The 10 Most Underrated Things About College Football

From fight songs to tailgate scenes, everything that makes college great

Oct. 5, 2007

College Football Preview: Week 6

> The Red Zone  |  Tape It Up  |  Strike The Pose  |  Breaking The Code
> B.J.: Lessons For Professors  |  Amsinger: Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Questions  |  Shake-Up Saturday
> Braff: Some Upsets Not So Surprising  |  Hart: Making Sense - And A Ballot - Out Of It All
> Trev: Don't Hate On South Florida  |  LSU The Weekend Pick   |  Blackburn: Rivalry Seeing Red
> Caparell: Polled Over  |  Crystal Ball: Weekend Predictions   |   B.J.: Quit Spinning, Texas
> Sorenson: 10 Most Underrated Things About College Football  |  Caparell: Meyer’s Seen This Before

By Eric Sorenson

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Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to, covering football, basketball & baseball. E-mail here!

1. Experience. Experience. Experience.

I've harped on this before, but if the last few years have shown us anything, it's that college football is a junior-senior game. That kind of experience is what wins championships. Last year, Florida's defense had eight starters that were either seniors or juniors that went pro after the season. Go ahead, start all the freshmen/former high school All-Americans you want. All that does is tell me you're going to be great one game, then mentally crumble the next. The days of Jamelle Holieway leading a team to the national championship seem like they're farther and farther in the rear-view mirror.




2. An electrified home crowd

Been to The Swamp? Or Autzen Stadium? Or Tiger Stadium at night? Or the Carrier Dome (when Syracuse was good)? These places, more than many others, get Who-concert loud and can energize a team like mad. In Kansas State's loss at Auburn, the Wildcats were in control the whole game long, until the frenzied fans got amped up and changed the game. Quentin Groves and his defensive mates looked like a boulder rolling downhill as they teed off on K-State QB Josh Freeman.


3. Travel

In conjunction with point No. 2, it gets even tougher when a large group of college kids have to load up a bus, then get on a plane, then get on another bus, withstand the cramps from small seats, get into the hotel and then try to get to sleep in a strange bed. Not to mention eating strange food, going into strange environments and getting dressed in a strange locker room. Athletes are normally creatures of habit. True road warriors have a thousand distractions to work through, and that's why it's so tough for college kids to win on the road. That rugged road increases to a 40 percent grade if you're a No. 1-ranked team with a target on your back.


4. Special teams

Especially early in the season, games are sometimes decided primarily because of the kicking game. You hear coaches say they "emphasize special teams" all the time. But do they really? Just last week we saw what Kansas State did to Texas in the kicking game, getting two touchdowns on returns. And it also matters WHO you put in on the special teams. I remember a couple of years ago Nebraska was using backup linebackers, fullbacks and safeties on their punt return and kickoff return teams, only to be burned twice against Notre Dame. The next week, NU put their best athletes, mostly starters, into the kicking game and it never became an issue again that season.


5. Keeping an even keel

Needless to say, 18-to-22 year olds can be over-emotional. But every coach I've ever talked to has said you can't treat the season like a roller coaster. One of the things Pete Carroll has said repeatedly is how his teams play with emotion, but approach each game like it's another piece of business. It's a long season and every team trying to play for the national title can't afford to get too high, or too low. A big, emotional win one week is just the trap door for an upset the next. I think Al Onofrio's 1976 Missouri team is the best example of this. His Tigers beat four top 10 teams on the road that season, but went just 6-5 overall. Onofrio lamented years later that his team was a psychological wreck that year, sky-high one week and pancake-flat the next.


6. Fight songs

(Maybe this should be No. 1 on the list...) One of the things that makes college football unique from any other sport in this world is the school fight song played by the marching band. Forget your piped-in rock or rap music played over the P.A. Give me the opening chords of "Hold That Tiger" by the LSU band when the third quarter comes to an end. Give me the greatest fight songs in the world - either Notre Dame's, Michigan's or USC's (pick one, I love them equally). Don't tell me that The Rolling Stone's "Start Me Up" or the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get it Started" is going to pump a crowd up and have them clapping along with them. Strike up the band, people!


7. Assistant coaches

Some head coaches are great defensive gurus and some are great offensive minds. And some are like great CEOs. You just can't be all things to every facet of football. Good coaches can coach. But great coaches hire great assistants. For instance, I've never thought Mack Brown was a coach you'd put in the "great" category. But he's made some of the most astute hires in recent memory. Same goes with Les Miles at LSU, look at his defensive mastermind, Bo Pelini, possibly the best D-coordinator in college football. And of course, I have yet to touch on the fact that bringing in an assistant that is a gifted recruiter is the gold standard of assistant hirings.


"Look at Mack Brown at Texas. For all the recruits he can bring in, he's smart enough to hire a Gene Chizik as his defensive coordinator or a Greg Davis as offensive coordinator who can X-and-O with the best of them. The great coaches are the guys who can coach coaches." - Terry Bowden.


8. Great players come from schools of all sizes

Two weeks ago, a receiver by the name of Nate Jackson scored a touchdown for the Denver Broncos. Where did Jackson go to school? Tiny Division III Menlo College (the smallest school in the NCAA system). Yes, USC or Florida or Texas may load up on a roster full of five-star recruits, but you have to remember that teenagers blossom at different rates. So that's why a Nate Jackson, or the Saints' Marques Colston (Hofstra), or the Vikings All-Pro Center Matt Birk (Harvard) or a Steve McNair (Alcorn State) can emerge undetected out of high school. So feel free to check out a smaller college game near you. Who knows? Another Walter Payton (Jackson State) or Dave Kreig (Milton College) could be scoring touchdowns.


9. Preseason polls

Carter Blackburn brought up an interesting point the other day in the Daily Buzz. In the nine years of the BCS, only twice did a team from outside of the preseason Top 10 win the national title, Oklahoma in 2000 and Florida last year. And both of those teams carry big cache in name value. Do you think a South Florida or a TCU or even a Boise State could really win a national title coming from outside the Top 10? Or worse yet, like Florida, win a title with a loss? Plus, preseason polls are also the reason a team like Texas is still ranked above Kansas State, despite losing to them.  Bad as they are, preseason polls carry more weight than they are given credit for.


10. The college football experience

Ever heard of a pro team holding a pep rally by the light of a giant bonfire the night before a game? Isn't it cool when a row of college frat guys paints their faces and spells out the school name on their chests? Isn't it eerie when a 40-year-old man at a pro game does that and has a beer gut the size of Montana? Isn't it cool when you can go to a tree-lined college campus and hold a tailgate cookout with the hallowed halls of your alma mater as a backdrop? Isn't it sad to have to tailgate amongst the broken glass of a cement parking lot outside of a corporate-named pro stadium? I could go on, but 'nuf said.


Next week: The 10 Most Overrated Things About College Football