Great Debate: Pageantry puts college football no. 1

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

As the replay rolled showing Appalachian State defensive back Corey Lynch block Michigan’s last gasp field goal attempt, collect the loose ball, frantically race nearly the length of the field, get ridden down by a Michigan player as time expired and then get piled on by just about every Mountaineer in uniform, I wondered: How much more awesome could college football be?

I’m sure Lynch was thinking just about the same thing as he smiled at the bottom of the human heap of 40 teammates crushing him: Does it get any better than this?

The Mountaineers’ epic 34-32 upset of Michigan — the first victory for a Football Championship Subdivision team over a division 1A school ranked in the Associated Press top 25 — proved that anything can happen in college football, making it far better than the NFL.

Sure, the NFL has the biggest, fastest, strongest players and they play at the highest level.

But the beauty of college football is not nestled in perfect hitch routes or immaculate secondary coverages: in fact it’s just the opposite.

College football is spectacular for its imperfections.

The sport features young men learning the game and discovering who they are. On any given play, any player can bolt 75 yards for a touchdown. Defenders wander out of position and quarterbacks misread coverages, meaning the big play is always ready to explode.

The fact that college players are mistake-prone makes for exciting plays, whether by broken tackles or fumbles.

Formations and game plans vary drastically from one team to the next, whereas the NFL is a copy cat league.

Teams employ the dangerous option attack, the classic Wing-T formation and the calculated trick play.

History is always waiting just a play away.

Boise State’s statue of liberty, Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary and California’s improbable kick return for the win with the Stanford band on the field all exude the artistry of college football.

More often in college football than on any other level, the fan is left with mouth agape, eyes bulged and heart stopped and wondering: What the?did that?what just?HOLY CRAP!

This spontaneous bliss keeps stands full and TV’s tuned for the entire football season full of tradition.

As new players come and go through college football programs, tradition always stays. The players may change, but the team history always remains strong.

From painting the Golden Dome helmets at Notre Dame to touching Howard’s Rock and running down the hill at Clemson to Yell Practice at Texas A&M, tradition is the life-blood of the game.

The players understand that this school is their alma mater for the rest of their lives. In the NFL, players change loyalty with every change in their employer.

The players in college do change, but for all the right reasons. Some players move on to other careers and others break through to the NFL. But either way, new blood walks into the locker room each season giving every team another season to look forward to.

And the rivalries? They are always strong and always fierce. Army-Navy, Texas-Oklahoma, Utah-BYU, Ohio State-Michigan and Alabama-Auburn can set fire to a state, region or entire religion.

I’ve never seen a Redskins-Cowboys game do that.

An 0-10 team can gain momentum for next year on just one victory over that hated rival.

What may be the most hated part of college football can also be the best part: it doesn’t always get settled on the field.

In the NFL, it seems as though every team plays every team. And even if two teams don’t meet, it’s because their meeting wouldn’t make a difference in the end result — thanks to the playoffs.

In college, there is a postseason, but it’s decided by “experts” and panelists. Polls and bowls are all the talk from November to January. This system makes every game meaningful.

No matter what happens, there is always a team that feels it’s on the outside looking in with its fans crying foul and its vengefulness burning deep.

Even if a plus-one format or playoff system were introduced, teams would argue they deserved to be involved when their season ended.

At the end of the day, the NFL can keep its top athletes and its lopsided Super Bowls. I’m sticking to the pageantry, passion and imperfection of the college game.

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