You’re not going to believe this, but Vegas loves the Crimson Tide and Tigers heading into the 2019-2020 college football season. The two schools that recruit at the highest-level, have the two best head coaches in the sport, have the two best quarterbacks in the sport and the two schools who show no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have built two Goliaths, and if you were to bet against either taking home another championship in 2020, I would be forced to ask what exactly you were smoking. Sure, Jake Fromm is Mr. Efficient and UGA’s offensive line is ridiculous, but do you really see this group getting over the hump *this* year? Yes, Ohio State is everybody’s favorite wild card because Ryan Day might be Chip Kelly 2.0 and Greg Schiano isn’t running the defense and Justin Fields may win the Heisman this season, but we need to see it, and, yes, Oklahoma quarterbacks might just keep winning the Heisman as long as Lincoln Riley is not coaching the Dallas Cowboys, but Alex Grinch has a magic turnover number his defense has to it to have a shot at winning two playoff games. It’s the Usual Suspects in college football once again, but I’m still pumped to wake up on Saturday mornings with College GameDay on once again. Do I know Alabama or Clemson is winning it again this season barring catastrophic injuries and/or coaching changes? Absolutely. Do I care? No. Now, why is that?
Part of the reason I don’t think college football fans have lost interest in the sport in the era of Alabama and Clemson kicking the shit out of everyone is that big-picture dreams is not commonplace for most fans. If you are a fan of Mississippi State, you know, going to into just about every season you will not have the horses to run the table and win a championship. You can go 10-2, you can even finish the regular season 12-0, but you really just want to win your home games, win the Egg Bowl, and not have Scott Loeffler be your team’s offensive coordinator. Expectations ruin all the fun, which is why Washington State fans can enjoy the Mike Leach ride for what it is -- a gimmick that will never result in a title but, man, is it fun to watch it every Saturday. The only fans annoyed about the dominance of Alabama and Clemson are the Oklahoma, Georgia, Michigan, Auburn, Florida State and Ohio State fans who usually recruit at the level to win a title but are just not quite there. Being a Cougars fan the last few years I imagine has been a blast, while being a fan of the Georgia Bulldogs has been horrendous. Expectations and big-picture thinking ruin the fun and often hilarious beauty of college football. It’s not like the NFL where every team competes on an even-playing field; the Cougars are never going to be able to get more four-and-five-star kids than Georgia or Ohio State because not many talent kids from the southeast and southwest want to live in Pullman. College football isn’t fair, but most fans understand and embrace it. That’s what makes it fun.
When thinking about this question, I think about my Auburn Tigers. I think about the current state of affairs -- a head coach on the hot seat, an unsettled quarterback battle, and a schedule that, pardon my language, fucking sucks. In a win-or-you-are-definitely-gone-coach year for Coach Gus Malzahn, he opens up against Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks on a neutral site, plays in College Station, plays in Gainesville, plays in Baton Rouge, and hosts Georgia and Alabama to finish out the year. If the Tigers go 9-3, you could sell me on Gus earning a state outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. If you keep up with the latest Auburn scuttlebutt, you may have seen Bo Nix, a true freshman, is getting the majority of first-team reps in practice leading up to the game against the Ducks. Nix might be the next Trevor Lawrence, or he might be Sean White or Brandon Cox or another lazy, white quarterback comp from yesteryear, or he might get eaten alive and Auburn cleans house this offseason. Maybe the running game gets back on-track with Boobie Whitlow and Seth Williams becomes the go-to guy I think he could be and maybe the offensive line will be fine with more experience. Maybe! If it goes the wrong way, I’ll enjoy watching every game, if it goes the right way I’ll enjoy watching every game. I am going into this season with no expectations -- which is how 120-plus fanbases head into every college football season. Someone pass me a White Claw.
If you were to ask Purdue fans what they’re excited about heading into this season, I imagine most immediately start talking about Rondale Moore this and Rondale Moore that. The presence of Moore and the existence of Jeff Brohm is enough for Boilermaker Nation. They are never winning a national championship, but that duo alone gets Purdue fans hyped every Saturday morning. If you were to ask North Carolina fans why they’re invested in the 2019 season, look no further than Sam Howell, who was just named the starting quarterback in Chapel Hill as a true freshman. If you have an exciting playmaker on offense, that goes a long way for most college football fans. Cougar fans could get grad-transfer quarterbacks until the end of time -- is Blake Barnett still eligible? -- and never get bored. Memphis fans got to experience Darrell Henderson rush for close to ten-freaking-yards per carry for two seasons. They weren’t getting a playoff bid, but they were must-see TV. The Memphis Tigers are a blast and, because they are not in a Power 5 conference, nothing really matters for them. Those teams in those conferences are playing for nothing. (Note: I will not stop pitching a Group of Five Playoff. Would you rather watch Notre Dame vs. SEC/ACC Powerhouse or Memphis vs. Boise State? I thought so.)
This is also the case in college basketball, to a slightly different degree. Yes, everybody, theoretically, has a chance to run the table and win it all in March. Yes, even you, Iona. But those teams never pull it off. Butler came close. George Mason was cool. It never actually ends in a title, though. If you are not a blueblood program, you go into every season hoping you knock in a few buzzer beaters, beat your rival and maybe make a fun run in your conference tournament. UNC, Duke, UConn, Louisville, Kansas, Virginia, Syracuse, Villanova, Kentucky, etc. recruit well enough to go 35-5 every season and win the title. Most teams don’t and can’t. If you don’t have an elite coach and/or elite playmaker or two, you are not a real contender to actually win it all in March. But are we all still doing our brackets knowing it’s probably going to be Villanova or Duke again? Of course, because it’s not about who actually wins it’s about the ride. We care about the upsets -- not who cuts down the nets at the very end? Who cares about winning? Give me No. 1 seed going down to a No. 16 seed and let’s call it a day.
I think fans are just smarter now. Everybody has access to 247sports’ Recruiting rankings, most know about SB Nation’s Bud Elliot’s test of a true contender in college football -- basically, recruiting at an elite level for a four-year stretch. If your coach can’t recruit at an elite level or your school isn’t located in a desirable area for the star recruits -- you’re screwed. Minnesota fans know as great and as invigorating as PJ Fleck is, there is a cap on their ceiling. They can’t compete with Ohio State and Michigan every year and they won’t. Guess what? The Gophers are fun and we all loved the Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III era. Golden Gopher fans could go check the recruiting rankings every day, or they can go row that boat to 7-5 and a memorable bowl win against Kentucky. Most fans do.
Perhaps the biggest reason that Alabama and Clemson haven’t ruined enjoyment for all of the land is that everybody is on television now. You aren’t watching the Crimson Tide and Tigers each week if you’re not a fan of the club -- you’re only doing that in January when you run out of options. The majority of the season is Pac-12 After Dark, MACtion on weeknights, and the list goes on. Everybody watches everybody, so you’re not overexposed to the dominant teams like you would in other arenas. You can watch Oklahoma State vs. Baylor over Alabama vs. Ole Miss and feel great about it. The options are endless, even if you’re a fan of a bad team. College football is about variety, even as Alabama and Clemson win championship after championship and that’s what makes it great.