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August 31, 2011
The first four days of the NCAA Tournament are the best days in sports. Nothing else is close. I've argued repeatedly that anyone who is forced to work on that first Thursday and Friday needs to find a new job.
But as far as everything else, nothing quite matches the first weekend of college football.
Across the country, 119 teams are ready to start a run to New Orleans on January 9th, 2012. To be fair, probably no more than about 19 of them have any sort of a chance to actually win the national championship. But today, coaches, fans and players are selling themselves on the belief they've got a shot. Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
By the end of the weekend, many of those teams will have lost their shots to win the whole thing. Boise State knows if it loses to Georgia, the dream is dashed out of the gate. The same is likely true for the Bulldogs if they can't knock off the sport's perennial party crasher. Oregon and LSU are both ranked in the top five. One will lose. Title hopes are gone. Elsewhere, some underdog is going to go all Appalachian State and knock off one of those teams that thinks it can win them all.
The guide on my satellite only goes a week into the future. So I had to wait until Sunday morning to scroll through all the ESPN and Fox Channels, surf through the networks and FX and Versus and all the rest to figure out which games I was recording. I'm starting now to formulate my plan for Saturday. What time will I be done covering Mizzou and which games will I be able to watch live (for the record, the biggest difference between fans and the media is that we love it when games kick off at 11 a.m. No deadline pressure and an ability to actually see some football on TV)?
I'll watch Murray State and Louisville for a little bit at 4 o'clock on Thursday. Why? Because it's the first game of the year. The keg is tapped on the 2011 season in Louisville. And I want to be there for the first drink. At six, I'll flip over to Missippi State-Memphis because it will be a better game and I'll keep an eye on Kentucky and Western Kentucky. The first game I actually really care about is Friday night and I'll watch TCU-Baylor as long as it's competitive. Saturday, I'll never see a commercial. Every time one hits, I'll find another game that's still going. Sunday, I'll catch up watching some of the games I DVR'd the day before. Texas A&M plays SMU on Sunday night and the post-Shapiro Bombshell Era kicks off for Miami against Maryland on Monday. After that, I'll only have to wait three days for another game. What a beautiful thing.
In the vast majority of these games, I could not care any less who actually wins. It doesn't matter to me. The college football season is a three-and-a-half month long novel. The next five days are simply the first chapter. It's not a book that gives you 90 pages of background before getting to the good stuff. This is the one that starts off with a bang right away.
There is no NFL. I don't watch NASCAR. The golf majors are done. The pennant races in baseball are over. College football has the stage all to itself this weekend.
The opening act is just a prelude to the best regular season in all of sports. EVERY game matters. EVERY week, someone loses a shot to win the national title. If enough teams lose that chance, some get it back later in the year. National pundits all over are picking their "Game of the Year" and their national champion. Maybe they'll be right. More likely, they won't. Perhaps Oklahoma-A&M is the game that decides the Big 12 title. But maybe not. Maybe it's Oklahoma State-Mizzou. Maybe it's Oklahoma-Texas. Hell, for all I know, maybe it's Baylor-Kansas State. Auburn wasn't on anyone's radar last year. In 2007, nobody thought we'd open the final weekend of the season with Missouri and West Virginia positioned to meet for the national title. It's unpredictable and that's why we love it.
Like I said, the first weekend of the Big Dance is the best four days in sports. But college football lasts almost four months. And every single week is like those four days. College football is back. What a wonderful, wonderful thing.
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