If you’re a college football fan in the general vicinity of Oxford, Mississippi, you probably have had this Saturday circled on your social calendar for the last 275 days.
You probably spent a little more time than usual this week polishing the sterling silverware and ironing a winter’s worth of wrinkles out of your white linen tablecloths. Your favorite team has been practicing for weeks for Saturday, Sept. 5th; you’re just as committed with your final preparations for the first gameday in The Grove since Ole Miss’ win over archrival Mississippi State in last year’s Egg Bowl, a football feast more satisfying than the Thanksgiving meal served up two days earlier.
College football season is back. And the fans of the Ole Miss Rebels, Hotty Toddy gosh almighty, are ready.
And they’re ready down the road in Baton Rouge, where a fleet of 55-gallon drums (the university-mandated size limit for portable cookers) is being prepped to bring LSU’s Death Valley back to life this first football Saturday of the season. They’re getting their voices ready for the Midnight Yell at Texas A&M, getting ready to stake out spots along Trousdale Parkway so they can see and hear clearly USC’s legendary Trojan Marching Band.
From Auburn fans on The Plains to Washington State fans on the Palouse, the college football community is gearing up for the start of the 2015 season.
Despite the diversity of tailgate dining options from campus to campus, there is one thing that unites college football fans at this time of year. It doesn’t matter if you’re salivating over jambalaya outside Tiger Stadium at LSU or slathering your burgers with butter before grilling them outside Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, there is one item on the menu common to every campus.
No, we’re not talking about the Flying Dutchmen of Hope College, a Division III program in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. We’re talking “hope,” the kind that fuels the fancy of football fans everywhere. (Now that you mention it, though, there is plenty of hope at Hope, where the locals are optimistic about a home win against Monmouth this Saturday).
This first weekend of the season, everyone has hope. Everywhere. Everything is still perfect, everyone still undefeated. And while a national championship or a Heisman candidacy isn’t a realistic expectation for most fan bases, if you can’t dream big in September, then you’re doing something wrong.
Hope has been renewed in Ann Arbor, with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Hope has been restored in Texas and Tennessee, two programs on the brink of returning not just to respectability but to relevance.
There is hope in the hearts of underdogs, who see Week 1 not just as a fresh start but a chance to make an historic statement. Such is the hope inspired by Appalachian State, whose win over Michigan in The Big House on Opening Day 2007 is the standard by which all upsets will forever be measured. You better believe tales of the Mountaineers’ monumental moment will be whispered back and forth between Wofford fans making the hour’s drive on I-85 from Spartanburg to the Clemson campus, where Goliath will be waiting to welcome the Terriers.
What Temple fan isn’t planning to wrap their hands around a cheesesteak with a side of hope this weekend? Not just hope that the Owls have a shot at a winning record and maybe even a conference championship (which they do). More immediately, the Temple faithful have to believe they have a shot this Saturday against Penn State, a team they haven’t beaten since Oct. 18,, 1941. That win came six weeks before Pearl Harbor, nine years before Joe Paterno first stepped foot in Happy Valley.
Hope abounds this week in Columbus, where Ohio State fans already are imagining how another College Football Playoff trophy will look next to the one the Buckeyes brought home last year. Hope is in the forecast even in Cheyney, PA, where the D-III Wolves are looking for their first win since the first game of the 2012 season, 32 consecutive losses ago.
Forty-nine million fans flocked to college football games in 2014, cheering through the nearly 3,700 games played. Starting this week, they will come again, commuting in caravans and campers, boarding buses and boats, all carrying the same craving for something special.
This weekend, they get their first taste. For all you football fans out there, we hope it’s a good one.
David Seigerman’s latest book, Take Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0 (Triumph Books)
will be released this fall. Follow him at @dseigs18.