So, who's excited for the big game?
Naturally, we all are, right? But if you're like me -- and if you've clicked your way into this section of ESPN.com in February, you most definitely are -- then yeah, you're enthused for Super Bowl 50, but truthfully you wish it was an actual bowl game. One of the several dozen not titled super.
You know ... college football?
For real college football fans, the Super Bowl is nice because it gives us something to do between national signing day and the start of spring practice. To us, Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning is more Auburn vs. Tennessee than it is Carolina vs. Denver. To us, real Thursday Night Football is Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech, not Titans vs. Colts. And to us, Sunday is truly a day of rest ... from the bazillion games we watched on Saturday.
Yes, the NFL is the big boy on the block. Yes, "the shield" represents the ruling class of American sports. But sorry, college football is better. It just is. How? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning (no relation to Jake Browning, I assume) once said, let me count the ways.
1. College football has something for everyone, not the same thing for everyone
From uniforms to stadiums to personalities, college football is a smorgasbord. That translates to the field, too. On any given Saturday, you can flip through the channels and see a dozen different games with a dozen different offenses -- triple options and spreads, the Pistol and the Power I, wishbones and flexbones, and yes, even pro-style. On any given Sunday, you can see the latest variation of the West Coast offense and the latest variation of the West Coast offense and the latest variation of the West Coast offense. There are different terms for what NFL teams do with the football, but during the current era, nearly every single description ends with "... hybrid with a zone-blocking scheme."
2. College coaches come from anywhere and everywhere, not a little three-branch tree
The biggest reason for the kaleidoscope of offensive (and, to be fair, defensive) game plans is that the men drawing up those plans are a vastly varied bunch. The college coaching tree sprouts new branches all the time and reaches back through multiple generations. Meanwhile, the NFL largely recycles the same few dozen coaches through its head jobs. An outstanding recent interactive study by The Wall Street Journal boiled the current 32 NFL head coaches down to three coaching trees. Whenever someone from outside that club forces their way into the fold and tries to bring in some new ideas, they are treated like the new kid looking for a seat in the school cafeteria. See: Kelly, Chip. On that WSJ chart, Kelly's dot is located literally out of the loop.
3. Marching bands
I, mean, c'mon, y'all. Baltimore and Washington? That's it?
4. Gambling is a part of the game, but not PART OF THE GAME
Spend a weekend in Vegas during football season and on Saturday, you'll see people throwing down their tickets and cursing when their pick doesn't cover the spread. On Sunday, that same guy will run screaming out of the casino into traffic. This applies to fantasy football as well, which mounted an aggressive offensive into the college football landscape last season, but failed to find a fraction of the traction that it has in the pros, where the excitement of people pulling for their fake teams has started to trump that of people pulling for their actual teams.
5. College overtime rules are better
College overtime isn't perfect, but it is a thrill a second. NFL overtime takes as long to explain as it does to play, and the team that wins the coin toss still has a gigantic advantage.
6. Tailgating on campus
College tailgating is gorgeous. The Grove, The Farm, the Vol Navy, the boat slips at Baylor -- the list goes on and on. I've tailgated at a half-dozen NFL venues, and four of those tailgates took place in warehouse parking lots.
7. Alma mater > W-2
Ask any NFL player what they miss most about college and they're nearly all give the same answer: They miss the constant sense of team, the allegiance to the colors and the guys in the locker room. That exists on some level in the pros, but if I had a dollar for every time an NFL player has said to me, "This is a job, it's more about the paycheck than anything else," then I would have a paycheck as big as theirs. The Panthers have had a college-like locker-room vibe this season, but the reason that kind of atmosphere is a big story when it does happen is that it doesn't happen very often.
8. College knows what a catch is
Has the NFL figured that out yet? No? I didn't think so.
9. Pausing the clock for first downs = unforgettable finishes
As the clock nears 00:00 at the end of each half, college quarterbacks are given multiple ways to stop the clock, most notably the pause to move the chains that comes with a first down. That adds post-two-minute-warning drama that simply doesn't exist in the pros. Think about all the wild finishes in humungous college football games this year alone. It was more than the NFL produces in multiple seasons.
10. Student sections > corporate boxes
There's a lot to love about billion-dollar pro-football palaces such as the Jerry Dome and MetLife Stadium, but only if you can afford to go. Sure, the bigger college stadiums do all they can to cater to the biggest donors, but there's still always room the little folks. I would rather see freshmen with their faces painted and frat guys in surrender cobras any day rather than gratuitous NFL shots of the rich gray-haired owner in his end zone penthouse flanked by Hollywood types and his "niece." This weekend's Super Bowl attendees will be section after section of sales reps and sponsor types in the middle of meet-and-greets, all checking their phones more than they're watching the game. The crowd at the College Football Playoff National Championship was pure crimson and orange. Actual fans of the actual teams in the big game! What a concept!
11. Shaky special teams trump robotronic special teams
Kickers that miss so little that the league had to move PATs back? Punters that never shank? Only six kickoffs returned for TDs during the entire regular season? What's special about that?
12. Bad teams don't get a shot to win it all
You think a .500 college team earning a mid-December midweek bowl berth is a tragedy? Fine, but winning the Somethingorother.com Bowl won't affect the national championship picture. But what about a .500 NFL team winning their division? They have a 1-in-12 shot at making the Super Bowl! In 2010, a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team not only made the playoffs, they also won a game. One year ago, a 7-8-1 Panthers team won a postseason game. The 2011 Broncos were 8-8 and won a first-round game. This isn't a short list. And that's bad.
Honestly, I'm making myself stop at a dozen. The list of reasons to prefer college football could go on and on. I'll take NCAA rules nonsense over Deflategate, baton twirlers over dance teams, and any single Mike Gundy press conference over an entire career of Bill Belichick microphone sessions. But now that we've sufficiently angered the pro football crowd (for such a powerful group, they're a sensitive bunch, aren't they?), let's get on with our February edition of Flipping The Field.
Credit where credit is due after the college credits are done. Speaking of the pros, my favorite aspect of the Senior Bowl is that gives a huge pre-NFL combine boost to college studs who played at places that likely drew only a tiny handful of NFL scouts (if any at all) to their games. Each year, the scouts on hand for the weeklong practice sessions in Mobile, Alabama, vote for the most impressive, hardest-working players at each position. Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard was voted top wide receiver and Alabama's Reggie Ragland was named top linebacker. Past that, it was a list that included players from a large swath of schools off the Power 5 beaten path, including Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State), Kenneth Dixon (RB, Louisiana Tech), Jason Spriggs (OL, Indiana), Noah Spence (DL, Eastern Kentucky), Harlan Miller (DB, SE Louisiana), and long snapper Jeff Overbaugh (specialist, San Diego State). An NFL scout texted me Friday night gushing over Spence: "Dude has TNT in his shoez. Explodes off the line!" Not to brag, but if you'd been a regular reader of Flipping The Field last fall, you would've already learned about most of those guys through our weekly "Guy You Should Know About But Probably Don't" award. OK, you got me: That actually was bragging.
Hoops, there it is. Props to the folks who organized this past weekend's Big 12-SEC Challenge, which brought a March-like atmosphere to college basketball over the final weekend of January. Anytime you have Texas A&M breaking out the "S-E-C!" chant at a basketball game, you know you've sparked something. So why not do the same during football season? Imagine a massive cross-conference showdown played out on a single Saturday at on-campus sites: Oklahoma vs. Alabama, Oklahoma State vs. Florida, TCU vs. LSU, Baylor vs. Tennessee ... Texas vs. Texas A&M! Honestly, you could take your pick as to which two Power 5 conferences would clash. Outside of ACC vs. SEC, who already have a slew of natural rivalries and bowl matchups, one weekend of this would break the wow meter.
"We're going streaking!" National signing day is Wednesday and I'm headed to Tallahassee to report on the goings-on at Florida State during our all-day coverage on ESPNU and ESPN2 (read all the details here). The Seminoles are currently expected to bring in the 4th-ranked class, with an outside shot at jumping to No. 1. Barring a disaster, FSU should bring in its eighth straight top-10 class. That streak is second only to Alabama, which, if their current ranking of 10th holds up, would be celebrating their ninth consecutive top-10 haul. Jimbo Fisher's road warriors should also be tops in recruiting among all ACC schools for the seventh straight year, despite Clemson's strengthening efforts and arrival onto the national stage.
"Get in the car, Frank..." The Big 12 has developed a bit of a recruiting problem, which Jake Trotter addressed last week. More specifically, it has a Texas problem, losing multi-star recruits to raiders from the SEC, Big Ten and the west coast. But no one has a bigger Texas problem than Texas itself. As of Monday, ESPNU has the Longhorns' class ranked 31st in the nation and (deep breath) fifth in the state, trailing Baylor, A&M, TCU and Houston. From 2006-2012, Texas posted six top-five classes and never dropped lower than 10th. Over the last three years, they've finished 16th, 16th and 9th in class rankings. From 2006-15, they never finished lower than first or second in the Big 12. Headed into Wednesday, they're fighting Texas Tech for fourth.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can recruit. One key to luring Lone Star State talent to your Lone Star State college would appear to be hiring a Lone Star State high school coach to join your staff. No one knows Texas high school football like our own Sam Khan Jr., and he examined that advantage for schools such as, well, all of those programs we just listed as topping the Horns in in-state 'crootin'. You can read Sam's breakdown here. But honestly, didn't we learn about this several years ago when Texas Methodist hired coach Eric Taylor away from Dillon High?
Signing day 101. For some -- OK, many -- recruiting isn't really their thing. At best, it's a bit of confusing mystery. I'll admit that I might be one of those people. But I don't need to totally understand it all because I have Tom Luginbill's number on speed dial. I'm guessing you don't, so you should check out Adam Rittenberg's great Sunday piece on why recruiting is, rightfully, a really big deal. You can read it here. The stat that jumped out at me: Of the top 50 ranked players from national signing day 2015, a whopping 42 received playing time in the fall and two were key starters in the national championship game.
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) January 25, 2016
The Dab isn't done? If you thought the dancing coach fad we followed all fall would end with the season, you underestimated the lengths to which those coaches will go to land a prep star. Right, Nick Saban?.
Better than "Grease: Live." Coaches are better coaches than their players, but the players will always be better dancers than their coaches. See: Baker Mayfield lip-syncing Katy Perry for a charity fundraiser at Norman High School.
Speaking of live dramatic performances... Is Missouri football actually a really elaborate telenovela and we just haven't figured that out yet?
Extra Point: You've likely heard all about the Battle At Bristol, the Week 2 matchup between Tennessee and Virginia Tech that will be played in the infield of the Bristol Motor Speedway, a NASCAR venue that seats 155,000. But you may have missed last week's announcement that a second game will be played at the racetrack. On Sept. 17, one week after the battle, local program East Tennessee State will host Western Carolina at the place racing fans call Thunder Valley. ETSU shuttered its football program in 2003, but last season revived the team and this year will return to play in its old league, the Southern Conference. It's a good move for the speedway, as the FCS matchup will be able to reuse the massive renovations that the speedway will have installed for the bigger game. It's an even better move for the Buccaneers, who are currently playing at nearby Science Hill High School while their new on-campus stadium is under construction, slated for a 2017 debut. Yes, that's the same Science Hill where Steve Spurrier once played quarterback. And yes, this is the same ETSU where Phillip Fulmer has served as an adviser as they've gotten back into the game. So, if the racetrack was considering having grand marshals for the game, just saying...