Friday’s Boise State-Michigan State game hurt. Last year, this matchup would have been headliner material, but with offensive stars Kellen Moore, Doug Martin, Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham busy gearing up for the NFL season, the game felt wrong. Watching, all I could think about was their absence. Every overthrown pass was a reminder that the perennially accurate Moore wasn’t the one under center and every ugly drop accentuated the hole left by Cunningham’s sure hands. The game was empty. I’m sure underclassmen will step up to fill those shoes, but that’s exactly what was wrong in my gut. That feeling, that what I came to watch was missing, is why I can’t get that into college football.
I love watching football in general, so it’s not like I’m one of those people who thinks I’m too cool to like sports or doesn’t enjoy football itself or is actually noble enough to be turned off by how dangerous it is. I follow the NFL obsessively. But the turnover in college matters to me. I want to root for teams because I like the players; I don’t want to like players because I root for their team. And players are gone so quickly. Like I’ve owned the same razor for longer than any college football team is substantially the same.
And the turnover makes the way fans root for teams seem even blinder and stupider than we already know it is. Alabama could start a carrot at running back and people would buy the jersey.
On one hand, this kind of loyalty is admirable. I understand that college pride is a huge part of it, and that’s undeniably very cool (the Washington State flag at every College Gameday telecast is a perfect example). But it somewhat cheapens the actual sport, in that people are just kind of participating socially and in the service of “the team” instead of those who actually comprise it. We, fans, complain that the NCAA treats student-athletes as nothing more than disposable assets, but we’re the worst offenders on that front.
I understand that a lot of fans like players because those players are on teams the fans already like, and that’s their primary mode of sports fandom. That’s fine, different strokes. But I can’t make myself follow sports that way, so in college football I’m faced with a problem. I like football too much to just check out altogether, so I’m resigned to shifting my allegiance whenever teams change.
Boise State has been my favorite team for the last four years, for the way they represented the need for a playoff and because of how legitimately exciting they were to watch. I loved seeing Titus Young and Austin Pettis constantly surpass expectations. I’m (somewhat irrationally) convinced Moore was one of the ten best college quarterbacks of all time. People perceived Boise as Hickory High even as they performed like MJ’s Bulls, so I also liked them because I identified with underdogs like Martin and Ryan Winterswyk.
But nearly everyone I rooted for is gone, as Friday’s game depressingly highlighted. So I’m looking for a new favorite team, and the early frontrunner is Oregon (whom I’ve liked for a while, thanks to now-absent stars Jeff Maehl and LaMichael James). Returning running back Kenjon Barner is electric and freshman QB Marcus Mariota looked promising in his first start.
There’s no solution to what makes changing allegiances necessary for fans like me. It’s no secret that college football is largely about culture and atmosphere, and the fact that players depart quickly is necessary, since college is basically life’s cocoon and you have to go be a butterfly sometime.
So happy college football season! Some of us are searching for a new favorite team and some of us are hoping our old favorite will resemble itself. But I think everyone’s glad it’s fall again.