It happens, and it's probably not your fault. Relationships hit rough patches. They just do. You stop seeing the good in somebody as frequently. The flaws become unavoidable. Maintaining a long, loving relationship requires you to overcome some of these spells from time to time.
It is probably safe to say that a lot of college football fans have encountered some difficulty in this regard recently. Not only have we dealt with the same frustrating offseason issues as always (an arrest here, a devastating suspension there, and NCAA violation yonder) and not only do we fall into the same frustrating, no-winners arguments every year (The BCS -- which still exists for a couple more years, by the way -- has ruined everything! The No. 3 team so deserves a title shot over No. 2! The Heisman is stupid! Bowls are pointless! [Team A] pays its players! Recruiting is out of control!), but in the past year or so, we have undergone the typical frustration in addition to the Jerry Sandusky saga. One of the NCAA's flagship programs, Penn State, has been half-devastated by its mother institution, in part because of the role football played in covering up serious evil.
It hasn't been a good year. We know all of college football's frustrating qualities -- they have never been more obvious -- but you probably wouldn't be reading this if you didn't want to learn to love again. So I'm here to help. Even in 2011, amid all of the scandal and drama, there was so much to enjoy as long as you knew where to look. On the doorstep of the 2012 season, then, it's time to share. Below are 100 steps to learning to love college football and all of its insanity and glory.
Now, these are not necessarily the most important things, places and games of 2012; they are just the ones most likely to rekindle your love of the sport. Because right now, that's what matters the most.
(Natural disclaimer: this is a list of just 100 things to love. The list doesn't stop at 100. There were about 275 honorable mentions. Share your favorite omissions in comments.)
1. Washington State at BYU (August 30). Because starting the season with Mike Leach sounds glorious. And because BYU could be semi-salty this year.
2. Boise State at Michigan State (August 31). Because this is the rare opportunity to unwrap a brand new Boise State offense, complete with new features and, potentially, kinks. It's like Christmas.
3. Eastern Michigan's bowl quest. Or Kent State's. Or maybe Louisiana-Monroe's. So much to love about college football rests below the surface. Maybe you're a fan of some major conference team, and you wouldn't stoop to rejoice about a minor bowl bid, but to other schools a bowl bid of any kind means the world. Louisiana-Lafayette played last year's New Orleans Bowl like it was the BCS title game, and it was one of the best moments of the season. Quite a few teams that have dealt with ages-long bowl droughts -- Eastern Michigan (last bowl: 1987 California Bowl), Kent State (1972 Tangerine Bowl), UL-Monroe (N/A) -- could have decent teams capable of reaching bowl eligibility this year. And if they make it, they will celebrate like they won the national title.
4. The Flexbone. Maybe you don't want your own team running this offense (or, hey, maybe you do), but the Flexbone is the ultimate example of this simple fact: you can win a college football game in so, so many damn ways. Watch Georgia Tech. Watch
Navy all of the armed forces schools. Watch Georgia Southern if you can. It's fantastic. And it confounds the hell out of Goliaths from time to time.
5. MACtion. And, this season, SunBeltion.
You know how some basketball fans will try to convince you that women's basketball is more enjoyable than men's because of the fundamentals and the fact that "they are playing for the love of the game"? And you know how this turns out to be incredibly false? Let's just say that the mid-major portion of the FBS universe combines the "for the love of the game" thing (needless to say, hat ceremonies for recruits announcing they are attending Central Michigan aren't typically televised on ESPNU) with some creative, immensely entertaining football. Last year in particular, that resulted in a level of fun and insanity in the MAC that the world has never seen before. If you missed it, you missed out.
We at SB Nation have carried the MACtion flag for quite a while, but while certain MAC stars have departed (Toledo receiver Eric Page, Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish), many return. And come November, when MAC games start showing up on your TV almost every weeknight, you will enjoy it so much more than you think you will.
6. Nebraska home games. Or LSU, or Oregon, or your ridiculously loud stadium of choice. When a game at one of these locales comes on TV, turn the volume up as loud as it will go, or until the decibels begin to disorient you a bit. That's what it's like standing on the field.
7. Notre Dame. I know, I know. Notre Dame is supposed to be one of those things you always hate about college football. They get too much credit from pollsters, they can make a BCS bowl with a 7-5 record (approximate), et cetera. But really, there are only two ways Notre Dame's 2012 season can go, and either might be entertaining: a) With a strong defense and an enlivened offense, the Irish win a series of dramatic games versus strong opponents (Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, USC) and put together their best season since 2006 or so. Or b) they once again kill themselves with silly mistakes and finish 5-7. Whether it is a daredevil act or a train wreck, it will be fascinating.
8. Pac-12 Network. Because this is going to be awesome.
9. Navy vs. Notre Dame (September 1). Because it's in Ireland, and because it kicks off at 9:00 a.m. ET!
10. Alabama vs. Michigan (September 1). Because these helmets don't face off very often.
11. Nevada at California (September 1). Because you should know Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo's name, and because California's renovated stadium is gorgeous. Watch if just for the panoramic shots.
12. San Diego State at Washington (September 1). Because quarterback Keith Price has a new offensive coordinator, and this could be pretty fun.
13. Washington at LSU (September 8). Because Keith Price and his new coordinator will be tested. Severely.
14. Florida at Texas A&M and Georgia at Missouri (September 8). Because for a very short window of time, we will basically get an answer to the question, "How would a Big 12 team fare with an SEC schedule?" And because the home crowds in both College Station and Columbia will be very, very excited about this.
15. Louisiana Tech at Houston (September 8). Because Air Raid disciple versus Air Raid disciple.
16. USC at Stanford (September 15). Because we don't have to wait long to find out how good Stanford will (or won't) be this year, and because last year's game was incredible.
17. Florida at Tennessee (September 15). If only because of the ambience. And because we have no idea what Tennessee might be capable of this year.
18. Alabama at Arkansas (September 15). Because fired-up Hogs.
19. BYU at Utah (September 15). Because of the healthy, whole-hearted rage.
20. Michigan at Notre Dame (September 22). Because if this game has one-tenth the craziness of last year's affair, it will be worth your while.
21. Ohio State at Michigan State & Wisconsin at Nebraska (September 29). Because these games will feature great matchups and atmosphere, and also because they will help to define the Big Ten narrative in 2012.
22. Texas at Oklahoma State (September 29). Because games in Stillwater are really, really fun.
23. Washington State vs. Oregon (September 29). Because Mike Leach vs. Chip Kelly. Mike Leach vs. Chip Kelly!
24. Toledo at Western Michigan (September 29). Unfortunately, it's on a Saturday and not a Tuesday night. But this is one of a trifecta of games that will determine a wonderfully fun MAC West.
25. Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville quarterback takes a hit, gets up, makes a play, takes another hit, gets up, and makes another play. And he's only a sophomore.
26. Alex Carder and Tyler Tettleton. Because Chandler Harnish has left Northern Illinois, because we need a new "Throws for 3,000 yards, runs for 1,000" guy in the MAC, and because these two (Carder is Western Michigan's quarterback, Tettleton is Ohio's) are both capable. (So are Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin and Louisiana-Lafayette's Blaine Gautier, for that matter, but they're in the wrong mid-major conference.)
27. Austin Dantin & Terrance Owens. Because the Toledo duo proves that, once in a while, a quarterback platoon can actually work. This one worked really, really well last year, and with former offensive coordinator Matt Campbell still calling the shots in Tim Beckman's absence, it should again this year.
28. Nick Florence. Because the new Baylor quarterback has some game and some really, really fun weapons.
29. Collin Klein & Bill Snyder. Klein is the perfect Bill Snyder quarterback (well, the perfect Snyder quarterback would be a bit better throwing the ball, but he's close), and he's still got his Geppetto pulling the strings on the sideline. There is no reason this pair should have succeeded as much as it did last year. But it did. And you'll want to watch just in case it does again.
30. Wes Lunt & Johnny Manziel. The new OSU and Texas A&M quarterbacks are a true freshman and redshirt freshman, respectively. And watching them lead their respective offenses is going to be like watching a 15-year-old with a permit driving a Porsche. Spectacular things are going to happen, good and bad.
31. Keith Price. We won't have to wait long to find out just how good the Washington quarterback is. Their early schedule is brutal.
32. Denard Robinson. Just survive Week 1, Denard.
33. Logan Thomas. The Virginia Tech signal-caller is so enormous and frustrating to tackle that a Georgia Tech defender punched him after a sack attempt ... and Georgia Tech was winning at the time. (They weren't for too much longer.)
34. Tyler Wilson. We don't actually know how good Arkansas is going to be this year, but they are top-five in confidence, and no quarterback has more of a swagger than this guy.
35. USC at Utah (October 4). Because this is why the Utes joined the Pac-12. (Well, this and money. All of the money.)
36. Arkansas State at Florida International (October 4). Because it could decide the Sun Belt title.
37. Miami at Notre Dame (October 6). Because it gives you a reason to fire up YouTube.
38. West Virginia at Texas (October 6). Because if WVU's offense and Texas' defense formed a team, it would win the national title.
39. Georgia at South Carolina (October 6). See Michigan-Notre Dame. If this game has one-tenth the craziness as last year...
40. South Florida at Temple (October 6). Because it's Temple's first conference home game in its second stay in the Big East.
41. Navy at Air Force (October 6). Because Flexbone Flexbone Flexbone Flexbone Flexbone Flexbone Flexbone.
42. USC at Washington (October 13). Because if USC survives trips to Utah and Washington, it will have begun to live up to its No. 1 ranking.
43. Oklahoma vs. Texas (October 13). Because fried food.
44. Southern Miss at UCF (October 13). Because Conference USA occasionally plays defense.
45. Virginia Tech at Clemson (October 20). Because "If you’re going to give me 110 percent, you rub my rock. If you’re not gonna give me 100 percent, keep your filthy hands off my rock."
46. Michigan at Nebraska (October 27). Because with these helmets in that venue, it's going to feel like these teams have been playing for a century.
47. Northern Illinois at Western Michigan (October 27). Part II of your MAC West Trilogy, once again unforgivably on a Saturday.
48. Notre Dame at Oklahoma (October 27). Because history happens when Notre Dame visits Norman later in the season.
49. Matt Campbell & Tony Levine. The new head coaches at Toledo and Houston have all of the offensive know-how with none of that pesky defense getting in the way.
50. Dana Holgorsen. Because he holds the key.
51. Mark Hudspeth. Because the Louisiana-Lafayette head coach is going to make one hell of an SEC coach one day.
52. Chip Kelly. Because he does things you've never seen before.
53. Mike Leach. Because he's back. HE'S BACK.
54. Urban Meyer. Because Meyer once engineered the biggest innovations in the spread this side of the Air Raid (it's easy to forget that when you remember how his 2010 Florida offense looked), and I can't wait to see what he does with quarterback Braxton Miller.
55. Les Miles. Because "Les Miles Grass" is a legitimate YouTube search.
56. Tom O'Brien. Because Get Off My Lawn.
57. Paul Rhoads. Because, almost three years later, this clip still doesn't get old.
And because he keeps claiming scalps each year.
58. Oregon at USC and Alabama at LSU (November 3). Because it is a requirement for passing the class.
59. Oklahoma State at Kansas State (November 3). Last Year's Craziness, Part III. "I'm not so sure they shouldn't have been watching our game."
60. UL-Monroe at UL-Lafayette (November 3). Because true joy in college football can be found in the true hatred lying among the nation's lesser-known rivalries. Because I'm willing to bet The Other Swamp will be a lot of fun for this one. And because this year's game might feature the most combined quality these two teams have ever produced.
61. Florida State at Virginia Tech (November 8). Because Lane Stadium on a Thursday night against Florida State.
62. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (November 10). Because Mike Gundy vs. Dana Holgorsen might be more fun than Chip Kelly vs. Mike Leach.
63. Tulsa at Houston (November 10). Because a) points, b) this could be an incredibly important game in the Conference USA race, and c) points.
64. Toledo at Northern Illinois (November 14). Because there is no greater MACtion than this.
65. Oklahoma at West Virginia (November 17). Because this is why WVU joining the Big 12 sounded like one hell of an idea despite geographic silliness.
66. Stanford at Oregon (November 17). Because the last two matchups between these schools have resulted in two of the most enjoyable blowouts in recent history.
67. Utah State at Louisiana Tech (November 17). Because it might decide the WAC. And because both of these teams could be very fun to watch this year.
68. Thanksgiving weekend. All of it, from Thursday night through Saturday night. Whether a national title, a conference title, bowl eligibility, or anything at all is on the line, rivalry games are rivalry games. If don't get excited watching Washington at Washington State, or Notre Dame at USC, or Michigan at Ohio State, or Oregon at Oregon State, or LSU at Arkansas, or South Carolina at Clemson, or Georgia Tech at Georgia, or Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, or Auburn at Alabama, then college football might just not be for you. And beyond these classic rivalries, you've also got West Virginia making an almost certainly deadly Black Friday trip to Ames, TCU visiting Texas, Louisville facing Rutgers for (potentially) the Big East crown, Tulsa heading to SMU for the last time (as conference mates) and Texas State facing off against UTSA for the first time as FBS rivals. Devour it.
69. The Pac-12 Championship (November 30). Even if it isn't Oregon-USC II, it will be the most entertaining of the major conference title games.
(Okay, it's going to be Oregon-USC II. And it's going to be fantastic.)
Other Highly Enjoyable People
70. Tavon Austin. Because hell yes.
(And because he did all that last year in a new offense. It's not new anymore.)
71. Montee Ball. Because you like touchdowns, right?
72. Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene. Because Rutgers might have the most underrated defense in the country this year, and because these two make a tackle for loss on just about every damn possession.
73. Jamie Collins. Because Southern Miss might steal Boise State's "best mid-major defensive line in the country" crown this year, and because Collins is the primary reason why.
74. Kain Colter. Because he's quite possibly Northwestern's best quarterback, running back and wide receiver. And he will be used as all three.
75. Justin Hunter. The Tennessee junior was the nation's best receiver for two weeks last year, then disappeared with a knee injury. And because I can't wait to see what he might do over the course of a full, healthy season.
76. Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. Because Florida State's defensive ends are devastating, and because opponents know it.
77. Marqise Lee. Because USC started playing like an elite team basically the moment things clicked for Lee last year. Robert Woods is fantastic, but Lee is the big-play guy. And big plays are fun.
78. Zach Line. Because the SMU running back looks like Mike Alstott and runs like Montee Ball (approximate).
79. Trey Metoyer. Because we might pretty quickly feel stupid for questioning Oklahoma's receiving corps this year.
80. Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Because the LSU defensive ends are probably faster than most of the running backs they are going to face this year.
81. Malcolm Mitchell. Because he's Georgia's best receiver ... and he's listed as the starting cornerback. He's going to be tired at the end of games this year.
82. Brent Musberger. Because he really, really enjoys himself. And because he absolutely has money on this game.
83. Sheldon Richardson. Because Missouri has a habit of producing high-personality defenders who end up first-round draft picks (Sean Weatherspoon, Aldon Smith, Ziggy Hood), and because Richardson might be next.
84. Stanford's fullbacks and tight ends. Because Stanford has 100 of them, and because ... wideouts? Who needs 'em?
85. Joe Tessitore. Because he's everything you think you're getting from Gus Johnson.
86. De'Anthony Thomas. Because he makes Tavon Austin look slow.
87. Sammy Watkins. Because he ever-so-briefly made you think that Clemson was a national title contender last year (despite that defense). He's that good.
88. Oklahoma at TCU (December 1). Because TCU fans have been waiting for this one for a long time.
89. Boise State at Nevada (December 1). Because the last time they played, the Tessitore Effect was born.
90. The MAC Championship (December 1). Because.
91. South Alabama at Hawaii (December 1). Because only in college football can you say "Congrats on your move to FBS! Now here's your obligatory trip to Aloha Stadium in early-December."
92. Army vs. Navy (December 8). Because you have heartstrings.
93. The New Orleans Bowl. (December 22). Because it's Sun Belt versus Conference USA, and this might happen again.
God, Mark Hudspeth is awesome. So is college football.
94. The Holiday Bowl (December 27) and The Alamo Bowl (December 29). Because the Pac-12 and Big 12 need to play each other as much as humanly possible. And because there is at least the tiniest chance that Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen could face off.
Six More Things
95. San Diego State might not punt much. Rocky Long has been listening to the nerds.
96. Tonight's Tweets. Around the time ESPN's 7:00 p.m. ET telecast of South Carolina at Vanderbilt begins tonight, your Twitter feed will be awash with "FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!!!!" posts. And you will enjoy it. And you will probably post it yourself.
97. Twitter in general. It is the world's biggest sports bar, and for all of its faults (basically anything with the words "breaking news" involved), it has enhanced the college football experience.
98. UTSA. You realize how big a market we're tapping into here, right? In the Roadrunners' first ever home football game last year, they drew 56,743. Obviously they are going to struggle this year (somewhat, anyway; they only play seven FBS teams, only five that aren't also FBS newcomers) and for a little while, but let's just say there's a reason why Conference USA already claimed the program as its own, basically sight unseen.
99. Vengeful Owen Field. Oklahoma will have plenty of flaws in 2012, as will just about everybody else. We'll see whose flaws are fatal. But one thing is sure: When OU plays at home, with something to prove, bad things tend to happen. And it is typically pretty fun to watch, at least from a morbid curiosity standpoint. A vengeful demeanor even makes Oklahoma fans act like Wisconsin fans. And that isn't a bad thing. Hey, speaking of which...
100. Wisconsin fans.
God bless college football. It's time.
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: