One of my favorite sports is dying. I can see the life draining out of it more each and every year. Although horseracing may not resonate with you, it does with me. It’s in my blood.
It’s a passion of mine because there’s much more to it than thoroughbreds running in circles. The beauty of the sport lies in the minute details you come to appreciate over time. Just like football.
Over time, however, horseracing has lost its identity, and there aren’t enough meaningful figures to root for or against. Both are important.
There are plenty of factors contributing to the downward spiral, but the lack of story lines and reasons to tune in beyond one May race are hastening its fall. The faces and the brands—they’ve disappeared. And these days, interest is all about the brands.
Thankfully, college football has a large number of powerful brands. Also, it’s not dying. In fact, the game is flourishing despite a bowl system that can’t get out of its own way, a stretch of very negative PR on a variety of fronts and one conference seemingly dominating on a national level.
Although the SEC will continue to dominate, a handful of college football’s biggest brands are back in the spotlight as well. I suppose they never left, but everything shines brighter when history is
Florida State is now recognized as a legitimate title threat for the first time since, well, last year. There’s more belief this time around, though. This team is more talented, and their resurgence is real. They may lose a game they shouldn’t along the way—which would be very Florida State of them—but they are a force once again. This isn’t expected to change, either.
The Seminoles’ emergence was expected, and it’s refreshing to see a storied program living up to its history. And while Florida State is certainly a story, it’s not the comeback story.
This honor belongs to Notre Dame, their bowl opponent from 2011. I think you’ve heard of them.
The team with only two bowl wins since 1995—and those are Hawai’i and Sun Bowl victories—is off to its first 4-0 start in a decade. It hasn’t been pretty for the Irish, who have scored more than 20 points only once in the first month of play, but it’s been productive, especially on one side.
Questions surrounding the defense, particularly the back half, have been answered in the early part of the 2012 campaign, and Notre Dame’s front seven is one of the best in ALL the land. All-world linebacker Manti Te'o has gone from being one of the best defensive players in the country to a legitimate Heisman candidate.
The offense, much like quarterback Everett Golson, is a work in progress, but one that should improve throughout the season. Its schedule—which once appeared more daunting than any other in the country—has softened up quite a bit after seeing many of their opponents in action. There are still plenty of losable games ahead, but the outlook for Notre Dame has improved greatly each week.
This is the most authentic optimism surrounding the Irish in quite some time, and it's a good thing for the overall outlook of the game. The masses are tuning in too:
Notre Dame-Michigan did 4.0 overnight on NBC last night, besting all college games yesterday & up 54% vs last yrs ND-USC primetime gm on NBC— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) September 23, 2012
The success of the Irish is greeted with mixed emotions. Notre Dame fans that have been craving this kind of play for years are certainly engaged by this team. Expectations entering the year varied, but they have already matched or exceeded the most optimistic predictions four games into the season.
And then there is the other side—my father, your father, or perhaps even you, the Notre Dame hater—who despises this team regardless of record, game, year or expectations. The haters want them to fail, and for the past decade-plus, they’ve gotten their wish.
It doesn’t matter why you hate them (if you do); you have your reasons. Who am I to tell you otherwise?
A successful Notre Dame team creates interest that stretches well beyond South Bend, whether it’s positive or negative. When Notre Dame is playing good football—and lately that has been hard to come by—more people pay attention. Their intentions may vary, but it doesn’t matter.
The interest is genuine.
I am one of few that have always been completely indifferent when it comes to Notre Dame. I watched my father root adamantly against them as child. I’m sure he had his reasons.
While many have questioned Notre Dame’s relevancy in recent years, it’s impossible to ignore the power and presence they have in college football. When they’re average, we watch them teeter. When they’re bad, they’re combusting. When they’re good and bordering great, an entire nation gathers around to watch a celebration or root for a train wreck.
The 2012 Notre Dame team isn’t elite, but they are talented and winning once again. They will continue to get eyeballs at a record-setting rate, and a good chunk of the college football world will root for failure each and every week. This is great news for the good of the game.
College football’s biggest brand has a team again, for now, whether you like it or not. And if you have a horse in this race for whatever reason, then you're doing your part to keep the interest alive.