NCF Nation: love 022509

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Today we consider love and hate across college football. There's plenty of both.

As for the Pac-10, there's a lot more love, so that's where we start.

1. Big city football: Pac-10 trips include San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix. That means things to do, people to see and places to eat and drink. Despite all that, you still find a great college atmosphere around the individual schools. And if you need a dose of "college town," welcome to Pullman, Eugene and Corvallis.

2. The national obsession with USC: UCLA fans hate USC. And the rest of the Pac-10 doesn't exactly love the Trojans, either. But there is this: Only Pac-10 teams beat USC. The Trojans have lost one nonconference game -- to Texas in the national title game after the 2005 season -- since Sept. 28, 2002. Deep down in places college football fans from other conferences don't talk about at parties -- you know, where they give honest assessments -- USC remains the nation's premier program. And that really, really bothers folks from other conferences.

3. Scenic stadiums: Sure, Washington went 0-12 last year, but is any scene better in college football than a sunny fall day in Seattle with glimmering Lake Washington and snowcapped mountains surrounding Husky Stadium? Perhaps it's better over in Berkeley inside Strawberry Canyon. Or, ahem, at the Rose Bowl as the sun sets behind the San Gabriel Mountains.

4. Offense: Sure, quarterback play dropped off in 2008, but the Pac-10 remains the conference of quarterbacks (see NFL rosters) and sophisticated offensive schemes -- whether that's the pro-style offense of USC or the spread-option of Oregon or Arizona's straight spread. Three yards and a cloud of dust? And a yawn. Not in the Pac-10.

5. Open programs; open coaches: With Steve Sarkisian replacing Tyrone Willingham at Washington, the Pac-10 now is the most open conference in terms of media and fan access in the nation. And, quick, who's the conference's grumpiest coach? When's the last time you saw a Pac-10 coach go ballistic over a fair question just to act like a bully? Let other conferences go into paranoid, lock-down mode -- closing practices and limiting player and coach access -- in the Pac-10 you're welcome any time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Granted, there's not much passion associated with SEC football.

Only joking, of course.

The theme of the day is love and hate, so I figured I'd take a shot at the five things I love about the SEC and the five things I hate about the SEC.

First, let's spread a little love, and then I'll turn hater in a post later on Wednesday:

The aura of the Bear: Bear Bryant has been dead for more than 25 years, but his spirit is alive and well at Alabama. Go to a game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Take a stroll through the Walk of Champions. Hang out in the Quad on football Saturdays. You'll feel it and see it everywhere -- from the sea of houndstooth caps, shirts and purses, to a recording of his voice being played on the JumboTron before the team races onto the field, to the reverent utterances of his name. Bryant remains the face of SEC football.

Tim Tebow's jump pass: You know it's coming. You can almost feel it once Florida gets close to the goal line. In many ways, it's become Tebow's signature play. He takes a step or two toward the line of scrimmage as if he's going to take off and run and then suddenly vaults into the air for a pass. He hit David Nelson for a touchdown on the jump pass in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game win over Oklahoma, and he debuted the play as a freshman in 2006 against LSU when he hit tight end Tate Casey for a touchdown. Fittingly, it was Tebow's first career touchdown pass. He's thrown 66 more since.

The first four notes of "Hold That Tiger": No matter where you are on LSU's campus, you sort of stop in your tracks when you hear those first four notes. It's the LSU band's way of letting you know that Saturday night at Tiger Stadium isn't too far away. Whether you're a die-hard LSU fan or a fan of another team, it's one of those pregame rituals in college football that will give you goosebumps. DAH-DANT-DA-DUM. Or better yet, go to LSUsports.com and click "Touchdown for LSU" (pregame).

Stone-cold defense: No other conference in the country consistently churns out the kind of suffocating defenses the SEC does year in and year out. Maybe that's why the SEC has won four of the last six BCS National Championships. It's been mentioned more than once that defense does indeed win championships. Take a look at the final total defensive numbers nationally from last season. Of the top 35 defenses, 10 of them belonged to SEC clubs. Alabama, Tennessee and Florida were all ranked in the top 10. There's more of that coming in 2009, too, with players like Eric Berry, Brandon Spikes, Rolando McClain, Malcolm Sheppard, Trevard Lindley, Jeff Owens, Jamar Chaney, Antonio Coleman, Greg Hardy, Myron Lewis, Chad Jones and Eric Norwood returning.

Sights and sounds of the Grove: Keep in mind that patience is required in getting there. The speed limit on Ole Miss' campus is just 18 mph (honoring the great Archie Manning). But it's worth the wait. There is no pregame atmosphere anywhere else in the country quite like the Grove. The coeds are stunning, and oftentimes it's difficult to tell the coeds from their mothers. The tailgating and ambiance are so inviting that they make the football game almost seem secondary. But not anymore. Thanks to Houston Nutt, Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster, Greg Hardy & Co., it's the best of both worlds. Who thinks the 2009 season might be a fun one at Ole Miss?

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

You'll see a lot of love/hate relationships here on ESPN.com's college football page today. So it's time to throw in my two cents. The Big East is a unique league, with many things to like and some things that are harder to embrace. Here are five things I love about the conference:

A real league race: Forget those phony-baloney conference championship games. The Big East and the Pac-10 are the only BCS leagues that play a true round-robin conference schedule, which is the best way to determine a champion. And since USC seems to lock up the Pac-10 by late October every year, the Big East has the best and most exciting conference race of the BCS leagues. It helps that conference officials wisely try to schedule what they think will be the most important games for the end of the season, leaving lots of suspense and intrigue throughout the fall. I'll take that anytime over some convoluted tiebreaker system that results in a lackluster conference title-game rematch on a neutral field.

Underdog spirit: The Big East is a weird amalgamation of teams. Syracuse and South Florida have about as much in common as a turtle and an elephant. But what binds the league together is an us-against-the-world mentality. Ever since 2005, when the Big East had to reformulate after the ACC raid, league members have withstood countless attacks on their worthiness to BCS access. What's resulted is that everyone in the conference roots for their league mates in nonconference games in a band-of-brothers way. That's fun to watch.

West Virginia fans' passion: Sure, a lot of Big East fan bases are passionate about their teams. But few match the level of intensity by the Mountaineers' backers. West Virginia is a small state with no pro teams, no other BCS conference programs and a fierce amount of pride. So just about everyone within the borders roots for the Old Gold and Blue and gets goosebumps when they play "Take Me Home, Country Roads" at Milan Puskar Stadium. Plenty of schools around the nation have loyal fans. Hardly any mean more to their state than the Mountaineers.

History being made: Big East teams weren't born yesterday, but sometimes it feels that way. South Florida and Connecticut were nothing before this decade, Cincinnati has really only been good for about the last five years and Louisville became relevant 20 years ago. So every week during the season, it seems like school records and milestones are being forged. That keeps things interesting, and it's an unusual experience to watch as a program literally writes its legacy in front of your eyes.

The media day clambake: This last one is for selfish reasons. Every year, the Big East throws an incredible bash on the night before its media day in scenic Newport, R.I. Attendees are treated to a lavish clambake complete with all-you-can-eat lobster. And it's not just ink-stained wretches gobbling up free food. All the coaches come to the party and bring a handful of their players, and they sit and mingle with everyone else under a big tent. To me, that shows the intimacy of this eight-team league. I can't imagine Nick Saban or Bob Stoops wearing lobster bibs and rubbing elbows with the common folk like that.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The theme of the day is things that we all enjoy and detest about our particular conferences and college football in general.

I'm no different than most as I have some rather specific likes and dislikes across the conference. Here are five things I love about the Big 12.

  • Big offenses: Sure, some people might think that watching Big 12 football is a little bit like observing Arena Football every week. But I enjoy the way spread offenses have dominated defenses over the last few seasons. I love 500-yard offensive games by teams. I even enjoy four-hour games. If fans travel long distances to watch games, I think they should be entertained. And they certainly have been in the Big 12. I can't think of a better brand of football than what has emerged with all of the conference's spread offenses the last few years. Who wouldn't want a 61-41 game over one that finishes 3-2 like my friends in the Southeastern Conference are sometimes subjected to? Not me.
  • Mike Leach's personality: The program that Leach has developed at Texas Tech is one of the most entertaining and intriguing anywhere across the country. His offensive philosophy has made him arguably the most significant figure in conference history because of how he has helped popularize the spread offense. But even more intriguing to me than all of that remains his quirky behavior. It always makes going to one of his news conferences something you look forward to -- mainly because you never know what you are going to get.
  • Crisp fall afternoons at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium: I can't think of a better atmosphere to watch a game than at the "Sea of Red" at Memorial Stadium for a Cornhuskers game. There's a palpable buzz that you can feel getting out of your car when you arrive to the stadium. And it only seems to get better the closer you get to the stadium. Shoot, I can almost smell the grilling sausages as I write this. The Cornhuskers' Tunnel Walk still is one of the most spectacular entrances in all of sports. And it still gives me goosebumps when I see how Nebraska fans applaud for both teams as they leave the field of play after a game.
  • Early-afternoon games at Kyle Field: The tradition of Texas A&M's setting and stadium are unmatched. I love how the student body stands during the game as a show of support. And the way those fans sway after the third quarter still almost gives me vertigo as I witness it from the press box. But I also enjoy getting done with my work in the early evening for the three-hour drive back home to San Antonio. Armed with a satellite radio in my car, I can think of nothing better than spending the evening listening to games from around the country to cap an enjoyable day of football. And the best part? It's getting to sleep in my own bed that night rather than staying in a hotel somewhere waiting for a pre-dawn flight back home the following morning.
  • Animal mascots: There's something neat about seeing tradition-steeped shows of support by animals across the Big 12. Whether it's Ralphie the Buffalo's headlong charge before Colorado games, Bevo watching placidly from the end zone at Texas' Memorial Stadium (watch where you step, though), the Baylor Bear prowling along the sidelines in Waco, the two ponies that power the Sooner Schooner or even Reveille the collie at Texas A&M games, there are a lot of cool symbols across the conference. Watching the Big 12 games would make Dr. Dolittle proud.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's a love-hate day here at ESPN.com, as my colleagues Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach wrote what they love and hate about college football.

The bloggers are taking it one step further -- five things we love and hate about the conferences we cover.

Let's start with the good stuff in the ACC:

1. Defense. The league has a reputation for it, and it's well-deserved. Watching players like BC linebacker Mark Herzlich and FSU defensive end Everette Brown never gets old. Unless, of course, you're the opposing quarterback.

2. The travel. You'll never hear me complain about a trip to Miami, and it's hard to beat the convenience of being able to drive through the Carolinas and hit almost half the conference in a matter of days. (Plus, the ACC really knows how to host its football media days -- usually at some posh golf resort.)

3. I love Thursday night games in Lane Stadium (but hate trying to find a hotel for them). There's something special about this place on a Thursday night. "Enter Sandman" seems louder. The sense of urgency seems to last longer. It's prime-time college football.

4. The "chowda" in the press box at BC. It's tradition, it's local flavor, and it's easily one of the best pregame meals in the conference.

5. Listening to Bobby Bowden during the season on the weekly ACC teleconference. It's the one highlight of this otherwise dreary, mundane, two hours of dadgum coachspeak. Bowden always gives candid answers, great perspective, and almost always makes me laugh.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Love and hate are the themes of the day around these parts, so I figured I'd chime in about the Big Ten. There are many reasons why I love covering football in this conference, and a few things I'm not so crazy about.

Let's begin with five good things. 

Big stadiums -- Size matters in the Big Ten, which boasts three of the nation's four largest stadiums at Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. Ohio Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium are on the short list of toughest places to play, and other Big Ten venues (Kinnick Stadium, Spartan Stadium) add their own charm. The game-day experience is truly captured where Big Ten teams call home.

The Game (and other rivalries) -- The Big Ten lays claim to quite possibly the greatest rivalry in all of sports, between Ohio State and Michigan. No series has produced more colorful figures and memorable moments. The league also features exciting annual matchups like Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Ohio State and Minnesota-Wisconsin. At stake are coveted items like a bronzed pig, a giant ax, a brown jug and an ancient bucket.

Regent Street and the Beaver Stadium grounds -- They are two of the nation's prime tailgating spots, and they both belong to the Big Ten. Tailgating at Wisconsin or Penn State is an experience every college football fan should enjoy. You get beer and brats in Madison, and elaborate set-ups and daylong debauchery in State College. As a college football fan, you can't go wrong at either place. 

Legendary coaches -- The Big Ten has produced legendary coaches through the decades. From Fielding Yost and Bob Zuppke to Bernie Bierman and Fritz Crisler to Woody and Bo to Hayden Fry and Duffy Daugherty to Barry Alvarez and Jim Tressel, the Big Ten has been at the top of the coaching ranks. The arrival of Penn State's Joe Paterno in 1993 has only added to the league's rich coaching tradition. 

Night games in Columbus, Madison and State College -- Noon kickoffs are generally the norm in the Big Ten, which sort of blows but makes the rare night game all the more special. Ohio State will host only the ninth night game in team history this fall against USC, and the atmosphere will undoubtedly be electric. Same goes for any game under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium -- there were two last year -- and at Penn State, which thankfully welcomes night football more than any other Big Ten team. 

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