College Football — Where It All Started - Football for Everyone - Football For Dummies (2015)

Football For Dummies (2015)

Part V

Football for Everyone

Chapter 16

College Football — Where It All Started

In This Chapter

arrow Understanding why there are so many conferences

arrow Examining the College Football Playoff and how it works

arrow Looking at college trophies and awards

arrow Getting the basics on all-star games

Even though the National Football League is made up of pros, don’t let that fool you: The NFL’s rules, traditions, and growth were nurtured by college football. In fact, the sport itself began on the collegiate level. The first college football game was played in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers, and it took professional football almost a century to match America’s love affair with college football.

Although the NFL and college football attract many of the same fans today, some of the rules, as well as the levels of competition, are different. In this chapter, I clue you in to the different divisions of college football, shine a little light on the sometimes mysterious inner workings of the College Football Playoff, and reveal the powerful impact of college coaches, among other things.

Why People Love College Football

Fans are passionate about college football because of its local and regional flavor, and also because it’s built on more than a century of tradition. A college football fan doesn’t have to be an alumnus of a particular college to become a serious fan, either. For example, if you’re raised in Ohio and your mother or father is passionate about football, you’ll probably hear about Woody Hayes (a legendary coach) and root for Ohio State.

In every pocket of America, fans are loyal to their state universities, both big and small, and when two state schools collide, a rivalry emerges and fans go wild. Ohio State’s major rival is the University of Michigan; in Alabama, nothing is bigger than the matchup between the University of Alabama and Auburn, the state’s other college football team; and in Florida, life stops for three-plus hours when Florida State and the University of Florida play.

Another primary appeal of college football is its young, amateur players. Even in major college football, you see smaller-sized athletes (the ones who aren’t big enough, strong enough, or fast enough to play in the NFL) performing at a high level. And the style of the college game generally isn’t as structured as the NFL game. College teams are more open about their approach to the game; coaches will try anything new if they think it will work. They use offenses and defenses that NFL teams would never consider, such as the wishbone, which features three running backs and emphasizes the run by using a ball-handling running quarterback. Because not every college team is stacked with great players at every position, superior coaching decides a lot of outcomes with offensive and defensive game plans that exploit specific weaknesses.

Plus, the college game offers pageantry — the tailgate parties, the marching bands, and the Friday night pep rallies. In many cases, a college campus mushrooms to more than twice its normal population on a Saturday afternoon as thousands of adult fans join students at the game. Major college sights and sounds include

· The Notre Dame Victory March (“Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame …”): This school song is one of the most famous songs in the United States, right up there with the national anthem, “God Bless America,” and “White Christmas.”

· The Stanford and Yale bands: These bands are known for their zaniness, wacky attire, and willingness to attempt any outlandish halftime show imaginable.

· The Trojan Horse: The symbol of Southern California (USC) football is the Trojan Horse — a white horse with a man dressed like a Trojan warrior riding him. The horse’s name is Traveler.

· Dotting the i in Ohio State: The Buckeye band ends every home pregame performance by spelling out Ohio on the field, with the sousaphone player completing the spelling by running to dot the i.

· Mascots: Mascots are huge in college football. Some of the best include the Falcons at the Air Force Academy, which fly at halftime; the real-life Buffalo at Colorado; the ugly-faced bulldog at Georgia; and the little Irish leprechaun at Notre Dame.

· Atmosphere: Atmosphere is what a college football game is all about. Here are some fan favorites: Any night game at LSU; the Florida-Georgia game, usually played in Jacksonville; Ohio State versus Michigan before 110,000 in Ann Arbor; Florida-Florida State and Notre Dame-USC anywhere; and any home game at Tennessee.

· Battle of the bands: The Grambling-Southern University game offers the finest strutting, dancing, and rhythm halftime show in college football.

Rule differences between college and NFL football

If you watch a lot of NFL games, you should know that pro and college rules differ in three important areas:

· In college football, the hash marks are 10 feet 9 inches closer to the sidelines than in the pros.

· In college football, a receiver is ruled inbounds when he has possession of the ball and has one foot inbounds. In the NFL, the receiver must have both feet inbounds.

· In the NFL, any offensive player in possession of the ball — whether a running back, a quarterback, or a kick returner — can fall down, get back on his feet, and continue running if he isn’t touched by a defensive player. A college player is considered down whenever one knee touches the ground, whether or not another player has touched him. Consequently, you’d better not slip in college football.

Big, Medium, and Small

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of college athletics, reports that more than 650 member colleges fielded football teams during the 2014 season. These colleges are divided into divisions based on enrollment, financial commitment, and the competitive level of the conference to which they belong. The NCAA doesn’t want big-time powers like Nebraska and Penn State playing small schools like Union College and Wabash. It wants a level playing field to make for more competitive games.

Consequently, as shown in Table 16-1, the 650 plus colleges are divided into four divisions: Division I FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), Division II, and Division III. Within each division, teams are members of conferences. A conference is similar to a league in professional sports (see “Examining College Conferences” later in this chapter for more on conferences).

Table 16-1 Division Breakdown for the 2014 Football Season


Number of Schools

Number of Conferences













Hundreds of junior colleges (two-year programs) also have football teams, as do National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools, a group of smaller four-year colleges not associated with the NCAA. Unable to qualify academically to receive a four-year scholarship to a four-year college, many athletes attend junior colleges and hope to land a scholarship to a four-year school. Many of the NAIA teams are based in Kansas, North and South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nebraska, and Oregon.

The following sections introduce you to some of the big-time and small-time schools to know.

How the NCAA got its start

Although it oversees every sport and both men’s and women’s teams, the NCAA got its start as a governing body for college football. In 1905, representatives of 13 colleges got together to establish playing rules, and in 1906, 49 schools joined the original 13 to form the precursor of the NCAA: the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, or IAAUS. The IAAUS became the NCAA in 1910.

Big-time schools

Although 120 colleges and universities played Division I FBS football in 2010, less than half of them had a realistic chance of finishing in the top ten or being voted the national champion by either the Associated Press poll (which consists of a national group of sportswriters and broadcasters) or the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. These two polls are the most respected college football polls.

Traditionally, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas, and USC have the best college programs in the country. I could name another dozen, but if you want to pick the national champion in any of the next five years, the winner will probably come from among the schools listed in Table 16-2, which highlights the schools boasting the greatest number of college-players-turned-pro.

Table 16-2 Where NFL Players Came From, 2014


Number of Players



Miami (Florida)






Florida State




Ohio State






Notre Dame








South Carolina










Texas A&M






Penn State


halloffame Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic university located in South Bend, Indiana, has historically been the most recognized college football power. It began its rise in the 1920s and has maintained a lofty hold on the college scene ever since. Notre Dame’s support is nationwide — it recruits high school players from virtually every state — and all of its games are televised nationally. (The term subway alumni is used to describe the many fans who support Notre Dame football. These fans act very much like they attended or even graduated from the school.)

The reputations of big-time schools help with recruiting because many of the best high school players want to play for a school where they have a chance to compete for a national championship, possibly prepare for the NFL, and also receive a good education. Every one of the schools mentioned earlier in this section adheres to those criteria.

Small college powers

Although small schools may not achieve national prominence, they certainly play tough football. Some of the winningest teams and coaches aren’t at giants like Florida and Nebraska but rather smaller colleges, such as the following:

· Mount Union College: Just 18 miles east of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the small Ohio town of Alliance, home of Division III powerhouse Mount Union College, the winningest college football program since 1990. In 2012, Mount Union won its 11th Division III Football National Championship in the previous 19 years by defeating the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) in the Stagg Bowl.

· Grambling State University: From 1941 through 1998 Grambling was led by the great Eddie Robinson, who became the second winningest coach in NCAA Division I history with 408 wins. Among predominantly black colleges, Grambling has been the best producer of NFL players, sending more than 100 to the pros. Robinson, who coached 55 seasons at Grambling, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

halloffame Two of the greatest players of all time, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice, were small-college players. Payton starred at Jackson State in Mississippi, and Rice, another first-round draft choice, played at Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Bigger doesn’t always mean better!

Examining College Conferences

College football teams play most of their games against schools in their own conferences. Some conferences, such as the Ivy League, formed because their members have a shared focus on academic excellence and don’t award athletic scholarships. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale are in the Ivy League conference (these schools — particularly Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale — helped spawn football in America). However, most conferences are formed with the goal of bringing together teams on the same competitive level in the same geographical area.

remember The best-known Division I FBS conferences are the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC (Southeastern Conference), ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), Big 12, and the American Athletic Conference. These conferences supply more than 60 percent of the players on NFL rosters.

Here’s the lowdown on these well-known college football conferences:

· Big Ten: This conference, which actually has 14 members, is located mostly in the Midwest. Its members are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin.

· Pac-12 (formerly the Pac-10): The Pac-12 is located in the western United States. In 2011, Colorado and Utah joined Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, University of California at Berkeley, USC, Washington, and Washington State in this conference.

· SEC: The members of the SEC are situated mostly in the southeastern portion of the country. Its members are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi (also known as Ole Miss), Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt.

· ACC: The ACC schools are mostly in the Carolinas and along the East Coast. They include Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.

· Big 12: The Big 12 is actually composed of ten teams. The current members are Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Christian University (TCU), Texas Tech, and West Virginia.

· American Athletic Conference: This conference formed during a period of NCAA conference realignments from 2010 to 2013. Many of its members were part of the former Big East conference. It includes these football programs: Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, South Florida, Southern Methodist, Temple, Tulane, and Tulsa.

The other Division I FBS conferences are Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference, and Sun Belt Conference.

Not all football teams belong to a conference. Navy, Brigham Young, and Notre Dame head the group of football independents. These schools don’t have any trouble scheduling games because of their excellent football heritage. Plus, Notre Dame has its own network television contract.

remember Although it isn’t a national championship, winning a conference championship is a major accomplishment and assists in postseason honors and invitations to bowl games (in Division I FBS) or playoff games (in the other divisions).

The ever-shifting Division I FBS conferences

The year 2011 saw a drastic realignment of teams in Division I FBS conferences. Nebraska left the Big 12 Conference to join the Big Ten. Not to be outdone by its rival the Big Ten, the Pac-10 Conference successfully courted two new members, Utah (formerly in the Mountain West Conference) and Colorado (formerly in the Big 12), which necessitated a name change for the conference; it became the Pac-12 Conference. Then in 2013, the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland, for a total of 14 teams. Sounds like a name change is long overdue for that conference.

The Mountain West Conference, smarting from the loss of Utah, signed up three new members in Boise State, Nevada (Reno), and Fresno State — all formerly of the Western Athletic Conference. Not long after, however, the Mountain West Conference received some bad news: long-time member Brigham Young (BYU) had decided to go solo. The BYU Cougars left the Mountain West Conference to become an independent football team.

Why this game of musical chairs? Why are so many teams jumping to different conferences?

One reason is because the teams are seeking a competitive advantage in the College Football Playoff (CFP), the playoff system used in Division I FBS football that began in 2014. Teams move to different conferences or go independent with the hope of positioning themselves for a shot at one of the four playoff spots. The thinking is that being a top team in one of the major football conferences increases a team’s chances of being one of the four playoff teams.

The College Football Playoff

From 1998 to 2013, Division I FBS college football used the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to determine a national champion. The BCS relied on polls and computer rankings to select two teams to play in a single BCS National Championship Game. The BCS was controversial since its inception with many fans arguing that the championship game rarely paired the two best teams in college football. So for 2014, a new system, the College Football Playoff (CFP) was devised.

The CFP is a four-team playoff. Two semifinal games are played first, followed a little over a week later (always on a Monday) by a championship game pitting the two semifinal winners against each other.

The selection process

A committee of 13 football experts selects the final four teams for the semifinal games. The committee members include athletic directors from the major football conferences along with former athletic directors, coaches, players, and administrators, and even a retired sports reporter.

The four final teams are major conference champions, but as you may know, there are more than four major conferences. So the selection committee has to weigh factors such as overall record, strength of schedule, and head-to-head results. Polls and computer rankings are not used in the selection process. Ultimately, some major conference champions are left out of the playoffs. Those teams play in other bowls instead.

The selection committee seeds the four final teams from 1 to 4, with teams 1 and 4 playing in one semifinal and teams 2 and 3 playing in the other.

The semifinals

The two semifinal games are hosted on a rotating basis by six bowl games: Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Peach Bowl. The games are played on New Year’s Day along with other major bowl games featuring teams that didn’t make the CFP. For the 2014 season, Alabama and Ohio State played in the Sugar Bowl, with Ohio State coming out on top. In the other semifinal game, Florida State and Oregon played in the Rose Bowl, with Oregon advancing to the final game.

The national championship game

The championship game is played on the first Monday a week after the semifinal games. Cities around the United States bid to host the game, which is held at a different location every year. For the 2014 season, the game was played January 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The winning team earns the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy.

College football firsts

Here are some firsts in college football:

· White lines are placed on the field at 5-yard intervals in 1882. As a result of the pattern, the playing field is called a gridiron.

· A game is played on the West Coast between the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford in 1892.

· Collier’s magazine publishes the first All-American team in 1898. Collier’s remains the official selection holder of teams through 1924.

· The length of the football field is reduced from 110 yards to today’s standard of 100 yards in 1912.

· The University of Wisconsin erects an electronic scoreboard in 1926, and first uses it in a game against Iowa.

· Although a Fordham practice was shown in the preceding year, the game between Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania on October 5, 1940, is television’s first game. Saturday afternoon telecasts emerge nationwide in the 1951 season.

The Heisman and Other Trophies

The Heisman Trophy is awarded annually to America’s most outstanding college football player. The trophy is named in honor of John W. Heisman, a legendary football coach. The first Heisman was given to halfback Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago in 1935. Over the years, the award has traditionally gone to running backs and quarterbacks and some wide receivers. Two exceptions were Larry Kelley of Yale in 1936 and Leon Hart of Notre Dame in 1949, who were both two-way players (meaning they played both offense and defense). The third exception is Charles Woodson, a cornerback from Michigan who in 1997 became the first full-time defensive player to ever win the Heisman. (Woodson also returned kicks and occasionally played wide receiver on offense.)

More than 900 people (former winners and 870 college football broadcasters and sportswriters) vote every year for the Heisman winner, which is announced in mid-December. To vie for the award, some college sports information departments wage what’s tantamount to a political campaign, producing tons of brochures, handbooks, and campaign literature on its star player. The campaign for the next year’s Heisman winner actually begins during spring practice prior to the start of the football season.

Besides the Heisman, college football has other prestigious awards, including the

· Outland Trophy: This trophy has been awarded since 1946 to the nation’s top interior lineman. Some notable recipients include Alex Karras, Orlando Pace, and Ron Yary.

· Maxwell Award: Two years younger than the Heisman, the Maxwell Award, which began in 1937, also goes to the top college player of the year. Often, the Maxwell and the Heisman don’t agree.

· Lombardi Award: This award is given to the nation’s top lineman. Recipients include Cornelius Bennett, Orlando Pace (a two-time winner), and Terrell Suggs.

· Davey O’Brien Award: This award is given to the best quarterback. Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Vince Young, and Tim Tebow have all received the Davey O’Brien Award.

howiesays Remembering my college days

I went to Villanova on a football scholarship, and we never played on television. Our home stadium’s capacity was around 7,000. We took buses to a lot of our games and stayed three to a room at motor lodges with two beds a lot of the time. We didn’t have the fancy training facilities, film rooms, or big weight-lifting rooms that a Nebraska, Penn State, or Florida team has. I was just happy to have hot water for my shower.

But we played some big games at Villanova. We played Boston College twice, and Clemson was in the top ten when we faced them. The Boston College game was a big game for me because I was from Boston and was supposed to play for them. I always had some animosity for that game because the day after I had originally signed with Boston College the head coach told me I was going to play offensive guard. I didn’t want to play that position. That’s how I ended up at Villanova, playing defense.

When we played Clemson, they had something like seven first-round draft choices on their roster, and they beat us 30-0 with their third team. Clemson had the Bostic brothers (Jeff and Joe) playing center and guard, and they simply wore me out. They didn’t beat me with athletic ability; they just knew a whole lot more about playing than I did. But I got my revenge in the Super Bowl, playing against Jeff, who was with the Washington Redskins. And our previous matchup definitely was on my mind.

College football has become much bigger since I played — more television, more money, and more exposure. Villanova, though, hasn’t changed much. It’s still a small college program.

All-American and Other All-Star Teams

The Associated Press All-America team is the most prestigious All-America team, followed by the Walter Camp All-America team. The American Football Coaches’ All-America Team, which is selected by the coaches for all NCAA divisions and the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), is also considered a highly accurate gauge of the best college talent.

These teams are all-star teams that honor the best players at their respective positions on a national scale. The Associated Press lists first-, second-, and third-team All-Americans. The selections are subjective. Often, coaches and football writers vote for players they know personally. Voters have their favorites and also their prejudices. Consequently, some deserving players may be ignored or fail to receive the recognition they deserve. In many ways, it’s a popularity contest.

Because many of these all-star teams include players who are flunking classes and who have no intention of ever graduating, Academic All-America teams have emerged to recognize student-athletes who’ve had great careers and been successful in the classroom.

Some all-star teams actually compete in all-star games. Exceptional college football players can look forward to playing in these games when their college careers come to an end:

· East-West Shrine Game: Pits players from the eastern United States against players from the West. The game is held in Orlando, Florida, with proceeds going to benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

· Senior Bowl: Held in Mobile, Alabama, with players divided into North and South teams. The game is considered a venue for players to showcase their talents to NFL scouts and coaches.

howiesays My invite to the Blue-Gray all-star game

When I was at Villanova, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to a college all-star game called the Blue-Gray Football Classic held in Montgomery, Alabama (the game has since been discontinued). I think another player canceled out, and I got in, sort of as a novelty. I don’t think that I projected very high in the NFL draft, maybe a tenth-round pick, until I played in this all-star game.

The week of practice and the game itself helped me a lot. It gave me the opportunity to compete with the top college prospects in America, something I couldn’t do every weekend at a smaller school like Villanova. Every NFL team had scouts at this game; very few scouts came to my Villanova games. I ended up playing well against a guy from Texas A&M who was considered to be a high draft choice, a first- or second-round pick. Jimmy Johnson, whom I ended up working with at FOX, coached me in the game. During the game, I blocked a punt and scored a touchdown, and my team won.

I had the opportunity to run for a lot of pro scouts at that game. I was running 4.7s and 4.8s and doing all their little eraser drills where you run 10 yards, pick up an eraser, drop it in a basket, and do it again. Run 20 yards, and pick it up… . I was really good at those drills. My vertical jump was good. I had all the intangibles, but I wasn’t a good football player. So someone had to take a chance, and the Raiders did, drafting me in the second round. All-star games give a lot of unknown players like me a chance to prove that they belong at the next level.