- We really don’t care if you like the NFL or college better. We really don’t. It’s a big wide field out there full of all kinds of things to love non-exclusively and without judgment. It’s part of a greater spiritual quest on our part to try and like things inclusively, and not at the cost of other things, and this is why we can’t make fun of someone too much for liking the NFL over college football. Tastes are different, even if that taste prefers
something bafflingly mundane and so cut up by commercials and official reviews that it approaches a militant incoherencewe don’t understand. <—-THAT’S NOT SPIRITUAL PROGRESS SPENCER
- There are people who have lived entire emotional lives inside games, had friends and story arcs and real human experiences within that game. If we told someone their love for the Carolina Panthers wasn’t real, well, then somewhere in the universe there stands a Watcher, happily rewinding the tape on us running an NCAA Football Dynasty in 2008 with MTSU alone in the dark at 1 a.m., desperately trying to recruit an imaginary five-star fullback for our spread offense. There are receipts if we try that — piles of them, actually, and that’s before we ever get to multiplayer Halo games.
- That dynasty fullback was named Roddy “Piper” Johnson, btw. We signed him, used him as an H-Back on wheel routes out of spread formations, and had a few dive plays in the playbook that worked for gigantic yardage on spread option plays. We imagined he later spent some fruitless but pleasant time on the bench and playing special teams for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Legend, if only to us.
- If someone wants to talk about enjoying the NFL more for strategy, though, then let’s make this point very clear: They’re right. The NFL has all week to work on actual football. They build gameplans with greater complexity, variation, and detail than college gameplans, and do it every week. Some do it better than others, which is why we make fun of the Brian Schottenheimers of the world with reason and conviction. College coaches have limited windows of time to teach plays and practice them by rule, and that’s before accounting for the gigantic timesuck of recruiting. It would be cool to work on a post-corner variation for an hour with a QB, sure. I
- But on the whole, if complexity is really the reason you watch football — and we suspect it is not, especially if you’re reading this — then this point is completely valid.
- The point most college football people will reply with is: But the plays are all the same stuff, and none of it is new, and the new stuff all comes from college. Be real clear on this: This statement is not 100% true. However, it feels true enough for most people to lean on it hard when trying to parse out college football’s superiorities over the NFL. This is especially true for people who love the option or any variation of it. (We refer to these people as godly Americans, and you should, too.)
- For instance: It would be very hard to find anyone more innovative than Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick in football, ever, at any level with any specialty or system. It would also be butt-ignorant to look at Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan’s current offenses and not drool a little at the aggression, variation, and invention in both. There are people doing really cool things in the NFL with the game itself. There are people in college tuning up some reheated cromag SEC 1984 offense and passing that off as work, too. It happens in both directions.
- The biggest difference we’ve noticed going back and forth between the two is how NFL teams can drag and drop from any playbook at will. If NFL teams see something in college or even high school that they like — and that they think will exploit a matchup — then very often they’ll do that, sometimes in harmony or playing off of an existing personnel set. They don’t have to spend all day figuring it out or teaching it. The players are so good they can learn it and run it well with ease. The coaches who do this probably spent the off-season trolling college film for new stuff, and might have even asked the college coaches who use it how to best run it.
- The best example of this we can think of off the top of our head is the New England Patriots, who’ve been dropping college-type spread concepts into their pass and run game for over a decade now. They run wheel routes in combos, they run “Stick” like they’re running the Air Raid, and they even have a post/dig route combo in the playbook called “NCAA”. Spurrier-philes will recognize that immortal route combo as “Mills”, aka a lethal Danny Wuerffel favorite from the 1990s.
- Maybe the way to think of it is this: College football playbook-wise is big-ass, sloppy power rock. The riffs are huge and obvious most of the time, the beats gigantic. Rehearsal time is limited because people have other gigs, so to speak, and can only devote so much time to it. In its rawest moments, there will be dropped beats and missed notes. Its rawness and the error and sloppiness — along with the “fuck it let’s try this” innovation — is part of the the appeal. That’s either felt, or it is not.
- High school football people will say the exact same thing we just said about the NFL, but instead say it about college football.
- Musically speaking, NFL playbooks are prog rock. When played well, it’s at least awe-inspiring in the execution, but sometimes tiresomely complex. When played badly, it is some of the most mind-numbing shit ever made. Either way, it cribs hard from multiple sources to get where it wants to go, sometimes with so much variation as to look incoherent and patternless.
- Say it’s about strategy all you want, sure. The divide here for us is a paraphrasing of Bomani Jones’ most important question about music. It can be complex, well-produced, and well-crafted, sure. But in the end, the only question that matters is: Does it slap?
- P.S. College football’s live shows are way, way better.
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