NO DOUBT, THE OFFSEASON IS A SLOG FOR PLAYERS (WEIGHT ROOMS, SUMMER PRACTICES) AND FOR FANS (THE SCANDALS HAVE GOT TO STOP). THEN THE GAMES BEGIN, AND IT HITS YOU:DAMN, COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS FUN.EXPERIMENTAL COACHES. RENEWED RIVALRIES. LARGER-THAN-LIFE FRESHMEN. THE ANCIENT GAME ALWAYS FINDS NEW WAYS TO KEEP US HOOKED
WHEN THE NFL opens its season this week, you'll hear "Football is back" until your ears bleed. But football—at least the blissfully entertaining, emotional, chaotic version that features offensive diversity, heart-stopping pageantry and an actual definition of a catch—returned last weekend. It didn't take long to remember why the college game is the best brand of football, and on the field at least—yes, some bleak off-the-field headlines clouded the offseason—the most fun.
In college football a rules committee doesn't regulate the fun out of the game. Last year the Miami Hurricanes introduced the O.G. turnover reward: the Turnover Chain. On Saturday, during a game at Troy, Boise State unveiled a "turnover throne" on their sideline. When Broncos linebacker Tony Lashley intercepted a pass, the married father of five could sit in peace in the comfiest chair in the place as his team played offense.
College football has always been dominated by larger-than-life coaches, but once the game starts, it's the athletes that rule. Now coaches are letting the best ones play—experience be damned. (JT Daniels can call himself a starting QB today. Baker Mayfield can't.) When they're not memorizing hypercreative playbooks, those players are memorizing hypercreative nicknames. In Auburn's 21--16 win over Washington, tailback Boobie Whitlow (real name: JaTarvious) scored the go-ahead TD. Rush end Big Kat Bryant (real name: Markaviest) and safety Smoke Monday (real name: Quindarious) sacked the Huskies' Jake Browning on consecutive plays to seal the win. "If they keep playing like that," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says, "we'll give them some more nicknames." Give them a throne while you're at it.
And while rivalries make the heart pound the hardest—and a storied one was renewed in South Bend—sometimes a thriller no one saw coming can make or break a season....