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PRIME TIME

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND TELEVISION: PERFECT TOGETHER

NOTHING CAPTURES the binge-watching zeitgeist of 2018 better than a college football Saturday. Fans will always block off 3½ hours to focus on their team, but the remainder of the day's sprawling marathon adopts its own personality. Noon kickoffs are the prime window for mind-boggling upsets; mid-afternoon and prime-time slots feature Top 25 collisions; the late show has built its brand (#Pac12AfterDark) around shootouts, in which defense is optional and overtime high jinks mandatory.

It is impossible to consume it all in real time, but it is also impossible to come away disappointed. When compared with the NFL, college football rights-holders' answers to DirecTV's RedZone may not have the same juice (no fantasy football tracking!), but college fans pick up the slack by taking to Twitter to report crazy plays and upsets in the making. The launch of ESPN+, with exclusive broadcasts of dozens of additional FCS and lower-tier FBS games to online subscribers, allows diehards to dig deeper.

With more offerings in every time slot, neutral fans are no longer chained to Saturday institutions like the 3:30 p.m. ET SEC showcase on CBS. And with the proliferation of specialized networks, fans of lesser teams aren't bullied out of coverage of their favorites by perennial powerhouses often featured in those showcase matchups. Your school may never be on network television—but it is always on somewhere.

NFL games take 3½ hours—the league's rigid commercial rules and abrupt overtime endgame are designed to get each set of games over before the next slate starts. That's great for advertisers, but it suffocates the kind of diversity that makes the college game captivating. Option teams like Army and Georgia Tech, with their aversion to passing, are accustomed to games that last less than three hours. But if a game pushes four hours, whether because of multiple overtimes or because both teams are racking up 50 points—Western Michigan's 71--68, seven-OT win over Buffalo last season was one for the ages—it's embraced as a special treat. What's the rush, anyway? We'll all be here all night.