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 awhile; 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. Finally, I'll pick a winner, on College Gameday on Nov. 25.
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.
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!