College football brings out the best

Santo Caruso

As usual I spent this holiday weekend alone on my couch in my parents’ house located in scenic Palmyra, N.J.

This time I didn’t mind.

Shipped back to the homeland due to a cut fuel line (to the resident of 7th and Chestnut who kicked my motorcycle over and cut the line: I’ll find you, and when I do…a harsh scolding is in order), I found myself in the sunroom of my Maple Avenue home with a clicker and a 36-inch TV primed and ready for college football’s opening weekend.

This position (reclined approximately halfway, mixed nuts and beer in reach, dutiful mother within calling distance for any other amenity I would need) got me thinking about the eight-hour endurance marathon of gridiron glory I was about to begin.

What is so appealing about college football?

I had attended the two Eagles preseason games, and though I did not leave early, I certainly understood why at least half of the stadium did. Once past the first and second stringers, helmets off laughing and messing around on the bench, the talent level took a steep plummet.

It is brutal to watch fifth receivers drop underthrown balls from the sixth round QB who was pressured cause an over-the-hill back missed the blitz caused by an overweight tenth string lineman missing his block. After the 30th consecutive false start, where the line judge was getting out the rulers to measure half the distance to the goal in inches, it was quite apparent this was not the NFL I paid regular-season price to see.

So why then is the NCAA still so popular?

Seventy-five percent of these players won’t even GET to the field for a pro team, much less play in a preseason game. Blowouts are so common, sometimes you wonder if you’re seeing basketball scores. Opening weekend can be the worst, with most big-time programs taking advantage of national coverage to blow out East Central Tennessee A&M by 65 points to work out their kinks and get the backup kicker some work at QB.

Yet I watch.

I watch because I want to see the Heisman candidates play in prime time. Real Deal: Reggie Bush. Over-hyped: Jared Zabransky. The Heisman is still the best award in sports, with a legacy a murderer and a string of NFL busts cannot tarnish.

I watch because there are great upsets, like TCU over Oklahoma and Georgia Tech over a depleted Auburn and the “University of College Football in America,” Notre Dame, over Pittsburgh. The TCU game was a bit uneven in terms of action, and Notre Dame put a beat down on the Panthers, but the Yellow Jackets upset was one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time. The Tiger’s Brandon Cox would drive his team down the field into position to tie or take the lead, and as he approached the red zone and the tension became palpable, a GA Tech defender would come up with the play the team needed.

Then the Monday night game of Miami against Florida State, still one of the best rivalries in football (that includes the pros). The quarterbacks were both brutal, but the athletes surrounding them were unbelievable. It reminded me how passionate and fun MNF used to be. My roommate walked through the living room and laughed, asking, “Why would I watch mediocre football like this?”

I didn’t answer, besides throwing something at him, but it is all about the passion, about the players who play for their school, who play for the game, who play just because they like to hit people. About Auburn’s Tre Smith, who ran like he didn’t know his QB was going to throw an interception first chance he got. About the long-haired Hawaii defense, who flew to the ball as if they weren’t down 39 points. With college sports it becomes about the name on the front, and what that jersey represents, more than ever, is the name on the back. And that kind of devotion brings about similar feelings in the fans.

Even the ones stuck inside on a Saturday night. Especially the ones stuck inside on a Saturday night.