One of the many great things we love about college football is the weekly excitement we all feel from late August or early September until the first week in December.
College football has the greatest—and most meaningful—regular season in sports, and it shows. The players play their hearts out every Saturday, and the fans are the beneficiaries of a terrific three-plus months of non-stop action.
But which teams provide the best entertainment in the nation? Which teams provide the most bank for our buck (or cable bill)?
Here's our list of the 11 most exciting college football teams in the country.
We'll start with the team everyone loves—or loves to hate—Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish haven't been their old selves for what seems like an eternity now, but Notre Dame is still one of the four winningest programs in the history of college football with 845 victories (behind Michigan, 895; Yale, 863; and Texas, 849).
But these days, even when Notre Dame comes up short, you have to admit that it does so in spectacularly entertaining fashion.
Just as one (of many) examples, take the 2011 contest against Michigan in Ann Arbor. The thrill-a-minute game under the lights at Michigan Stadium was easily one of the most entertaining games of the entire year—even though Notre Dame lost.
And then there's the fiery head coach Brian Kelly, who's always good for a quote or two—especially if Notre Dame is trailing (or just lost).
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't escape the fact that the Fighting Irish put on one heckuva show every week.
Clemson is a very fun team to watch, especially because the Tigers are like that proverbial box of chocolates Forrest Gump couldn't stop mentioning.
For Clemson fans, the sad truth is that when the Tigers run out onto the field, they never really know what they're going to get.
Last season, we saw the best of what Clemson had to offer for the first eight weeks of the year.
Then, true to form, as soon as someone mentioned the BCS and a potential national championship run, the wheels came off the wagon.
Clemson was just 1-3 over the next four games, being outscored 74-130.
Clemson then backed into the ACC Championship game just a game ahead of both Florida State and Wake Forest, but was able to muster enough strength to beat then-No. 5 Virginia Tech for the second time in 2011, 38-10.
As a result, the ACC champions were heading into the Orange Bowl to take on a 9-3, barely ranked No. 23 West Virginia team that had lost to the likes of Syracuse and Louisville. Should be easy pickings, right?
If you missed that game, you missed a doozy. Clemson was so giddy to be playing in the Orange Bowl, it forgot that there was the little matter of the Mountaineers—who proceeded to put up 70 points on the bewildered Tigers.
Exciting? Absolutely. Entertaining? Definitely.
Disappointing? That, too.
The Auburn Tigers sure like to make things interesting, don't they?
After Cam Newton left following the Tigers' national championship after 2010, everyone left Auburn for dead.
And through much of their Week 1 game against lowly Utah State in 2011, the Tigers looked like a down and out team, just like we all expected.
But through some amazing late-game theatrics, the Tigers found a way to win.
And then did the same the following week against then-No. 16 Mississippi State.
And while losses to Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama followed, Auburn sure put on quite a show all season long, en route to an 8-5 finish—including a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Virginia.
So where do the Tigers go from here?
Clearly, Gene Chizik and company won't be satisfied with another fourth place finish in the SEC West. In order to gain ground, though, Auburn will need to climb up and over teams like LSU and Alabama...much easier said than done.
But it should be fun watching the Tigers try.
It doesn't matter where you live or what team you consider your favorite, you can't escape the fact that over the past six seasons, Boise State has easily been one of the most entertaining and exciting football teams in the entire FBS.
From their 2007 Fiesta Bowl overtime thriller against Oklahoma to their punch-for-punch game against TCU in the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl to another Fiesta Bowl victory (over TCU) in 2010, the Broncos have consistently shown that they deserve every consideration as a top program.
Not only are the Broncos 73-6 over the past six years, but Boise State has had to deal with the perceived elitism that pervades the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Despite two undefeated seasons over that span, Boise State have never seriously been considered for a BCS National Championship Game berth, and has never finished higher than No. 4 in the final AP or Coaches' Poll.
But that doesn't stop the thrills we get from watching the Broncos play.
We'll be treated to another opening-week nationally-televised Boise State game in 2012, when the Broncos take on another team that makes our “most exciting” list: Michigan State.
You can sum up Virginia Tech's style of football in one unconventional word: Beamerball.
Head coach Frank Beamer has certainly tossed the idea of the offense scoring all of the points right out the window.
Since taking over the Hokies program in 1987, a touchdown has been scored by every a player at every position on defense.
During Beamer's 25 seasons at VA Tech, he's guided the Hokies to a 209-98-2 record, which has included 19 straight bowl invitations, at least a share of seven conference titles (Virginia Tech was independent until 1991, when it joined the Big East before moving to the ACC in 2004), and two more ACC Coastal divisional crowns. Virginia Tech has also earned six BCS bowl berths under Beamer, including the 2000 Sugar Bowl (the National Championship game for the 1999 season).
All of this while playing an at times unconventional style of football.
Sure, Virginia Tech has just three returning offensive starters from 2011, but that just means we'll likely see even more Beamerball out of the Hokies in 2012.
Now who doesn't want to watch that?
Michigan State might not be the first team that would traditionally pop into one's mind when pondering the nation's most exciting teams.
But this isn't your grandfather's MSU.
The Spartans have been on a bit of a tear lately, winning more games in the past two seasons (22) than any other Big Ten program, save for Wisconsin (which also has 22 wins).
Michigan State has also beaten Wisconsin during the regular season in back-to-back years, although Sparty did fall just short against the Badgers in the 2011 Big Ten Championship game.
Head coach Mark Dantonio has turned the program around, and his path to success is mirroring that of another popular MSU figure: Tom Izzo.
Michigan State is now a perennial contender in the Big Ten, and Dantonio's Spartans have been winning with flair these past few seasons.
If the 2010 overtime thriller in which they beat Notre Dame with a fourth down fake field goal wasn't enough, MSU dug up some more drama during its 2011 showdown with Wisconsin in East Lansing.
After giving up a seemingly safe fourth quarter lead, Michigan State had the ball near midfield with just a few seconds remaining. Rather than safely taking a knee and going to overtime, Dantonio drew up another historic Michigan State play.
The resulting Hail Mary pass was caught right at the goal line, and it took the officials a few minutes to review it.
But in the end, it was another amazing, last-play victory for MSU.
And let's not forget another overtime thriller in last season's Outback Bowl, where the Spartans knocked off SEC East champion Georgia.
Are there any more such moments in the works for the Spartans in 2012? Let's hope so!
Some of the big names may have moved on from Oklahoma State, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything to get excited about in Stillwater this season.
Oklahoma State has become one of the most offensively-prolific teams in the nation under Mike “I'm a Man” Gundy, and last season was the ultimate payoff for the legions of orange-clad Cowboys fans.
The Pokes were able to pull off yet another impressive offensive display against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, winning the program's first-ever BCS bowl on its very first attempt.
What will Okie State do for an encore?
Many of the pundits believe the Cowboys won't have the firepower necessary to make a Big 12 run this season.
Maybe, maybe not. But even if Oklahoma State does drop a few more decisions this season, we can always count on a quality Mike Gundy press conference afterward.
Speaking of offensive prowess, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about Oregon.
The Ducks have been one of the nation's most consistently successful teams over the past few seasons, winning three straight Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) titles, and finally breaking through to win the resulting BCS game this past season—the Rose Bowl game.
Head coach Chip Kelly has 34 wins already his in very young career, and the Ducks will be going for an unprecedented four-peat this fall.
But in order to return to the Rose Bowl, the Ducks will need to overcome the loss of some offensive firepower while simultaneously dealing with a resurgent USC program that will be fighting for its own championship (at last) this season.
Keep in mind, it was USC that derailed Oregon's chances for a return trip to the BCS National Championship game last season, beating the then-No. 4 Ducks in Eugene on November 19.
The Pac-12 powers-that-be have given us all reason to rejoice this season. USC and Oregon will again meet in the regular season—this time in LA on November 3—in what is sure to be one of the biggest regular season games of the entire football season.
With Alabama at LSU on the same day, you can be sure that November 3 will be a day to which we're all looking forward.
And what would an early November Saturday be without a classic showdown between LSU and Alabama?
Okay, so last season's mistake-filled field goal fest wasn't much fun to watch, and the rematch in the BCS National Championship game wasn't much better. Those two games aside, LSU has been incredibly entertaining and exciting to watch since Les Miles came to town.
One obviously doesn't earn the nickname “The Mad Hatter” for putting together bland and boring game plans and making restrained and sober play calls.
Eating the occasional blade of grass right off the field probably doesn't hurt the perception, either.
While the defending SEC Champions have a lot to be proud of when looking back at the 2011 season, don't think the Tigers are ready to rest on their laurels. They know all about the “one that got away,” and with the utterly awful performance we saw from LSU last January, you can bet that Miles and his pack will come out of the gate ready to make amends—not to mention silence all of the naysayers.
Now that Rich Rodriguez is long gone to Arizona, Michigan can finally get past the horrible three years that will forever be remembered with utter disdain from the folks in Ann Arbor.
When Brady Hoke was named head coach for the Wolverines, it was seen as a nod to the past. After all, Hoke is cut from the same cloth as Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. Hoke is intimately familiar with the aura of “Michigan Football,” and knows full well what it means to be a “Michigan Man.”
Bo Schembechler's famous quote, “Those who stay will be champions,” is still painted in the Michigan locker room. We all knew Hoke took those words to heart. What we didn't know is that he'd turn those words into reality so quickly.
During his first season, Hoke transformed Michigan from that bumbling once-great powerhouse into a team that could beat anybody on any field on any given day.
And the result was a Sugar Bowl championship.
Don't misunderstand; players like Denard Robinson were exciting to watch even when Michigan was losing under Rich Rodriguez.
But when Michigan beats teams like Ohio State, Nebraska, and Virginia Tech, the excitement factor is kicked up a few notches.
Why would we not add Alabama to the list?
Okay, so the Crimson Tide aren't the flashiest of teams in the world. So Nick Saban is a “by the book” kind of coach (at least on the field). It doesn't mean the Tide aren't fun to watch, and Alabama games are usually far from dull.
Nick Saban has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the game, and he may yet earn a coveted spot in history alongside names like Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, and Joe Paterno.
A good part of Saban's success comes from recruiting some of the best players in the nation. And those yearly top recruiting classes have translated into a whole heap of impressive wins.
Between one season at Toledo and five at Michigan State, Saban earned 43 wins and a cushy SEC coaching gig at LSU. Five years, 48 wins, two SEC titles and a national championship later, Saban tried his hand at the NFL before quickly returning to the college game.
The last five years at Alabama have easily been his most successful. So far, the Crimson Tide under Saban have 55 wins to just 12 losses, two SEC West titles, one SEC championship and a pair of BCS championships.
And all of those wins don't come with a whole heap of excitement.
There was last season's nail-biter with LSU in the regular season, the 2010 escape against Arkansas before eventually coming up short against South Carolina, LSU, and Auburn.The 2009 Iron Bowl wasn't a snoozer, either, with Alabama earning a 26-21 victory.
Of course, there's also something to be said about the sheer excitement of just waiting to see how many points the Tide will put up next week as they roll over yet another hapless opponent.
Again, we'll concede that Alabama isn't always flashy, nor is it constantly a thrill-a-minute.
But winning so many games generates its own excitement, and Alabama does that better than any team in the nation right now.