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Where did College Football come from?
College Football is absolutely American.  It is essentially a combination of rugby and soccer that was conceived by several universities in the 1870’s.  The “father” of American football is Walter Camp who developed the sport into a unique game, separate from rugby or soccer rules.  He also happened to be Yale’s team captain.  By the early 1900’s the sport was increasingly violent, almost causing its ban by the government.  Instead, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was created to regulate the sport, and so the sport was off and running.  Professional football eventually came about, but college football is still very popular in the US and more popular than the National Football League (NFL) in many parts of the country.
How does the game work?
Twenty-two players, eleven on each side, compete on a 100-yard field with 10 yard end zones on each end.  The point of the game is to advance the ball into the opposing team’s end zone while in possession of the football.  The offense lines up on one side of the “line of scrimmage” and the defense on the other.  The line of scrimmage is essentially an imaginary line that is traced from the nose of the football across the width of the field.  On TV, they can now put this really cool digital yellow line on the line of scrimmage to help you follow the game.  The ball can be advanced by throwing it to another player who catches it, running it, or a combination of both.  Moving the ball into the end zone scores a team 6 points and is known as a “touchdown.”  The team that starts the action by “hiking” or “snapping” the ball is said to be on offense and the other is the defense.  The offense has four tries, or “downs” to advance the ball a total of 10 yards or to score.  The defense attempts to stop them by tackling them to the ground or knocking the football to the ground. If the offense cannot advance the ball 10 yards after three downs, they can either try one last time on fourth down to get 10 yards, or they can kick it to the defense who then becomes the offense (known as a punt).  If the offense moves the ball 10 yards or more, then they receive a fresh set of four downs and is given a “first down.”  If a team scores the touchdown, they then get an opportunity to add extra points by either kicking the ball through a U shaped bar called the goal posts (for 1 point) or by advancing the ball from the 3 yard line into the end zone again (for 2 points).  After the completion of the scoring, the offense then kicks the ball to the defense from their own end of the field.  The receiving team then catches the ball and runs up the field until tackled by the kicking team.  At this point, the receiving team becomes the offense and the kicking team the defense.  One more thing (if you’re still with me on the football flow chart).  An offense can score three points by kicking a “field goal.”  Essentially, if they are close enough to the goal posts (at the back of the end zones) that they believe they can kick the football through the posts, they can try to earn three points.  If they miss, the opposing team gets the ball and becomes the offense.
Basic Line-Ups 

The Offense generally consists of three types of players:  linemen, backs, and receivers.  Linemen are the 300 lbs dudes that line up on the football on all fours.  Their job is to block the defensive players and prevent them from getting to the ball.  The backs (so named because they are in the back) are skill players that run with or throw the football.  The most important is the quarterback.  He is the back that receives the football from the center lineman (intuitively known as the center).  The center “snaps,” “hikes,” or in English, gives the football to the quarterback.  The quarterback may then run, throw, or give the ball to another back (called a running back because he, yes, you got it, runs), or to our third type of offensive player, the receiver (sometimes called wide receiver cause they are stretched out wide on the field).  There are thousands of permutations of what I just explained and you don’t have time between your caramel macchiatos, so onto the defense.
The Defense also consists of three types of players, defensive linemen (the other big dudes on the field), linebackers, and defensive backs.  Generally defensive linemen attempt to rush the other side of the line of scrimmage and tackle the dude with the ball.  Linebackers can be compared to rabid dogs looking to get their piece of meat (the dude with the ball).  They roam the middle of the field and track down the ball carrier to crush him.  Defensive backs chase down (or cover) the wide receivers and hope to either bat a thrown football down or catch it instead of the wide receiver (known as an interception).  If any defensive player can either pick up a football that was dropped by the offense or catch a ball that was thrown, they then gain possession of the ball and become the offense.
Now, if you want to know how professional football generally works, you just learned that too.  Professional and collegiate football use the same rules except for very small variations that wouldn’t be considered “The Basics.”  As such, and pursuant to the agreement I signed with the owners of this webpage, I will opine on the rules no longer.
The Regular Season and Play-Off
For the purposes of the rest of this article, I’m talking about the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) or Division I College Football.  For what this means, check out my previous article, “The Day College Football Changed Forever.”  If you don’t have the strength, it’s the highest level of competition in college football.  The regular season runs from the beginning of September through the beginning of December.  Teams play 11 games and in conferences with 12 or more teams, they play a conference championship.  You can also get the scoop on conferences in “The Day College Football Changed Forever.”  The play-offs, or more accurately, the lack thereof, is the most controversial part of college football at the FBS level.  The post season in college football consists of 35 separate “bowl” games.  These are games that are played in generally warm climates between mid-December and the first week in January.  FBS teams compete to get to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Championship game.  Essentially, the BCS is a system that strives to pit the best two teams at the end of the season in a bowl game to determine a national champion.  To achieve this end, the BCS combines two polls, or rankings created by individuals and one computer ranking conglomeration to get the BCS standings.  The formulas change and are complicated, but in the end, produce the top teams ranked 1-15.  #1 and #2 after the last game of the regular season, will meet in the BCS National Championship Game.  The remainder will go to the myriad of other bowl games based on invitations.  These games are essentially meaningless, but gives the players a great experience and bring in gobs of revenue to the schools from TV money (you guess which is most important).  College football probably has more drama than any other sport because selecting the two teams that meet in the BCS National Championship game has lots of subjectivity smattered about the process.  Many would prefer a play-off, but school presidents resist this change because they say it would impede the student’s valuable study time (or it may be something else minor like money…again you guess).  Either way, many believe the current system is better than years ago when polls would just select a national champion based on folks voting.  Several times in recent history, polls would name different teams as national champions.  Before 1950, it was not uncommon for five or six different polls to each name their own champion.  It’s the system we have today and college football fans love to debate and complain about the post season.
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Retrospect and Rivals
If you want to talk history, you got it in college football.  The modern era is generally considered 1950 and on.  Traditional powerhouse college football teams are too numerous to mention and I would undoubtedly upset somebody if I forgot to label their team as a “traditional powerhouse,” but there are a couple teams and rivalries I must mention.

When many think about college football, they picture the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Popularized through the modern film Rudy, Notre Dame is sort of the poster child of the sport.  They have won more national championships in the modern era than any other team and had seven Heisman Trophy Winners (given to the best player in college football each year).  They have their own TV contract with NBC, and don’t affiliate with a  conference (called an independent).  Over the past 20 years, they have struggled a bit, changing head coaches like I change my socks.  It is yet to be seen if Notre Dame regains the successes of 20 years ago, but their history is permanently etched in college football lore.
College football has multiple rivalries.  Some are teams within the same state (University of Texas vs. Texas A&M) and others are old friends who love to hate each other (Ohio State vs. Michigan).  My favorite, and one of the best is Army vs. Navy.  This rivalry pits the players of the United States Military Academy against the United States Naval Academy.  First meeting in 1890, the teams have played 110 times.  They have not played games in years that there have been these things called wars.  The players are all future Officers in the Army and Navy and know that the chances of playing in the pros and not serving is the same as finding somebody from Jersey without a leather jacket.  Normally played in a neutral site in Philadelphia, the game is televised every year.  What is also unique about this game is that recently, neither team has really been that good, usually not going to a bowl game.  Despite the lack of talent (if you run a 4.2 second 40 yard dash, you ain’t going to join the Army) the game has the heart of any other game played throughout the year and is followed by many, both in the service and out.  If you have a choice to go to one college football game in your life, it should be this one.  BEAT NAVY!  


Hike or Snap: the action of the center lineman giving the ball to the quarterback (or in some cases a running back).  He does this by handing the ball between his legs to the quarterback or by tossing the ball between his legs if the quarterback is standing a few steps behind the lineman (called shotgun).  This action marks the start of each play.
Fumble: when an offensive player carrying the football drops it to the ground.  At this point, any player may pick the ball up and advance it down the field.  If a defensive player is the one that gets the ball, his team then becomes the offense.
Interception: when a player on the defense catches a thrown ball intended for an offensive player.  If the defensive player intercepts the football, his team then becomes the offense.
Touchdown: a score in football when the ball crosses the plane of the defensive team’s end zone while in possession of a player on offense.  It is worth six points.
Field Goal: a score in football where a team kicks the football through the goal posts.  It is worth three points (not to be confused with a Point After Touchdown aka PAT or extra point)
Point after Touchdown (PAT or extra point): a point scored after a touchdown by kicking the ball through the goal posts.  After a touchdown, a team may attempt a PAT or try for a two point conversion.
Two Point Conversion: a two point score made after a touchdown where a team advances the ball from the three yard line to the end zone.  A team may alternatively attempt a PAT.

NCAA:  National Collegiate Athletics Association, the organization that serves as the governing body for collegiate sports.  It sets rules, imposes punishments, organizes, and otherwise manages national college sports.
Conferences: groupings of colleges that generally follow geographic areas.  It is based of sports, although many include academic requirements and competitions.
Bowl Game: a post season college football game between two teams invited to play each other.  There are 35 bowl games that will be played in 2010.  All generate significant revenue for the teams that play in them.  Teams must have a minimum record .500 or above (i.e. 6 wins and 6 losses) to be able to go to a bowl game, or be “bowl eligible.”
BCS: Bowl Championship Series, the post season system developed to pit the #1 and #2 teams in the nation against each other in a national championship game.  It determines this through a ranking system that is a combination of two polls where individuals vote on the rankings and a third set of rankings comprised of a number of computer generated polls.  The BCS as a system for college football has been very controversial. 
FBS: Football Bowl Subdivision – a subset of Division I football where the largest football colleges are grouped.  These are the ones you traditionally see on TV.  It is named the Bowl Subdivision because the post season for these teams are the bowl games.
FCS: Football Championship Subdivision – the next level down from FBS where the teams play a play-off to determine their national champion
College Football: That which turns large numbers of American fans from normalcy to absolute insanity from Labor Day until the first week in January.  Stadiums can hold up to 107,000 people and some of its fans are as passionate about their team as they are religion or the economy.