Yet still, Illinois was a sizeable underdog going in to a hostile environment, and fought like the national championship was at stake. They hung with Penn State play for play, and took them to the brink. Penn State struggled, couldn’t put the Illini away, but they somehow managed to tie the game at the end of regulation. Then in overtime, Penn State made two plays to take the lead and then win it. It was the high and low of emotion in one play, and when you saw Penn State clinch the win with a game ending interception, there was nothing but the moment, from both sides. It was tragically wonderful, and captured the essence of the mystique that college football holds over us, all in one play.
Wisconsin at Iowa: There’s something special about going on the road to a rival’s stadium, slowly taking over the game, and then winning it by a comfortable margin. Wisconsin did that Saturday, and for one afternoon you were on top of the world. Standings, bowl positioning--none of that mattered, because you beat a rival and beat them convincingly, in their house. In college football, there’s not much that tops that. For Iowa, they did that earlier in the season against Minnesota. On Saturday, they were on the receiving end. As bitter as that pill was to swallow, you’ve tasted the sweet victory of a rivalry win, and you will again. When you do, you’ll forget this day ever existed, because that’s what college football can do.
Minnesota at Indiana: This was a great game between two programs trying to claw their way to the upper half of the conference. If you’re Minnesota, you were probably stunned when the Gophers jumped out to a 35-13 lead, and then watched in disbelief as they lost the lead. This was typical Minnesota in recent years…yet they found a way to re-take the lead and hold on. The Gophers are now 7-2, and with every win their bowl positioning improves. For Indiana, it was a tough loss, yet there was no conceding defeat when down by such a large margin. The way you came back had fans jumping up and down like mad, as did that final play call. It was a wild swing of emotions in about .37 seconds for both teams, and that’s the most college football thing of all.
Northwestern at Nebraska: Speaking of wild emotional swings, every now and then a moment happens that will be frozen in time, transcends that game, and is stitched into program lore for both programs, for all time. Every school has that moment, one you take out of the box once in a while, watch it again on YouTube if you’re lucky, and just nod your head and smile. When you’re in the midst of a bad season somewhere down the road, you can think back to that point in time when everything was perfect, and it gets you through until more good times come around. It doesn’t matter if it happens in a meaningless game or one that has a championship on the line—it’s the most euphoric thing that can happen as a fan, and you let wash over you, bask in it, and it stays with you forever.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s happened to your team at least once, probably more, and it’s something that you will never let go of…ever. It burns your sports soul and never goes away. But scars are as much a part of our fandom as is our joy, and you can’t have one without the other. Eventually, that sick, ‘Oh My God’ feeling goes away and life goes on, but it forges your fandom in ways that even championships can’t hone. And if you’re a program that hasn’t had much good, and too much bad, you know…someday…when your school reaches the top of the mountain, it will all be worth it, every bit of it. You relish the good stuff, and you survive the bad. And both make you better.
Michigan at Michigan State: There are rivalries in college football, and then there are blood feuds, and how your team performs in a blood feud carries over for an entire year. When the schedules are released, you look for the date of the blood feud game, and that day is marked off for social activities. Your spouse knows not to even bother asking; wedding invitations will be declined, and the week leading up to the game will be one of nervous anticipation. You can talk yourself into your team winning 20 different ways, but you can talk yourself into your team losing 20 different way as well.
How your team performs and the outcome of a blood feud game you carry with for a year. Coaches are fired and hired over how they view blood feuds, and jobs are lost based on how a coach performs, or doesn’t perform, against their school’s most hated rivals. Wins are magnified, players are lionized or vilified, and results and individual games can literally reverberate for generations among the fans. What happened Saturday was one of those moments. Historically, Michigan State hasn’t had a lot of success against Michigan, but you know what? None of that matters today. On Saturday, Sparty literally kicked Michigan’s ass in such a way that Michigan is now questioning everything about their program. There’s nothing so thoroughly satisfying as knowing you beat your blood rival so bad they now question the direction of the program, from the head coach on down.
If you’re Michigan, these games happen, and much like the gut punch of a last second play going against you, in the long run they forge you and make you stronger. Teams and fanbases either learn from this or fold, and often times it’s the bottom of the valley, and the climb up the hill begins.
Because all of the lingering doubt about the direction of your program can end in three weeks. As big as a rival as MSU is, and as discouraging a loss as Saturday was, you have a bigger rival in Ohio State coming to town, and a win there takes all the negative energy and washes it away, at least for a little while. You’ll head off to bowl season with a warm feeling in your stomach, like a nice glass of bourbon. Once again, everything will be all right with the world, and you’ll be able to tell yourself that things are going to be okay. Because beating your rival DOES make everything okay.
In those moments, nothing else mattered--not the polls, not the BCS, not what bowl your team may or may not be going to. It's the pure, unadluterated joy or agony of college football, and that’s why we love it.
See you Saturday.