Thursday, August 29, 2013

A touchdown's worth of thoughts on the start of the college football season

Posted By on 08.29.13 at 12:35 PM

Running back Venric Mark and his Northwestern teammates can win the Big Ten this season. Right? Maybe? Please?
1. Sometime during the Cubs' eighth loss in ten games the other night, I had a thought that lifted my soul just a little: hey, it's time to brush my teeth and go to bed!

As I was doing so, I had another thought that was even better: seasons change, and college football kicks off this week. Hallelujah, amen, hell yeah—all in one.

I'm a fan of pretty much any football game, on any level, at any time, but I've always found the opening weekend of the college season particularly thrilling. Back when I was being raised by an Indiana alum, it meant I could briefly walk proud among the Michigan, Michigan State, and Notre Dame fans in my school, since no one had administered any drubbings yet and all was possible, even a Hoosier victory or two for the health of my poor father.

Somehow he's managed to hang on all these years, and I still love that sense of possibility and impending craziness—the buildup, the bands, the fans rooting for their states and regions along with their teams.

2. I have a special passion for all the small schools and underdogs fighting for the chance to show that they belong on the same field as the likes of Ohio State and Wisconsin—to prove that they're not just offering themselves up as opening-day patsies in return for paychecks their athletic departments desperately need. After all, even if it never happens again, Appalachian State somehow toppled Michigan in 2007. And something like it will happen again.

There are always upsets in week one, despite sophisticated predictions by apparently smart people who watch even more of this boy's game than I do. While there are obvious advantages for whichever guys are bigger and faster, every team still has to show up and play. Yes, I know—real insight there. But there's also the fact that, unlike in the NFL, college teams don't get any warm-up games: they get on the field and hope they're not out of the title hunt three hours into the year.

3. My hopes and dreams for the 2013 season are very simple: Aside from peace and prosperity for peoples around the world, I'd really, really like to see the unexpected every week. That is, it would be great if Alabama had an off year. That is, can someone else please win the freaking national championship?

4. And pretty please—someone besides Notre Dame. I may have mentioned how I feel about that team: pretty good, as long as they lose. Such is the luck of this particular Mick that as soon as I put that in print last year the Fighting Irish went undefeated in the regular season. Then, when they were matched against Alabama in the national title game, I relented and sided with Notre Dame. Naturally, they got creamed. I'm happy to report that I slept through the night anyway.

5. As a Big Ten product and fan, I'd love to see one of our teams finally winning the championship. But rooting for such an outcome is fraught with moral ambiguity this year. Based on the analysis of the experts I just got done mocking, Ohio State, unbeaten in 2012, is far and away the league's best bet. This is a problem. Where I'm from—the great state of Michigan—a Buckeye is a hairless nut.

6. I'll be watching a lot of ESPN the next several months, but I'll do so with the knowledge that I'm helping Rick Pitino. I'm not any happier about it than you are. As the New York Times recently documented, Louisville is a key example of how money from the network has created "professionalized sports empires in the midst of academic institutions." If I'm looking for an upside, and I am, some nonrevenue sports like women's basketball also benefit from TV money. Plus, ESPN shows football games almost every night during the week, featuring teams you don't care about playing no defense whatsoever. It's quite entertaining.

7. One of the unpredictable things I'm hoping and dreaming for: Northwestern wins the Big Ten!!! Lots of exclamation points for that thought. As a grad and a fan, I'm delighted, astounded, and concerned that, after a 10-3 campaign a year ago, NU opens this season ranked higher (No. 22) than USC (No. 24). In fact, the Cats will be favored in their opener on the road at Cal. I'm jumpy about it already.

Games I’ll be watching this weekend:

Kent State over Liberty: In the first game of the season for anybody.
No. 14 Notre Dame over Temple
Iowa over Northern Illinois
No. 1 Alabama over Virginia Tech
No. 5 Georgia over No. 8 Clemson
No. 12 LSU over No. 20 TCU
No. 22 Northwestern over Cal: God willing.

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