For Better or Worse: The BCS Era Has Created Greater Conference Unity
As I was packing my house this week, preparing for a move across town, I came across a stack of sweatshirts in my closet: one for University of Redlands (my alma mater), one for USC, one for UCLA, and one for Stanford.
The later two might seem inexplicable, though on closer examination you'll find two important things: One, I did graduate work at UCLA and probably bought the sweatshirt to bug my dad more than anything, and two, my wife bought me the Stanford sweatshirt because she wanted to bring me back something sporty from a work trip to the Bay Area.
It's probably been worn three or four times, just out of kindness for her gift.
But running across the stack got me thinking: I do root for UCLA and Stanford, as well as the rest of the Pac-10. I support the Pac-10 loyally in all non-conference games and bleed Pac-10 when it comes time for bowl season.
While I might have supported Washington or Washington State in the past for other personal ties (my brother grew up in Seattle and mother is a WSU Cougar alum), I would've endured serious POW torture before I'd ever support UCLA, Stanford, or Cal.
My first memories of college football were of USC rivalry games against UCLA and Notre Dame. They stick out, I'm sure, because of the added weight the games carried with them. Probably too, because as a lil' Trojan fan, I always took a stuffed UCLA bear, tied it to my belt, and dragged it behind me as I walked from the car to the game.
I had buttons saying things like "My two favorite teams are USC and whoever's playing Notre Dame." The rivalry ingrained a deep scorn for Lou Holtz and Touchdown Jesus. The years when Notre Dame and UCLA ruled over the Trojans for long streaks were especially rough.
Yet the BCS has created a new allegiance to all of the teams that fall on your schedule because of the value and importance of the strength of schedule (SOS) in determining the national rankings. A loss to Syracuse from Notre Dame could dial back the Trojans' SOS to the point where they're playing in their conference bowl instead of for the crystal football.
So, I'll don my UCLA sweatshirt to root them on against Tennessee, and I cringed as they struggled through their opener against SDSU.
I have a very difficult time rooting for any Notre Dame team that Rudy Ruettiger isn't on (c'mon, every sports guy cries at the end of that movie when he makes the sack), but somewhere inside there's a very quiet support for them blanking Nevada last weekend.
I'm a dramatic fool, too, so part of this is that I want every single opponent to be undefeated when they play my team. There's nothing quite like seeing a team pulled apart when they thought they were invincible.
It was hard at first, but now it's just part of the system. I think, and would love to know, that Michigan fans root for Ohio State when they play USC. Did Gator fans root against the Huskies as the LSU Tigers held onto a close game in Seattle last weekend? And do injuries to star players like Sam Bradford weaken the entire Big 12?
It seems to me that the most die-hard fans now are the ones that do everything they can to get their team closer to the National Championship, even if that means rooting for their rival.
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