Saturday, August 30, 2014

8/29 Weekend Quickie

Republished from my new newsletter. To get it in your email in-box as soon as it's ready, subscribe here.

This weekend will kick off my 14th fall of Florida Gators football fandom.

I came by it honestly -- but not because I grew up in Florida or went to college there or had a parent who passed down the passion.

On the same first date in the summer of 2001 when I fell in love with my future wife, I fell in love with her football team.

What I found instantly addictive: The expectations -- championship or bust. (My expectations with her were slightly more modest -- just that we’d end up getting married. No biggie!)

Part of the appeal of college football is that at its highest level, it allows for merely a smidgen of error: “Every game counts.” Flukes derail contenders, but champions are not flukes.

Few teams manage to actually make it through a season unbeaten - that scrum of near-mint teams (plus gobs of cash) begat the four-team playoff system making its debut this season.

The margin of error is now slightly wider -- instead of 4 or 5 teams with a legit chance to win a national title, the pool is closer to double that.

One unintended consequence will be that, not unlike college basketball, teams will be celebrated for just making it to the (lowercase) final four, not only for winning the title.

That’s OK, though: At the core of college football fandom has always been expectations management (or mismanagement), whether that means “national champs” or “bowl-eligible.”

And if the wider playoff berth’s biggest and best outcome is that it expands the number of fans who will have myopically high expectations -- that’s an amazing outcome.*

* - Except when your team - cough - falls into a Swamp-sized rut.

*Kenny Hill: It’s an open question whether the Texas A&M QB - who had a break-out performance last night in A&M’s win at South Carolina - should be nicknamed “Kenny Football” or “Johnny Who?”

*Some worthwhile weekend reads, if you haven’t gotten to them yet from earlier this week:

"Jerry Football"
Don Van Natta, ESPN

"The Right Thing To Do vs. The State of Florida"
Michael Kruse, SBNation

"Confessions of a Fat Bastard"
Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly

"How to Be a Saint"
Kevin Van Valkenburg, ESPN

"Maybe the home page is alive after all"
Joseph Lichterman, NiemanLab

"The 60-Second Interview with The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson"

"The Problem With the Black Cast Member on SNL"
Wesley Morris, Grantland

"The Glue"
Bryan Curtis, Grantland

Outtakes from SI's Kobe profile
Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated
(Original story here.)

College football opening essay
Spencer Hall, SBNation

*What I’m watching on Saturday: Florida-Idaho and Northwestern-Cal are locked in as personal rooting interests, but keep your eye on Michigan’s rematch with App State to start the day, the late-afternoon Auburn-Arkansas grudge match (in which Auburn might score 70) and, in primetime, how defending-champ Florida State looks against a solid Oklahoma State.

*Last thought about expectations: Typically, I would say that it’s healthiest to have modest expectations about almost everything (including this email!), but it’s entirely OK to have a small, benign corner where you allow yourself to have irrationally high expectations (and the capacity to deal with the almost-inevitable disappointment). Talking to you, Alabama and Oregon fans.

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