If you are a marginal fan and want to become a full-blown fanatic, or if you are just trying to understand that special college football idiot in your life; I present a general calendar of every college football fan’s experience. We’ll begin with the actual season, which many might mistake for the only period of interest for a fan. However, you’ll find the other parts of the year are just as important in terms of explaining a fan’s waxing and waning mental stability.
September-November: The actual season. At this time of year you are focused on, unbelievably enough, the games. Seasons (and your mood) will obviously vary across teams but at some point in this 3 months span, one (or predictably more) of the following thoughts will cross your mind:
-Our coach sucks and we need a change
-Our coordinator(s) sucks. Why can’t the coach get up the nerve to fire him?
-Our quarterback sucks. The backup is our answer, it’s clear because (he completed two of three passes that one time he got in, “insiders” say he’s killing it in practice, he was highly ranked coming out of high school, he had a great spring game against the 3rd team defensive backfield).
Also, you will have a win that you weren’t expecting and this will increase your expectations for the remainder of the year. If it happens later in the year it’s proof that you should have been winning all along. This win will usually be the result of the other, more superior team not being able to get out of it’s own way but no matter. Their six turnovers can be explained by the fact that you finally started to play aggressive defense. The entire two-deep of their defensive line might have a life-threatening disease but your offensive line finally “asserted itself”.
To balance this out, you will also have a soul-crushing loss. This could be to a mid-major or FCS team. This could be a loss to your rival when they aren’t that good. It could be to take you out of a championship picture or cost you a big bowl game. Wait for it, it will come. Even teams who go undefeated and win the national championship will have a clunker of a game against an inferior opponent. Because they should be beating everyone by 40 points, their fans will feel the same as you do after one of the aforementioned losses.
November-Early January: There is actually as much is going on here as during the regular season. Your coach/coordinator who sucks might actually be fired and you and the rest of your fellow fans can set your team’s message board on fire with speculation about who the next coach will be. Someone is an insider who knows a “higher-up” in the university and that person always has an exciting candidate’s name to leak. That person is always wrong and will always cover his tracks by explaining about how the deal fell through. Regardless of who they end up hiring, you will probably be filled with an unwarranted sense of optimism because of the new hire.
The lack of games until late December also affords you the opportunity to get caught up on where your team stands with recruiting. By now, some of the kids that committed early to your program or who were very high on your team will have decided to go elsewhere; maybe worse yet to your rival school. Those recruits are automatically overrated, could not qualify to get in to your fine academic institution, or they are a “problem” off the field according to one of the aforementioned “insiders”. You are convinced you dodged a bullet because that teenager will not be playing for your school and attention will turn to the teenagers that will. These come in two categories: highly touted and not. A highly touted recruit is a four- or five-star ranked kid. When one of these commits to your program, you will be convinced that he will be able to start right away and be the missing piece to your program’s championship puzzle. If your program gets a few of these, you are convinced you will be challenging for national championships since you are recruiting with the big boys. This will engender such excitement that you will study recruiting rankings religiously and make fun of schools with lower-ranked recruits.
The less touted recruits will all be “underrated” or “a steal” and you will like the fact that he “wants to be here”. You will also tell yourself and others that Tom Brady wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and ratings are all political and don’t mean anything. You will be amazed at his highlights and point to them as evidence of being “underrated” even though the highlights show the best 1% of all plays the kid was involved in during the entire season. Conveniently missing from the highlight film are times he loafed, got unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and blew a coverage. Furthermore, you will be brimming with optimism when someone tells you that they’ve seen him play in high school and he’s great. Yep, no other division 1 recruit looks good in high school; just your kid…..oh, and did I mention he “wants to be here”?
The rest of this time will be spent focusing on your team’s bowl game. If your team wins their bowl game, the victory is evidence enough that your team should be a top-10 team next year and odds-on favorite to win your conference. Your 6-6 record is no longer important because you finished strong against a good opponent. How do you know they were good? Well, if they weren’t ranked and there is no other metric available, you can just cite that they were a “bowl team”. If you lose, any feelings that you had against your coaching staff and/or quarterback are intensified by a factor of 10. You stumbled when it mattered most. It doesn’t matter anymore that you won your conference or set a school record for wins. This season sucked and you need a new coach/offense/defense/attitude.
This portion of the season will culminate with the BCS bowls and the championship game. Unless you are one of the two teams playing you will complain about how unfair the BCS championship is; a topic which will also be the main fodder for your favorite message board and sports talk show for the entire 3 week period leading up to the game (as well as the one week period following it).
Late January-March: You can no longer deny the ultimate reality that the college football season is over. You get through by watching NFL playoffs and watching the final throes of the recruiting season culminate in national signing day. There are usually some surprises on National signing day. A kid might switch his commitment to your school and that’s a sign of your coach being a great recruiter. Another kid might switch from your team to another and that’s evidence of that school having no ethics and cheating. The latter is very important---any school that flips a kid committed to you could not possibly have done so by legal/ethical means. It is a sure sign they are cheating. After all, they always have been and you can’t believe the NCAA hasn’t done something about them yet. If your team ends up being ranked high in the recruiting rankings and especially if they are ranked ahead of your rival then you are ecstatic about your team’s future and this amazing class will surely start paying dividends in the fall. If the opposite is true, then recruiting rankings don’t mean anything…….Tom Brady…..all political. Besides, your coach said in his press conference that your team filled some very important “needs”. Oh, and did I tell you that I saw your 2-star running back commitment play in high school? Wow, is he a beast.
Signing day comes and goes and the Super Bowl is over not long after it. The winter becomes colder and the days become shorter. You try and watch college basketball and might even get a tad excited about it if your university’s team is doing well. It’s not the same as football but at this stage of the year you are an alcoholic confined to a dry house. You will go through the medicine cabinets and swallow rubbing alcohol and mouthwash if need be to get some kind of fix. None of the people on the message boards are posting anything since there isn’t anything happening. It’s a dry period in recruiting, spring ball hasn’t arrived yet and you don’t even know your team’s final schedule for next fall. If you have a new coach (because the last one sucked) you may talk with fellow addicts about how he is instilling a “new attitude”. You will back this up using a story that you heard fourth-hand about him making the 3rd team center run extra because he was late to conditioning. Some kids may be transferring out of the program around this time. You will view every transfer as addition by subtraction. Never mind that these are the same kids that you were excited about when they committed to your team two years earlier. Now they “don’t want to be here” or “don’t have what it takes to be FILL IN MASCOT HERE”.
April-May: Spring is in the air and so is spring football. You, or someone you know (in reality or internet), has stopped by campus to watch practice and reported that your team looks very good. There is never a different report about practice. Nobody ever says “I dropped by practice and you might want to forgo your season tickets this year”. Despite this fact you will be brimming with optimism that will culminate with the spring game. The spring game is where you will store away vital pieces of information for the fall. Most notably, this is where you will watch your team’s backup quarterback go 13/15 and 3 tds against your 3rd team secondary. This performance is no doubt indicative of what this young man has been capable of all along if just given the chance. You will come back to this in the Fall when your starting quarterback throws two interceptions in the “soul-crushing loss” as evidence of the fact that the backup should have been in there all along.
Also, your team looks awesome in the spring game. I say this with authority because everyone’s team looks awesome in the spring game. If you take a step back from it, a logical assumption is that if your team sucks, they may still look pretty good when they are scrimmaging against themselves because the suck players from the offense are going against equally suck players on defense. No matter, your team’s awesome performance will be used to justify the new scheme your coaches put in and/or show how your strength and conditioning program is paying off and/or demonstrate how the undersized or slow backup from last year will actually be just fine in his starting role come fall. Oh, it will also be a validation of previous recruiting classes. Your years of recruiting the highly touted athletes is starting to pay off…….or your spunky team of kids who want to be FILL IN MASCOT HERE are all working hard and filling their roles nicely (Tom Brady, ratings are political, etc)
June-August: Pre-season season. This is a heady time as you start getting actual college football news again. To continue the alcoholic analogy, you’ve found two cans of stale beer in the basement. Some recruiting is happening and a few kids will actually start picking your program. They are awesome right now. Later, the ones who flip to another team will be discovered to be terrible kids with grade and attitude problems and you are better off without them. Also see aforementioned touted and not-touted recruit reactions. Your team is also going through conditioning and ultimately training-camp. During training camp, you’ll actually get real live interviews from the coaches and players. Your team will show up at camp in great shape. They will also have a new attitude this year. They will be hungry if you sucked before or will be eager to carry on your tradition if you were good. Every returning starter will be viewed as an incredible asset; as in “we’ve got three returning starters on the defensive line!” Some of them might have sucked the year before, but it does not matter; they were starters. Also, every backup that will now be a starter has worked hard in the offseason and your team is actually better at that position than they were the year before. The exception to the latter rule is when the departed starter was undeniably a complete beast. In that case you will have to put together some sort of creative logic train that makes the team better by his absence. “Jim might have run for 2,000 yards last year, but now that he’s gone we are going to actually throw more and be more balanced on offense.” If that tact is just too insane then you will reassure yourself with some vague notion of how everyone will “step up” to make the team just as successful as before. This notion is validated with fond memories of the spring game.
This is also the “if” time of year. As in “If that undersized freshman linebacker steps up and IF our starting wide receiver makes parole and IF we can convert that 4th team running back in to a free safety and IF our quarterback rehabs from shoulder surgery I think we have 10 wins in us this year”. The fun part about it is the “ifs” can all be foregone conclusions at this time of year. In reality, your lack of depth at linebacker and free safety, and your wide receiver’s run-ins with the law, and your quarterback’s chronic shoulder problem are precisely the reasons that you suck but at this point they are small matters to be discarded with a simple and well-placed “if”.
You start the actual season, come crashing down to reality and the cycle is repeated all over. There will be just enough highs to validate season tickets, eight-hour Saturdays in front of the TV and shirked responsibilities. There are enough lows to wonder why you do this and what in the world caused you to turn over your emotional state to a bunch of post-adolescent males. By the time you ask this question, the answer isn’t any use. You will continue. Enjoy the cycle.