No other start to a season can match my excitement when college football rolls around. As much as I enjoy a number of other sports, they just don’t compare. I spend the offseason following college football as much as, and most of the time more than, the sports that are actually in session. There’s plenty of news even that time of year what with recruiting, forecasting, and, ugh, arrests. There was a time when I was quite the NBA fan. The NBA and NBC on Sundays kept my attention for the entire day. That time has long come and gone. Today’s NBA has its moment, but overall just doesn’t appeal to me. I still enjoy the NFL and always will. I’m quite the hockey fan as well (when games that spark my interest are actually broadcast).
Then there’s college basketball. I enjoy it, but also find myself annoyed by parts of it. I’ll never be a fan of the one-and-done rule for selfish purposes. I have no problem with any individual being giving a shot to earn a living at what they want to do, but for myself, I want to see guys stick around. As a fan, I want the players I enjoy watching to stay. Texas fans can look back to the season they got to watch Kevin Durant and smile, but that’s all it was, one season. Being a Florida fan, transfers also take their toll. I don’t know the transfer statistics when it comes to other schools, but the Gators have to be somewhere near the top of the list. I also hate the overlap, even if it will never change. As a college football fan first, I find myself struggling to be fully invested in anything else until the season is over. With nearly a two-month overlap, it’s typically hard for me to come close to diehard levels until mid-January. And if a college basketball game is played on a Saturday, forget about it. Hopefully this season will be different.
I’ve attempted to become a bigger fan of sports other than college football and the NFL in the past. I took a chance at baseball, but didn’t even make it to midseason. That was a much more difficult endeavor though because I was never a huge fan. I enjoy going to the occasional game, will watch big matchups, and read the occasional column here and there, but overall, I have other sports-related priorities. I’m sad to say I didn’t even know the San Francisco Giants had won the World Series until around noon the following day. Baseball typically gets its shot during the brief period between the end of hockey season and the start of football season.
College basketball is a little different though. First of all, it’s a college sport. That right there gives it an advantage. Basketball is also a sport I enjoy playing. When I was younger I liked playing basketball more than any other sport. I averaged maybe two minutes a game on my middle school teams, but loved all of it. When it came to high school though the two sports I played consistently – basketball and soccer – were part of the same season. I went with soccer because it was the sport at which I was better. As much as I loved basketball, I was never very good at it. I can hit deep shots with surprising accuracy, but defense and banging around down low were never things I wanted to do. If you play remotely adequate defense, you could easily shut down what little game I may have had. I was the opposite of unstoppable. I also had, and still have, an extreme hatred for tank tops. There are just certain types of attire that should be restricted to specific genders. Anything sleeveless is one of those.
With the college football season still in full swing and some great matchups happening every weekend, it’s difficult to dive into college basketball. Difficult, but not impossible. There’s plenty to look forward to when it comes to the upcoming season. Duke is the overwhelming favorite to take home the National Championship, and would repeat in doing so. Harrison Barnes became the first freshman to be named to the AP All-American team and could provide a needed boost at UNC. Kentucky has reloaded after losing virtually everyone to the NBA (and even if John Calipari-coached teams fuel my hatred of one-and-done, they’re sure fun to watch). Despite losing Robbie Hummel, Purdue is still a serious threat. Things are looking up for both Florida and USF. And don’t forget about the expanded NCAA Tournament.
For a few seasons there life was hard for the Gators (as hard as it can be for a two-time National Champion) and Bulls. For Florida, two straight NIT appearances after back-to-back National Championships made fans wonder if the program had really become a power or if it would fall back to good, but not great status. For USF, a move to the Big East was a positive, but killed any chance being competitive in basketball. Then the 2009-2010 season happened.
Florida actually won less and lost more games than it did in each of the two NIT seasons, but neither of those things mattered when the Gators were invited to the NCAA Tournament. Just to get into the Big Dance is an accomplishment, wins and losses don’t really matter. It was a quick exit for Florida, but the Gators played BYU hard in the first round and, most importantly, were back in the tournament. The Gators start the 2010-2011 season ranked #9 in the AP Poll and #11 in the Coaches Poll. A little high in both if you ask me, but I’ll definitely take it. With players like Kenny Boynton and Alex Tyus returning and freshman Patric Young joining the team, a trip to the Sweet 16 isn’t nearly as much of a long shot as it was in previous years.
Life in the Big East is always going to be tough for USF, but the Bulls only won one less game overall than they had the previous two seasons combined and eclipsed their conference win total from those two seasons by two in just 2009-2010 alone. Coming off a 20-13 (9-9) record, USF is no longer thought of as the whipping boy of the Big East. They may not compete for a conference title and with the loss of Dominique Jones are likely to not even sniff the NCAA Tournament, but the Bulls are no longer a guaranteed win for an opponent. Stan Heath has turned this team into something the school can be proud of.
Both teams kick off their seasons on Friday at 7:00 pm – Florida hosting UNC-Wilmington and USF at home against Southern Miss. Desirable matchups from a fans standpoint? Hardly. But college basketball is back and will carry us into the void as the college football season rapidly approaches its end. It’s only November 10, but before we know it conference championship games will be over and we’ll be gearing up for the wait for bowl season. What better way to fill the gap than with college basketball (you know, that sport with a postseason tournament).