Earlier this week, I wrote an article explaining how I had voluntarily extended a naked arm into the autumnal night to allow myself to get well and truly bitten by the College Football bug (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/255526-getting-into-college-a-view-of-college-football-from-across-the-pond).
While I wasn’t that surprised by the courteous and warm welcome I received by those already in the fraternity, I was a little taken back by the principle that it was OK to follow a team in each conference. I guess the idea isn’t so alien as I suppose I can already confess to following the Orioles in the AL and the Mets in the NL and the Packers in the NFC and the Jets in the AFC.
Looking deeper, I also realised that I'm guilty of doing the same in European football. I am a lifelong Tottenham fan who has also adopted Milan as a team to cheer for in Italy. Supporting two teams and investing the same emotion and energy into both is something which I struggle with, so I combat this with petty semantics. I say that I “support” one team and simply “follow” another.
Perhaps the root of support and allegiance is an article for another day because right now, I wanted to respond to all those who encouraged me earlier in the week and reveal, after many hours of research and thought, which teams I have decided to adopt in the respective Division I conferences and try to offer some justification.
In most cases, my reasoning and logic will seem absurd, but probably no more absurd than the demographic, political, geographical, or religious reasons that tend to govern why soccer fans in Europe support their teams. Anyway, getting to the root of that is for a different piece. Here, for better or for worse, are my choices:
ACC: Clemson Tigers
This is already decided for me. A very good friend of mine's family name is Clemson, so we naturally gravitated toward the Tigers. This is about as illogical as it comes, but this one is locked in and despite the teams listed below, Clemson will be my No. 1.
Big East: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
This is a tough one, however, the historical connection to George III and the fact that students hold the world record for the largest assembly of people dressed as Ninja Turtles clinched it.
Big 10: Michigan Wolverines
I just couldn’t resist plumping for a team that has a stadium nicknamed “The Big House,” even though I know that Beaver Stadium is currently shading it on official capacity. Plus, I like the idea of major rivalries with other teams, the fact that they’re hated with a passion by some, and that they’re enduring a tougher time after repeated success.
Big 12: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Originally, I wanted to choose Nebraska because of its history as a tough, hard team that chewed up opposition and spat them out. I also wanted to choose them because I like Bruce Springsteen and he often refers to Nebraska.
To me, it has always seemed (and I apologise in advance for insulting anyone) as a fairly bleak, blue-collar place with no top division pro sports teams in which the inhabitants had little else but their university football team to root for. Obviously this is a generalisation based on Hollywood/literary/musical depictions of the state, which I’m sure is actually very nice. What clinched it, though, was seeing that the university was formed on February 15th, which is my birthday.
Conference USA: UAB Blazers
In a conference of few really recognisable names, I had to go with UAB because my alma mater is the University of Birmingham in the UK. I also remember Legion Field from being a venue at the 1996 Olympics.
Independents: Navy Midshipmen
Notre Dame would probably be the trendy choice here. They’ve got an illustrious history and are currently sleeping giants in the system, failing to meet the expectations foisted upon them.
However, I have always said that if I had to join the services, then the Navy would be the one I would choose. I like ships and the sea and back in 1994 I had the privilege of a tour around the USS George Washington, Nimitz Class carrier when on holiday in Corfu. That was a very special experience. Plus, we Brits have a proud navy tradition…
MAC: Kent State Golden Flashes
Apart from having a name that makes it sound like the official team of Marvel Comics, I come from the county of Kent in the UK, so it’s only fair I should choose them.
Mountain West: Brigham Young Cougars
I like Brigham Young as a giant killer; the Cougars always seem to punch above their weight and are constantly fighting against the vagaries of the BCS system. I also remember watching a game between them and Hawaii in 2001 that ended up 45-72 and was quite the most extraordinary match.
Pac-10: USC Trojans
I can see this being greeted with groans and possibly inciting abuse. I know it’s an easy choice and it’s probably glory-hunting, but in my defence, I have actually been to the stadium, albeit not for a game. Also, as a Jets fan (see above), I’m interested in how Matt Sanchez gets on, so there’s another tenuous link.
SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide
I know I’ve already got UAB on my list, but I always quite liked the Tide before I had tried to find a team in Conference USA. Not much to drive me here except that the name is an evocative one and the stadium is a good one. It's not as big as Neyland, but impressive nonetheless.
There’s also a big history and I quite like the fact that they’re flying a lone flag for brutal defence in an offensive conference. Plus, as Jets fan, how could I ignore Joe Namath’s alma mater?
Sun-Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
This team evokes images of sultry nights, spicy food, and good music. I have no other reasons to offer for my choice here except that I like the name. I also like the fact that the stadium is nicknamed “The Swamp.”
WAC: Hawaii Warriors
It had to be Hawaii. Firstly, for the part it played in the aforementioned 2001 clash with BYU, but also because some generous Hawaii supporter who reads this may want to invite me out there one day and offer to pay my fare, too. I would be only too pleased to accept and they'd be welcome in London any day.
I think that completes my efforts to decide upon who to root for in other conferences beyond the ACC. My choices are totally subjective and range from the completely nonsensical to the tenuous and back.
In some cases, there were some logical connections that made the choice easier and in others, I had already shown an interest in the team's results for whatever reason. For those conferences that I had given no thought to whatsoever, it was actually very difficult.
"Choosing" a team to follow is not something that you have to do very often. In the vast majority of cases, the teams we follow are thrust upon us or are innate within us. Therefore, if I didn’t see a link I could exploit, or have that intangible, unexplainable "pull" toward one institution over another, it was exceptionally hard to chose and, therefore, justify.
Looking at a big list of teams, you could be forgiven for thinking that making a choice is easy if you do not already have an allegiance, but it's not. As sports fans, we feel much more comfortable when that choice is made for us through whatever reason it may be. Maybe some of the teams—and their followers—I have chosen will be grateful for having a new fan whilst some won’t care either way.
For me, though, the choices have been made. There will be no flip-flopping on these now. They are my final answers, locked in, set in stone. Sorry if anyone is disappointed.