College football makes a comeback

Phil Consuegra

My weekly reflection time on the weekend came a bit late on Sunday night, as I rolled back in town from one of the greatest experiences of my life – and a near upset-to-end-all upsets.

For those of you who may not know what my weekly reflection time is, it’s the time I allocate each week to really think about what happened in the world of sports in the past week. This past Sunday, I realized that never had I experienced a week quite like this. In addition to the baseball playoffs, which prove more than ever that it’s a team game, not a contest of salaries, the world of college football now has more to talk about than it ever has before.

Alabama is undefeated in the SEC and is in the Top 10. Texas is, in my mind, the best team in the country; I don’t care how many consecutive games USC has won. Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions only have one loss, a heartbreaker in the toughest place to play in the nation. And, most importantly, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish proved that they are, for all intents and purposes, back. All is back to normal in the world of college football.

We’ll start south of the Mason Dixon Line, going to the Heart of Dixie. How long has it been since Alabama football even saw the Top 25? If you said the Gene Stallings era, you’d be right. Football is life in Alabama, especially in Tuscaloosa. Don’t think for a minute that ‘Bama fans weren’t absolutely disgusted at Auburn’s accomplishments last season. It’s their turn to shine and quarterback Brodie Croyle has given the Crimson Tide plenty of reason to smile. Mike Shula has resurrected a program that was finished, with NCAA violations leaving the team demoralized, and the Mike Price situation – that was just too messy. Alabama needs this, and by George it’s good to see a classic football school doing well.

We’ll stay down south, heading to Austin to pay a visit to the Longhorns. This is the year. This is it. If you’re a Longhorns fan, you’d better be ready to smell roses and lift a glass football at the end of this season. Vincent Young, who could be the second coming of one Michael Vick, should be at the top of Heisman voting. Oklahoma couldn’t even give them a game. Beating Ohio State in the Horseshoe? Been there, done that. Number 24 Colorado? Not even a game. This is the best team in the nation, hands down.

After years of one measly loss to Oklahoma keeping them from national glory, the time has finally come. Beating teams by an average of 31 points is down right scary. Jamal Charles is averaging over eight yards a carry. Yeah, hook ’em Horns.

We’ll come up North for all you Pennsylvanians now. It makes me smile to know that Joe Paterno has a Top 10 team again. I’ll admit it, I thought another one-win season was in order. But Penn State has made a believer out of me, going 6-0 before finally falling in the Big House to a very talented and underachieving Michigan team who was hungry for a win. Their biggest test will come on Nov. 5 when they play Wisconsin in what may become the Big Ten title game. A Big Ten title in Happy Valley? Are you serious? Yes, Virginia, there is a BCS team in Joe Paterno’s eyes.

Now we get to the most important lesson of the week. If you ever have to play the No. 1 team in the nation as 11 ½ point underdogs, go over to the new Gug Center at Notre Dame and ask to check out the game tape from this past week’s Notre Dame-USC game. Although it was a loss, the Irish have nothing – absolutely nothing – to hang their heads about. They left every ounce of what they had on that field.

It’s a real shame that the game had to end the way it did, on a questionable spot and a blown call on Reggie Bush that should have been a 15-yard penalty on the offense, ending the game. Hard to lose that way as an underdog, but embarrassing to win that way if you’re number one. Welcome back to glory, Domers.

If you’ve never been to a Notre Dame football game, I suggest getting on the next flight to South Bend Regional Airport and experiencing one. After driving 10 hours, spending too much money on gas, and being exhausted upon my return to ‘Nova to have my brief reflection time, I realized that it was worth every ounce of what I had to be a part of that game, watching from the front row of the student section at the 25-yard line in Notre Dame stadium.

For 59 minutes and 59 seconds, the Fighting Irish made believers out of all of us. That’s what college football is all about. That’s why we watch. And that’s why nothing – absolutely nothing – will ever beat the best years of our lives.

And if there’s anything that my reflection time taught me this past weekend, it’s that certain college teams, with great students, loyal fans, and some really smart coaching, can come back from the dead and rise back to glory in just a few years.