It took me until two days before the real start of the college football season – sorry, Cal fans – to realize how much I missed this sport when it was gone for nearly eight months. When functioning properly, as it has been most of the last few years, college football is the premier must-watch sport in America. It surpasses the best that the National Football League can offer – significantly more fun style of play plus exciting young players before conservative retread coaches ruin them – and doesn’t fall into the limitations of college basketball, which exists simply as a tool to get players from high school to the NBA, and not terribly effectively at that.
American football fans already know why we love this so much. My appeal to international fans is this: college football is very similar to any of the Big Four international football leagues. It’s dominated by elite powers, every league has one surprise contender that fades 80% of the way into the season, and on very rare occasions, a truly shocking underdog wins it all (1984 BYU, 2014 Atletico Madrid, 2016 Leicester City), however controversially. It is also the most delightfully stupid sport in the world, one with entitled fans, regional biases, and Winning Over Everything galore. (Maybe this really is the Premier League.) I love it dearly, and I’ve created a list of reasons why I’m excited for this season in particular. Why 45? Well…
1. My team no longer sucks.
The Tennessee Volunteers are ranked 9th in the AP Poll, which is pretty cool. It’s also cool that this is the second straight season they’ll enter ranked and the first since 2005 as the SEC East favorite. The universe is aligning well.
2. The schedules no longer suck.
This comes with a caveat. Thanks to the College Football Playoff committee barking about out-of-conference scheduling, several teams have decided to schedule exceptionally tougher than they did even four years ago. However, the CFP doesn’t create their own Strength of Schedule analytics…they simply look at an opponent’s win-loss record. This is why Ole Miss scheduling Florida State is one of the three worst scheduling moves of the last decade, up there with Tennessee scheduling a home and home with Oregon. The good news is that flawed logic brings us great games such as Houston-Oklahoma, LSU-Wisconsin, Texas A&M-UCLA, USC-Alabama, Oklahoma-Ohio State, and more.
3. Week One’s schedule is very exciting and is somehow not the best week of football in 2016.
That award goes to Week 13, which features a list of college football’s greatest hits: Auburn-Alabama, LSU-Texas A&M, Florida-Florida State, Michigan-Ohio State, Notre Dame-USC, and more. People are so starved for college football that they’re giving Week One this honor. Not so fast!
4. Leonard Fournette has one more season of college football.
Before the NFL ruins him, please appreciate this man.
5. Somehow, Deshaun Watson does too.
6. Despite losing some important players, Clemson is still college football’s NBA League Pass team.
In the NBA, there are certain teams that, no matter who they play, you’d want to watch simply because they’re that exciting and fun. Clemson was that team last year, and I’d be shocked if they’re not that team again.
7. …but Florida State could take the throne.
The Seminoles are looking at starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback (though this worked very well three years ago) and have a tough opening game against Mississippi. After that? Smooth sailing until Clemson. Florida State will be playing the sixth-easiest group of talent-adjusted offensive coordinators per CFB Matrix, which means the following:
- They may have to score 14 a game to go 11-1.
- Their defense will statistically be the best in America, and certainly the most fun to watch.
8. Some other exciting teams, in order of my appreciation for them: Oklahoma.
I’m still not sold on Oklahoma’s defense stopping top-tier opponents, but their offense was easily the most efficient of all playoff teams last year, and they return nearly every important player from it. Baker Mayfield is encased in butter and cannot be tackled by less than three defenders at any time.
9. Texas Tech.
Here are some scores of Texas Tech games in 2015: 59-45, 55-52, 63-35, 66-31, 63-27, 70-53, 59-44, 48-45. It might not surprise you to remember Tech went 4-4 in these games.
Let it be known that I have zero expectations for Oregon football in 2016, because they would be pointless and they have already fulfilled the most important category: So You Hired Brady Hoke.
Kenny Trill is back!
As long as Leonard Fournette’s here.
13. Notre Dame.
Call it blasphemy, but I loved watching the patchwork version of this team in 2015 and will love them even more if they go 12-0 and make this article look even sillier than it did when published.
14. Air Force.
Every year, regardless of if they’re good or not.
15. Washington State.
The same Washington State I bought an $18 shirt from two weeks ago.
16. Let’s remember some players who still play college football: Myles Garrett.
Who might be God.
17. Luke Falk.
I’m a sucker for all things Mike Leach, but Falk really does seem to be the best quarterback he’s had so far and the one with the highest likelihood of translating well to the NFL.
18. Christian McCaffrey.
Who does not need video evidence.
19. Royce Freeman.
20. Dalvin Cook.
21. Taywan Taylor.
So no one knows who this is, but he’s a receiver for Western Kentucky and is legitimately one of the most fun players I’ve seen in some time. I love Taywan Taylor like I loved Sterling Shepard: he’s always open.
If you’re curious, Western Kentucky will play at Alabama on September 10th. It’s their only scheduled national television appearance this season. I implore you: root like crazy for this dude to torch an Alabama cornerback a few times so Nick Saban can have a great press conference two days later.
22. Cameron Sutton.
It’s funny, because Sutton is a fine cornerback in his own right…but if that doesn’t work out, I have a feeling he’ll be just fine settling for Ridiculous and Electrifying Punt Returner at the next level.
23. Shawun Lurry.
He led the nation with nine interceptions last year, but I’m more interested in the fact he averaged 30.3 yards per return, which means any Lurry pick has massive end-of-year highlight reel potential.
24. Tim Williams.
I cannot believe how good Tim Williams is at pass rushing. It’s quite literally unfair.
25. Adoree’ Jackson, Shelton Gibson, and KaVontae Turpin.
All three of whom are equally exciting on teams that likely won’t finish in the top ten.
26. The ACC two-team race of Florida State and Clemson.
A nation can rejoice: officially, you don’t have to watch any more 12 PM North Carolina v. Georgia Tech games. The only two teams in this conference that will really matter at the end of the year play each other on October 29th. Sure, Louisville’s fine and will go 9-3 or so. Sure, Miami is better. Sure, North Carolina totally won’t flop with a head coach that in six of his last eight years has underperformed expectations. Really, this comes down to October 29th, when both teams will likely be undefeated, possibly be #1 and #2, and certainly be playing for a College Football Playoff bid.
27. The Big Ten’s three-team race of Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
Lost in the Michigan hoopla of the offseason is the (depressing) fact that Jim Harbaugh, bad snap or not, went 0-2 against the other two teams mentioned at home. Michigan State will look more like the 8-4 team they truly were last year, but Ohio State being at the end of the season is a major issue. I anticipate the winner of this conference coming out at 12-1 and either grabbing the #4 seed in the Playoffs or being left out with an offseason to whine about bad scheduling or something.
28. The Big 12’s one-team race of Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma.
There’s been some very kind words said about a great TCU program lately, but this is far and away Oklahoma’s conference to lose. It’s fitting that the only way they can lose it is by some extreme internal will against winning a conference they’re easily the best team. We haven’t seen that since…oh wait, 2014!
29. The Pac-12’s megastore of Possibly Great Teams That No One Is Really Sold On.
Here are the teams I could realistically see winning the Pac-12:
Here are the teams I could see winning eight or more games and being a serious threat to that establishment as late as November 12th:
- Washington State
- Arizona State
That’s nine teams out of 12 that could end up heavily affecting the Pac-12 race and their ability to gain a College Football Playoff bid. Have fun sorting that one out!
30. The SEC West’s slaughterhouse. Also, Tennessee.
I’ve seen a lot of people claiming that the winner of the SEC East is simply there to be rocked by the SEC West winner to the tune of 35-17 or greater this season. However, doesn’t Tennessee have the heavy advantage here? The final five games on the schedule: at South Carolina (hired Will Muschamp), v. Tennessee Tech (FCS), v. Kentucky (still has Mark Stoops), v. Missouri (first-year coach), at Vanderbilt (is Vanderbilt).
- Alabama: v. Texas A&M, at #5 LSU, v. Mississippi State, v. Chattanooga, v. Auburn.
- LSU: v. #11 Ole Miss, v. #1 Alabama, at Arkansas, v. South Alabama, at Texas A&M.
Tennessee will be exceptionally well-rested with five teams coming off of sub-.500 seasons; either opponent will have just completed a stretch of four exceptionally difficult teams and a patsy. Situationally, this favors Tennessee and should be fascinating to watch unfold.
31. Are we sure Houston’s the Group of Five elected official?
Because I see a lot of good and comparable options.
- Boise State plays Washington State in September and no one else.
- San Diego State has Cal at home on September 10 and a road game at Northern Illinois the week after, but no one important after. 11-1 looks like a decent bet.
- USF has zero difficult road games (Temple maybe counts) and has a gigantic Prove Yourself opportunity on September 24th against Florida State. Also, they could beat Houston in the AAC title game.
- If Western Michigan goes 2-0 against two mediocre Big Ten opponents (Northwestern and Illinois) and holds serve against a Mr. Softee schedule, they’ll be 12-0.
32. They’re playing a game at a NASCAR track.
In case you forgot.
33. Some teams are absolutely loaded with returning starters…
LSU returns 17 starters from a 9-3 team. Louisville returns 17 from an 8-5 team. Tennessee brings back 17 from one that went 9-4. Washington State brings back 87% of yards from perhaps the most electrifying offense in school history. And so on, and so on, and so on. Experienced teams are dope.
34. …and some are not.
Ohio State returns six starters, a national low. California loses 81% of an offense that had the #1 draft pick and still went 8-5. Michigan State disrespect will be at an all-time high, as they return just 27% from a playoff offense. Watching these teams rebuild is more fascinating than watching the loaded ones.
35. The television deals are better than they’ve ever been.
This means you can realistically get access to almost any game you want to see, minus some Sun Belt games or the like. Almost every single Power Five game will either be televised or broadcast on ESPN3.com. Many of the Group of Five games will be broadcast using the same structure. Both conferences and networks are getting smarter about how to position schools to achieve the highest possible audience, which puts college football far ahead of most competitors. I say it every year because it’s true: this will be the best season yet for watching college football.
36. Speaking of the Group of Five, it looks pretty fun this year!
I don’t get to watch much of non-Power Five football due to time constraints, but seemingly every one of these conferences has either a prominent team to watch or a fun championship race:
- The AAC has nationally-ranked Houston and a USF team that was arguably one of the 25 best in the nation at the end of last season.
- Conference USA has a wild race: any of Marshall, Middle Tennessee, and Western Kentucky are frequently picked to win the East division, while Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech both try to rebuild and keep pace in the West.
- The MAC’s clear favorite, Western Michigan, has a schedule that sets up for 10 wins or greater and potential New Year’s Six contention.
- I mentioned this earlier for the Mountain West, but Boise State and San Diego State both could go 12-0, and the probability of this happening is much higher than you’d think.
- The Sun Belt is delightful, and three teams (Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Georgia Southern) are premier teams to watch if you can find them.
37. There are 41 bowls this year.
Yes, this is stupid, but I will continue to be blissfully unaware that people complain about 41 college football games in 23 days in December and January.
38. One of those bowls will be played in the Bahamas.
AKA the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, the greatest thing to ever exist.
39. In this game, anything can happen.
40. Sometimes anything can happen twice.
41. There will be a play you will remember for the rest of your life, even if you can’t remember who did it and why.
The vast majority of Americans, after January 1, 2007, do not care about nor have remembered much about Ian Johnson or Jared Zabransky. But for one night, they made sure anyone who watched them play would remember their names and a five-second sliver of history for a lifetime.
42. The major holidays set up exceptionally well for football schedules this season.
On Labor Day, you get rewarded for your work (even your lack of) with Florida State v. Ole Miss. Halloween? It falls on a Monday, so you don’t have to spend Saturday like last year half-watching and half-handing out candy. Thanksgiving? Black Friday will be fun as always, and Thanksgiving night plays host to a potentially 10-1 or 11-0 LSU trying to win either the SEC West or an at-large playoff bid at Texas A&M. Christmas and New Year’s Day? Both on Sunday and both without games.
43. New uniforms!
44. A surprising team not in the Top 25 to start the season will shock many a human.
Last year? Iowa. 2014? TCU. This year? Who knows! That’s the fun of all of this. (It’s going to be Nebraska, who has a schedule engineered for 7-0 and a top 10 ranking.)
45. For the next three months and change, your Saturday plans are set in stone.
This includes the following:
- A guaranteed Top 25 v. Top 25 matchup in every week except Week Two.
- NO FALL WEDDINGS.
- Games worth watching nearly every week from the 12 PM slot to the late games.
- Windows of opportunity for you to grab food before the next great game.
- And, occasionally, some time spent outdoors on lesser weekends. But this is rare.
We only get four months and a week of this each year. I advise treasuring it and treating it with the utmost care and attention.