Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Fantastic Night for a Fantastic Sport

As I watched Boise State beat Virginia Tech last night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a question that I get asked countless times every fall. It’s a simple question really, one that I have taken in many different directions. Watching this incredible game last night got me thinking about this question once again. The question of why I love college football so much.

It’s easy to hate the sport, especially living in a non-college market. Let's be honest…Maine, and really New England is not a bastion of college football. Maine has an FCS in UMaine. It’s a team that’s usually competitive. But, it’s also a team that gets dwarfed by its big brother UMaine Hockey, as well of the fact that Orono is a few hours away from the Portland Market. Moving away from the state, we find ourselves with Boston College and the University of Connecticut. BC football is essentially an afterthought in the professional sport Mecca of Boston, and UConn will always be a basketball school.

It’s also easy to hate a sport that doesn’t have a true playoff system. The BCS is a joke, which continues to baffle the minds of millions of Americans. The reasons they give us are asinine, and remind us all that universities run too much like Fortune-500 corporations (though, it is hysterical that these universities don’t understand that they could make millions more through a playoff system). Preseason polls are garbage as well. It gives either an advantage or disadvantage to start the year. It’s an awful way to end a season, but maybe there is a brighter future.

So, I’ve lived in a non-college hotbed most of my life, and the BCS is what’s left after a frat party…how on Earth will I sell this sport. Easy…with Boise/V-Tech.

Last night’s game is the epitome of college football. Everything you want in a sport was on stage in our Nation’s capital. Start with the crowd…simply electric. Thousands of rabid Virginia Tech fans made the trip to DC on a school and work night to watch AND be heard. Even more impressive was the amount of Boise fans. There was an outstanding sea of blue that could be heard almost at the same decibel level as their adversaries. This is the beauty of the college game. This isn’t Gillette Stadium in September, when you could hear a pin drop in the third quarter, this is college football…the closest thing America has to the lunacy and pandemonium of European soccer crowds.

The anticipation was incredible as well. Here was a game that people have been waiting for since last January. It was a storyline that played out with incredible fervor. As much as I love the NFL there isn’t a storyline that compares. Take the opener for the NFL. You think anyone really cares about the New Orleans/Minnesota alleged revenge game? No…we just want the NFL to start, because we miss football and the Red Sox are toast.

Last night’s game also gave us a perfect example of the importance in coaching. We tend to use the term “manage” much more than “coach” at the professional level. However, coaches still heavily influence the college game. Take Bud Foster. The Hokie Defensive Coordinator had a big problem early in the game. He realized his defense isn’t very talented. Foster was able to make adjustments to his young unit not only to keep them in the game, but keep Boise at bay for a good portion of the contest. Boise’s Head Coach, Chris Peterson’s idea of fighting fire with fire was genius. He took V-Tech’s special teams out of the game early, with his own brand of aggression. Frank Beamer did a nice job rallying his team early in the game to make sure it wasn’t going to be a Boise blowout. However, this goes both ways. Offensive play-calling for Tech was terrible all night, especially late in the game when Tech ran out of bounds on numerous occasions, as well as having incomplete passes when trying to run out the clock. Peterson screwed up himself early in the first half by giving V-Tech an extra down instead of declining a penalty. The Hokies would go on to score on that drive. Sure, this happens in the NFL, but the professional game is put much more on the players than the coaches.

The drama was certainly there last night as well. There were four lead changes, three blocked kicks, nearly 700 yards in total offense, incredible catches, acrobatic runs, and a scoring drive in the final two minutes. Everything a game needed to be ideal. It also had three turnovers, 18 penalties, costly drops, and missed field goals…that leads me to my next point…embrace imperfection. I know it sounds crazy, but just try it. There’s something refreshing about watching a game where the players are still learning and maturing their craft. We can’t expect 18 to 22 year-old men to be robots. If they were they would be playing on Sunday. A missed kick, bad read, blatant drop, or countless dumb penalties shouldn’t deter you from watching. Understand that this game isn’t perfect…it’s still an education.

Whether it’s anticipation you love, maybe a fanatical atmosphere, or just incredible drama, last night’s game had it all.

Many other games over the weekend brought on these characteristics as well. Ole Miss and Kansas lost to FCS teams. East Carolina won on a Hail Mary. Michigan and Notre Dame silenced critics with big wins. Florida and Oklahoma struggled with lesser opponents. It was a weekend full of shock and awe. But, really that’s nothing new…that’s college football.



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