Who To Root For: 2019 College Football Edition

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Epistemic Sta­tus: Un­ques­tion­ably Accurate

Foot­ball, like all sports, is bet­ter with some­one to root for, and some­one to root against. It’s us ver­sus them. Ideally, it’s our house, be­cause no one beats us in our house. That gives us a baseline heuris­tic – root, root root for the home team – if we can’t do any bet­ter. Luck­ily, we can do bet­ter. Not only are some teams ob­jec­tively su­pe­rior to oth­ers in their wor­thi­ness of our quest to be ad­ja­cently vi­car­i­ously vic­to­ri­ous, con­sis­tently root­ing for the same teams is much more fun than choos­ing in­de­pen­dently each time.

With so many teams out there, it’s tough to un­tan­gle the right rank or­der of who to root for. Luck­ily, that’s where this post comes in. We will rank all the teams you might en­counter, com­plete with ex­pla­na­tions, so that not only will you know who you’ll be sup­port­ing, you’ll know why you’re sup­port­ing them.

Be­fore we start nam­ing names, let’s go over some ba­sic points.

Per­sonal Connections

In any choice be­tween tribes, my tribe is bet­ter than all oth­ers. Your sports team is vastly in­fe­rior, that sim­ple fact is plainly ob­vi­ous to see. For these rank­ings, you get to en­joy my per­sonal con­nec­tions as a sub­sti­tute for your own, since think­ing is hard and ex­port­ing it is great. How­ever, if you do have per­sonal rea­sons to shoot a team or two all the way up (or down) the rank­ings, you should to­tally do that.

That starts with your alma mater. Wher­ever you went to col­lege, or your spouse or chil­dren or par­ents went to col­lege, you’re mostly stuck with them. The ques­tion is how much you are stuck with them. Hard­core stick­lers say that sub­ject to spe­cial one-time ex­cep­tions like a child go­ing off to school or mov­ing across the coun­try, you’re stuck with where you went to col­lege. That would force me to make ‘my’ team the Columbia Lions, since tech­ni­cally the col­lege con­sti­tutes play­ers into uniforms on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, form­ing what they ques­tion­ably call a ‘foot­ball team.’ By this the­ory, I should have thought of this prob­lem be­fore I opted into a league with­out any schol­ar­ships, and it’s my own damn fault for not get­ting into Stan­ford.

My rul­ing that is in no way self­ishly mo­ti­vated is that Columbia isn’t good enough to count. Or good enough to any­thing else, re­ally. I say that if you spent your col­lege days ex­iled to Divi­sion II, or worse, than you have suffered enough. Any Power 5 team counts. Any Group of 5 team lets you also choose a Power 5 team to mostly em­brace as well. And even if you have a Power 5 team, you can and should still have a fa­vorite team from each other con­fer­ence.

I en­courage those I know to bring in more per­sonal con­nec­tions in the com­ments, so I have more things to root for and against. Re­mem­ber, they’re ob­jec­tive!

Be Unique

A unique team coach, name, tra­di­tion, strate­gic fo­cus, mas­cot, uniform color, you name it. Per­sonal con­nec­tions and sto­ries are even bet­ter. It’s all good, the more the bet­ter. A coach with a larger than life per­son­al­ity, who shapes his world in his image, is an amaz­ing sight. Be your­self, like no one ever was.

Play to Win the Game, and Play it Right

Teams that aren’t try­ing to win dishonor the game and aren’t fun to root for. Teams that do ev­ery­thing they can to win honor the game and are fun. Espe­cially im­por­tant is to em­ploy good strat­egy. Few things are worse than watch­ing your team punt when it shouldn’t, or run when it can’t, or fail to know how to man­age a clock.

Thus, Tulsa gets a big boost from its coach that didn’t carry a punter on his ros­ter be­cause he ‘didn’t want to get into bad habits.’ Can’t help but root for a guy like that.

The outer game counts, too. Manag­ing your ros­ter wisely, spend­ing your money effec­tively, and trad­ing effec­tively, are also to be ad­mired. Billy Beane is a base­ball guy but an­other ex­em­plar of what you have to root for. Teams that over­perform their re­cruit­ing abil­ities and bud­gets are great.

If you know your clock man­age­ment, if you have your ad­vanced statis­tics mas­tered, if you do the best you can with the tools you are given, that’s big. Any­one out-think­ing their op­po­nents, any­one who out-pre­pares, de­serves your sup­port. An ex­am­ple of out-think­ing would be ten­nis star Martina Hingis. She was a joy to watch be­cause you could see her out-think­ing her op­po­nents ev­ery point.

This also in­cludes do­ing your ba­sics. Train and demon­strate men­tal and phys­i­cal tough­ness. Learn to block and tackle. Don’t com­mit pro­ce­du­ral penalties or oth­er­wise play sloppy. Be all in, make the most of what’s available, and do your job. Next man up.

Note that none of this means tak­ing the game or your­self too se­ri­ously. It’s a game! All games are to be taken se­ri­ously in an im­por­tant sense, and to­tally not se­ri­ously in an­other im­por­tant sense. And re­mem­ber to…

Have Fun Out There!

Some teams use lots of fun tra­di­tions for them­selves and their fans and un­der­stand that while you play to win the game, it’s also a game. Why so se­ri­ous? My fa­vorite ex­am­ple of this is Mets vs. Yan­kees in base­ball. This is from a few years ago but I’d ex­pect it works the same way to­day. You’d look over at the Mets bench and ev­ery­one would be jok­ing and laugh­ing. Look over at the Yan­kees bench and you’d see a bunch of joyless cor­po­rate sel­l­outs in iden­ti­cal pin­stripes. What’s the point in that?

Johnny Da­mon started out play­ing base­ball for the Bos­ton Red Sox and no one had a big­ger smile. Then he signed with the New York Yan­kees and I never saw him smile again dur­ing a game. Such a life mis­take.

But Keep it Classy

It is vi­tal to have class. If you have already won the game, take a knee or run the ball out. Piling on the points or padding your statis­tics is an in­sult to the game. If your play­ers dis­re­spect the game or them­selves, sit them down. If they break the rules, pun­ish them. Don’t pres­sure teach­ers or help them pass their classes. Definitely don’t cover up their failures or ma­nipu­late test scores.

Ehat­ever you do, don’t sweep ac­tual bad be­hav­ior like sex­ual as­saults or vi­o­lent crimes, be they by play­ers or coaches, un­der the rug. Do­ing this sys­tem­at­i­cally au­to­mat­i­cally makes you a villain while any­one in­volved re­mains at the school.

Be re­spect­ful of your op­po­nents. Say the right things in your in­ter­views. Stay pos­i­tive. There is an ex­cep­tion for spe­cial ri­valries, where po­lar­ity re­verses, but you get two, maybe three of these teams, tops. If your op­po­nents get hurt, be re­spect­ful.

If some­thing goes wrong, take re­spon­si­bil­ity. Strive to do bet­ter. If some­thing goes right, be gra­cious, share the credit, and high­light what the other team did right. If the other team does well, ac­knowl­edge their achieve­ments. Ele­vate the game. Always be try­ing to bring ev­ery­one up, help them do bet­ter, learn bet­ter, be bet­ter in­side and out­side the game.

You are re­spon­si­ble for the be­hav­ior of your fans in all of this. En­thu­si­asm is a pos­i­tive, but you gotta keep it classy.

Play clean. Cheat­ing is right out. An­gle shoot­ing is al­most as bad.

Dodg­ing strong op­po­si­tion to try and game the play­off sys­tem, make a bowl game, or to gen­er­ally make your life eas­ier, is su­per lame and a big mark against you. Teams that are es­pe­cially bad about this in­clude most of the SEC, and this is marked with refer­ence to these easy ‘cup­cakes.’ Ad­ding big games to your sched­ule, es­pe­cially against his­tor­i­cal ri­vals, is a big plus.

We also strongly op­pose buy­ing the game. When you lev­er­age your money ad­van­tage to sign free agents, that’s not to be ad­mired. In col­lege, that never hap­pens, no sir, that’s against the rules, so it only hap­pens all the time. Which means it’s now also cheat­ing, and cheat­ing is su­per bad. If you cheat, we hate you. This over­rides play­ing great and striv­ing for ex­cel­lence.

So for an ex­am­ple even non-sports peo­ple know, we all hate the New England Pa­tri­ots.

Over­perform and Keep it Interesting

Always root for the un­der­dog, all things be­ing equal. This both means the school or team that is an un­der­dog in to­day’s game, and it means the school with fewer re­sources to de­vote to foot­ball. If you have less money to hire coaches, a smaller fan base and a less rich area from which you can re­cruit, and fewer tra­di­tions and other rea­sons for re­cruits to choose you, you are at a huge dis­ad­van­tage. Over­com­ing that and still putting up a good fight is greatly to your credit.

What is not to your credit is to be a sad sack in a di­vi­sion or con­fer­ence that re­li­ably runs you over. Even if it is, in some sense, ‘not your fault’ be­cause of course you will play in the best place you can, and you don’t have the re­sources to do bet­ter, you are not putting a qual­ity product on the field. The games are not in­ter­est­ing. Be­ing a one touch­down un­der­dog makes you the ideal hero. Be­ing a four touch­down un­der­dog makes you a cup­cake. Why are we even watch­ing, un­less we’ve wa­gered on the game? It does mean that if you pull off the up­set, you’re that much big­ger of a hero, but such events are quite rare, and catch­ing them in progress re­quires watch­ing live, which is gen­er­ally the wrong way to be watch­ing games on Satur­days.

Rank­ing Tiers

There are seven tiers.

Us – This is my team. There can be only one.

Hero – Clear good guys who you want to do well un­less there’s a strong rea­son why not.

Friendly – You wish them well all things be­ing equal, but not enough to care.

Neu­tral – Teams you don’t care about ei­ther way. Prob­a­bly de­cent chaps.

Loyal Op­po­si­tion – Ri­vals of your fa­vorite teams, so you of­ten want them to lose for strate­gic rea­sons, but you don’t have any­thing against them or any­thing.

Villain – Ac­tual bad guys. This can be for good rea­sons, or be­cause you don’t like their stupid face. Or both. And who says their stupid face isn’t a good rea­son? Sports!

Them – The most hated of them all. Like we, you only get one, so make it count.

If you are a full tier higher than your op­po­nent, then that is more im­por­tant than other game fac­tors like home team or fa­vorite.

It is not suffi­cient to be more im­por­tant than the in­ter­ests of a team that is more ex­treme than both of them. If you need a cer­tain re­sult to stop a villian or the dreaded them, or even more im­por­tantly to help us, then we wish to make it so un­less the differ­ence is at least two lev­els be­tween the teams play­ing. How many lev­els are re­quired de­pends on how big the out­side stakes are. If a play­off birth or cham­pi­onship hangs in the bal­ance, that takes pri­or­ity over any­thing but us.

The other fac­tor that can cross lev­els is caus­ing chaos. Foot­ball sea­son is may­hem, and the more may­hem, the more fun. We come first, but be­yond that, we’re happy to risk at least one level of rank in or­der to cause chaos, both in terms of the game to­day and in terms of which team makes it.

If out­side fac­tors aren’t con­clu­sive, and the two teams are in the same tier, then you look at who is at home and what the gam­bling odds are. You want to root for the home team, but also for the un­der­dog. If the home team is an un­der­dog, your job is easy, and a large home un­der­dog (+7 or big­ger) is enough to jump a tier that isn’t us or them. If the home team is the fa­vorite, the break even point for me is the same as where the teams are equally good, at −3. At that or less, I stick with the home team by de­fault. More than that, and it’s time to root for the up­set. But if it’s close, then any­thing cool – a nice play or de­ci­sion, a good story, or a whim – can over­ride. Be­cause why not?

Team by Team

If one con­fer­ence was ‘my’ con­fer­ence it would be the Big 10. But we re­spect the best. So we’ll start at the heart of the sport, with the SEC.

SEC

The SEC has been the best con­fer­ence for a while, largely be­cause they take them­selves too se­ri­ously and have noth­ing bet­ter to do with their time. Every now and then the Big 10 claims to be bet­ter, and then they play foot­ball against each other.

They call them­selves the SEC be­cause no one in­volved knows how to man­age a di­ver­sified stock port­fo­lio. They pre­fer cup­cakes.

The SEC slo­gan is ‘it just means more’ which is be­cause ev­ery­thing else there means less. This fo­cus on win­ning re­mains ad­mirable.

SEC West

The SEC West is the strongest di­vi­sion, by far, in all of col­lege foot­ball. It’s great to watch. In our on­go­ing root for chaos against or­der, we want them all to ei­ther crash and burn and take each other out, leav­ing ev­ery­one shut out of the play­offs and top place­ments, or for them to dom­i­nate so much that they threaten to take up mul­ti­ple slots and drive ev­ery­one in­sane.

Since the di­vi­sion is so good, we won’t gloss over any­one.

LSU

Biggest Plus: Home­town coach Ed Orgeron

Also Good: Unique Yel­low Uniforms, Great Divi­sion, Calls Sta­dium “Death Valley”

Biggest Minus: Fan Entitlement

Also Bad: Non-Unique Sta­dium Name (Clem­son also has a “Death Valley”)

Rank: Hero

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the value of unique. Even yel­low uniforms. Any­thing that makes you differ­ent is great. You want to play to your strengths and what makes you uniquely you. Coach Ed Org­eron is a great ex­am­ple of that, a home­town boy who is so ob­vi­ously thrilled to be there and won the job by win­ning the hearts of the play­ers. Ku­dos for go­ing with that in­stead of bribing a top name from out­side.

If you don’t like games with very low scores, this might not be the team for you. I for one find it re­fresh­ing to win games with­out an offense.

LSU has a long tra­di­tion of be­ing a top-tier pro­gram, so there are con­stant calls to fire Ed just like there were con­stant calls to fire pre­vi­ous coaches. That’s a shame, but that’s also the job. In some ways it’s an­noy­ing. You have a top-25 team and you’re con­stantly mad about it. In other ways it makes them an un­der­dog, be­cause they’re in the same class and di­vi­sion as Alabama and Auburn and feel like they be­long at that level.

Alabama

Biggest Plus: Nick Sa­ban and com­pany do ev­ery­thing right.

Also Good: Unique name with great slo­gan (“Roll Tide!”), his­tory of ad­mit­ting Jews when they were be­ing kept out of the Ivy League, Great Ri­valries and Divison

Biggest Minus: They also have in­finite re­sources, so they win way too of­ten. They cer­tainly don’t need the cup­cakes.

Also Bad: I mean the games aren’t even close. There’s noth­ing to watch. They don’t even slow down late be­cause their B team would be ranked in the top 25 most years.

Rank: Hero

Alabama has been dom­i­nant for a long time. As long as Nick Sa­ban is their coach, this isn’t go­ing to stop. The only rea­son other teams are com­pet­i­tive is that his former un­der­lings learned how to do things right and are now in charge of the other good pro­grams like Clem­son and Ge­or­gia. Nick is pretty much the best. He cares about all the right things, says the right things, and gets prop­erly an­gry when ev­ery­thing isn’t perfect.

The prob­lem is that root­ing for a team that is fa­vored in most of its games by mul­ti­ple touch­downs is not all that ex­cit­ing. Noth­ing wrong with an easy game ev­ery now and then, but of­ten the first close game Alabama plays will be the Iron Bowl at the end of the sea­son. Alabama los­ing is always a good chaos move. So they have hero rank, but you end up root­ing against them of­ten enough any­way.

Auburn

Biggest Plus: Alabama needs a strong ri­val to keep things in­ter­est­ing, has pul­led off some amaz­ing up­sets.

Also Good: Good at mak­ing most of what they have, fan will­ing­ness to take on and fully hate a true jug­ger­naut, coach Gus Malzhan is fun and wants it so bad and is always on the verge of get­ting fired, will­ing­ness to sched­ule strong PAC-12 teams.

Biggest Minus: Willing to make com­pro­mises to win (see: Cam New­ton).

Also Bad: Keep blow­ing their chance to cause real chaos re­cently by los­ing late, sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

Rank: Loyal Opposition

Auburn does not ap­pear to main­tain rigor­ous aca­demic or other off-the-field stan­dards for its ath­letes. That is not great, but the differ­ence be­tween them and most other pro­grams is mostly that they were less sub­tle about it. So I’m will­ing to not make a big deal out of it, given how much there is here to love. Auburn cre­ates a lot of great games and keeps them in­ter­est­ing. That’s what the loyal op­po­si­tion lives for.

Mississippi

Biggest Plus: Re­fuge in team name audacity

Also Good: Cheer­ing up the less fortunate

Biggest Minus: They are liter­ally called the Rebels

Also Bad: Spel­ling difficulty

Rank: Villains

Nam­ing your team af­ter a re­bel­lion against the United States, and in fa­vor of en­slav­ing fel­low hu­man be­ings, is quite the bold move, yet given the lo­ca­tion, it seems to fly un­der the radar. I’m kind of im­pressed. And it’s not with­out its ad­van­tages. Hav­ing peo­ple to root against with no re­grets is always nice.

Mis­sis­sippi State

Biggest Plus: More cowbell

Also Good: Sur­pris­ingly com­pet­i­tive, team is not called the rebels, legacy of Dan Mullen

Biggest Minus: Stayed in Mis­sis­sippi a day too long

Also Bad: The name ‘Egg Bowl’

Rank: Neutral

Mis­sis­sippi State has been en­ter­tain­ing lately, putting up fights in games that were ex­pected to be snooze fests, and do­ing so while mak­ing cor­rectly bold in-game de­ci­sions. It’s hard not to root for that. With coach Dan Mul­len mov­ing on to Florida, they will pre­sum­ably slip back from Friendly to Neu­tral sta­tus, as they don’t nat­u­rally give some­one like me much other rea­son to root for them.

Texas A&M

Biggest Plus: The 12th Man

Also Good: Strong tra­di­tion and will­ing­ness to spend what it takes, get­ting it done as an ‘A&M’ school, cre­at­ing wiz­ardly quarterbacks

Biggest Minus: What they spent a lot of that on, the 0th Man, Jimbo Fisher

Also Bad: Feels like it should still be in the Big 12

Rank: Villain

Strong tra­di­tions and stu­dent en­thu­si­asm are pretty great. They’re what the sport is all about, so de­spite jump­ing ship on the Big 12 into what seemed like clearly the wrong con­fer­ence, there was a lot left to like. Then they hired Jimbo Fisher. When you hire Jimbo Fisher, you make it clear that it’s whether you win or lose, rather than how you play the game. This should lead to an even stronger SEC West and even more ex­cit­ing foot­ball, but it also gives us a villain to root against.

Arkansas

Biggest Plus: Watch­ing peo­ple leave good jobs to come here and fail thanks to com­pletely un­re­al­is­tic expectations

Also Good: Watch­ing peo­ple’s re­ac­tions to those failures, Arkansas has a lit­tle town called hope

Biggest Minus: At some point con­stant failure stops be­ing interesting

Also Bad: Their defense, and their offense, at least in di­vi­sional context

Rank: Neutral

If you get the op­por­tu­nity to hire some­one great, you take it. I can’t hold that against you. You’re sup­posed to do that. So when Arkansas finds it­self with a big bud­get and over-sized ex­pec­ta­tions and op­po­si­tion, but with­out good help, nat­u­rally it will come for those we love. Then those peo­ple take the job, and we’ll hate them, be­cause they aban­doned us, sure. But it’s not like Arkansas is pay­ing huge money for scoundrels and buy suc­cess – that’s (among many oth­ers) Texas A&M. Arkansas is merely try­ing to keep pace and stay afloat. So I’m fine with it, but it’s not some­thing in­ter­est­ing enough to root for.

SEC East

The SEC East is a pale shadow of the SEC West this past decade, as many of its teams have been down for quite a while. They used to be some­one.

Florida

Biggest Plus: New head coach Dan Mullen

Also Good: The chomp and the swamp, strong rivalries

Biggest Minus: Long his­tory of ugly-ass football

Also Bad: We re­mem­ber Tim Te­bow. Also Ur­ban Meyer.

Rank: Loyal opposition

His­tor­i­cally Florida has been a clear source of scum and villainy. Their games were an in­sult to the sport. Then there’s that Tim Te­bow guy, and that Ur­ban Meyer guy. So this wasn’t a hard call. Dan Mul­len be­ing given enough real re­sources to make a differ­ence forces us to re­think all that. We now have a team that goes for it, that tries to do ex­cit­ing things, that as­pires to that which it should be. Their ri­vals are other Florida teams that we hate, so that’s always a big plus. Le­gacy mat­ters, so there’s a lot of ground to make up for, but at least this is a be­gin­ning. I wanted to root for them rather than sim­ply against Mi­ami in the sea­son opener, but the legacy and be­ing too ob­vi­ous a fa­vorite made it hard. We’ll see.

Kentucky

Biggest Plus: Bas­ket­ball season

Also Good: Good defense, sur­pris­ing abil­ity to slog through on occasion

Biggest Minus: Foot­ball season

Also Bad: Long his­tory of ugly-ass football

Rank: Neutral

It is charm­ing to see a team like Ken­tucky try to grab for the brass ring, de­spite lack­ing in the tal­ent or abil­ity to score points usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with such as­pira­tions. Per­haps their other sports ac­com­plish­ments are rub­bing off on them. If they can make their method­ol­ogy less ugly, they can maybe be a team we can root for in this con­text. For now, they re­main the essence of neu­tral­ity.

Tennessee

Biggest Plus: Pay­ton Manning

Also Good: Bold color choice, po­ten­tial re­demp­tion story, expectations

Biggest Minus: Have not tried that hard to hire Pay­ton Manning

Also Bad: The team, re­al­is­tic expectations

Rank: Friendly

You see the story all over the coun­try. A once proud team hum­bled by years of failure, whose coaches are held to the stan­dards of glory days. In this case, I can be more sym­pa­thetic, be­cause I’m a sucker for the bright or­ange uniforms, and be­cause there’s some­thing Shake­spearean about the drama here that I don’t feel in most of the other places. Any­thing in sports worth do­ing is prob­a­bly worth over­do­ing. I’ve also always been a fan of fa­mous alumni Pay­ton’s, as I am with most smartest guys on the field act­ing as their own head coaches, and also be­cause he’s hilar­i­ous. Can we please get him to take the job?

Vanderbilt

Biggest Plus: A let­ter all to themselves

Also Good: Feels unique in ways it prob­a­bly isn’t, but ev­ery bit helps

Biggest Minus: Con­tex­tual non-entity

Also Bad: I can never be mo­ti­vated to re­mem­ber where they are

Rank: Neutral

This is the essence of a neu­tral team. Con­fer­ences and di­vi­sions can­not sim­ply kick out teams that don’t perform for a while, so they’re stuck with them. But with­out a chance to watch them or worry they might win some­thing, there’s noth­ing to go on, and they don’t do much to try and change that.

Missouri

Biggest Plus: A new me­dia mar­ket for the SEC

Also Good: Some cause that got peo­ple to protest, probably

Biggest Minus: What­ever they were protest­ing against, probably

Also Bad: Du­pli­cate team name, also most hot takes on the protests, probably

Rank: Loyal opposition

I men­tion the protest, de­spite it be­ing a while ago and not know­ing any of the de­tails or ‘facts’, be­cause there isn’t much else to go on. Noth­ing seems salient, and I can’t give them points for those uniforms be­cause they’re pretty ugly. Given I can’t care about them enough, it wouldn’t be right to send them all the way to villain sta­tus just for that, so I’ll set­tle for one rank re­moved and still be able to back them when there’s im­por­tant work to be done.

Georgia

Biggest Plus: Great product on the field

Also Good: Great coach name in Kirby Smart, feels iconic, great rivalries

Biggest Minus: No tech

Also Bad: Ac­tual bulldogs

Rank: Friendly

Kirby Smart learned from the best (and by the best, we mean Nick Sa­ban) which is how one has the po­ten­tial to com­pete with Alabama. Then he went ahead and did his job, week af­ter week, year af­ter year. The is­sue with Ge­or­gia is that, un­like their in-state ri­val, they have no tech. Ge­or­gia just as­sem­bles a strong re­cruit­ing class and then does solid things with them over and over again, and hopes that is good enough. It never feels like there’s a story be­hind it. That keeps them out of the top tier, but there is no rea­son to be un­friendly with a team that has made the com­pet­i­tive land­scape much more in­ter­est­ing. Thanks mostly to Ge­or­gia, ev­ery SEC cham­pi­onship game has the po­ten­tial for chaos.

South Carolina

Biggest Plus: Easily out­shines North Carolina

Also Good: Can take a re­peated beat­ing and keep on tick­ing, I suppose

Biggest Minus: Picked a much harder ri­val than North Carolina

Also Bad: Noth­ing es­pe­cially in­spiring or interesting

Rank: Neutral

Should they still have the right to the name South Carolina, or should they have to do a name swap? Offi­cially, you never lose that right, so they get to keep us­ing it in­definitely. We all know the truth. Then again, I live very close to New York Univer­sity and we don’t even field a team, so it could be much worse.

The Big 10

The Big 10 is the di­vi­sion that thinks it is ev­ery bit as good as the SEC, and man­ages to pe­ri­od­i­cally fool those mak­ing the rank­ings, only to end up play­ing games. At that point, peo­ple figure out that there are some minor speed, power and skill is­sues.

They call them­selves the Big 10 be­cause they have four­teen teams.

The Big 10 slo­gan is “Big Stage, Big Life, Big 10.” This has some­thing to do with march­ing bands, in­clud­ing a mem­ber of the Rut­gers band whose in­struc­tion for the big ad sel­l­ing the con­fer­ence was some­thing like “act like a deer in head­lights that has no idea what to do now that it’s in the con­fer­ence to pick up a ma­jor me­dia mar­ket.”

The Big 10 is ‘my’ con­fer­ence of choice, be­cause it con­tains the great­est hero (aka my team) and the sport’s great­est villain, is rel­a­tively lo­cal, and re­li­ably de­liv­ers in­ter­est­ing games. Also, as ev­i­denced by the ad, the whole con­fer­ence has high aca­demic stan­dards and are gen­er­ally gi­ant dorks. So they’re my kind of peo­ple.

The SEC puts as many good teams as pos­si­ble in the West. The Big 10 bal­ances this by putting all its good teams in the East. It’s only fair.

Big 10 East

Ohio State

Biggest Plus: No longer em­ploys Ur­ban Meyer

Also Good: Hon­est about not com­ing here to play school, makes Michi­gan cry yearly

Biggest Minus: Every­one in­volved is a known gi­ant douchebag

Also Bad: Cheat­ing, bribing, cov­er­ing up scan­dals, com­plete lack of class, not here to play even a lit­tle school, get play­off spots they don’t de­serve, always over­rated, in­ci­den­tally keeps get­ting in our way

Rank: Them

When I was ex­per­i­ment­ing with daily fan­tasy sports, my part­ner in the en­ter­prise was a Cleve­land na­tive. As their pro­fes­sional teams con­tinued to suffer, as they of­ten do, it was easy to share my sym­pa­thies. I could tell he was of­ten in phys­i­cal pain. Even he agreed with­out prompt­ing that Ohio State are a bunch of gi­ant douchebags. They’re the clas­sic sports movie bad guys you love to hate. We can all agree these are hor­rible hu­man be­ings en­gaged in a pro­fane en­ter­prise. Which is how our coun­try can fi­nally come to­gether.

Michigan

Biggest Plus: Su­pereroga­tory lev­els of ha­tred to­wards Ohio State

Also Good: Watch­ing offense fail to come to­gether, watch­ing coach Jim Har­baugh suffer, play in the literal Big House

Biggest Minus: #YouHadOneJob

Also Bad: …and you screwed it up.

Rank: Loyal opposition

Michi­gan coach Jim Har­baugh is in pain. All great foot­ball coaches are con­stantly in pain, but Jim takes it the ex­tra mile. He is quite in­vested in Michi­gan foot­ball, and it’s great to see how much he cares. That’s es­pe­cially true when he lets us all down, as he is wont to do. He is very good at some as­pects of the game, like cre­at­ing a strong defense, but not at oth­ers, and seems des­tined to usu­ally fall short. Lucy will keep pul­ling the foot­ball away, and we’ll all en­joy see it com­ing. And while we didn’t want Ohio State to win, we still have our so­lace. Michi­gan also of­ten stands in our way, which makes it ex­tra easy to not feel the least bit bad for them.

Penn State

Biggest Plus: Clos­est ac­tu­ally good team to New York

Also Good: White outs, choice of en­e­mies, re­silience in the face of…

Biggest Minus: Oh, yeah, THAT.

Also Bad: Saquon Barkley be­ing picked sec­ond, chok­ing re­peat­edly on big leads when it matters

Rank: Neutral

So, yeah. That hap­pened. Ab­solute power cor­rupts ab­solutely, and some­times peo­ple care more about win­ning and keep­ing up ap­pear­ances than any­thing else. I still don’t have a great model for how some­one can both take great care to make sure their stu­dents get ed­u­ca­tions off the field in­stead of fo­cus­ing too much on the sport, and also look the other way while their as­sis­tant rapes kids. The ques­tion then be­comes, how much do we hold the past against Penn State, ver­sus note that all the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble are gone, and cel­e­brate the new wave’s re­silience in the face of ad­ver­sity. As always in sports, the right an­swer is to ob­serve what you’ve already de­cided the an­swer to be. In this case, I no­tice I don’t have one re­li­able an­swer, but seem to set­tle around neu­tral when I think about rank or­der in­side the di­vi­sion.

Michi­gan State

Biggest Plus: This. Is. Sparta.

Also Good: Mak­ing a lot out of a lit­tle year in and year out, be­ing the hero we need

Biggest Minus: Zero sense of humor

Also Bad: Fre­quent to­tal in­abil­ity to move the ball

Rank: Heroes

All teams choose a name and wrap that name up in tra­di­tion. Few truly live the name in full spirit. The Michi­gan State Spar­tans go the ex­tra mile. Each year they bat­tle richer city states that have ev­ery ad­van­tage, us­ing the fuel of pure de­ter­mi­na­tion and tough­ness. Usu­ally they make it far closer than it has any right to be. Often they emerge vic­to­ri­ous. You have to tip your cap to such efforts, and hope they can laugh about it af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

Indiana

Biggest Plus: Giv­ing us the ev­er­last­ing gift of Lee Corso

Also Good: Pav­il­ion named for John Mel­len­camp, and of course Hoosiers.

Biggest Minus: Can’t com­pete in our hearts with that kid from Purdue

Also Bad: Me­mo­rial Sta­dium is kind of a downer, never play­ing a man short

Rank: Friendly

There is not much to say about In­di­ana. They do their best to put a re­spectable product on the field, with mixed suc­cess. Some­one has to fill out the con­fer­ence and en­sure ac­cess to ge­o­graph­i­cally ad­ja­cent ma­jor me­dia mar­kets, so it might as well be them. It cer­tainly can be a lot worse, as the next two teams will demon­strate, and Lee Corso makes me smile weekly to this day de­spite clearly no longer play­ing with a full set of schol­ar­ships, but it has been a long time since they’ve done some­thing in­ter­est­ing.

Maryland

Biggest Plus: The­o­ret­i­cal ac­cess to the Wash­ing­ton, DC me­dia mar­ket for the Big 10 network

Also Good: Mess­ing with Texas, hope­fully solid academics

Biggest Minus: Claiming to be a mem­ber of the Big 10

Also Bad: The team

Rank: Loyal opposition

Mary­land be­ing added to the Big 10 was an unadulter­ated money grab. The con­fer­ence could have had their pick of high qual­ity teams to take com­pe­ti­tion to the next level. In­stead, they made a play to force open a ma­jor me­dia mar­ket, on the the­ory that ca­ble net­works would not be able to re­fuse to in­clude games of a lo­cal team get­ting cut to rib­bons by su­pe­rior op­po­nents, and to give the ex­ist­ing teams an eas­ier route within the con­fer­ence. For­ever will this team be a black mark upon this oth­er­wise fine col­lec­tion of in­sti­tu­tions.

Rutgers

Biggest Plus: The­o­ret­i­cal ac­cess to the New York me­dia mar­ket for the Big 10 network

Also Good: Jon Finkel, sur­pris­ingly solid aca­demics, not forc­ing peo­ple to say they grad­u­ated from “New Jersey Univer­sity,” the look on that guy’s face in the march­ing band ad.

Biggest Minus: New Jersey

Also Really Bad: Claiming to be a mem­ber of the Big 10, the team

Rank: Villains

Rut­gers be­ing added to the Big 10 was an unadulter­ated money grab. The con­fer­ence could have had their pick of high qual­ity teams to take com­pe­ti­tion to the next level. In­stead, they made a play to force open a ma­jor me­dia mar­ket, on the the­ory that ca­ble net­works would not be able to re­fuse to in­clude games of a lo­cal team get­ting cut to rib­bons by su­pe­rior op­po­nents, and to give the ex­ist­ing teams an eas­ier route within the con­fer­ence. For­ever will this team be a black mark upon this oth­er­wise fine col­lec­tion of in­sti­tu­tions.

Big 10 West

Wisconsin

Biggest Plus: We. Are. Wis­con­sin.

Also Good: Jump Around, ev­ery­thing about coach Paul Chryst, de­vel­op­ing top run­ning backs, hav­ing their own dis­tinc­tive style, great fun­da­men­tals, res­cu­ing in­no­cent vic­tims of New Jersey, Seth Burn, Gau­de­nis Vi­dugiris and a big shout out not only to all the alumni I know but to the whole Madi­son Magic com­mu­nity, and other neat stuff like that.

Biggest Minus: Rol­ling over for Ohio State that time in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game, and los­ing all the other ones

Also Bad: Quar­ter­back play, ac­ci­den­tally over­rat­ing our run­ning back tal­ent in the NFL draft, our chances of cov­er­ing large point spreads, not need­ing any stink­ing Badgers

Rank: Us

Wis­con­sin is my col­lege foot­ball team. Don’t for­get to jump around in your seat be­tween the third and fourth quar­ters. When I speak of “we” I speak of Wis­con­sin. Should it also be your team? Per­haps, es­pe­cially if you’d like to swing by my place to watch to­gether ev­ery so of­ten. That’s how I chose them in the first place, be­cause I had mul­ti­ple friends already in on the Badgers. Sev­eral years in, I re­gret noth­ing. Year af­ter year, I get a team I can eas­ily root for, giv­ing me hope and faith of be­ing tem­porar­ily, ad­ja­cently vic­to­ri­ous, with tra­di­tions and prin­ci­ples and play style I can get be­hind. It is great to see how we learn to fight at the line, to re­li­ably turn out NFL-qual­ity run­ning backs de­spite re­cruit­ing in New Jersey, to play the right way and win with solid foot­ball. Wis­con­sin also benefits be­cause it is one of the few teams that re­ally can pound the ball and run play af­ter play, and suc­ceed, while stop­ping any op­po­nent dar­ing to do the same. That makes for a great root­ing ex­pe­rience, as you get to see a lot of good things hap­pen. I see why peo­ple want to es­tab­lish the run­ning game even when it doesn’t make sense. I do wish we were more ag­gres­sive on fourth down, and knew how to do bet­ter at quar­ter­back. And I of course wish we could have won one or two of those cham­pi­onship games. But given our level of re­cruit­ing abil­ity, I will never have any com­plaints. Ex­cept for all the con­stant com­plaints.

Minnesota

Biggest Plus: Dar­ing to call your team the Golden Gophers

Also Good: Paul Bonyan’s Axe, the quiet week we’ve had in Lake Wobegon

Biggest Minus: Gets pretty cold up there, doesn’t it

Also Bad: Not be­ing above average

Rank: Friendly

There are two great kinds of ri­vals. There are the kind that you hate with a pas­sion ev­ery minute of ev­ery day. Then there are the ones that are friends ex­cept for when you face each other, like when su­per heroes have ver­sus is­sues. I’m a big fan of that sec­ond kind. Min­nesota pro­vides that, with just enough fear that they might win the Axe to keep us Wis­con­sin fans on our toes. Every­one should have about this win per­centage, ex­cept math­e­mat­ics is a thing.

Nebraska

Biggest Plus: The on­go­ing saga of Scott Frost

Also Good: Many past Ne­braska teams, the wis­dom and gen­eros­ity of War­ren Buffet

Biggest Minus: The sus­pi­cion that their fans are the rel­a­tives of Penny from The Big Bang The­ory, and also Penny

Also Bad: Let­ting your­self go af­ter they let you into the club

Rank: Loyal opposition

Ne­braska has a long his­tory of play­ing ex­cel­lent foot­ball. It is hard for me to see them that way, be­cause all I have seen is Ne­braska in­creas­ingly failing to play such foot­ball, year af­ter year, and my brain does not in­stinc­tively think Ne­braska is a place great foot­ball should be ex­pected to come from. That could soon change, be­cause alumni Scott Frost who led South Florida to an un­defeated sea­son and semi-se­ri­ous ‘na­tional ti­tle’ claim a year af­ter failing to win games at all, has come home and set to work. The vot­ers are giv­ing them a shock­ing amount of re­spect, so we’ll see what hap­pens.

Illinois

Biggest Plus: Their bas­ket­ball team from about a decade ago was beau­tiful to watch

Also Good: The Univer­sity of Chicago, the phone at Wells and Lake

Biggest Minus: The wind

Also Bad: Lack of good stories

Rank: Neutral

I have noth­ing against Illinois, but I also can’t get ex­cited. I’ve got noth­ing to work with here. They show up, they play their role, but there never seem to be any sto­ries. I was ac­tu­ally a fan of their bas­ket­ball team when I was first get­ting se­ri­ously into sports, be­cause they would pull off plays where I could see them out think­ing and out­ma­neu­ver­ing their op­po­nents, in a way that I rarely can ap­pre­ci­ate in bas­ket­ball. I just don’t have the eyes for it, I sup­pose. I’m open to them show­ing me some­thing on the field, but I don’t ex­pect it.

Purdue

Biggest Plus: Every­one’s fa­vorite su­per­fan, Tyler Trent, lead­ing the charge to vic­tory against the hated them

Also Good: Mak­ing boilers, po­ten­tial world class run­ning backs, say­ing Pur-DUE!

Biggest Minus: Tyler not mak­ing it

Also Bad: Cancer

Rank: Heroes

Pur­due foot­ball is sud­denly do­ing im­pres­sive things on the field, and was the in­spira­tional story of the year thanks to su­per fan and, alas, can­cer non-sur­vivor Tyler Trent. Tyler wanted noth­ing more than to lead his team to vic­tory, and (al­most) all of Amer­ica was thrilled for him to get his wish. If they can build on what they have done, and con­tinue to be ex­plo­sive, it would be great to have an­other true threat we can root for around the con­fer­ence, even with­out Tyler. And re­mem­ber, you always have to say it pur-Doooo!

Iowa

Biggest Plus: Talk­ing to your kids about an un­defeated Iowa

Also Good: What seems like sheer force of will

Biggest Minus: The ugliest ugly foot­ball that ever uglied

Also Bad: Warp­ing the pres­i­den­tial pro­cess, Ethanol subsidies

Rank: Heroes

Iowa does not care how ugly they play. Scratch that. They seem to ac­tively want to play as ugly as pos­si­ble, but in a way that holds the po­ten­tial to win sur­pris­ingly many games. Even the uniforms get in on the act. A small amount of ugly is ugly. An epic, un­prece­dented and em­braced amount of it is a sight to watch. When they up­set bet­ter teams with far su­pe­rior re­cruit­ing classes and ex­pec­ta­tions, you can see the fury. It’s a beau­tiful thing.

Northwestern

Biggest Plus: In the ge­o­graph­i­cally ap­pro­pri­ate con­fer­ence af­ter all

Also Good: Tak­ing up the pur­ple man­tle, academics

Biggest Minus: Ter­ribly named

Also Bad: Good enough to some­times beat us with­out be­ing good enough to be that im­pres­sive a win

Rank: Loyal opposition

Re­spect is due for the unique look, and for stick­ing to its guns on call­ing it­self North­west­ern. A sur­pris­ing num­ber of peo­ple I know have con­sid­ered at­tend­ing purely for the aca­demics, so there’s that. The prob­lem is that they are re­li­ably on the cusp of be­ing good, suffi­ciently that they can beat you, but with­out do­ing any­thing note­wor­thy. Which means they’re not be­ing quite im­pres­sive enough for any­one to give you much credit for hold­ing them off. They can even steal the Big 10 West on oc­ca­sion. The risk/​re­ward here is ter­rible, so they go into the op­po­si­tion column.

ACC

The ACC is an­other di­vi­sion that thinks it is as good as the SEC, and in this case has a lot of ge­o­graphic over­lap and thus plays ri­valry games ev­ery year to try and prove it. The depth never seems to quite be there, but they’ve put up bet­ter show­ings than I would have ex­pected, and Clem­son has be­come co-best team in the coun­try with Alabama. The differ­ence is that Alabama has lots of ri­vals that are threats to its dom­i­nance within its con­fer­ence and di­vi­sion, whereas Clem­son gets to play in the ACC.

The ACC’s slo­gan is “Bring your A game” to re­mind its teach­ers how to han­dle ath­letes.

They have two di­vi­sions. The At­lantic di­vi­sion is called the At­lantic di­vi­sion be­cause it is near the At­lantic coast. The coastal di­vi­sion is called the coastal di­vi­sion be­cause it is near the At­lantic coast.

In the in­ter­ests of finish­ing and not hav­ing to put in too much lame filler, we’ll be con­dens­ing the team pro­files from here, es­pe­cially the minor teams that don’t leave much im­pres­sion – I’ll mostly just say that and move on. Five is a lot of con­fer­ences. Not ev­ery­one gets a com­plex story from ev­ery­one’s point of view.

At­lantic Division

Bos­ton College

Biggest Plus: How they look when com­pared to the other Bos­ton foot­ball team

Biggest Minus: Inevitable un­fair as­so­ci­a­tions with the other Bos­ton foot­ball team

Rank: Friendly

The north­east does not have enough col­lege foot­ball, be­cause it lacks suffi­cient col­lege foot­ball fans, and be­cause the Ivy League de­cided to sign a suicide pact in or­der to avoid any­one defect­ing by try­ing to have any fun. There are, it seems, more im­por­tant things to fo­cus on. So given the lack of al­ter­na­tives, we can be thank­ful for Bos­ton Col­lege.

Clemson

Biggest Plus: Awe­some football

Biggest Minus: Papa John’s Pizza

Rank: Friendly

Let’s play good idea, bad idea. A good idea is throw­ing all your fans a pizza party at the sta­dium as thanks when you make it into the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. The pos­i­tive fo­cus of the Clem­son pro­gram is ro­bust and re­fresh­ing. A bad idea is get­ting the piz­zas from Papa Johns. This has noth­ing to do with poli­tics. That’s an op­tional added bonus, if it helps you get offended by Papa Johns, but is not re­motely the worst thing about that en­ter­prise. It has ev­ery­thing to do with it not be­ing pizza. I do re­al­ize that op­tions for a sta­dium’s worth of pizza around Clem­son Univer­sity are likely limited. That is en­tirely fair, but there is sim­ply no ex­cuse. If you have to, throw a differ­ent kind of party. I do re­al­ize that Clem­son is one of the best two teams in the coun­try, and I’ve spent this en­tire briefing on their pizza choices. That’s be­cause I feel very strongly about pizza, and also be­cause they oth­er­wise do things right, keep their heads down and stay con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent. I es­pe­cially re­spected how they han­dled their quar­ter­back is­sues last year. So there’s no doubt that we should be friendly, but I can’t call any­one who con­sid­ers Papa Johns to be pizza, to be heroes. Love you guys, but if we get an­other round, Roll Tide.

Florida State

Biggest Plus: No longer em­ploys Jimbo Fisher

Biggest Minus: Still a bunch of cheat­ing cheaters

Rank: Villains

I love that Alex Hornibrook fled Wis­con­sin think­ing he could do bet­ter, and couldn’t even se­cure the start­ing job. I don’t even know if that makes me like Florida State less or more. I only know that they were already near the top of the villain list. Florida State has a long his­tory of do­ing what­ever it takes it en­sure that play­ers come to its fine in­sti­tu­tion, and that they don’t in­ter­act with any­thing that might ac­ci­den­tally force them to ei­ther learn or be­have in a re­spon­si­ble, eth­i­cal or le­gal fash­ion. I do not ex­pect the de­par­ture of Jimbo Fisher to do more than slow this down a bit, and I wish their pro­gram a very lengthy re­cov­ery. Also, guys, ei­ther tell ev­ery other team that refer­ences Na­tive Amer­i­cans they can’t also do the Tom­a­hawk chop, or stop act­ing like you have a spe­cial as­so­ci­a­tion with it that makes you bet­ter or less ob­nox­ious.

Louisville

Biggest Plus: Out­siders play ex­cit­ing foot­ball, be­ing so good they can’t ig­nore you

Biggest Minus: How they did that, in­clud­ing be­hind the scenes

Rank: Neutral

When I first started watch­ing, Louisville were on the out­side look­ing in, try­ing to get good teams to play them, get­ting close to putting up un­defeated sea­sons that clearly would not have been enough, and hop­ing against hope to be part of a power con­fer­ence. They sort of got their wish when in­vited to the Big East, then they turned around and mostly got it by join­ing the ACC. It felt like a be­trayal, but the con­fer­ence was doomed any­way at that point, so it’s not re­ally fair. Then again, we could also talk about the things done by Bobby Pa­trino and oth­ers, and their will­ing­ness to take him back. One can’t help but have a bad taste in their mouth about the whole thing. I’ll always be thank­ful for our time watch­ing La­mar Jack­son, but that now is poi­soned by the Gi­ants com­ing within one pick of get­ting him and some­how failing to draft a quar­ter­back at all, then draft­ing the guy from Duke the next year with the sixth pick of the draft. Which of course is in no way the fault of La­mar Jack­son, but sports is not fair that way. Over­all, they get enough boost from their past un­der­dog sta­tus that it feels like it comes out to about neu­tral.

North Carolina State

Biggest Plus: Tech­ni­cally, yes, North Carolina is a state with a university

Biggest Minus: Com­pletely inessential

Rank: Neutral

As you can tell, they haven’t left an im­pres­sion. Don’t care ei­ther way.

Syracuse

Biggest Plus: New York has a foot­ball team, and even a le­git bas­ket­ball team

Biggest Minus: We use the term New York loosely, hit­ting peo­ple with cars, up­set­ting the giants

Rank: Heroes

As a team that fully em­braces their sim­ple yet pow­er­ful color schema of Orange­men, and the only New York based team closer than Buf­falo that plays what can fully be de­scribed as foot­ball, it was easy to form an early con­nec­tion with Syra­cuse. Re­mem­ber that the Gi­ants and Jets play in New Jersey. One could even in the­ory go to a game some time. My good friend Seth did the same only far more so, and their bas­ket­ball teams give us some­thing to root for that might le­gi­t­i­mately go all the way at some point, which helps keep in­ter­est up dur­ing oth­er­wise sports-light Fe­bru­ary and March. Syra­cuse has given the top play­ers of the ACC sur­pris­ing runs for their money, in­clud­ing a gi­ant up­set, in the past few years, and has climbed all the way to be­ing ranked. That’s pretty ex­cit­ing. If I didn’t have Wis­con­sin, this would likely be my team. Which I’m glad it isn’t, since that would stick me in the ACC.

Wake Forest

Biggest Plus: Evoca­tive name of university

Biggest Minus: Lack of im­pres­sive wake and/​or forest

Rank: Neutral

As you can tell, they haven’t left an im­pres­sion. Don’t care ei­ther way.

Coastal Division

Duke

Biggest Plus: Not the Duke bas­ket­ball team

Biggest Minus: Still Duke

Rank: Loyal opposition

As we all know, Duke sucks. This is foot­ball, so Duke ac­tu­ally sucks, which is a bonus. I don’t have any­thing bad to say about their foot­ball team and they must have a large chip on their shoulder, but then again, they are still Duke. So there’s that.

Ge­or­gia Tech

Biggest Plus: Unique triple op­tion offense

Biggest Minus: Unique triple op­tion offense

Rank: Friendly

Ge­or­gia Tech has an offen­sive play. It is ex­tremely cool. The triple op­tion al­lows them to see what the defense is giv­ing them, and place the ball where it can do the most good. There is only one prob­lem with this plan, which is that they could re­ally use a sec­ond cool offen­sive play. Or a sec­ond offen­sive play at all. That is not quite fair, they do on oc­ca­sion pass the pall or oth­er­wise do some­thing slightly differ­ent, but it is pretty close. This feels like it should lead to more bi­nary out­comes than it does – if you can suc­cess­fully defend all three legs of the triple op­tion you should shut Ge­or­gia Tech down, and if you can­not do so, you should get run over, so why don’t both of these hap­pen more fully more of­ten? A lot of things like this turn out statis­ti­cally not to mat­ter when you run the num­bers, in ways that are con­fus­ing to me. In any case, I’m glad that they ex­ist to give us some­thing differ­ent, but also glad we don’t have an­other power five team do­ing the same.

Miami

Biggest Plus: Inevitable col­lapse when it counts

Also Good: Tech­nolog­i­cal innovation

Biggest Minus: The height of ar­ro­gance, the height of obnoxious

Rank: Villains

Mi­ami has benefited greatly from two key pieces of tech, to which my hat is off. First, they have man­aged to get full own­er­ship of be­ing ‘The U’ and even of hold­ing one’s hands to­gether in a U shape. This has many foot­ball-re­lated metaphor­i­cal benefits and makes them seem su­per im­por­tant. It’s quite an im­pres­sive thing to pull off. One also must give credit to the turnover chain. Turnovers are of­ten pure effort plays. It’s hard to mo­ti­vate play­ers to be fully tuned into some­thing that might not hap­pen for them the en­tire sea­son, or even their en­tire time at col­lege, and always be ready to take ad­van­tage, but mak­ing that ex­tra effort is worth a lot, as ev­ery turnover is a po­ten­tial game changer. By re­ward­ing re­spon­si­ble play­ers with the cov­eted and now much-copied turnover chain, they man­aged to ac­tu­ally, as far as we can tell, dra­mat­i­cally im­prove their turnover rate to ab­surd lev­els, which un­for­tu­nately means that ev­ery­one else now feels the obli­ga­tion to cre­ate a knock-off ver­sion. Also un­for­tu­nate is that both of these in­no­va­tions are op­por­tu­ni­ties for all in­volved to be ob­nox­ious, ar­ro­gant pricks, and ev­ery­one in­volved takes full ad­van­tage of all such op­por­tu­ni­ties. Mi­ami is full of the types of peo­ple who think good times are mock­ing any­one who dares ques­tion the glory of the great U, or who doesn’t rec­og­nize that they are the one and true U. For that, they will always be das­tardly villains. Get­ting to face them in bowls re­cently, and crush them ut­terly, was pretty great. So is watch­ing them fail time and again to re­cap­ture former glory, as they get off to un­sus­tain­able starts thanks to soft op­po­si­tion, huge ex­pec­ta­tions and ex­tra turnovers, then find out that they can’t sus­tain that they face real teams down the stretch.

North Carolina

Biggest Plus: Be­ing the anti-Duke with­out the ac­com­pa­ny­ing an­noy­ing dominance

Biggest Minus: Not want­ing to ac­ci­den­tally root for them in March

Rank: Friendly

I have a friend who went there and likes col­lege sports. That’s always a nice plus. Beyond that, this clearly is not their sport, but it’s fun to watch them try.

Pittsburgh

Biggest Plus: Ri­valry game called The Back­yard Brawl

Biggest Minus: Good friend moved there, for some reason

Rank: Friendly

Oc­ca­sion­ally they come up with an up­set. It’s always fun when that hap­pens, so they get some pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions, but not much res­o­nance be­yond that.

Virginia

Biggest Plus: Might be for lovers

Biggest Minus: Likely to be armed

Rank: Neutral

As you can tell, they haven’t left an im­pres­sion. Don’t care ei­ther way. Every other team has won their di­vi­sion once in the last six years, so I’m pas­sively root­ing for them to pull it off this time for that rea­son. When ev­ery­one is a win­ner, no one will be. Re­mem­ber that, kids at games that don’t keep score.

Virginia Tech

Biggest Plus: Virginia has tech

Biggest Minus: That tech is play­ing the game to cover the spread

Rank: Villains

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, can’t get fooled again. Try and fool me three times, no one was fooled. Mul­ti­ple times, I wit­nessed the same sce­nario. Virginia Tech reached an endgame sce­nario where there is a known cor­rect an­swer, which is to take a knee and se­cure vic­tory. In­stead, Virginia Tech chose to score mean­ingless points, in­clud­ing kick­ing field goals that could have po­ten­tially back­fired and let the other team back in the game. Ex­cept that the points were not mean­ingless. Many alumni of Virginia Tech, who had laid a cer­tain num­ber of points on their fa­vorite team, were quite thank­ful for the team’s un­ortho­dox de­ci­sion. Virginia Tech games, even when I did not watch them, con­tinued to fall far closer to the point spread than one would ex­pect, game af­ter game. This was so con­sis­tent that the amount charged for buy­ing points in Virginia Tech games was of­ten dou­ble or more what it is nor­mally, if you used the cheap­est method of buy­ing points. You could sell the points for more than it usu­ally cost to buy them, but no one was fool­ish enough to take the bait. It was that blatant. So can I prove it? Of course not. But they are, or at least were, a bunch of filthy cor­rupt cheat­ing bas­tards.

PAC-12

The PAC-12 is a di­vi­sion that thinks it is the fu­ture be­cause it has high aca­demic stan­dards – it even has a num­ber in its name that matches the num­ber of teams in the di­vi­sion, which is a harder task than you would think – and it has lots of strong teams and is based on the thriv­ing west coast, but it can never win play­off games and in­cludes Ari­zona State. It has North and South di­vi­sions and a ri­valry game called The Civil War be­tween Ore­gon and Ore­gon State, be­cause the area is re­cently set­tled, pre­vent­ing all this from be­ing too soon. Be­cause they play on the West Coast, they of­ten don’t have a timing con­flict with other leagues, and their full name is PAC-12 After Dark.

North Division

Oregon

Biggest Plus: The mighty duck

Biggest Minus: Likely blood type

Rank: Heroes

The duck is not only Lee Corso’s fa­vorite mas­cot, it is likely the best of all the mas­cots. If you need proof, or even if you don’t, watch this clip. They also own the color green and the rights to a gi­ant O, origi­nate lots of great quar­ter­backs and coaches, have play­ers that re­li­ably show in­tegrity, have been re­fresh­ingly will­ing to go for two, fight a yearly Civil War, and are likely the best hope the PAC-12 has for na­tional glory and re­spect. It’s hard to ask for much more than that, un­less you’d like one or two more key wins. Which would be a rea­son­able thing to ask for.

Ore­gon State

Biggest Plus: Con­sis­tently good enough to ruin oth­er­wise promis­ing sea­sons for other PAC teams

Biggest Minus: Wast­ing the team named the Beavers that fre­quently plays on PAC-12 After Dark

Rank: Neutral

Ore­gon State does have five con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships over the years, so while they are not in the top tier, they are a le­gi­t­i­mate threat. It’s still hard to get ex­cited by that, when there are teams around them with bet­ter pro­grams and bet­ter sto­ries, so they’re. Get­ting Ore­gon State to the next level, or at least giv­ing them a more in­ter­est­ing story, would round out an oth­er­wise quite in­trigu­ing di­vi­sion that oth­er­wise gives a lot to con­nect to when it’s time for PAC-12 af­ter dark.

Washington

Biggest Plus: Boise State gets to join a ma­jor con­fer­ence, hello to Chris Peterson

Biggest Minus: Try­ing to get me to root against Mike Leach, it’s not go­ing to happen

Rank: Friendly

Boise State may never get its chance to fully com­pete with the big buys, but we got the next best thing when Chris Peter­son moved to Wash­ing­ton and took with him the core of what made his Boise State teams great, com­bin­ing it with the re­sources of a power con­fer­ence team like Wash­ing­ton to cre­ate a com­peti­tor for the na­tional ti­tle. It would be great to see what he could do with some­thing one more level up. For now, I find it easy to root for Wash­ing­ton given it is us­ing skill to punch above its weight and my many friends in and af­finity for the city of Seat­tle, where I even con­sid­ered mov­ing not too long ago. There’s lots of rea­sons the place is thriv­ing so much it can af­ford a high min­i­mum wage – never un­der­es­ti­mate a place with zero state and lo­cal in­come taxes that com­bine with real civ­i­liza­tion. Wash­ing­ton now feels like it has a unique iden­tity. There are two prob­lems root­ing for them full blast. The first is that it doesn’t feel like they have the re­cruit­ing slash tal­ent chops to do what they would like to do, so I’d ex­pect to be set up for a lot of dis­ap­point­ment. Se­cond, their big ri­valry game is the Ap­ple Cup against Mike Leach’s Wash­ing­ton State, and se­ri­ously, how do you root against that guy?

Wash­ing­ton State

Biggest Plus: Mike Leach. The man, the myth, the legend

Biggest Minus: Not enough Mike Leach

Rank: Heroes

Old faith­ful, the Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity flag, ap­pears with­out fail on ev­ery ESPN Col­lege Game­day. Fans en­sure it makes its jour­ney around the coun­try, week in and week out, two hun­dred times in a row. That is ded­i­ca­tion. Even more ded­i­cated to unique quests of his own cre­ation, and to mak­ing the world a more in­ter­est­ing and won­der­ful place, is coach Mike Leach. When you need ad­vice, Mike Leach is there. WHen you need wis­dom or to know where things are at, Like Leach is there. When you need to know what to make of the news of the day, Mike Leach is there. When you need some­one to teach a class equat­ing their foot­ball games to guer­rilla war­fare, Mike Leach is there. Here are some of his best quotes. This is his Twit­ter feed. I re­al­ize I am not re­motely do­ing this man jus­tice here, be­cause the form sim­ply is not up to the task. But if we’re go­ing to get through ev­ery­thing as a coun­try and a planet, we are go­ing to need more peo­ple with the wit, wis­dom and won­der of Mike Leach.

California

Biggest Plus: True denizens of Berkeley pre­sum­ably hate the team

Biggest Minus: Berkeley, California

Rank: Villains

I have dis­cussed my is­sues with Berkeley be­fore. I see no rea­son to go into them again. I have watched a Berkeley foot­ball game from a sports bar near cam­pus, and ob­served the dis­tinct lack of ei­ther en­thu­si­asm or any sem­blance of a high-qual­ity area sports bar in which to watch foot­ball. The key ques­tion is, do we root against Berkeley hav­ing nice things be­cause of all that it has done, or do we root for Berkeley hav­ing nice things if the peo­ple in Berkeley don’t ap­pre­ci­ate them? I can see the ar­gu­ment for the op­po­site point of view, es­pe­cially with Stan­ford as the main ri­val, since Stan­ford does ap­pre­ci­ate its team and still counts as San Fran­cisco. Some day I will get a chance to go to a game, and I hope to have enough ad­vance warn­ing to, as­sum­ing the place in ques­tion is not Stan­ford, first ac­quire vis­it­ing school ap­parel.

Stanford

Biggest Plus: Ac­tual ed­u­ca­tions are available

Biggest Minus: Roy­ally screwed me dur­ing ad­mis­sions pro­cess, also San Francisco

Rank: Villains

Stan­ford draws peo­ple to The Bay, which then draws other peo­ple to The Bay, which ru­ins lives and helps try and ruin mine. As I said un­der Berkeley, I’ve been over all that be­fore. Also, Tom Mar­tel roots for Stan­ford hard, so get­ting to imag­ine him suffer­ing is a bonus. But I’m not go­ing to tell those sto­ries here. In­stead, I will tell the story of how Stan­ford ac­tively at­tempted to sab­o­tage my life. I at­tended a high school where I was only al­lowed to send out seven col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions; this was be­fore there was a wide­spread com­mon ap­pli­ca­tion, and the school re­fused to co­op­er­ate with more than seven slots. State and city school were as­sumed to be uni­ver­sal safety se­lec­tions, so you re­ally only got five slots to work with. Since you wanted to bal­ance reaches with solid choices with di­ver­sity of op­tions and all that, each of these five slots was pre­cious. The school made statis­tics on ad­mis­sions available, so we could make bet­ter de­ci­sions. This was pretty great, as I wouldn’t waste a slot on places that were sure to re­ject me, and I could know that NYU was func­tion­ally a safety school given I had a backup safety be­hind it, so I had four slots left for places that might re­ject me. Then I got a let­ter from Stan­ford, con­grat­u­lat­ing me on my math com­pe­ti­tion record, and invit­ing me to ap­ply for ad­mis­sion. I knew that they were go­ing to re­ject me any­way, be­cause liter­ally zero ap­pli­cants with my grade av­er­age had made it into Stan­ford in sev­eral years. My par­ents, alas, de­spite both hav­ing PhDs, did not ap­pre­ci­ate that statis­ti­cal proof is proof, and in­sisted I ap­ply to this fine in­sti­tu­tion. This re­sulted in me, on the phone with an ad­mis­sions officer, plead­ing with her not to ac­cept me, but rather to let me hand the phone to my mother so she could ex­plain to her that I need not trou­ble my­self with an ap­pli­ca­tion. This, of course, did not work, leav­ing me with only six slots in­stead of seven, since my Stan­ford ap­pli­ca­tion was of course dead on ar­rival. So we here will always hate Stan­ford.

South Division

Arizona

Biggest Plus: Quar­ter­back Khalil Tate is exciting

Biggest Minus: Too hot, yet usu­ally sur­pris­ingly easy to handle

Rank: Neutral

As you can tell, they haven’t left an im­pres­sion. Don’t care ei­ther way. I did get slightly ex­cited by Tate go­ing on a run af­ter be­com­ing the new quar­ter­back, but it didn’t add up to enough to get me to pay that much at­ten­tion, given how un­ex­cit­ing I find the PAC-12 South.

Ari­zona State

Biggest Plus: Herm Ed­wards, Good Place joke material

Biggest Minus: Hangovers

Rank: Heroes

Who doesn’t like a good party, and play­ing to win the game? As long as this is the site of Herm Ed­wards’ grand come­back at­tempt, we’ll always be in their cor­ner. After all, they’re buy­ing.

Colorado

Biggest Plus: I once lived in Den­ver for a year

Biggest Minus: Among zero Colorado fans

Rank: Neutral

Colorado used to dom­i­nate their di­vi­sions. One can in­ter­pret that as ‘wow Colorado used to be good at foot­ball’ or one can in­ter­pret that as ‘wow Colorado used to play against bad teams and now it is in mostly over its head.’ It cer­tainly did not seem, from my time in the state, like there was any­thing like the pas­sion that would let them com­pete prop­erly with the big boys. It was cool watch­ing them win a PAC-12 South ti­tle, but mostly be­cause it let us cel­e­brate a col­lapse by USC and the triumph of an un­der­dog, which is why be­ing neu­tral but tra­di­tion­ally bad is usu­ally a way to end up be­ing the team I’m root­ing for.

Utah

Biggest Plus: His­tor­i­cal out­sider challenger of the power conferences

Biggest Minus: Failure to sus­tain that level of play af­ter gain­ing admission

Rank: Friendly

A se­ries of un­defeated Utah teams that forced their way into pre­miere bowl games was an easy team to root for. When they gained ad­mis­sion to the PAC-12, it was ex­cit­ing to won­der whether they could be­come an elite team. They’re still a re­mark­ably good team that is of­ten ranked, but now they are one team among many in that mid­dle tier, so as the his­tory fades they be­come less and less ex­cit­ing.

UCLA

Biggest Plus: Tra­di­tional en­e­mies of USC

Biggest Minus: Chip Kelly story is no fun if he succeeds

Rank: Loyal Opposition

Chip Kelly did a great job coach­ing Ore­gon (yay!) then he took a job in the NFL coach­ing the Ea­gles (boo!) be­fore failing to San Fran­cisco (boo!) and then failing back to a gi­gan­tic salary at UCLA. Once some­one aban­dons their roots and then fails up in such an epic fash­ion, mak­ing good seems like it ru­ins the fun, so I don’t want to see UCLA start win­ning enough to make his run there feel suc­cess­ful. The least he can do with such a big pay­check is suffer.

USC

Biggest Plus: Great safety school if you can make it in

Biggest Minus: How much it will cost you

Rank: Villain

There are many ar­ti­cles filled with good rea­sons to hate USC. Get­ting to play in the same sta­dium as the bowl game your con­fer­ence cham­pion gets to play in is an ab­surd ad­van­tage. The ‘spoiled chil­dren’ thing and all the over­priced fluff com­ing out of the uni­ver­sity out­side of foot­ball, or so I’ve heard, and its in­evitable roll in the re­cent col­lege ad­mis­sions scan­dal. The slight tech­ni­cal le­gal prob­lems of its fa­mous run­ning backs, Reg­gie Bush and O.J. Simp­son. The gen­eral feel­ing that they ex­pect to and feel en­ti­tled to win, which always bugs me when it isn’t backed up. And, of course, my feel­ings about Cal­ifor­nia. I have the strong in­stinct that these are not the heroes, above and be­yond con­crete rea­sons why. De­spite all that, there’s one im­por­tant re­deem­ing qual­ity I will always re­mem­ber. USC was play­ing against Notre Dame. The game was se­cured, with USC driv­ing the field one fi­nal time to run out the clock. It was fourth down. The over had come in, but large fa­vorite USC had yet to cover the spread, the com­bi­na­tion of which would have been quite bad. I as­sumed it was over. USC dropped back to punt. But it was a fake. They threw the ball down the field, got a pass in­terfer­ence call for a first down, and went on to drive for a touch­down. On the one hand, this was a lot like Virgina Tech, in that it showed a com­plete lack of class and to­tal dis­re­spect for the prin­ci­ples of the sport. You sim­ply don’t do that. But it did show that they hated Notre Dame that much. And that has to count for some­thing.

Big 12

The Big 12 is the di­vi­sion that thinks the best defense is a good offense. In con­text, it’s hard to ar­gue with. The offenses are ex­plo­sive and fun to watch, es­pe­cially given their lack of real op­po­si­tion. Their lack of defense in­cludes an in­abil­ity to con­vince teams to stay in the con­fer­ence, leav­ing them with­out di­vi­sions or a proper ca­ble net­work. Luck­ily, the greed of the Longhorn Net­work has kept Texas from hav­ing the abil­ity to switch into a differ­ent con­fer­ence, so as long as Ok­la­homa stays put, they’ve still got some­thing. It’s definitely the lesser of the five power con­fer­ences, and the one I find least worth fol­low­ing, plus I want to wrap things up, so I don’t feel too bad about not get­ting too into the weeds here. As you no doubt know or have guessed by now, they are called the Big 12 be­cause there are ten teams in the con­fer­ence.

Oklahoma

Biggest Plus: Amaz­ing offen­sive displays

Biggest Minus: Con­fus­ing peo­ple on what “OU” means in a sports context

Rank: Friendly

Ok­la­homa re­li­ably re­cruits top quar­ter­back tal­ent. It is not hard to see why. With such a great offense built around them, and such a weak set of defenses to tee off against, it’s easy to provide temp­ta­tion for those in­evitably headed for first pick draft sta­tus. Have they all left you? Never fear, the trans­fer por­tal is here. It’s all quite fun to watch, and usu­ally the best hope the Big 12 has of en­sur­ing there are five con­fer­ences seek­ing four play­off slots. We can’t have those num­bers be­ing equal, that’s no fun. I also have the benefit of an old friend who at­tended, which is more than I can say for any other team in the con­fer­ence.

Ok­la­homa State

Biggest Plus: Mike Gundy re­li­ably pro­duces qual­ity bedlam

Biggest Minus: Claiming the right to wear orange

Rank: Friendly

This high­light reel only some­what does jus­tice to the joys of Mike Gundy. He is no Mike Leach, but at least the man is mak­ing an effort. Ok­la­homa State is also an­other source of over­perfor­mance, of grab­bing for the brass ring that they by all rights should have no hope of com­pet­ing for. I always have a soft spot for that.

Texas

Biggest Plus: Keep­ing a fifth power con­fer­ence al­ive through pure greed

Biggest Minus: In­tol­er­ance for be­ing messed with

Rank: Loyal opposition

The Univer­sity of Texas has its own tele­vi­sion net­work. I will say that again. The Univer­sity of Texas has its own tele­vi­sion net­work. This pre­vents the rest of the Big 12 from hav­ing a net­work. Thus, it crip­ples the Big 12, but it also pre­vents Texas from join­ing a bet­ter con­fer­ence, so it not clear which di­rec­tion the net effect goes. Re­gard­less of in­tent, it is the ac­tion of a supremely greedy and ar­ro­gant school, that thinks they are bet­ter and more de­serv­ing than any­one else. I also strongly sus­pect it has been a ma­jor dis­trac­tion, and a rea­son why Texas foot­ball has not fully re­cov­ered to its former glory. You can ei­ther spend your time on foot­ball, or you can spend your time on your net­work. This helps re­in­force me firmly on the Ok­la­homa side of the ri­valry, ren­der­ing Texas the loyal op­po­si­tion. We do need them to be strong so that there are two sides of the coin in an oth­er­wise weak con­fer­ence, and they take proper re­fuge in au­dac­ity, plus they had a great come­back to take a cham­pi­onship away from USC on my watch be­fore the fall, so I can’t con­sider them true vilains.

Texas Tech

Biggest Plus: Im­pres­sive out­shin­ing of Texas State Bobcats

Biggest Minus: Un­der­handed at­tempt at two-for-one team name

Rank: Neutral

Pri­ors tell you that a team named the Raiders, which even al­ter­nates be­tween two om­i­nously dou­ble-named mas­cots, is full of scum and villainy. One must be cau­tious. What kind of tech are they hid­ing be­hind? On the one hand, it’s clearly up to no good, on the other hand I’m cu­ri­ous to find out and hope­ful it can help them com­pete with the other Texas teams. In my ex­pe­rience they are on the verge of be­ing se­ri­ous enough ri­vals to be in­ter­est­ing, but mostly do not quite get there.

TCU

Biggest Plus: Le­gi­t­i­mately had a play­off spot stolen out from un­der them by the play­off com­mit­tee and given to su­per-villain­ous Ohio State in broad daylight

Biggest Minus: Stands for Texas Chris­tian University

Rank: Neutral

It was bru­tal. TCU was in a play­off spot, won its game con­vinc­ingly, and was passed through mul­ti­ple spots by Ohio State be­cause some­how we were con­vinced to lay down to them in the Big 10 Cham­pi­onship Game. Then, when the time came for re­ciproc­ity, of course Ohio State did not keep up their end of the bar­gain. TCU fans doubtless will re­main bit­ter for a very, very long time. As will all good-think­ing folks, since they hate Ohio State. And all of this is right­fully so. Another point in their fa­vor is to use TCU as the offi­cial name for the uni­ver­sity, which makes it easy to know what ini­tials to look for. It’s good to ap­pre­ci­ate the lit­tle things. That to me is about enough to bal­ance out be­ing known as Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity. If some­thing is good and hap­pens to also have other fea­tures peo­ple feel are righ­teous, there is noth­ing wrong with that. But when you put the righ­teous la­bel a bit too promi­nently in your la­bels and mar­ket­ing strat­egy, that never bodes well. Con­sider the par­allel to ve­gan food. There is lots of good ve­gan food. Most days I will eat some, and it will be deli­cious. How­ever, if the food calls it­self ve­gan food, it’s al­most cer­tainly go­ing to be ter­rible.

Iowa State

Biggest Plus: Perfect scruffy un­der­dog ex­iled from its nat­u­ral conference

Biggest Minus: There is no I in team

Rank: Friendly

Iowa State is tougher than it looks. When you come to Iowa State, you are in for a slug fest, and there is real risk you will not make it out of there. That is the ideal type of round-out-the-con­fer­ence team from a fan per­spec­tive, as op­posed to the con­fer­ence per­spec­tive where their goal is to open up a me­dia mar­ket for the con­fer­ence ca­ble net­work. We need more teams like Iowa State.

Kansas

Biggest Plus: Knows to fo­cus all re­cruit­ing on basketball

Biggest Minus: Con­trast is too sharp to al­low proper ap­pre­ci­a­tion of un­der­dog status

Rank: Neutral

I need to get this out. I can’t even bring my­self to care about one Kansas team that’s never done any­thing, let alone two.

Kansas State

Biggest Plus: Not mak­ing me feel even a lit­tle bad not know­ing what to put here

Biggest Minus: Not mak­ing me feel even a lit­tle bad not know­ing what to have put up there

Rank: Neutral

I need to get this out. I can’t even bring my­self to care about one Kansas team that’s never done any­thing, let alone two.

Baylor

Biggest Plus: Many stu­dents were able to trans­fer away

Biggest Minus: The scan­dal that made them transfer

Rank: Villain

Bay­lor has not been play­ing by the rules, nor was it ever the type of place that gave its stu­dents an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the world. See­ing its down­fall af­ter com­ing so close to the play­off brought only a smile to my face.

West Virginia

Biggest Plus: The ab­sur­dity of them be­ing in the Big 12 conference

Biggest Minus: Sel­ling out their old con­fer­ence to get there

Rank: Neutral

Con­fer­ence re­al­ign­ment was a great way to find teams to hate. Any time a team walked away from their old ri­vals and part­ners, es­pe­cially with­out fol­low­ing the rules set out for do­ing so, in or­der sim­ply to move up to a slightly su­pe­rior con­fer­ence (also known as ‘one that would still be around af­ter re­al­ign­ment’) is an ob­vi­ous villain move. This is dou­bly true when the new con­fer­ence makes no ge­o­graph­i­cal sense, with the com­pen­sa­tion be­ing the sheer ab­sur­dity of mem­ber­ship. Then again, where else would they go? They weren’t get­ting a Big 10 in­vi­ta­tion, and they don’t seem coastal enough for the ACC, so given they are a pretty solid pro­gram I guess this ac­tu­ally makes rea­son­able sense for both sides. So I don’t have to hate them for it, plus they’re West Virginia. They’ve suffered enough.

Other Teams of Note

By de­fault, any team that is not in a power con­fer­ence (and not Notre Dame, since it is only not in one by its own choice) is a hero if it is at­tempt­ing to challenge the big boys. Thus, un­less there is a damn good rea­son why not, any out­sider try­ing to break in will be the hero. This ap­plies to Hous­ton, North­ern Illinois, Mem­phis and es­pe­cially the two big threats Cen­tral Florida (who are even self-pro­claimed na­tional cham­pi­ons with a story so good I re­ally do think they de­served a shot at Alabama af­ter the sea­son was over, al­though they would have got­ten ut­terly de­stroyed) and peren­nial pow­er­house Boise State, which I be­lieve has been kept out of the PAC-12 be­cause of ei­ther lack of strong aca­demics and/​or its blue field. Both rea­sons seem plau­si­ble. We then end with one last villain, the one true in­de­pen­dent:

Notre Dame

Biggest Plus: Ex­tra chaos potential

Biggest Minus: Gi­ant ob­nox­ious fan base, re­fusal to play by the rules

Rank: Villains

You seem to be­lieve that you are spe­cial. You be­lieve that the rules do not ap­ply to you. Ob­vi­ously you are mis­taken. Ex­cept that they aren’t. The rules re­ally do not ap­ply to Notre Dame. They can play who they want, toss away and re­new their ri­valries on a whim to weaken or strengthen their sched­ule based on what they think the play­off com­mit­tee is re­ward­ing these days, not play a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game, and still claim af­ter all of it that they de­serve a shot at the na­tional ti­tle. They don’t, es­pe­cially given their track record when we let them do that. If they want a na­tional ti­tle, they can join the Big 10 or ACC or even PAC-12, play in a ti­tle game like the rest of us, and prove it. The sheer amount of ob­nox­ious­ness sur­round­ing Notre Dame bog­gles the mind. One good thing is that they have so many over­con­fi­dent fans that the bet­ting lines con­sis­tently bias in their fa­vor, so keep that in mind if you are a bet­ting type of per­son.

Conclusion

Most of these eval­u­a­tions are per­sonal, based upon my his­tory, my knowl­edge, my cir­cum­stances and my prefer­ences. That does not make them right or wrong, and you should use the in­for­ma­tion to help in­form you, but definitely dis­agree with a lot of them. Are there places were I am wrong? Cer­tainly I’ve made some er­rors of fact, and some er­rors of judg­ment, and most im­por­tantly some key er­rors of omis­sion be­cause of things I do not know. Th­ese are strong be­liefs, be­cause it is more fun that way, but mostly weakly held, be­cause it is more fun that way as well. Don’t hes­i­tate to ad­vo­cate for or against your fa­vorite or least fa­vorite team. We are who we are. Other­wise, I’m happy to listen.

There is a lot more to say about get­ting proper en­joy­ment out of col­lege foot­ball, or any sport, that would be far be­yond the scope of this already lu­dicrously long post. But it seems right to say a few brief words.

The most im­por­tant thing is to pay at­ten­tion. Watch­ing a game in the back­ground, or flip­ping be­tween games look­ing for scores, or oth­er­wise not pick­ing up de­tail and con­text, is an im­pov­er­ished sports ex­pe­rience. You can and should do bet­ter. Pick up and rel­ish the sto­ries, the de­tails, the lit­tle bat­tles, the strate­gic choices. Fo­cus on whichever parts you find most in­ter­est­ing, but what­ever you do, fo­cus. Then let all of this build game af­ter game, week af­ter week, un­til you too could write some­thing like this if you were so in­clined.

Even if you would, of course, be wrong.