MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 22: Fans of the Miami Hurricanes tailgate before the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sun Life Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Rooting for just one college football team is no way to live. You also need a handful of underdogs for which to carve out space in your heart. Here are Spencer Hall's recommendations.
In order to properly hate a team, that team must be good at something. That something might not be football. It helps if the team is good at football, particularly if you dislike the team's style of play, coach, a specific player, or whatever you choose to hate about that team.
For instance, I have a friend who hates Wisconsin for no other reason that "Bret Bielema is blotchy, and that freaks me out." Since Bret Bielema, at least in one person's opinion, excels at blotchiness, this qualifies. No one said it had to make sense, because this is sports, where sense and decorum were thrown into the pool ten minutes into the party and left to drown.
The life cycle of a team's general likability for the general fan runs something like a sine wave.
1. I have no defined feelings one way or the other about this team. Perfectly mediocre equals a general lack of feeling, often registered on the internet as "meh." For me as a college football fan, this is Purdue: inert, inoffensive, and neither remarkable for their lack of skill or threat to my existence.
2. Overrated. A team here has become a threat to my quality of life. Right now, this team for me and many other college football fans is Alabama, a team that is not only much better than my team, but carries with it the twin hazards of being a.) deadly boring to watch, and b.) supported by people from Alabama. Trust none of them. Their reality is not yours, and will never be. Teams at the "overrated" category are at their peak; only the insult equal to "only sort of godlike" applies. Your only pleasure will be watching them fail.
3. Review. Having fallen to new depths, you may now revise your opinion of the program. Sitting there in the gutter, you remember past glories, and then think "You know, it just isn't the same without them around. It would be nice to have them back. Here, buddy: there's a nickel to help you get a room at the YMCA for the night." This is all null and void if the other team is a rival. If the team is a hated historical rival, you pour gas on them, light a match, and then dance around the embers singing Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping."
4. DAPS, or a congratulation. Well, isn't it nice you're back. (At least until you start beating us again.)
5. So sick of this. Back to the peak of your opponent's life cycle. Begin swearing oaths, and hoping against hope for a long and painful decline.
The point at which a team is most affable, point three, is our focus today. College football has some venerable brands currently rolling around the low point of their life cycle, and now is the time in 2012 for you to embrace them, prop them up, offer encouraging words, and possibly let them sleep on your couch for a few weeks while they sort things out and get on their feet.
BIG TEN: MINNESOTA. The Big Ten splits 77 football titles between Ohio State and Michigan if you count the vacated 2010 title for Ohio State. (And we do, lacking all serious moral outrage over athletes discovering a barter economy in a black market.) In third place? The Minnesota Golden Gophers, who 18 different times have won the Big Ten football title.
That last title came in 1967 in a split with Purdue, and excepting a few very exciting moments with Glen Mason at the millenium's beginning, it's been one long toboggan ride to the football badlands for the Gophers. This may be an inaccurate metaphor, as Minnesota lost to North Dakota State in 2011. Minnesota football has gone to a metaphorical football Minnesota, and has been there for some time.
So rooting for the Gophers is charmingly retro and underdog-friendly at the very least. There's more, though. They play outdoors in a potentially brutal environment come November, making them the frostiest of the frosty Big Ten. Their coach Jerry Kill is not only named "Kill," but has managed to continue working on a heinous rebuilding project through several seizures. He may or may not also bear a resemblance to their mascot, Goldy the Gopher.
Finally, if quality football gibberish makes a fight song for you, then the Gophers provide.
Minnesota, hats off to thee!
To thy colors true we shall ever be,
Firm and strong, united are we.
Rah, rah, rah, for Ski-U-Mah,
Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah for the U of M.
That is some top-shelf peppy palaver, Minnesota. Why, it's scarcely English! (And that's really what counts here.)
PAC-12: COLORADO. Boulder may suffer the curse of being too nice for its own good, basking as it is in Rocky Mountain sunshine, a well-groomed and relatively affluent student body, the alpine backdrop of the Flatirons, and yes, a medical marijuana business so damaging to the local economy that people "have money" and "are pretty nice, if a bit forgetful at times."
That short-term amnesia might erase the relatively recent grandeur of past Colorado teams. You might remember Colorado as a high-plains option football terror under Bill McCartney, when black-clad CU players with bloodstreams swollen with red blood cells went 92-55-1. You may also remember their brief brush with greatness under Rick Neuheisel (a trademark of the Neuheisel Coaching Plan) and their Big 12 North titles under Gary Barnett. Remember that time they scored a billion points on a fading Nebraska team in the throes of late Frank Solich malaise? Of course you do.
You may not remember anything that has happened since 2005, and there's good reason. It started with Dan Hawkins, and ended with losing every road game ever, and then you woke up in a cow pasture with the stadium on fire and no pants on wondering, "Did I just join the Pac-12?" Yes, yes you did, Colorado, where you can climb to respectability amidst peer institutions who also embrace bumpy geography, good recruiting by coach Jon Embree out of Southern California, and a somewhat laid-back approach to still-serious football.
A ground floor opportunity for a team a mile above sea level awaits us all, as well as one of the better road trips in college football that you'll never remember.
ACC: MIAMI. Oh, for a quality villain. A villain with real baby-slapping flair, the Robert Davi of football reprobates, an antagonist who demanded both respect, fear, and a slight tinge of disgust and jealousy in the same breath.
"Come back, Miami" is a phrase I've been saying for no fewer than four years, but I'm not alone. The massive ratings for The U on ESPN's 30 for 30 series only reinforce the point that college football misses its cousin in South Florida, the sketchy relations who not only drove fast boats and seemed to wake up farting hundred dollar bills and success, but who also refused to apologize for an iota of what it took to get it. A villain with remorse is a morality tale's prop, but one without it is simply too much fun to leave out of the script for long.
Al Golden will do the "right" thing, but he's not alone in making this program what it always will be: South Florida kids with speed to burn, the brawn to brawl, and a fanbase that makes up for its lack of size with sheer toxicity. The Miami fanbase is the poison arrow tree frogs of college football: small, colorful, and will put you in the hospital if you come into contact with them.
The Hurricanes will be the cartoon villain again based on talent, location, and a long-term commitment from Golden. The rest is waiting for the villain to reappear, and remembering that time he had to enter the Witness Protection Program for a few years fondly.*
*We've been waiting for a while on this. Don't make us look bad, Uncle Sketchy from Dade County.
BIG EAST: THE ENTIRE CONFERENCE THAT IS THE BIG EAST. Just pick one, even if they just joined like 10 minutes ago. Memphis? HOOOO BOY, would they be the hipster's pick, since they cannot sink any lower than their current ebb on a sine wave. Memphis football is not on a sine wave: it's more of a line going down, then down again, and then skipping along like a bouncing ball at the bottom of a graph.
SEC: VANDERBILT. Actually, this is way closer to happening than you think. Nevermind. They have James Franklin recruiting in a helicopter and threatening to fight opposing coaches on the field. The East Coast Harbaugh Plan appears to be in full motion, and needs no help from you. Ole Miss? Sure, they need love and help, but you'll never make it to the game, and instead blearily inquire after the score four hours later while you scrape barbecue from the bottom of a chafing dish with your bare hand. Let's just skip the SEC for now.
BIG 12: IOWA STATE. Prior to 2011 this would have been Baylor, but the Robert Griffin III miracle puts Iowa State on the list of teams "on the way up, but not all the way up, so let's just clap for them before we totally hate them." For now, there's a lot to like about Iowa State. Paul Rhoads remains proud of you, his team, Ames, bird mascots with teeth, and freshman quarterbacks who help foil T. Boone Pickens' dreams of BCS titles.
They play the role of protruding couch leg in the dark well, since at least one team a year in the Big 12 breaks their toe and yells unspeakable profanities after losing a stunner to them. If you like tear-inducing memorials, no stadium has a more moving backstory than Jack Trice Stadium. The one real downside is their reliance on Nickelback in stadium hype-up videos, and let's face it, by the time the 2012 football season begins it could be ironically cool to nod your head to Nickelback. (Being cool sounds awful. Let's all agree to never be it together.)