Are you feeling nostalgic about the beginning of the end of the Bowl Championship Series? Me neither.
Replacing the BCS with a four-team playoff next season will not erase all that is wrong with college football. But the start of the actual season helps to dull the annoyances brought on by the usual offseason scandals, from the very serious (sexual assault cases involving players at Vanderbilt and Navy) to the less serious (Johnny Manziel’s offseason antics and personal fundraising activities) to the ridiculous (Oregon’s champagne-wishes-and-caviar-dreams locker room).
The start of the season also is a chance to dig out our college football conference map and to try re-remember which team belongs to which conference before conference play begins. For instance, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are in the ACC. There is also a new conference, the American Athletic Conference. Yes, that’s right, the AAC. This season, Louisville and Rutgers probably will be the best teams in the AAC. Next season, Louisville and Rutgers will no longer be the best teams in the AAC because Louisville is moving to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten. Seriously.
But enough of that. The season officially kicks off Thursday night with a pretty good game: North Carolina at
No. 6 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have one of the best players in the country, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. When you interview Clowney, does he say, “That’s a Clowney question, bro”? Probably not. Too bad. Instead, the highlight this week on “SportsCenter” will be all the interviews with Steve Spurrier while he’s sitting in a golf cart. It’s as timeless and familiar as the swallows returning to Capistrano — in a golf cart.
Saturday’s lineup includes No. 1 Alabama, whose pursuit of a record three titles in a row begins in Atlanta against Virginia Tech. A third title — just what the Tide needs, because otherwise how will Nick Saban get anyone to play for him? In college football, this is the definition of the rich getting richer — I’m not talking about Manziel now — which is why schools such as Alabama can stay on top.
That’s also the reason the playing field (no pun intended) is so uneven, and why schools such as Maryland jump to conferences like the Big Ten. It’s the money, honey. That’s why the preseason top 25 looks like a rundown of the top programs of the past 20 years — plus Northwestern and minus Michigan State. And that’s why the SEC has a pretty good chance of extending its national title streak to eight.
Still, even with college football’s predictability, this is a great weekend. “College GameDay” returns, but it’s still a great weekend. This is the weekend, for example, that a young quarterback can lead his team to a 50-48 victory in a game so anticipated it was played on a Friday, not normally a hot spot on the schedule. But it was also played on ESPN, and that made all the difference for Baylor and TCU two years ago. A lot of people started their holiday weekend by staying up to watch the shootout, and Robert Griffin III became a national name.
Even if your alma mater is not good, you root for it this weekend. You begin rooting against your mortal enemies this weekend. If you’re a Wahoo, you prepare for BYU; if you’re a Terp, you get Florida International, a program in disarray and a school that’s also in a new conference: Conference USA.
And all that love and all that hate translates to the national scene. You start rooting for or against Alabama to three-peat, depending on your allegiance. You look forward to national games such as Nebraska-Michigan or Notre Dame vs. Michigan, or Michigan State, or Oklahoma, or USC, or Stanford. (This is the answer to the question: Why does Notre Dame have its own TV deal?)
The point is, this is when college football loses that rotting meat smell and becomes fun and interesting. Enjoy it, because sadly, there will be another offseason in 2014.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.