The most popular teams in college football have just as big followings, if not bigger, than the most popular NFL teams. And, in addition to large groups of fans, the intensity of devotion that those fans have to their teams is often larger. When someone spends time going to a school, their alma mater becomes a large part of their identity. And when your school has a successful Division I NCAA program, it’s easy to be swept up in the excitement that is generated. That’s a big part of why we love college football, and it’s probably a part of why you love it, too.
The big catch with the popularity of college football is that it’s often regionalized. While it’s not uncommon to find a New York Giants fan in California, or a San Francisco 49ers fan in Florida, you’re most likely going to find an Alabama Crimson Tide fan near the college’s campus in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. If they don’t live in that area, they probably have some sort of connection to it, either as an alumni of the University of Alabama or through a relative.
That’s perfectly okay, and it creates a strong sense of regional unification. There’s a reason why college football stadiums often are much larger than NFL stadiums, after all. The biggest teams have huge turnouts, both for regular season and postseason games. Getting tickets to your favorite team’s game can be a huge deal, and if you’ve never seen a college game live and in person, it’s something you’ll never forget. If you have, you probably are looking forward to the next time that you can see one again.
Of course, when there’s a huge group of people that love one team, and an equally huge group that loves another team, rivalries are easily grown. That’s why teams like Alabama and LSU, or Nebraska and Oklahoma, can have such heated games against each other. When these teams square off, the crowds that gather to watch the excitement of the game are mammoth. Tickets to games like these sell out a lot of the time, and they can be huge weeklong events. If two rivals are set to face off in a Bowl Game, the excitement can become even greater.
There are other reasons why these teams are so big. The players are young, and they are playing because they are talented, they love the game, and they have something to prove. Sure, most of the stars you will see are on full scholarship to school, but they haven’t hit the big time yet. These are not professional athletes, but kids, trying to get a job in the pros. They are not making money for playing, but they are trying to get to that point. As a result of that, we will sometimes see players going above and beyond as they prepare for a career in the NFL. A great college football player is still just a student, and not yet a larger than life athlete. They haven’t been engulfed by fantasy sports yet, and they haven’t been heavily exploited by Las Vegas odds makers. There are college fantasy sports out there, and people do bet on college football games, but that doesn’t receive the same mainstream attention that the NFL does. It gives college football games a quaint feel to them, even when 100,000 people show up to a stadium, and millions more watch it on TV. That’s something that even the biggest and most popular NFL team could never dream of reproducing. So, when you’re watching your favorite NCAA team playing, you’re watching something that is real and much more personal than a professional sport can ever be.