College Football Bachelorette
It happens every year, always right around the same time, when the summer fades to fall and Chicago weather gets as unpredictable as Issa's next blunder on "Insecure." I'll be busy checking the Bears' depth chart and planning early-morning tailgates at Soldier Field when I remember the other football season and descend into a funk. While friends and colleagues count down the days until college football begins, I scramble to cover for my complete and utter apathy.
Yep, I've got no team and -- until recently -- no interest in college football. My parents, both graduates of small liberal arts schools, didn't raise me with a Notre Dame pacifier in my mouth or dress me in a Clemson onesie on Saturday afternoons. My alma mater, Cornell University, has a football team, but the Ivy League is one of just three FCS conferences that don't take part in the annual NCAA Division I football championship, and the only league that doesn't participate in any postseason play at all. So you can see how I made it past the age of 30 without any interest in major college football.
My indifference was all well and good for a while; in fact, I kind of liked having my Saturdays free. But I've been feeling left out the past few seasons. My work assignments have gone from covering Chicago, where college football talk is limited, to gigs on national radio and TV shows, where I've been thrust into debates about Florida's best quarterback and Alabama's defense. Not only have I been forced to up my knowledge, I've also gotten a glimpse into all the fun I've been missing.
So I've decided it's time to take control of my college football destiny. It's never too late to fall in love with a team, and that's what I plan to do. I'm declaring myself the College Football Bachelorette, ready to be wooed by the best that the game has to offer. Over the course of this season, I'll take a group of 24 teams and whittle them down until I find my ideal squad. When two teams remain, I'll hit the road for "Fantasy Taildates" to get to know each one a little better. At the end, I'll pick a winner.
With no ties to anyone and every right to bandwagon, I'll get to make decisions based on where the good vibes take me. Cool mascot? I'm in. Baller alumni? Love that. Legendary game-day traditions? Sign me up. And I'll need you all to help me, too, by pumping the tires for your favorite squad. You can help me each week by answering questions and sending videos and photos that give me major CFB FOMO and make me want to rock your colors.
Let's do this, college football. I'm ready for love, and I'm here for the right reasons. Come season's end, we'll make this the most dramatic College GameDay ceremony ever.
After each round, I'll post about which teams got eliminated from the competition and why. Come back every week to check in on my progress and to see if your team is still in the running.
Dec. 6: The Reveal
It's time to find out who won my heart in the College Football Bachelorette! Watch to find out:
And here's Jim Harbaugh making it official:
Nov. 29: Fantasy Taildate Recap Team Visited: Michigan
Last week, when I was supposed to be announcing the winner of College Football Bachelorette, I was instead calling an audible to bring the Michigan Wolverines back into the race.
Which means while you all were dozing in and out of a tryptophan-induced slumber the day after Thanksgiving, I was hopping a flight up north to squeeze in a third and final Fantasy Taildate. Because of the last-minute nature of my trip, I traveled without a wingman, so Michigan didn't get quite the same treatment as Ohio State and Wisconsin, but I did my best to make the most of my limited time in Ann Arbor and enjoy one of the best rivalries in sports, OSU-Michigan.
I arrived in Detroit and drove the 45 minutes or so west, pedal to the metal, to get situated in time to do my radio show, "Izzy and Spain," live from my hotel room. I was hoping to grab dinner at the famous Zingerman's Deli, a UM hot spot since 1982, but I quickly discovered it closed right when my show ended. (I'm coming back for ya, "Leo's Friendly Lion," and I'm gonna put ya in my belly.)
With a long day of tailgating ahead and no one to hit the bars with, I had the "World Famous Bread Stix" from Pizza House delivered, per the recommendation of former on-campus tour guide Emma Sutherland, and called it a night. No chance to relive the glory days at college bars like I did in Columbus and Madison, so I'll have to get back and check out the Ann Arbor nightlife scene another time.
Saturday morning I headed out to meet one of my hosts for the day, Gordie Fall (named in honor of Gordie Howe), at the famous MGoBus. The tailgate featured craft beer from Wolverine State Brewing Company, loads of breakfast food and, of course, the maize and blue MGoBus owned by Matt and Sara Demorest. While I was there, I learned more about life on campus and the UM scene with Brian Cook and Seth Fisher, of popular Michigan sports site MGoBlog.com. I also met former Wolverines running back Vincent Smith (you may remember him from this), who's now running community gardens in Flint, Michigan, and his hometown of Pahokee, Florida, to increase access to healthy foods, reduce juvenile crime and use gardening-based intervention to curtail violence. Very cool.
I bounced a few blocks down to meet my good friend Steve Smith and two more hosts, Frank Line and his daughter, Emily. A district judge in Calhoun County, Michigan, Frank has been a Wolverines season-ticket holder for more 50 years and throws a tailgate at the "Big Blue Barn" for every home game. A plain-spoken, joke-cracking, old school kind of guy, he told me he was cut out to be a judge because he's "been there, done it" when it comes to making mischief, and the No. 1 rule he told his kids growing up was, "Don't get caught." His daughter, also a UM alum and mother to a dog named Jimmy Harbaugh, said her father chose to name her Emily because it was as close to "MGoBlue" as he could get.
The Lines are tailgate pros, serving up perfectly cooked brats, cold beers and even providing a "ladies only" port-a-potty, complete with a drink holder, space heater and a bit of Michigan basketball propaganda.
Down the street I met up with my final host for the day, Ryan Walsh, at his incredible maize-and-blue house right across from the tailgates at Pioneer High School and Ann Arbor Golf & Outing Club, just a few steps from the entrance to the stadium. "By The Big House," as he affectionately calls the place, used to sit at what is now the 40-yard line of Michigan Stadium, and the building was cut in half and moved down the street per the request of the owners, the Fisher family, when they sold their land to the school. You can still see "The Fishers" on the front door knocker.
Walsh bought the house in 2011 to serve his crazed Michigan fandom and to give himself a chance to get back to his alma mater for every home game. He rents out the house for nine months of the year and then takes it back for September through November to host ragers pre- and postgame, complete with a Jim Harbaugh prayer candle, an ever-changing trash talk sign out front and an oft-used megaphone to get passers-by pumped up for the game. A few years ago a man in his 70s came by during a pregame tailgate, claiming he grew up in the house. He said he was thrilled to see Walsh and his friends keeping it full of UM spirit.
I walked down the street to head into the game, only to be turned away by security, who informed me that Michigan Stadium doesn't allow any bags. More draconian than NFL rules, which limit size or require the bag to be a clear material, this joint makes you stuff your pockets like a pack mule. I left a few things back at the house, shoved what I needed into my coat and finally made my way into the stadium. I'd snagged a solo ticket on StubHub the night before, right by the 50-yard line and up about 30 rows. It was the perfect view, a great spot for my first time at the Big House. I chatted it up with my seat neighbors and watched the Wolverines stick with the Buckeyes for most of the game, until a terribly ill-timed interception from John O'Korn sealed it for OSU.
I loved the feel of the stadium and its surrounding area, the fans, cheerleaders and band -- everything felt super traditional and old school. Like most college stadiums, no beer at the Big House, and they shut down all concessions right at the start of the fourth quarter, claiming they were out of everything. Not great planning considering the OSU/UM game is always one of the biggest of the year -- more than 112,000 people there for this iteration. Plenty were Buckeyes fans, and they made themselves heard starting a loud and proud O-H-I-O chant that did circles around the stadium in the game's final minutes. (Like a song that reminds you of an old, lost love, the O-H chant sure did tug at my heartstrings and reminded me of my time in Columbus.)
Unfortunately, I didn't get to stick around postgame and hit up any of the bars or check out more of campus. I popped by to say goodbye to the Lines then hit the road to catch a flight to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for a feature I'm working on. Like Zingerman's, I guess Charley's, Rick's and the rest of the watering holes in Ann Arbor will have to wait for another time. It was a quick trip and not nearly as involved as the other two, but I'm glad I made it up there so I wouldn't regret not giving Michigan a fair shot.
It's hard to believe my College Football Bachelorette journey is almost over. When I started my search for a team at the beginning of the season, I was not only hoping to find my one, true college football love, but also to finally understand what I'd been missing out on every Saturday. Mission accomplished. From an on-the-field view of Longhorns vs. Sooners smack dab in the middle of the Texas State Fair, to raucous college football bars in Chicago, all the way to game-day tailgates in Columbus, Madison and Ann Arbor, I dove in headfirst and soaked up all the good vibes. My trips, plus all the videos, photos, tweets and stories you guys sent helped me understand your passion and see how crazy -- and cool -- a college campus with big-time college football can be. It was quite a wake-up call for a girl from a sleepy Ivy League town.
Now the only thing left to do is declare my love. Since my audible to visit Ann Arbor threw off the timeline a little bit, I won't be making the announcement from College GameDay. Stay tuned for the big reveal next week -- I've got a surprise or two up my sleeve.
Nov. 22: Fantasy Taildate Recap Team Visited: Wisconsin
After weeks spent whittling down from 24 teams to two, with both of my Fantasy Taildates completed, and with a Nov. 25 deadline closing in, I thought I'd be certain of my College Football Bachelorette winner.
To be honest, a whirlwind weekend in Wisconsin left me with more questions than answers.
But before I get to all that, let's talk about my trip to Madison.
Late Friday afternoon, I drove the nearly three hours northwest to Madison from Chicago with my wingman (and husband), Brad -- a Wisconsin native (though not a Badgers alumnus). His dad, Val, and stepmom, De, just moved to Oregon, Wisconsin, a little over a year ago, so their house was our home base for the weekend. We dropped off our stuff and made the quick 20-minute drive to Madison, catching a few of the sites, including Lake Monona, Lake Mendota, the Terrace and the beautiful Wisconsin State Capitol building.
A handful of folks recommended dinner at The Old Fashioned, a retro-style tavern just off Main Street, so we headed there. The restaurant was packed to the gills and boasted a 90-minute wait for a table, so we hit the bar for a traditional Wisconsin brandy old fashioned, a few Schlitzes and a basket of cheese curds. All the points Columbus gained for that delicious squash dish I ate last week were more than evened out by the cheesy, gooey, delicious curds. (So, Ohio State and Wisconsin are even on totally arbitrary food points now, if you're keeping count.)
While pouring my beer, the bartender, Jesse, said he couldn't place how he knew me. "ESPN?" I said, and he exclaimed: "Oh wait, you're on that show with the sexy married guy with the hair!" So rest assured, Tony Reali, the Manhattan hair game plays all the way out in Madison, too.
Brad lived up to his Wisconsin roots all weekend, doing what amounted to a bratwurst tour of the city. It started that night at The Old Fashioned with a double-brat and wurst. Total brat count for Brad in a day and a half? Four. It would've been higher, but saving up for a Culver's burger on the way home slowed him down the stretch.
Over dinner we talked about De's dedication to the Badgers. She had season tickets for 57 years, passing them on to her son just last season. While living in Madison with her first husband, now deceased, she was a regular at boxing matches ("They stopped having them when a boxer died in the ring when I was there") and hockey games ("I like it when they fight!"). For a near-octogenarian, she's still going strong, happy to sling back chardonnays and stay out late, feeding off the bustle of students and visitors.
Val and De headed home, and Brad and I walked down Main Street, passing all sorts of restaurants and bars, a handful of them with lines down the street. Lines were ever-present in Madison all weekend, but that's to be expected when an undefeated football team is hosting a Big Ten rival. We finally made it to Kollege Klub, which came highly recommended by NHL great (and former Badger) Chris Chelios. Joining me on "Izzy and Spain" Thursday night, Chelios could name all three generations of Meiers who have the run the bar since he was at school, from John "Big Dad" Meier, to his son Bruce, to his son, Jordan. (Chelios couldn't name a single professor he had at Wisconsin, but that's a story for another time ...)
The line for Kollege Klub was down the block, and it was clear that everyone heading in was a current student -- no one older than 22. It felt necessary to honor Chelios' suggestion, but there was no chance these two old folks were waiting in line. I hate to admit it, but I pulled the rarely used "ESPN card" (of course I forgot to bring an actual business card, so I had to show them my Twitter account instead) to skip the line and get in for a drink. I wasn't proud of the move, but you gotta do what you gotta do in the name of finding love. We had a beer, snapped a shot of Chelios' jersey on the wall, talked about how old we felt, and watched the college kids dance and stagger around and make out against walls, and I correctly identified a sink full of vomit as regurgitated quinoa and we hit the road.
With an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday, we had an early turnaround from the bar to College GameDay. (I'm sure we weren't alone.) But despite morning snow and chilly temperatures, fans packed the set when we arrived at Bascom Hill. I met Bucky, chatted with the omnipresent Wisconsin "nuns" and caught some pretty good GameDay signs before we started the trek toward the stadium.
After stopping to see a friend at a Badgers-themed ambulance tailgate, we walked down the main stretch of bars on Regent Street and ended up at the tailgate of one of my hosts for the day, Chicago friend Nate Faulkner. A die-hard Wisconsin fan whose father, "Big Ed," played hoops for the Badgers back in the day, Nate served up some Spotted Cows and told us more about the scene in Madison.
It was right around this time that I started to notice a few troubling trends. First, there were a ton of Packers tailgating tents, hats and gear. I've got no problem with Green Bay -- in fact, Aaron Rodgers is one of my favorite players -- but as a die-hard Bears fan, it was tough to be surrounded by green and yellow and not have them be the enemy. Also, there was a ton of camouflage. Hunting is a way of life in Wisconsin, and it goes beyond a weekend activity into game-day attire. Overalls, hats, jackets -- all camo, all the time. Sorry if that's your deal, but I can barely squish a fly, so all the camo grossed me out a little.
While we finished our beers, my friends Joanna and Nick (Michigan fans) and I sat atop a dividing wall and high-fived fans of both squads on their way to the stadium. I got a ton of crap for my Chicago Cubs beanie (the same exact one I'd worn in Columbus), which reminded me that my fellow Badgers fans and I wouldn't be seeing eye to eye on a lot of stuff beyond UW. At the beginning of this journey, I said I couldn't imagine being a Wisconsin fan because of the state-to-state rivalry (back to that FIB nickname again) and the animus between the teams, but I pushed it aside because of the great fans, cool traditions and amazing scene in Madison. It's not their fault they're passionate about their pro teams -- in fact, I like it! But it's something to think about when I make my final decision.
It was game time, so we headed into Camp Randall to find our seats. (Thanks, De!) It was immediately clear that The Shoe at Ohio State is special when it comes to concessions -- they're able to sell beer in the stadium in Columbus. No suds for us in Madison, so we grabbed some hot chocolate (and a couple of brats for Brad) instead. The game was a good one, as the Badgers beat Michigan 24-10 to stay undefeated. The in-game traditions didn't disappoint, as the band was loud and proud, the student section (though late, as always) was crazy (and profane), and "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Jump Around" were as cool as advertised.
And after the game, of course, was the Fifth Quarter, where fans stick around to watch the band dance, kick and play their way through another set of tunes.
Wisconsin got a leg up on Ohio State, simply by my visit happening when the stakes were high and the scene was crazy, but the game experience and the pre- and postgame in Madison were legit. After the win, we walked down to Jordan's Big 10 Pub to meet up with my other hosts for the day, the Kay family. Caroline, 14, a huge Wisconsin fan and aspiring sports reporter, had emailed me hoping to meet up. She and her parents and younger brother all grabbed a booth with me and Brad, and we chatted about their love of the Badgers, which brought them all the way to Madison from Philadelphia for the weekend.
The bars up and down the street were still raging, but it was time to hit the road and head back to Chicago. On the drive home I thought about my decision -- the pros and cons of each place and how I might fit in with each fan base. Remember, this has never been about just the most successful program, the coolest stadium or the game-day scene. It's always been about all of those -- plus my gut impulse and the connection I feel to the team.
I thought about seeing my guy, Jim Harbaugh, jogging past me at the half, and the pang of guilt I felt for eliminating his Wolverines early. I remembered the familiar pull I felt toward the big block "M" on my friend Joanna's winter beanie. And that's when I realized I really wasn't yet ready to decide.
Screw the rules and screw the deadlines. I'm going to the Big House this weekend and seeing, just in case, whether I made the right decision in saying goodbye to Michigan. Who said there can only be two finalists for the rose? In the end, I've gotta go where my heart leads me, and I'm just not sure I can make my pick until I give UM a fair shot.
That means no big reveal on Saturday. Instead I'll be watching the Wolverines take on the Buckeyes, hoping to find some clarity.
I can only hope after all this, my choice will be clear. Stay tuned ...
Nov. 15: Fantasy Taildate Recap Team Visited: Ohio State
The first of my two "Fantasy Taildates" is in the books, and after last weekend at Ohio State, boy does Wisconsin have something to live up to this weekend! I had a blast in Columbus, despite frigid temperatures and a game that was about as compelling as Michael Phelps' "race" with that shark. The Buckeyes demolished Michigan State 48-3, jumping out to an unbelievable 35-3 lead at the half. But while the game was a bit of a snooze, the overall experience was fantastic.
I arrived in Columbus late afternoon on Friday with one of my best Chicago friends, Kiley Enmark, a former soccer player at OSU. She decided to fly out with me to make sure I would hit up all the best spots and really get a true Buckeye experience. That night we went to the women's soccer team's NCAA tournament opening game versus Vanderbilt, a heartbreaking loss for the Buckeyes that came on a game-winner with about one minute to play in regulation.
It was about 22 degrees in the stands, so by the end of the game we were ready for some grub and a soul-warming glass of wine. We headed to G. Michael's Bistro & Bar in the German Village district, where I polished off a roasted butternut squash dish so bomb that the veggie lover in me immediately gave Columbus a five-point bonus (on a point scale that is yet to be determined).
Our waitress Alex wasn't able to put on the hard sell for OSU, as she's somehow a Columbus lifer who's never been to an Ohio State football game. Despite having a family full of football fans, she never got into it. Hard to imagine dealing with the craziness of game days without the payoff of fandom -- though I suppose a packed house and good tips are a different kind of payoff.
After our late dinner, we met up with my friend Matt Hamilton, who I met back when we both lived in Los Angeles years ago. An OSU alum now living back in Columbus, he and some friends summoned us to a bar called The Three Legged Mare, where we had some beers, listened to some truly terrible karaoke and met viral sensation Ted Williams, a.k.a. "The Man With The Golden Voice."
The next morning we woke up bright and early to a special delivery of game tickets from Kiley's friend since birth, Craig Krenzel (also a former national championship-winning quarterback for Ohio State and one-time Chicago Bears signal-caller). Talk about great service from a notable alum! Between those tickets and the ones offered up by the family of one longtime OSU coach, the Buckeye family Kiley created during her time in Columbus is a generous one.
Speaking of, our next stop was a tour of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center -- named for the former famed OSU football coach -- given by one of Kiley's old equipment managers who still works at the school. We got a great look at the indoor practice field, locker rooms, Hayes' old chalkboard full of notes for his final book and the incredible trophy room.
Another highlight was the wall dedicated to the Buckeyes' rivalry with the University of Michigan, including a countdown clock getting players ready for their next matchup with the Wolverines.
Unfortunately, we missed the Skull Session, a pregame pep rally of sorts put on by the Ohio State University Marching Band a few hours before kickoff, but we still had plenty of time to tailgate. We headed to meet my hosts, Columbus residents Tim Hollingsworth and his son, Crew.
Tim and his friends have been co-hosting a tailgate in the French Field House lot for years, cooking up an array of delicious foods and keeping fans hydrated pregame and postgame.
Game time was fast approaching, but before heading in we had to make a trip to the Varsity Club, a bar down the street from the stadium. When I was in college at Cornell University, we didn't have big-time sporting events that drew thousands of alumni back to campus, so I never experienced the phenomenon of my favorite on-campus bars suddenly becoming overrun with old folks (like me). When you go to a big football school like OSU, I guess you get used to sharing your watering holes with fans of all ages.
We passed a few more bars, some food trucks, a giant outdoor pre-party and headed into "The Shoe." Everyone at the game was so nice, from the guy who accepted my apologies for the dropped-beer-turned-liquid-firework I unleashed on him early on, to the overserved woman in the bathroom line explaining her secret to staying warm -- "Cuddl Duds" long underwear -- in great detail.
The crowd wasn't super enthused, but I chalk that up to a blowout game and the ugly loss to Iowa that had torpedoed their College Football Playoff rankings the week before. I was told numerous times that, if not for that loss, the tailgates would be crazier, the crowd louder and the scenes much better. I believe 'em. That being said, I still felt like the game-day experience could use a few tweaks.
1. Better mics for the band. If you're going to have "The Best Damn Band In The Land," then make them booming and tough to ignore!
2. More Sloopy! If "Hang On Sloopy" paired with the O-H-I-O chant is your thing, then milk it for all it's worth! Play it after every touchdown, giving fans a chance to get involved and sing along all game long. Make opposing teams dread the sound of "Sloopy" like visitors dread the Chicago Blackhawks' goal song "Chelsea Dagger."
So basically, give us more in-game traditions and collabs with the band, beyond Script Ohio and the halftime performance (which on Saturday was a fine tribute to The Beatles). I did like that many of the other OSU varsity teams were honored on the field at varying times during the game -- a cool moment of shine for other champions at the school.
After the game it was back to the tailgate for a bit to play catch with Crew (kid's got an arm!), then off to Little Bar, a not-so-little spot with a tented, heated outdoor area. A couple of Kiley's friends who played men's lacrosse at Ohio State came by and told me more stories of their time on campus, trying to convince me of the greatness that is being a Buckeye.
Then it was off to the Out-R-Inn for one last pop ... which turned into a few last pops after bartender Steve, a fan of "Around The Horn," decided to take our drink selection -- and our bar tab -- into his own hands. After a long day we headed back to the hotel, ate some grub and hit the hay before a very early wake-up to fly home Sunday morning.
Between the awesome behind-the-scenes tour, the home delivery of tickets by a former Buckeye superstar, the excellent hospitality provided by the Hollingsworths and Kiley's awesome friends, I felt super welcome and totally taken care of by my new Buckeye family. There was even an adorable pup with a rose collar outside the stadium, trying to seal the deal for OSU.
Wisconsin is going to have to pull out all the stops this weekend to win my final rose...
Nov. 1: Back to School Teams Eliminated: Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan
From 24 college football suitors all the way down to two. This has been quite a process, and this past week tested me more than most, making me question everything.
First, I had a rogue emailer try to turn me off of love altogether, suggesting I "show up with a dozen roses and set them on fire." Michael Rauch, who identifies himself as "Team Chaos and Good Games," said choosing a team just sets you up for disappointment. "If you invest in one team... their hopes for a playoff berth may be gone after two games," he wrote. "On Team Chaos, we get to root for one team one week and their opponent's team the next. We don't have to be interested in games against cupcakes and are free to concentrate on the meaningful games each week." A compelling argument, to be sure.
Then, another Miami victory (their 12th straight!) reminded me of what I said goodbye to (and that I'll never get to rock that totally badass turnover chain). Then, I received an impassioned, elaborate email plea from Georgia alum Neal Maziar on behalf of the Bulldogs that almost had me crossing the country to beg Uga to take me back. And worst of all, I came across this absolute magic from the Oregon Duck, a video so gutting it felt like spotting an ex on the street and noticing he got a great new pair of jeans, cut his hair and he. looks. good. Damn, I love that duck.
But I can't dwell in the past. There can only be one true college football love. And in order to get to one, I had to get to two.
Yep, the biggest cut in College Football Bachelorette history happens now, and this one came down to the wire. If I'm being totally honest, I'm not entirely certain I've ended up with the right teams. In fact, for most of the week, I planned to pull a Rachel, change the rules and try to squeeze in three hometown dates. But in the end, a mini-pub crawl and a last-minute gut feeling had me making one more heart-wrenching cut to get to a true final two.
Let's start with the first two teams to go, Notre Dame and Michigan State. While I've got a great friend who played outside linebacker for the Irish, met some cool grads via Twitter and email, and felt a special tie to the school's "Subway" alums, in the end this wild child just ain't looking for a traditional Catholic beau. The Spartans were a tougher goodbye, as a rowdy pack of postgrad partiers hailing from East Lansing make up a big group of my friends here in Chicago. I even partied with Sparty at one diehard alum's wedding:
While I dig the Michigan State vibe and still hope to one day make the trek to Spartan Stadium with that crew, I had to say goodbye to Sparty. (Don't worry, friends, when it comes to football, we'll always have Friendsgiving.)
On to the heart-wrenching final cut... Michigan. I've told you all along that the only way this whole love thing works is to be completely honest, and guys, I thought from the start the Wolverines would be the pick in my heart. When I was a kid in the northern suburbs of Chicago, I spotted a maize-and-blue "M" on the bumper of a car at school and became enamored with it. Ever since, I've felt a tiny pull toward Michigan. I love the old-school sweatshirts, the smart-kid vibe, the Jordan unis and the magical mythology of The Big House. I also have a deep admiration for (former Chicago Bears quarterback) Jim Harbaugh and all his idiosyncrasies. I love his trick-or-treating strategies, advice to newlyweds and unique approach to recruiting.
I'm still not sure why I'm saying goodbye, except that I just can't seem to make the leap from vague, nostalgic admiration to a current love connection. One problem might just be that Michigan fans didn't help their cause -- they've been barely a blip in my College Football Bachelorette communiques. Maybe they're feeling less-than-enthused about football this season because the team is underperforming. Or maybe the average attendance of 110,000 at every home game is a sign that the bandwagon is full. They just don't seem to need me up in Ann Arbor. I fear I may regret this, but if I discover in a few years that it was a truly boneheaded move and they were my true love all along, I suppose I can always pull a Jason Mesnick.
Which leaves me with two very, very unlikely finalists. I wouldn't go so far as to say Ohio State and Wisconsin are the Whaboom and Blake of College Football Bachelorette, but if you'd told me Week 1 they'd make it all the way to the end, I would've laughed. A FIB Bears fan digging the vibe up in Cheesehead land? A diehard Cubs and Bulls fan cozying up to folks who rep the Cavs and Indians? Blasphemy! But the heart wants what it wants, and these two teams (and their alums and fans) have somehow weaseled their way into my heart.
Wisconsin received the first impression rose, and they've continued to prove their mettle each and every week. Every time I've been tempted to get rid of them because of the border rivalry or the Packers connections, another person weighs in singing their praises. From fans of other teams begrudgingly admitting how great Madison is, to Jordan Rodgers telling me they've got the best game-day scene in all of college football, I just haven't been able to quit UW.
As for the Buckeyes, a few friends and I did a bit of "research" on Saturday:
We hit up a couple of Chicago bars to test out the local fan bases for a few of the remaining squads. The scene at Gaslight Bar & Grille for the Ohio State vs. Penn State game was the easy winner -- raucous, rowdy and totally my style. I loved singing "Hang On Sloopy," doing the O-H-I-O cheer and getting the full-court press from alums eager to sell their alma mater. One former field hockey player regaled me with stories of playing pick-up hoops against former Buckeyes hoops coach Thad Matta to try to win his game tickets, as well as tales of former football coach Jim Tressel bringing his players to watch field hockey practices so they could see what a hard-working team looks like.
This whole journey really started to feel real when she suggested she could score me free food from her old job, hook me up with free coffee from her new job and mentioned the possibility of a private jet to get me to Columbus. She really made me feel special, like a five-star recruit worthy of over-the-top pampering and under-the-table bribes. Plus, even though Brutus ain't nearly as cute as The Duck, and his moves can't compare to the mascot who started it all, BYU's Cosmo the Cougar, this is pretty baller all the same:
There are still some chemistry issues to deal with, as I can't stand when people say "THE Ohio State University" and the phrase "Sconnie" makes me cringe, but some concessions must be made in any relationship. I can feel how close I am to finding my true college football love, and the next few weeks will be the final step, as I go on Fantasy Taildates at my final two schools. (The fact that I'm headed to Wisconsin and Ohio in mid-November tells you this search for love is real -- you know I would've picked Miami and USC if this was about a sweet, free vacation.)
Speaking of Fantasy Taildates, here's where you come in. I need to find the VERY BEST representatives of Ohio State and Wisconsin to treat me to a classic game day at your school. You can be a current student, an alum or just a big fan -- an individual or a group. The only rules are that you must be 21 (if we're going to tailgate I can only contribute to and participate in your tomfoolery if it's legal) and you must be a game-day expert who will do your school justice. I'll spend the pregame with you (and potentially the postgame), and will pop by your seats and hang a bit during the game. (For ease of organization, you'll handle your own tickets. I'll get mine separately.)
Ohio State fans, I'll be heading out to the Nov. 11 game against Michigan State. Wisconsin folks, I'll be hitting up the Nov. 18 game against Michigan. (Yes, this episode of "The Schools Tell All" could get ugly as I'll have to come face-to-face with two of my most recently dumped exes.)
Send your best pitch -- a college football-themed dating profile, if you will -- to firstname.lastname@example.org or @sarahspain on Twitter, to prove why you're the one(s) I should choose. The competition is neck and neck right now, so whoever shows me the best time will deserve a ton of credit for swaying me when I present my final rose. Gimme your best shot, and we could be partying together in a few weeks!
Oct. 25: Cool Kids Teams Eliminated: Georgia, Texas, Miami, USC, Oregon
Another crazy week at the mansion, as fans of the remaining 10 teams invited all of their famous friends over for a pool party. Never thought I'd see Joe Montana, Steven Spielberg and The Rock sharing a unicorn floaty, but anything can happen in College Football Bachelorette.
Yep, this was "Cool Kids" week, with teams vying for my affection based on the strength of their notable alums. You guys came out in full force, sending me the best and brightest ever to emerge from (or, in some cases, drop out of) your fine institutions. The 10 remaining schools are responsible for some seriously impressive athletes, entertainers, scientists, politicians and creators, making this a super tough batch of cuts.
There was some sabotage this week, as alums tried to point out the not-so-cool kids who matriculated from opposing schools. One user cited a notorious criminal's connection to Ohio State, while Longhorn fan Matthew Napier emailed me with a reason not to pick each one of the remaining schools besides Texas. Among them? "Georgia: Did you ever watch the TV show 'Lost'? I did ... and I want those six years of my life back. WORST ending EVER." Of Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer on "Lost" and who attended Georgia for a short period of time, Napier says: "I am holding him responsible."
And to make matters even more difficult, another uninvited suitor crashed the house this week. Perhaps emboldened by the efforts of the Nebraska, Auburn and NC State fans who came before him, Jeremy Tache rolled into the pool party with a sixer of beer, some chips and guac and a bid for the University of Central Florida. The UCF Knights aren't gonna steal my heart, but Tache's song did:
So did Michigan alum Kyle O'Neill, who sent me a list made up entirely of baller female University of Michigan attendees, including "Saturday Night Live" great Gilda Radner. I received a lot of lists featuring prominent football players, but it takes smarts and savvy to tell me that the first woman to serve as Surgeon General, Antonia Novello, completed her residency at Michigan, and the first woman to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, Janet Guthrie, graduated as a Wolverine in 1960. Throw in ESPN's own Adam Schefter and Jalen Rose, former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh and famed Chicago chef Rick Bayless, and you've got quite a party. Michigan advances.
Ohio State is still in the mix, boasting sports greats Jack Nicklaus, Jesse Owens, Eddie George, Katie Smith, George Steinbrenner and, of course, ESPN's own Kirk Herbstreit. There's also comedian Richard Lewis, actress Patricia Heaton and musician Dwight Yoakam. Buckeyes fan Steve Herr even threw it back to my childhood by shouting out R.L. Stine -- how many times did I set myself up for nightmares by reading his books before bed?
Michigan State moves on as well, producing the likes of Magic Johnson, Draymond Green, James Caan, Le'Veon Bell, Kirk Gibson, Bulls guard Denzel Valentine and Blackhawks superstar defender Duncan Keith. And, of course, I have to include ESPN's own Jemele Hill and Kelley L. Carter, both proud Spartans.
Wisconsin fan Adam Brigham asked if he could "steal me for a minute" to get some "one-on-one time away from the other schools." Very smart. We all know you can't be on College Football Bachelorette to make friends. He made good use of his time, shouting out noted Badger thespians, animal-rescue experts and the trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, who founded "Kentucky Fried Theater" in Madison, Wisconsin, and went on to create classics like "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun."
Add in former Blackhawks great Chris Chelios, beloved Chicago weather guy Tom Skilling and dropout-turned-aviation-legend Charles Lindbergh, and Wisconsin is looking pretty good. Badgers alumni and faculty have won 20 Nobel Prizes and 38 Pulitzers and, more importantly, got this guy (not an alum) to hop off his van down by the river and jump on the bandwagon. Wisconsin is still in the race.
Notre Dame rounds out the final five with an impressive lineup of famous alums like Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Jeff Samardzija, Skylar Diggins, Hannah Storm, Condoleezza Rice, John Paxson and all the Golics. Irish fan Bob Noziglia bragged on his school by pointing out its seven Heisman Trophy winners, 45 college football Hall of Famers, 13 NFL Hall of Famers and, finally, Chicago Bears superfan (at least he played one on TV) George Wendt. (The "Cheers" star was expelled from Notre Dame after receiving a 0.00 GPA the first semester of his junior year, but if Lindbergh skated by, we'll allow it.)
I bet you're thinking to yourself, "Wait a minute ... how did she manage to stiff USC and Miami in famous alums week?" And you're right to think that. I mean, besides The Rock, the Canes boast Jeff Garlin, Ray Liotta, Sylvester Stallone, Gloria Estefan, and ESPN's Pedro Gomez, Suzy Kolber and Dan Le Batard. And that's not even counting all the athletes! USC crushes when it comes to Hollywood, with alums Will Ferrell, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ron Howard, Judd Apatow, John Wayne, Neil Armstrong, Shonda Rhimes, Robert Zemeckis ... I could go on.
And don't get me started on Texas. Kevin Durant, Mary Lou Retton, Wes Anderson, Earl Campbell, Janis Joplin, Cat Osterman, Jordan Spieth, Matthew McConaughey, Owen Wilson, Farrah Fawcett, Renee Zellweger and more.
So what gives? Well, if I'm gonna be honest -- and we all know this process only works if I'm honest with all of my suitors -- my final five teams weren't chosen solely based on their alumni. I know that's technically the criteria for this week's cuts, but my football heart is on the line, so I need to make the best decision for me going forward, no matter what the rules say.
It turns out, as you can see from my final five, my heart belongs in the Midwest. I guess I just know more alums and feel more of a connection to the schools that surround Chicago. And the fans of the local spots have done a bang-up job selling their squads. I never could've imagined Ohio State in the final five when I started this, but you Buckeyes fans are putting on for your school.
Next up: Fantasy Taildates! Next week I'll announce my final two schools and which days I'll be heading out to a game day to see if we're a match. In the meantime, if your team is still around, feel free to send me anything else I might need to make my decision. We're getting down to the wire, folks, and I think my college football soulmate is in this room!
Oct. 18: Party Time! Teams Eliminated: Oklahoma, Clemson, Alabama, Florida, LSU
It was an eventful week for your beloved College Football Bachelorette: I went to my very first big-time college football game! That's right, my first ever! (I know, I know. Why didn't anyone tell me how fun this stuff is?!) I seriously fell in love with all of it, you guys ... the marching bands, mascots, pageantry, fanfare and crazy passionate fans. So great.
And with just a couple of cuts remaining before hometown visits, it seems fitting that I ended up on a two-on-one date.
I was in Dallas for a gig and spent Saturday at the AT&T Red River Showdown, the annual matchup between Oklahoma and Texas -- one of the best rivalry games in college football. Between the funnel-cake beer and deep-fried corn elote balls at the Texas State Fair right next door, and the insane atmosphere as the Sooners and Longhorns faced off, this was the perfect introduction to big-time college ball.
Of course, we all know how two-on-one dates end: one unlucky suitor is abandoned in a desert while the other joins the bachelorette for a performance by a nobody singer-songwriter who the couple is contractually obligated to seem really excited about. And so I have to say goodbye to Oklahoma. While I loved meeting the ponies Boomer and Sooner, and their double-trouble mascot counterparts, I just didn't feel a connection to the Sooners squad.
The Longhorns do move on, though! I fell in love with the fans, the cheers, the spirit, the burnt orange everything and BEVO! What a beautiful, badass creature! Props to the most recent (real) Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, who gave Texas some love before the matchup and helped sell me on her team.
Also selling me this week was Michigan fan Gordon Fall, who introduced me to the MGoBus, a tailgating hotspot that hands out ice cream for hot games and ponchos when it rains -- thoughtful! He also pulled out the big guns by sending along this MJ shot. I may have eliminated UNC last week, but Michael Jordan's influence is alive and well in the competition with Michigan, which just a few years ago became the first Jordan Brand football school. There's also some fight in the Georgia Bulldogs, too, who are here for the right reasons and proved they went HARD when they arrived en masse at Notre Dame this year. I've never met a dog I didn't like, and Uga is no exception.
Nothing is over for the Ducks until they decide it is, as one fan pointed out that the classic film "Animal House" (oft-quoted by yours truly) was filmed at the University of Oregon. Meantime, Wisconsin fan Brian Evenson compared the tailgating scene at Camp Randall to that of my beloved Wrigley Field, with parties on driveways and front lawns, and in bars and beer gardens in the neighborhood surrounding the stadium.
Sparty fans stepped up and stepped up smartly, appealing to my belly and my advanced age. Michigan State faithful Felicia Eshragh tapped into my love of ice cream, noting that MSU has its own dairy store with ice cream so delicious and so high in fat that it's said the FDA won't approve it for off-campus sales. (I'm pretty sure that's an urban myth, but I'm fully on board for a game-day scoop.) Two other alums appealed to my years of tailgating experience and never-grow-up attitude. Instead of flashbacks to their game days of yore, these gals proved the party continues well into your 30s.
Irish fan Thomas Schuster shouted out Notre Dame alums Umphrey's McGee for performing the "Around The Horn" theme song and introduced me to the "dunkaroo" (dunking your head in ice water, shotgunning a beer, taking a shot of whiskey, doing a backflip off a table and bonging a beer), a feat I couldn't have accomplished in my prime, not to mention a few years (ahem) post-graduation. I was also invited to party at the ND firetruck -- no word yet on whether real firemen will be present to resuscitate me if I do, in fact, attempt a "dunkaroo."
Most importantly, Notre Dame alum and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Rachel McCaffrey introduced me to the school's Subway Alumni, which aren't real alumni at all, just fans who have pledged their allegiance to the Irish. You're part of the family when you're an Irish fan, even if you're just a bandwagoning New York City Irish Catholic (or a bandwagoning College Football Bachelorette). It's almost too perfect, Notre Dame.
While the Irish are playing like a champion, a few other schools didn't cut the mustard. Here are my five farewells for this week:
Oklahoma: As I mentioned, a tough two-on-one goodbye for the Sooners. But after this weekend, at least you can always say you were my first (game).
Clemson: It's always hard to say goodbye to a winner, but the defending national champs seem to be suffering from a little bit of a championship hangover. Tigers fans must be too busy taking their victory lap (and celebrating a 6-1 start) to spend any time wooing newcomers to Memorial Stadium.
Alabama: Seems the Crimson Tide might be suffering from a little hubris, as well. They may have gotten upset in the title game last January, but they're still the big dogs (er, elephants) in college football. Guess they're not looking for bandwagoners out in Tuscaloosa. Not sure hound's tooth was a good look for me, anyway.
Florida: Just like the team's offense this season, the Gators' fanbase hasn't much bothered to show up. A few fans here and there tried to sell me on the Gator Chomp, but it feels like an off year for the team has led to a bit of apathy in Gainesville. I'll always love that new Tom Petty sing-a-long tradition, though.
LSU: Odell Beckham Jr., Shaq and (reigning WNBA MVP) Sylvia Fowles -- not to mention former Bachelorette and Tigers alum Andi Dorfman -- will be disappointed, but I just don't feel any chemistry with LSU. Unfortunately, it's time for the Tigers to pack their bags and Geaux home.
The Final 10: Georgia, Texas, Miami, Wisconsin, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon. So we've got our Top 10 set! Half of the remaining squads get the boot next week, as famous alumni become my focus. Which of these schools has the coolest list of grads and which notable alums will become my new best friends on Saturdays? Send me tweets @sarahspain or emails at email@example.com with any notable grads I might miss!
Oct. 11: Dotting My i's Teams Eliminated: Northwestern, UNC, UCLA, Stanford, West Virginia
It's only the second week of cuts, and already I feel like leaning over a high-priced resort balcony with a sweeping ocean view and crying.
This week was all about the game-day traditions, and it was a tough one. A few teams went easy (I won't make the heartbreak any greater by telling you which ones), but a few were tough to let walk away. Before I reveal the five teams that aren't advancing, let's take a look at some of the persuasive appeals you folks sent my way to save your squads.
Wisconsin football's official Twitter account stole the first impression rose last week with a bold introduction, and this week Bucky supporters far outnumbered their competition in the number of emails and tweets sent. Plenty of fans sent me this 2013 video of ESPN's own Scott Van Pelt stanning for the Badgers, and I'm up to date on Bucky's musical traditions, including "Jump Around" and "Build Me Up Buttercup." Wisconsin fan Erik Brua said of the postgame jam sesh with the band, "You can find four great quarters of football at a lot of schools, and some might end in more wins than Wisconsin, but here we value commitment to our team and our fans. That's why we have five quarters! Win or lose, we stay in the stands after every game as the marching band runs all over the field for the 5th Quarter!"
I may be a "FIB" (Google it), but Wisconsin sure is rolling out the cardinal-red carpet for me. Special props to Badger fan Dale Hoyt, who did recon on yours truly, appealing to my love of comedy (Wisconsin was among filming locations for Rodney Dangerfield's "Back To School") and women's sports (the Wisconsin women's hockey team dominates). Unlike Thornton Melon, you clearly did your homework, Dale.
Oregon fan Gregory P. Smith put together a presentation worthy of an honors-level marketing course at the Lundquist College of Business, looking to sway me toward the Ducks with info on the walk to Autzen Stadium, former coach Chip Kelly's "Win The Day" mantra, the ever-changing, always swaggy Nike unis and, of course, The Duck.
Oklahoma die-hards also turned in excellent work, boasting about the Sooners' historic success and introducing me to OU's ponies Boomer and Sooner. Oklahoma alum Weider Geboren rewrote a composition by a famous 12th century nun, Sooner-style, and also smartly reminded me of the team's newest tradition, "The Baker Mayfield." We'll see how long that sticks around -- especially after Iowa State tried to make it their own move on Saturday.
Two Florida fans introduced me to the team's unofficial cheerleader Mr. Two Bits, with whom I am now obsessed, and I learned that UF's incredible tribute to Gainesville native Tom Petty last week will become a full-time Gator tradition. Goosebumps galore for that one.
This video about Texas football makes me want to book a flight to Austin tomorrow, while one fan tried to convince me that Matthew McConaughey might be there if I do. I do love me that burnt orange Longhorn logo and the "hook 'em horns" hand signal.
An Irish fan reminded me of Notre Dame's best-known traditions, and introduced me to a newer one, The Bus LLC. One Miami supporter appealed to my company ties by sending an old ESPN commercial featuring The U's "smoke" entrance, while the official Canes football Twitter appealed to my love of the turnover chain:
USC was saved by my love for dogs (the story of George Tirebiter is weird and magical) and the Olympics (Lighting The Torch at every game is super rad), and the rest of the schools that advanced got by on undeniably baller traditions -- despite their fans not being very vocal. Some of you might need to step up your game if you want to stick around! (Looking at you, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Georgia and LSU.)
Which brings us to this week's cuts. Hate to see you go, but it's necessary if I'm going to find my one, true college football love.
Northwestern: I hate to disappoint my many Wildcat friends, but the football program at Northwestern just doesn't have the bona fides to stick around. If I were picking a school to attend, the Purple would be up there with the best of them, but I'm bandwagon-ing a formidable college football team, so they just can't compete.
UNC: If only the notable alums category had come a little bit earlier in the competition. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, boasting Michael Jordan and new Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can't save them now. They've got a good chance if I ever do College Basketball Bachelorette, though.
UCLA: I once spent a summer living in a frat house at UCLA while I interned at Jim Henson Company (can't beat the $300-a-month rent), but my couple of months there never made me itch to root for the Bruins. The school was originally known as the Southern branch of Cal, and too many UCLA traditions are homages to the blue-and-gold team up in Berkeley, California. Sorry, no 8-clap cheer for me.
Stanford: If I were choosing a team I felt a connection to academically, Stanford -- initially dubbed the "Cornell of the West" -- would surely be in the running. I do love the unpredictable antics of the maniacal Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. (One fan said of them: "They have never met a joke they were not willing to make." Sounds familiar.) But I've got to say goodbye. I'd be lying if I said that damn tree wasn't a part of it. Probably one of those "if you go there, you love it" situations. I didn't, I don't.
West Virginia: It feels crazy to eliminate the Mountaineers in tradition week when they've got one of the most famous game-day rituals, the singing of "Take Me Home, Country Roads." But beyond the John Denver tune, the rest of the school's traditions and vibe didn't speak to me. Apologies to one fan, Aaron Funk, who sent me the best email describing WVU as "loyal, not flashy," and, most importantly, "nothing like Juan Pablo." You did your best, Aaron, but I have to say goodbye.
Next week is going be another tough round of cuts, with five teams eliminated based on their game-day scene. This is a big one for you fans, as I'll need your photos, videos and stories to help me decide which teams' tailgates scenes are a fit for me. It's Party Week -- let's do this, fam!
Oct. 4: Bach Don't Kill My Vibe Teams Eliminated: Penn State, Florida State, Louisville, Ole Miss
OK, this is gonna be really fun.
My inbox and Twitter feed are already full of your responses and pleas on behalf of your favorite squads. All of the photos, videos and messages you're sending me will be super helpful in the coming weeks.
Let's start with first impressions. Wisconsin got a head start with this memorable introduction:
Major points for knowing your Bachelorette basics, Badgers. Good on Sparty, too, for picking up on my penchant for pooches:
He wasn't alone in pandering to my love for dogs, as my inbox and timeline were (gloriously) full of good boys clad in college gear. A few folks went a different route, like one West Virginia fan who smartly pointed out his team's impressive hair game. And an LSU fan who got to me where it counts -- my belly. Food is bae, indeed.
My first week MVP has to go to Brandon Edwards, who wasted no time turning my quest for football love into a gambling opportunity. Bravo, Brandon.
In line with what we've seen on the last couple of seasons of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," a few folks showed up to the mansion uninvited. My respect goes out to Nebraska, Auburn and NC State, whose many fans passionately argued that their teams should have been included in my original 24. And a special shoutout to Northern Illinois, which is not only close to me geographically, but also boasts solid dog puns and a dreamboat of a mascot.
Unfortunately, there's just no room to add more teams. It's already gonna be tough to get from 24 down to just one!
Which brings me to this week's cuts.
Four teams have to go based on controversies, morality issues and bad vibes. Unfortunately for the NCAA, there are way more than four teams with questionable practices, unsavory characters and checkered pasts. Therefore, I made my cuts based on vibes that personally gross me out the most -- teams that I just can't imagine picking when I've got the entire college football landscape from which to choose. My apologies if your team is among the first to go. I understand that your loyalty and fond memories of years spent there might make these cuts hard to accept, though I also trust you're not ignorant to your program's troubles.
The four teams who will not be advancing -- and will have to pack up and leave the house tonight -- are: Penn State, Florida State, Louisville and Ole Miss.
Penn State: I'm impressed by the team's recent play under James Franklin and respect the incredible amount of pride that Nittany Lions have for their school. Unfortunately, the wound is still too fresh with this one, and I just can't look past the Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno scandal.
Florida State: The school's mishandling of the accusations of sexual assault levied at quarterback Jameis Winston are just too much for me to get beyond. I've got great friends who are die-hard Noles fans, but it's just not a match, especially considering the school's continued love affair with Winston. No way this is my team.
Louisville: Even before the hoops scandal that has been rocking the Cardinals of late, there was the inexplicable decision to re-hire head football coach Bobby Petrino in 2014, even after a motorcycle crash revealed a sordid affair with a much younger, engaged school employee while coaching at Arkansas. I'll never get that neck brace news conference out of my head -- can't root for him.
Ole Miss: This is a heartbreaker because I've heard The Grove is one of the best tailgates in all of college football, and I sure would've liked to have checked it out. Unfortunately, between Hugh Freeze's phone calls, the multiple NCAA violations, lack of institutional control charges, self-imposed bowl ban and the Laremy Tunsil drama, there's just too much recent dirt on the Rebels.
Farewell to those four and their bad vibes. It's on to lighter subjects now, as I use the best traditions in all of college football to decide which 15 teams advance.
Of the hundreds of college football teams across the country, only 24 qualified to be a part of the College Football Bachelorette. These select few made the cut via a combination of rankings (gotta ride with a winner), geographic proximity to my hometown of Chicago ('sup Northwestern) and ties to my favorite athlete of all time, Michael Jordan (hey there, UNC). May the best team win!