I love college football. The game action between the top teams is tremendous. The pageantry blows the No Fun League out of the water. The fight songs. The cheerleaders. The crazy college kids. What can be more fun than a Saturday during college football season? You’ve got games non-stop from noon til past midnight.
Unfortunately, not everybody agrees with me. In fact, the excess of college football is often what drives people away. It’s too much. Too many teams. Too many games. Too much to keep track of. That’s why I’m going to make it easier. In today’s installment of College Football For The Casual Fan, I’m going to let you know which teams you need to care about. There are 128 colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision. That’s a lot, I get it. That’s why I’m trimming it down to the schools you need to know and/or care about.
First, the SEC!
Teams You Need To Know: Well obviously there’s Alabama. They usually win the national title these days. LSU is their main foil in recent years, and you’re going to want to pay attention to their coach, Les Miles. He’s an interesting cat. Really, you’re going to want to know most of the SEC West teams because they’re the ones you’ll see at 3:30 PM Saturday on CBS, the one game you need to watch if you’re going to watch any. The best teams in the SEC, Uncle Verne, Allie LaForce & the other guy. Good times. Ole Miss has been pretty good lately. Tennessee seems to be on the verge of big things this season, and their games are usually fun to watch because they’ll get a big lead & blow it. Georgia usually has top NFL prospects and running backs worth watching.
Brand Names That Are Kinda There: Auburn is Alabama’s in-state rival and the team they’ll play at the end of the regular season in the Iron Bowl. Other than that they’re kind of in a down period so you can ignore them. Florida has just kind of been there since Tim Tebow left and they might get ranked occasionally, but they won’t threaten for anything serious. Texas A&M hasn’t been as fun without Johnny Manziel, but their brand name has definitely improved since leaving the other Texas schools behind and going SEC. Arkansas will give the good teams a good fight.
Teams to Forget: Dak Prescott isn’t at Mississippi State anymore, so we can ignore them. South Carolina is a bit of a mess right now. Kentucky, Missouri & Vanderbilt are barely SEC.
Let’s go to the Midwest & the Big 10! Which has 14 teams. Don’t ask.
Teams You Need To Know: Well, Ohio State & Michigan have seemingly taken turns dominating this conference since 1905, so they’re a good place to start. Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes in a good place & Jim Harbaugh is doing Jim Harbaugh things so you always have to keep an eye on that. Michigan State usually gets the third wheel treatment but they’re always dangerous.
Teams On The Fringe: Iowa is highly ranked, but their games are pretty boring so I can’t recommend them. Wisconsin seems to be in store for a down year for them, but will still be a tough out. Northwestern is kind of fun because it’s a smart people school playing football.
Brand Names That Are Kind Of There: Nebraska hasn’t been the same since leaving the Big XII. They got tons of money to do so, but their football program got the reverse effect from the Big 10 that Texas A&M’s got from the SEC. A&M lost their rivals, but leapfrogged them in the process. Nebraska lost their rivals and gained nothing. Except that cash. Penn State…well, they’re kind of decent but we all know why their brand isn’t what it used to be and I’ll just leave it at that because I don’t want the Paterno Truthers yelling at me.
Teams To Forget: Maryland & Rutgers will probably never matter in this conference. Indiana & Purdue are basketball schools. Minnesota is really cold & Illinois has Lovie Smith.
Let’s go….west? Sure, why not! Pac 12 it is! And they have 12 teams.
Teams You Need To Know: OK, let’s be honest. If you’re like me and living in the only time zone that matters: Eastern, you’re not going to be able to watch most Pac 12 games. They’re on past our bedtime, especially if we’ve been watching college football since noon. So we have to be stingy with Pac 12 teams. Oregon is usually worth watching because they score a ton of points and offense is fun. Stanford has been really good even after Jim Harbaugh left, and I briefly led a campaign to get them into the College Football Playoff until I was reminded that they had lost two games earlier in the season. See, that sort of thing happens when you live out East, you forget how many games these West Coast teams lose. Of course there’s the LA teams, and both UCLA & USC are supposed to be good this year.
Teams On The Fringe: Washington is getting some hype this year, but it’s been so long since they’ve been good that I need to see them do something first. They haven’t beaten Oregon since Dustin James started writing for 411mania. Washington State has Mike Leach, and there are few things more entertaining than Mike Leach’s offenses. Utah should be good, but it’s really tough to get worked up about the Utes.
Teams To Forget: Colorado…I’m not 100% sure they’ve won a game in this conference. Arizona & Arizona State aren’t bad, they’re just kind of there. Cal won the first game of the season but I don’t see them doing much else of note. Oregon State is the favorite team of two people I’ve known in my life, and I’m pretty sure for both of them it was because their nickname is the “Beavers”. I don’t seem to meet very mature people.
Time to hit the Big XII, which currently has 10 teams. I’m hoping they admit pretty much everybody that’s trying to join and we end up with a Big 22 or something completely ridiculous.
Teams You Need To Know: Oklahoma is always in the mix and they’re supposed to be really good. We’ll find out really early since they’re playing Houston & Ohio State in the first three weeks of the season. TCU was originally kept out of the conference back in the Big 8/Southwest merger, but they’ve been a power ever since they were let in. Oklahoma State has been rock solid in the Mike Gundy Era, and he still has the best college football coach press conference of all time to his credit.
Brand Names That Are Kind Of There: Good ol’ Texas. They got more money than everybody else. Charlie Strong’s a damn good football coach. And it might be on the verge of clicking. But will they give him enough time? You’d think so, Mack Brown was there for like thirty years. But…I dunno man.
Teams To Forget: Baylor had a few good years with Art Briles, but I’d say that’s just about over. West Virginia just doesn’t fit with these schools in any way. Kansas State is always that forgettable decent with 105 year old Bill Snyder coaching. Texas Tech has a model coaching them. Kansas is always terrible. Iowa State is always there.
And let’s head back home to the Atlantic Coast!
Teams You Need To Know: Apparently the trendy thing to do amongst college football experts right now is to put both Clemson & Florida State in the College Football Playoff. I’m not even sure there’s a possibility that could happen since they’re both in the same ACC division, but these teams are usually good and both look like they’re going to be really good this year. As a Louisville fan this terrifies me.
Teams On The Fringe: That’s where I’m putting Louisville. We’re getting a little bit of hype and Lamar Jackson is one of those Manziel-type QBs that is just a hell of a lot of fun to watch, but I can’t see the Cards contending for anything with the two Goliaths in our division. North Carolina is the favorite in the other division and could be good, but are a level down from FSU & Clemson. Pitt gets lost in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s professional teams but is usually a dangerous team. Virginia Tech seems on the verge of big things again but may be a year or two away. NC State never wins anything significant but is always a tough out.
Brand Name That’s Kind Of There But Is On The Rebound: Miami might be heading back on the right track now that they’ve hired Mark Richt. I feel like he didn’t get enough credit for doing what he did at Georgia. And I feel like they might be on the rise. But I don’t want to admit it.
Teams To Forget: Syracuse & Boston College have both seen better days. Duke had a few good seasons but that seems to be on a downward course. Virginia has been a tough opponent for Louisville but not much else. Georgia Tech & Wake Forest are ultimately forgettable.
And now, the independents!
Teams You Need To Know: Notre Dame. You have to keep up with them because they’re tradition and all over NBC. They’re actually pretty good too and usually play good teams.
Teams To Forget: Army hasn’t beaten Navy since 9/11. BYU lost their coach to freaking Virginia. Massachusetts wasn’t even good enough for the MAC.
Now, once you get out of the Power 5 conferences, there’s a Group of 5 conferences that involve smaller schools that don’t matter as much. I know that sounds mean, but as a graduate of a Power 5 school, I don’t care. Most of these schools are trying to get into the Big XII so they will matter again, but until then I will dismiss all of them except for two schools: Houston & Boise State. Those teams might pop up as CFP crashers if things break the right way. Everybody else, you can go ahead and ignore. I do enjoy a good MAC game on Tuesday or Wednesday night and you might too, but those teams aren’t going to matter in the long run.
And there you have it! Now doesn’t it look easy to follow college football?