For a week in early October, it looked as if my college football fantasy – or nightmare – might be realized. The three teams I root for all looked as if they might be heading for the NCAA playoff.
Yes, I root for three college football teams. I suffer from schizofania.
It’s an accident of autobiography. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, son of an Ohio State med school graduate, and I caught Buckeye fever early. I was in the Horseshoe (when it was still a horseshoe) in 1968 to watch OSU crush Michigan, 50-14. Jack “the Assassin” Tatum haunted my dreams for years.
Some of my deepest childhood spiritual crises occurred around January 1, when my fervent prayers went unanswered and the Buckeyes’ plodding Midwestern play got spun around by West Coast teams with dazzling golden helmets. If there’s a God, how can USC keep winning the Rose Bowl?
I spent the first half of the 90s serving as pastor of a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Residents of Alabama aren’t permitted to be neutral about college football. It may be a myth, but I’ve heard you can’t get a driver’s license in the state without declaring for Alabama or Auburn. Despite my wife’s family ties to Auburn, I chose the Tide. Something about going with winners.
Then, for fifteen years, I taught at New Saint Andrews College, a small liberal arts college in Moscow, Idaho. Moscow is home to the University of Idaho. They have something resembling a football team, but the Vandals don’t inspire loyalty. Fortunately, Washington State University was just over the border, and they’re in the big-time Pac 10/12.
This year, it looked for a brief moment as if my worlds were going to converge. Alabama is a perennial favorite for the NCAA playoffs, and despite an early loss to Oklahoma, the Buckeyes were cruising through their season looking like champions.
The wild card was Wazzu: They started off 6-0, and early in October they rose to #8 in the rankings. Pundits started talking seriously about WSU winning the Pac-12 and heading to the playoff.
Unfortunately, the Cougars did what they have done so often that disappointed fans have invented a verb to describe it: They Couged, trounced embarrassingly by unranked California. They’ve lost two of their last three games, and still have to play Stanford and U-Dub (Washington). They’re out of the playoff conversation for another year.
Bama and the Buckeyes, though, may be on another collision course, after the Buckeyes pulled off a stunning comeback win over Penn State last weekend. “Instant classic” gets tossed around with abandon, but J.T. Barrett’s performance actually lives up to the hype.
The last time Ohio State played Bama, in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, I found myself rooting for whatever team happened to be behind, trying to keep my schizofania from ripping me in two. I’m bracing for another trial come January.