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College Football May Be Changing. But It’s Still a Joy to Watch

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The Ohio State Buckeyes run onto the field before a game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio, October 24, 2020. (Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports) Amid conference realignments, Supreme Court decisions, and new TV deals, the sport remains a delight for many.

For many of us — certainly for me — late August is the most magical time of year. The agonizing wait is almost over; the first college football fixture of 2021 kicks off today. At noon (Central Time) in Champaign, Ill., the eyes of the nation will be fixed on the visiting Cornhuskers of Nebraska. Not, of course, because the Huskers are any good (this isn’t 1998). But because the Big Ten Conference moved this fixture forward to “week zero,” as we’re calling it. Why move it up a week before most other schools kick off? Television, stupid. If you can’t beat ’em, sell your product where and when they’re not selling theirs.

Growing up in England, I wasn’t born to college football. I fell in love with the game as a young man on a visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala. An American friend drove me — then a starry-eyed immigrant “fresh off the boat” — out from Atlanta, where I was studying. On the way he gave me the necessary backstory of the Crimson Tide’s many national championships: the greatness of Paul “Bear” Bryant, why Alabama’s fight song invokes the Rose Bowl, etc. These weren’t halcyon days for the Tide. This was 2003. The University of Alabama had just precipitously unhired a brand-new head coach for the moral indiscretion of visiting a strip club. Still, as we drove up U.S. Highway 82 into an otherwise unremarkable midsized American town, I was overawed by the enormousness of a stadium built for putative amateurs, and by the innumerable RVs filling every available square inch of real estate within ten miles of campus. As an obsessive fan of one of English soccer’s most relentlessly disappointing middleweights, I felt that these were my people. I wanted to know what they loved about this game, and

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