- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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College football has been full of change and evolution over the past decade.
Rules have changed. Pace of play has changed. Conference alignment has changed. Even the way we determine a national champion has changed.
So, yes, college football has been about change, much of it good. The sport has never been more popular. But as we look forward to the Fourth of July holiday, here are some things about college football that would be un-American to change:
Army playing Navy every year
It’s a rivalry that ought to be on every football fan’s bucket list and one that personifies the spirit of college athletics. For as long as they play college football, there should never be a year that the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy don’t meet, and it’s only fitting that their game remains the final one of the regular season each year. We love our traditions in college football. Well, this is a game soaked in tradition. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to attend the game in 1901 and started the custom of the commander in chief crossing the field at halftime to make sure the leader sat on both sides during the game. The time-honored procession of the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen marching into the stadium is also something to behold. From Doc Blanchard to Glenn Davis to Roger Staubach there have been some legendary names to play in the game, not to mention some bitterly contested games. But there’s a brotherhood associated with this game that can’t be matched anywhere else, making it a game to preserve at all costs.
Texas vs. Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl
If you’ve had a chance to see a game in AT&T Stadium, aka Jerry World, you know it's a palace. But the Red River Rivalry -- the yearly grudge match between Oklahoma and Texas -- is much more than just a football game. It’s an event, which is why it should never move from the venerable Cotton Bowl and Fair Park in Dallas, even for the swanky confines of Jerry World. There’s no experience in college football quite like it, with the game being played in conjunction with the State Fair of Texas. Where else can you get Fletcher’s Corny Dogs, Swan Paddle Boat rides and one of sports’ best rivalries all in one October swoop? There’s a deal in place to keep the game at the Cotton Bowl, where it has been played since 1932, through 2025. And even though the Cotton Bowl Classic moved to Jerry World in 2010, here’s hoping the Longhorns and Sooners will be settling their business with Big Tex standing guard for a long time to come.
Some of us are old and stuck in our ways, and it’s true that it's not a crime to go for a new look every once in a while. So while the chrome helmets, alternate uniforms and different color schemes work for some schools and are a key part of recruiting pitches nowadays, we’re on record as saying there will be steep fines if some things ever change. Right there at the top of the list: Michigan’s famed winged helmets and the old-school uniforms of Alabama and Penn State. There’s something to be said for those classic looks, which have endured in an increasingly gimmicky age.
Protecting the view of the Rose Bowl
Some images are eternally burned in our minds. They’re like mental snapshots that are always there. In college football, nothing beats the view of the San Gabriel Mountains hovering in the backdrop of the Rose Bowl. It’s truly spectacular, even more so as the sun is setting on the West Coast. The Rose Bowl has long been one of the most iconic settings in all of sports, but consider this a decree that nothing -- expansion, renovation, absolutely nothing -- should ever block the view of the sun setting against the San Gabriel Mountains.
Nothing announces it’s game day on college campuses like a marching band. When you hear those first four notes from LSU’s Golden Band from Tigerland -- you know the ones: dah, dah, dah, duh -- it’s time to party on the Bayou. Or maybe it’s the Spirit of Troy marching through USC’s campus to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with fans festively following along. Fight on! And at Ohio State, the “dotting of the i” as the band spells out Ohio on the field just prior to the start of home games is as much a part of Buckeye lore as Woody Hayes and referring to Michigan as the “school up north.” Without marching bands, college football ceases to exist the way it was meant to be.
Whether you’re an animal lover or not, how cool is it to see live mascots on the sidelines during games and paraded (or even flown) around the field prior to games? Legend has it that Bear Bryant once scolded Mike the Tiger’s handler at LSU for getting Mike to growl just as the Alabama players passed by his cage. You’ve got Ralphie at Colorado, Bevo at Texas, Uga at Georgia, Smokey at Tennessee, Traveler at USC and the War Eagle making its pregame flight at Jordan-Hare Stadium. As long as we don’t have to worry about running into any live alligators at the Swamp, live mascots are a definite keeper.
The traditional home-and-home series
The rage now is to play marquee neutral-site games, mostly at NFL stadiums. It makes sense (and cents), especially when you size up the enormous payouts. And if it creates more attractive nonconference matchups, that’s a good thing now that we’re in the playoff era. That said, we can’t ever get away from the home-and-home series in college football. They’re part of the sport’s fabric. The Alabama-USC game in 2016 in Arlington, Texas, is one we’re all anticipating. But it wouldn’t compare to Alabama traveling out West to play USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum one year and USC returning the trip and playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium the next. Playing real road games in opposing stadiums can’t ever become obsolete.
Don't mess with the clock
Rules in college football come and go. We all know that. Heck, it wasn’t too long ago that games ended in ties. But one of the rules that sets the college game apart from the pro game is the game clock stopping on made first downs until the officials can reset the chains. With all the recent discussion about the faster pace of play in today’s game, there were some rumblings that maybe the college game should go the route of the NFL and keep the clock running on made first downs. Talk about a massive mistake. Thrilling comebacks are synonymous with college football, and even with no timeouts remaining, teams always have a chance to claw back in the fourth quarter as long as the rule stays the way it is.
Clemson players touching Howard’s Rock
Look around the college football landscape, and there are some great entrances by teams into their stadiums. But the Clemson players rubbing Howard’s Rock and then charging down the hill at Death Valley is electrifying, and if you’ve ever been there to witness it, you’d know that it’s one of those traditions that will never get old and never go away.
The appeal of walk-ons
Fans are naturally going to be giddy over the five-star prospects and all-conference players destined for NFL careers, but the guy who was a solid high school football player and is paying his own way through school while majoring in economics will always have a place in college football. Maybe he’s a long-snapper. Maybe he’s a whirling dervish on special teams. Maybe he’s a glorified tackling dummy on the scout team. But he gets to wear a jersey and is part of the team. Everyone gets a shot in college football, even if it’s a long shot.
5dJake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon