When I'm on the London Underground, some American person sees my Penn State sweatshirt and asks: "Did you go to Penn State?"
I then have to tell the story of how I saw Joe Paterno's documentary on ESPN, made a pilgrimage to State College in 2003 to see Penn State play Indiana (they won by a mile), and felt at home.
I then plunged into footballing purgatory until 2005. In that purgatory, I went to a few games in Arizona to see Arizona State play. I tried really hard to root for Arizona State. Then, in my second year at King College in Tennessee (home to a 'split' university of Volunteers and Hokies fans), I came across a guy called Drew Deyo, who lived in Pennsylvania.
To say that he was a passionate Penn State fan would be to say that legendary Chicago Cubs announcer had the odd adult beverage while commentating on games at Wrigley Field. We made the journey to Penn State in 2005 to see the team play Ohio State. The atmosphere was electric. Penn State won. I was home.
Of course, I've been to other stadiums. I still have a soft spot for the University of Georgia (Athens is one of the best gameday experiences someone could ever have—ranking above Penn State in great times) thanks to friends who I keep in touch with. Sun Devil Stadium has a pretty cool desert surroundings.
If you haven't been Neyland Stadium, check out the amazing checkerboard end zones, and make sure you hit up a frat bar afterwards. Don't bother with tailgating on the tarmac.
Make sure you hit up Texas/Oklahoma, which has the best after-show party in football, the State Fair (Buy. Corn. Dogs). Trust me—45-35 in 2008 was a blast. But it's not home.
When Georgia loses, I don't want to throw things out of the window like I do when Penn State loses—generally in excruciating circumstances when defeat is somehow pulled out of the jaws on victory.
If you are looking for a college football team and you're looking for a conversion experience, try going to a bunch of stadiums. Nope. Don't think that picking your team from the comfort of your armchair based on "College Gameday" is enough. Don't pick because your spouse went there. Don't pick because you, at the age of 33, are still trying to please daddy.
You've got to go. You've got to smell the barbecue, have a beer outside the stadium before the game, wander around campus, get in early(ish), roar on the team as they come out, celebrate when they score, and smell victory and defeat and treat them both as an equal imposter.
After the game, have a drink or two in a local bar, and walk outside and reflect. Ask yourself this question: "Did I love it here and would I root with this team?"
You might have to be a college football butterfly, and flit between different schools and different conferences. But you'll find your home.
You might fall for a successful smaller side—like Boise State, TCU, Baylor or even Appalachian State. That's OK. You might fall in love with a mediocre and frustrating team, like a Penn State, Georgia, Arizona State, Texas A&M or Michigan. You might fall in love with a winner, like an Alabama, Oregon, USC, Ohio State, Florida, Texas (well not last season) or Oklahoma. Or you might fall in love with a loser, like Washington State, Indiana or Duke.
Just. Be. Inspired.
But for God's sake, don't make a decision about a team because you saw them play one good game on the TV. Don't listen to Verne, Kirk, Brent, Chris, Desmond or Gary tell you what they think. They aren't going to tell you who to root for.
Nor will the smoking hot cheerleaders or co-eds, because they aren't interested in you. And won't be. Ever. (If you fall under the spell of the cheerleaders, you'll be booking trips to Oregon or down to Florida rather quickly).