Why College Football is Superior to the NFL

MarkC's picture
November 15, 2013 at 1:50a

(Disclaimer: this was written in week 8 for some friends.  The records have obviously changed, but the sentiment remains.)

Here is perhaps as common a sentiment as there exists among most readers of this site: sports are fun.  On this site alone (which was originally dedicated solely to Ohio State football, I believe), one can find articles and comments about wrestling, lacrosse, swimming/diving, competitive eating, and basically anything else in which people have found a way to compete.  One of the universal truths in sports (in my experience) is that any competition is more fun to be a part of when it is between two dominant programs.

This is the crux of why college football is more entertaining to follow than the pro game.  It’s more fun to watch two great teams battling than two teams with mediocre records.  There are simply more teams with good records in college football.  After 7 weeks of play, NCAA FBS football has 14 undefeated teams, 15 teams with a single loss, and 34 more teams with two losses.  In one less week of play, the NFL is down to 2 undefeated teams, 3 one-loss teams, and 7 two-loss teams.

Teams with less than 3 losses on the season
Conference Teams
B1G 10
Pac 12 9
Big XII 5
Conf USA 4
Independent 4
Mtn West 4
Sunbelt 2

Matchups of undefeated teams more than two weeks into a season are exciting regardless of who the teams are.  This is especially true in a sport like college football, where perfection is so critical to championship aspirations.  So goes the saying, “Somebody’s 0 has to go.”

This week features a matchup of undefeated teams: Florida State (5-0) at Clemson (5-0).  There are three more matchups of undefeated teams playing 1-loss teams:
• Central Florida (4-1) at Louisville (6-0)
• Texas Tech (6-0) at Oklahoma State (4-1)
• UCLA (5-0) at Stanford (5-1)

In total, there are 15 matchups in week 8 between teams with no more than two losses.  The NFL has three such matchups over the next two weeks combined.  Not to mention, the NFL started a week later than college football, providing less opportunities for losses.

Week 8 matchups of teams with less than three losses

Week 8 is not a fluke.  Week 9 has matchups like #9 UCLA (5-0) @ #2 Oregon (6-0), Penn State (4-2) @ #4 Ohio State (6-0), #16 Texas Tech (6-0) @ #18 Oklahoma (5-1), and #11 South Carolina (5-1) @ #14 Missouri (6-0) on the docket.  The same goes for week 10.  Who are the marquee matchups in the NFL?  Which matchups over the next few weeks are you eagerly awaiting?  Here are the only matchups of teams with less than three losses over the next two weeks:
• Cincinnati (4-2) at Detroit (4-2) – You probably only care if you are a Bengals or Lions fan.  Heard a lot of buzz around this 1:00 kickoff, have you?
• Denver (6-0) at Indianapolis (4-2) – Okay.  The whole Manning angle in a game between one dominant team and another decent team could be interesting.
• Miami (3-2) at New England (5-1) – This appears to be the best matchup of week 8 in the NFL.  Ooph.

College Football has great programs and dominant teams squaring off every week, not just in playoff scenarios.  The NFL, on the other hand, has revenue shared themselves into randomness.  Franchises rise and fall from season to season.  17 of the 32 teams in the NFL finished last season somewhere between 6-10 and 10-6.  The model of the NFL is to set up a system in which every team has an equal chance at a Super Bowl.  Everyone has exactly the same resources available to attract and cultivate talent.  The longer the league can keep teams from being eliminated from contention, the longer it can sell tickets and boost ratings.  By design, there are no dominant programs for whom 13-3 is considered a down season.  With the hard salary cap and rookie salary scale, the NFL has restricted competition to eliminate the culture of “haves” and “have nots” that permeates the college athletics world.

Consequently, there are no Super Bowls between undefeated and/or 1-loss teams.  In fact, there are not even Super Bowls between 2-loss teams.  The best combined record of Super Bowl participants over the past ten years was in 2004, when 14-2 New England defeated 13-3 Philadelphia.  The past three Super Bowl champions have had at least 6 losses on the season and participants of the last ten Super Bowls have averaged 3.95 losses.  Think about that for a second.  Prorated to a 12 game college football regular season, this would be like a BCS championship game between two 3-loss teams.  There were 13 teams in 2012 who finished the regular season 9-3: Oregon State, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Northwestern, UCLA, Central Florida, Tulsa, Ball State, Toledo, Fresno State, San Diego State, Arkansas State, and Louisiana Tech.  Imagine the ESPN propaganda machine attempting to hype a matchup of 9-3 teams throughout bowl season.  “They’re two totally decent programs who happen to have made it to the championship.  Oregon State.  Rutgers.  Feel the excitement!”

Records of Super Bowl participants over the past 10 years

NFL executives tout “parody” "parity" as a virtue.  As a fan of great matchups, I hear “mediocrity.”

Another advantage for the marketability of the college game is the concept of polls and the importance of those polls in selecting championship game participants.  Seeing that little number (rank) next to a team’s name demands instant credibility for that team.  It is completely arbitrary and subjective, but the game is important because ESPN tells you it is. There are 25 of those ranked teams.  Each week, there are a number of matchups between them.  Every one of those is promoted as a marquee matchup for the entire week leading up to the game.  Aps on smartphones, the ticker at the bottom of TV screens, the info bar at the top of any college football website.  Games involving those lucky 25 teams are tracked like Dexter vetting a potential victim.

Side note: want to know why the Big XII is more vulnerable than most people think?  Fewer marketable properties.  The Big XII has only 5 teams with less than 3 losses.  With only ten teams in the league, an open week for one of the marketable teams is disastrous for the conference’s contracted TV network(s).  Of the four teams in action this week with less than 3 losses, none are playing each other.  Those other 5 teams do not command market share without a great season the way Ohio State (2011), USC (2012), and Tennessee (2013) do.

In fact, the most marketable game FOX has to televise in week 8 would be a 3-3 TCU team (whose best win is over a Charlie Weiss coached Kansas team) against a 4-1 Oklahoma State team (whose marquee win is over the same Mississippi State team that just squeaked by Bowling Green 21-20 at home).  Let’s see if this game, a noon kickoff on FOX, even wins its timeslot in Oklahoma and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

(Editor’s note: Turns out, it was a noon kickoff on FOX.  And Oklahoma State’s marquee win would probably now be over a Texas Tech team that has lost its last 3 games, I guess.)

Which brings us to the final reason college football is so enthralling to follow.  The passionate regionalism of fan bases.  Sure, the vast majority of 11W readers are Buckeye fans.  But many of us are also fans of the Big Ten as a whole.  We watch the Rose Bowl, as the best from the Midwest takes on the best of the West.  We get fired up watching new Big Ten member Nebraska represent us in the Capital One Bowl, and feel angered as they blow the game to a team from the hated Southeastern Conference.  (Seriously, Nebraska led 31-23 halfway through the 3rd quarter and went fumble, 3-and-out, 3-and-out, interception on its next four possessions!)  Many of us rejoiced when Northwestern won its first bowl game since Harry Truman negotiated the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, showcasing speed its opponent from the Southeast could not match.  When one Big Ten team wins a marquee nonconference game, we all win.  It reflects positively on each program in the conference and is critical in shaping the narrative of the conference.  College football is big on guilt by association.

You don’t often get that sense of camaraderie among fan bases in the NFL.  Cleveland Browns fans will sooner root for Bernie Madoff than the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Maryland and Rutgers are joining the family next season.  One could look at these two teams’ schedules as a collection of nonconference games by two Big Ten programs.  Currently, Maryland (5-1) and Rutgers (4-2) are part of the Less Than Three Losses club.  Reds fans are likely not rooting for the Cardinals this postseason.  Few Blue Jackets fans have ever pulled for Detroit in the playoffs.  But many Buckeye fans will be rooting for their Midwestern and new Northeastern brethren throughout the season.

I recognize how lucky I am to be able to record and watch 10-15 college football games on any given Saturday.  No commercials in my household.  As an aside, have I mentioned I may have the greatest wife in the world?  She not only lets me get away with this, she even watches a few games of interest with me each week and knows what she is talking about.  She actually surprised me with an anniversary trip to Chicago complete with tickets to the Michigan State vs Northwestern game.

Comments Show All Comments

MarkC's picture

Sorry, long time reader, first time poster.  Could someone please give me a heads up on how to post images?  Those were both supposed to be jpg of tables.  I know the red X is interesting to absolutely no one. 

walshy's picture

Welcome, well in order to post pictures you need to get the link of the desired photo. This can be done simply by right clicking on said photo and selecting "Copy Image URL". Now you're ready to post. Click on the "Image" button in your 11warriors post and paste the image url in the URL box. Photo should show up in post.

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization."

MarkC's picture

Thank you, WALSHY. That sounds pretty close to what I tried, but I don't have them on another website. How do I get them to appear if I have them in the c: drive of my laptop as either an excel spreadsheet or jpg? I have both of them in either format.

vitaminB's picture

You do realize there are like 119 FBS colleges and only 32 NFL teams; right?  You understand how math works.

walshy's picture

Pretty sure there are 125 FBS schools. I think you have to keep in mind, it is the one loss teams and undefeated teams that are going at it currently, which is very hard to do regardless of how many teams there are. I think OP is saying that each game matters if you want to make it to the big show, where in the NFL as long as you can make the playoffs you got a shot.
In my opinion the way the college season unfolds is much more exciting than that of the NFL but that's only if you got a dog in the fight. I also think this will not change with a 4 game playoff. It will just give you a better look at who's the best of the top 4 teams.

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization."

NoVA Buckeye's picture

It's actually 126, but that doesn't change the facts

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

Deshaun's picture

That depends on how you classify Old Dominion. They are in the transition phase to FBS as a provisional member in 2014 and a full member in 2015. This year they are technically a FCS independent playing East Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Idaho, and North Carolina as well as 7 FCS schools. But as you said, that doesn't change the facts.

Deshaun's picture

As Walshy said, there are currently 125 FBS teams in the NCAA. It looks like there were 63 teams who had zero, one, or two losses following Week 7. It looks like 12 of the 32 NFL teams had zero, one, or two losses on the same date (following Week 6). That means 50.4% of college football teams had 2 or less losses compared to 37.5% of NFL teams. And that was after the college teams had played an extra game. Sounds like there were not only more college teams with better records, but a higher percentage too.

Each game definitely matters, as you said, Walshy. I think the OP may have also been pointing out how much more fun Saturdays are with all the big matchups compared to the more even records in the NFL.

One Bad Buckeye's picture

Someone could really use an enema....:/

"I'm One Bad Buckeye, and I approve this message."

AlphaMaleBettor's picture

really like college better than pro too

TMac's picture

"Parody" is an imitative work created to mock
"Parity" is equivalent strength
The reasons CFB > NFL is superior are so much more than this. But in two words Appalachian State!

ONE Not Done!

MarkC's picture

You are correct. Thanks and good catch.
The day of that App State game, I was at the Shoe for the OSU-Youngstown State game.  After the game, we went to the concourse to leave and noticed what felt like the entire crowd still hanging around.  Everyone was watching the game on some new channel called the Big Ten Network.  The loudest cheer of the day was when they blocked that kick to seal the victory.  I’ll never forget slapping high fives while members of the band, who had stayed around to watch the game as well, played taps.  Great day to be a Buckeye!

walshy's picture

I was at this game as well (now YSU and OSU alum) but when I was watching this game I was so torn, I wanted to see the worst for TTUN, but at the same time I just knew that it was not good for the B1G or the rivalry.

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization."

MarkC's picture

When it was going on, I was swept up in a wave of rooting for Cinderella combined for hatred of That School Up North. Over the last several years, my thought process has evolved to align more closely with yours. I still hate that team, but I almost always root for the B1G team because it's better for our Buckeyes.

Curt Heinrichs's picture

As a Buckeye fan, games in the PAC 12 matter to the end-game for my team. If Stanford loses to Utah and then beats Oregon, the Buckeyes move closer to a national title. 
As a Browns fan, the Seahawks vs Cardinals game has no bearing on the Browns' playoff hopes, so I only watch out of boredom or in interest of my fantasy football team. 

MarkC's picture

Thank you, Kurt. That is exactly my sentiment. Watching 9-0 Northern Illinois host 9-1 Ball State Wednesday night, Buckeye fans could root for the Huskies because B1G teams play MAC teams, and if NIU makes it to a BCS game, wins, and becomes the next Boise, that somehow makes all B1G wins over MAC schools look better. Of course, I also want to see a 2nd B1G team in a BCS bowl, which means UCF needs to finish above NIU and Fresno State. So either way, the Buckeyes were affected.

Georgia Tech winning in Clemson last night would have made Florida State's resume a little less impressive, potentially cracking a window to the debate for #2. Plus a Clemson loss would have made that second BCS slot to a B1G team more likely. I could go on and on (and kind of have) about CFB matchups and Buckeye rooting interests. Aside of the Battle of Ohio, the only NFL game this weekend with any interest for me is a rare 9-0 Chiefs vs 8-1 Broncos matchup.

Maffro's picture

I'll just post one of my favorite quotes that summarizes why college football is better:
"College football should never, ever be more like the NFL. The NFL is boring, sterile, artificial, unimaginative and basically the antithesis of everything that makes college football special." - Stewart Mandel

Hovenaut's picture

College ball, always and forever.

Especially being born in Ohio into a family with a slew of serious Buckeye fans easily influencing that choice.

Catch 5's picture

Very good write up. I like to explain it as the difference between a season that is built to get to the playoffs, and one that IS the playoffs. 3 - loss teams are exactly why we don't need an 8-team or (God forbid) 16-team playoff in college.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

wojodta's picture

I agree with you completely. People can complain all they want about the BCS. It may not be perfect, but it definitely does a better job of crowning a true champ than the NFL playoffs or March Madness. You have to be good all season long in CFB.

sbentz4's picture

NFL has more parity because the teams are all playing by the same rules and circumstances.  I still like college football a lot, but NFL has a much more equal playing field.  The descrepency between the big time programs and the smaller programs is huge in terms of money, prestige, facilities, coaches, etc.  The Browns and Patriots have more or less equal situations or at least a lot more similar than Alabama and Kansas.  Even Jacksonville vs. Denver is a lot more competitive than OSU vs. FAMU or even Purdue.  Every game is competitive in the NFL while the NCAA has a lot more lopsided games.  I enjoy both ncaa and nfl, but trending back towards NFL because of the competitiveness and also the ineptitude of the ncaa running "the show."

MarkC's picture

See, I actually prefer the college game for most of the reasons you just outlined. I like watching dominant programs going toe-to-toe. I like seeing the Ohio States against Alabamas and the Oklahomas against Southern Cals of the world. Watching all the matchups of .500 teams in the NFL feels like watching Mississippi vs West Virginia over and over. I don't care about the even playing field. I want to see two programs who have made the commitment to winning battle on the field like two great sledgehammers banging against each other. That's why I'll be somewhat interested in the Denver-Kansas City game this weekend but couldn't care less about Baltimore-Chicago.

Different strokes for different folks. I know a lot of avid sports fans who prefer the parity model and enjoy the level playing field. I understand and respect that position. However, Central Michigan-Western Michigan and North Carolina-Pittsburgh are very competitive matchups of programs on relatively even playing fields, but even I probably won't watch a down of either one this Saturday. That's just my preference.

wojodta's picture

Because of that gap in talent in CFB, I think it makes the upsets so much better. When an upset happens in the NFL it's not even that surprising. Plus an upset in CFB can change the national title picture whereas an upset in NFL doesn't really affect anything.

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

IMO College football has always been better than pro for a few reasons. Tradition, rivalries that run deep, territorial pride, bands.... I could go on.  I love College football because the entire season is the playoff. Every game counts. I also enjoy parody on offense. It's fun to watch triple option teams!

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

4thandinches's picture

Every NFL team could be undefeated every week and play another undefeated team and I could still care more. 

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

locko48's picture

Plus most college players play at one school and are forever a "Buckeye", "Nittany Lion" or whatever.
Pro players chase the $$$.  It's hard to love a traitor/hired gun.

BrewstersMillions's picture

The main thread running through this piece is the fact that better record correlates to better football. That simply isn't true. You even make the following statement early to hammer that point home.

This is the crux of why college football is more entertaining to follow than the pro game.  It’s more fun to watch two great teams battling than two teams with mediocre records.  There are simply more teams with good records in college football

The difference between cellar and penthouse in the NFL is generally a handful of players. Even the very good-Denver and the very bad-Jacksonville-aren't that far apart from a talent standpoint. So when two teams have 'mediocre' records, they are still a combination of one of the 32 best football teams in the world so your statement falls short on its own merits. Record does not correlate to talent or greatness with %100 certainty the way you presume mediocre records equals mediocre football.
There is also this notion-hammered home by a commenter's Stewart Mandel quote-about the NFL and its perceived lack of creativity. There is more adaptation and creativity during halftime of an NFL football game than exists on every collegiate sideline across the country. Creativity is the very reason scheme's in college have very very short life spans in the NFL. Remember the Wild Cat? Works well collegiately because its a scheme designed to over come talent deficincies. Worked wonders in the NFL for a few years-then the league adapted. Remember the triple option? Still run today in college to REALLY over comes talent deficiencies. Its a system designed to maximize production out of smaller, slower, less athletic rosters. It would be laughed out of the NFL because its SO easily schemed against with better athletes yet a team like Navy can hang around and sometime beat Notre Dame and the likes. We all know and love the read option, and last year so did Seattle, Washington, San Francisco and Carolina. And then the league adapted because it was creative enough to scheme ways to stop it.
My point is-the notion that the NFL is boring or uncreative is a tired one. Proof in the pudding is the fact that Chip Kelly, one of the most innovative minds in college football, had to almost immediately revert his offense to a more 'pro style' system.
I get what makes college great-the pageantry and tradition-but regionalism is dying every where but the Southeast. College football is great for its own reasons but from a purely football perspective the better product plays on Sundays. These are the best athletes in the world competing against one another and the difference between good and bad in the NFL is so small that coaches and players have to be so creative that their genius gets taken for granted.
This notion that record correlates to better football teams or that the NFL is somehow not innovative is laughable at best. Sorry but this doesn't do anything to sway me-nor should it sway anyone who reads it critically.