College football

For many, college football is the only sport, and for good reason. First the fans are great. Second, every game counts (The NCAA has a self-promotional blog of the same name). And finally, players stay closer to the amateur athlete model which so many N.F.L. fans seem to find desirable. This said, the sport is a sprawl of conferences, school rivalries and opaque tradition all governed by a moving thicket of NCAA regulations. A cryptic postseason bowl game system caps it all off.

To try to get their hands around it all, sportswriters inevitably revert to lists. The Philadelphia Daily News narrowed theirs to 50 things to watch out for this season—that’s right 50. Even with so many things to look out for, the big story in college football, once again, is the Bowl Championship Series or BCS. This tangle of bowl games, polls, and number crunching was established in 1998 to deliver the holy grail of college football: a national champion. Many think it has yet to do that. So, this year the BCS added a fifth bowl game that will serve as the championship.

Since its inception, the BCS has drawn criticism from players, coaches, pundits, and pretty much any fan of a team not ranked in the top two at the end of the season. The hullabaloo recently landed in the number two spot on Sports Illustrated’s list of sport’s perennial debates The controversy reached such a pitch that a congressional committee called a hearing for a “comprehensive review” of the BCS and postseason college football.

The committee should have their hands full. Through the years, the BCS has grown more and more ornate as officials recalibrated the system in response to criticism. The incessant tweaking has left a system so complicated that pundits rely on mathematicians to evaluate the latest variations.

In the other big story this season, the NCAA made some rules changes. Many of these are intended to make games move faster. After the first week, it appears they have succeed by some 17 minutes, according to USA Today. But shorter games don’t just mean more tailgating, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel argues the rules changes, particularly the switch to starting the clock when a ball is ready to be snapped rather than when it is actually snapped, translate into fewer plays. Fewer plays per game mean fewer record-breaking performances, Maisel reasons, because suddenly there is not enough time in a game, a season, or a career to top records established under the old clock rule.

Here is a master TV schedule of the season’s games. SI proves itself a good resource with team stats and schedules grouped by conference. If stuck at a desk or without a TV, ESPN offers live gamecasting online for most match ups. For deep coverage of all things college football, try here. This weekend, one of the best match ups all season takes place when Ohio State rolls into Austin to take on the defending champion Longhorns. Here are some other games to watch out for. And it’s never too early to start arguments via competing standings, or to handicap Heisman trophy hopefuls.

Cal tailback Marshawn Lynch appears close to the top of most Heisman shortlists as the season started. The university will likely spend thousands of dollars promoting Lynch, a junior from Oakland, for the coveted trophy. A Heisman winner attracts attention to a school as well as dollars via ticket sales, merchandising and alumni donations. Even without a Heisman, Lynch brings in much more than he takes out, according to The San Jose Mercury News, which estimates that Lynch’s real-world value will approach $1 million this season. This, reporter Jon Wilner points out, represents about 50 times the value of Lynch’s scholarship for the year.

Money also seems to influence some team’s schedules. Take the University of Buffalo. Last year they won only one of 11 games. For nearly a decade, the Bulls have been doormats. Nonetheless this year, they will be getting $600,000 a game to “take on” Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin and national title contender, Auburn.

“Buffalo dropped West Virginia from its schedule, without even a courtesy phone call to earn an extra $300,000 to play at Wisconsin,” the New York Times’ Pete Thamel wrote. “It’s all about the money — any administrator will tell you that,” Rich Rodriguez, the head coach at West Virginia, told Thamel. “It’s not for the excitement of college football. Let’s not kid ourselves.”

Enjoy the season.

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