College football is back!
Unless you’re a fan of one of the teams that opened play last weekend, your team is almost certainly kicking its season off this coming weekend. While everyone starts fresh with high hopes and playoff aspirations now, many will be crushed by Labor Day, with folks already dreading a season of disappointment.
But fear not! There’s still a lot of fun to be had from watching college football this season. You just have to be open to looking at the bigger picture. Finding joy in other teams outside of your own can be a foreign concept to some, but as one who’s practiced it for the last few years, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth it.
With that being said, knowing where to look for a fun, lighthearted college team to latch onto after yours (probably) inevitably disappoints you can be tough if you don’t know where to look. So here are some to consider:
University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers
Ignore the fact that UAB might barely win at all this season; if you’re looking for a feel-good story in college football this is the best you’ll find. The Blazers had a promising team in 2014, finishing with six wins and looking to have an even better 2015. And then the football program was shut down. The politics are messy, but all you really need to know is that in UAB’s team returning in 2017, the good guys have won here.
The Blazers might not win more than a game or two this season, despite bringing in decent players on both sides of the ball given the circumstances. But if you’re all about second chances, UAB is the team for you.
You should remember Houston pretty well. A year ago the Cougars were touted as a potential playoff pick despite being in a group of five conference. After starting off white-hot (including beating eventual Big XII champ Oklahoma), Tom Herman’s squad stumbled a bit and ended with a disappointing 9-4 record.
Now, with Herman gone for the Texas job and Major Applewhite taking over, is Houston still worth watching?
In short: absolutely. Applewhite previously led the offense of that incredibly fun Houston team. What’s more, the Cougars have arguably the best defensive player in the country in sophomore Ed Oliver. As a freshman, Oliver put his stamp on several big games against big-time competition, including against Oklahoma and near single-handed destruction of Louisville and Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. On offense, the Cougars may have lost do-everything quarterback Greg Ward, but replaced him with Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen, meaning they shouldn’t lose too much of a step on that side of the ball.
The Cougars have high expectations, talent on both sides of the ball, and legitimate competition on their schedule/in their conference. That’s a formula for a fun season.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
I already know you remember Appalachian State, even if it’s for something the Mountaineers did as an FCS darling in 2007. Flash forward ten years, and App State is a full-fledged FBS member now. They haven’t lost their charm though, and nearly beat then-highly touted Tennessee in Knoxville on the opening weekend of the season (ignore a couple weeks later, when Miami blew the doors windows and most of the paneling off the Mountaineers in Boone).
Well, it’s 2017, and App State has a chance to stun a highly ranked opponent from a superior conference. The Mountaineers travel to face a top-15 Georgia squad in week one (and also host Wake Forest in week three), and have the lethal good roster/weak schedule combo throughout conference play.
Appalachian State: come for the early-season thrillers, stay for the late-season blowouts.
The last thing most casual CFB fans probably remember about Wyoming in 2016 was their six-turnover monstrosity against Nebraska in week two. That’s not a very fair view of a team that went 8-4 and won their division, while being fun as hell in the process. The Cowboys failed to score fewer than 30 points just twice throughout the regular season, and were on the losing side of a 66-69 OT thriller at UNLV.
This year, Craig Bohl’s team returns quarterback and potential top NFL draft pick Josh Allen, who will be surrounded by young weapons to throw to. The Cowboys also have to defend their divisional title with a tough road slate which, as a team that was awful on the road a year ago, could cause some slip-ups.
However, the thought alone of NFL scouts watching Wyoming and Fresno State in November is enough of a reason to follow the Cowboys this year, if only for hilarity’s sake.
University of South Florida Bulls
The Bulls have already played their week one game, but if anything, it helps prove my point. After digging themselves a 16-0 hole after the first quarter, USF rattled off 42-straight points to beat San Jose State 42-22. It took approximately one week for new head coach, and former Texas coach, Charlie Strong to work out the kinks and let his offense loose.
Strong not only feels like a great hire, but he inherits a hell of a roster, especially offensively. While the defense wavered last year under Willie Taggert despite going 10-2 and winning The American conference, Strong has an extensive and impressive background as a defensive assistant. Sure, it hasn’t shown itself yet in his head coaching jobs, but in a conference with less explosive offenses than the Big XII, Strong will have a bit more give in that respect.
The major downside for USF: their schedule is probably too easy to be taken seriously by the playoff committee unless they blow the doors off of everyone and go undefeated. That being said, they’ll be an incredibly fun and excellent team to watch regardless.
“But, stupid online sports writer, what if I’d rather follow a team that has a chance of making the playoffs? What if I want all my friends to know I said team so-and-so was good enough to make the playoffs all year and then they did?”
Well, that’s kind of a weird stipulation to have, but sure. There are plenty of fun teams that might actually make the playoff. Here are three of those:
Penn State Nittany Lions
Actively caring about and enjoying Penn State football might give you a bad taste in your mouth. I get that. However, I implore you to look past the program and focus on the names. Saquon Barkley! Trace McSorley! Mike Gesicki! These are really great players that, together, make an exciting team!
Penn State found heaps of success in 2016 due to underestimation from opponents, sure, but they also did it in spite of some bad luck and a slow start. That’s pretty rare for any 11-win team. This year they’ll hope to have better luck and not start the season at 2-2, but teams know what to expect now.
In any case, it shouldn’t matter. Penn State is a strong team looking to compete in a crowded top-half of the Big Ten East. Even if they don’t make the playoff, they’ll likely provide a fun as hell bowl game like last year’s Rose Bowl. Speaking of which…
The winner of said Rose Bowl, and a team with arguably the best quarterback in the country. The Trojans looked lost under first-year head coach Clay Helton in 2016, and then made a quarterback switch. The result? Nine-straight wins and a Rose Bowl victory.
This season could be even better. The Trojans are deeper and more experienced all over the field, not just at the quarterback spot. The Trojans have a ton of upperclassmen leadership on defense,and also have a schedule that starts tough but, down the stretch, is pretty favorable.
This might be another team you hesitate to like because of their dominance in the Pete Carrol era. It’d be your loss to do so.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Another team that’s very similar to the other two mentioned here, Oklahoma State has a lot going for them.
I could get into it all, or I could just say this: they have a good quarterback who loves to throw the deep ball.
There. That’s all you need to know. The Cowboys have a stellar, fun offense and if the defense can improve and exceed Big XII standards, they could actually win the conference and score a birth to the playoff though.
That hardly matters when looking at the Cowboys, thought. Not only do they have a romantic interest in the deep ball, but their coach has a damn mullet. Get in line for the Okie State bandwagon now.