One of the biggest complaints fans have with college football is also an area that exists near the center of the sport's popularity.
There is no other major American sport (or major sport period, really) whose regular season is less about ensuring a fulfilling and significant ending than college football. This year's four-team playoff has changed things a little bit, but it doesn't alter the validity of the previous statement.
I'm not just talking about the way the sport crowns its national champion here. Regular season games are more significant in college football than in any other sport for all teams involved, not just the ones still in the mix to claim the sport's top prize. Part of that is because there are so, relatively, few regular season games, and another is because of the sport's deeply-rooted rivalries.
For example, say Auburn goes 9-3 in a regular season that includes a stunning upset of arch-rival and top-ranked Alabama as well as a huge non-conference win over someone like Ohio State. Tiger fans aren't going to be overly consumed with how the team does against Duke in the TaxSlayer bowl. They'll be into the game, sure, but they'll also know that the legacy of the season will have pretty much already been established.
Basically, college football's regular season includes at least a few games on every team's schedule that are pseudo bowl games in their own right.
If you're a 3-4 team in the SEC that still has a couple of home games left against top 10 opponents, those are going to be huge events. A win isn't going to turn you into a national title contender, but your fans are still going to celebrate like you are one for that night. The same holds true for rivalry games. Records are inconsequential; one win and you're champions for both that weekend and the rest of the year.
I say all of this because Louisville is about to enter a final 1/3 of the season that includes three (the Boston College game is important and exciting in its own right, but not included here) of the most highly-anticipated games both on this year's schedule and in recent memory. All three potential victories would be significant and exciting in three very unique ways.
First, there's Florida State, a game and an event which speaks for itself. It's a Thursday night home showdown against a reigning national champion with a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and a 23-game winning streak. The entire sports world will be watching, and a victory would immediately vault itself into the "biggest and most memorable wins in program history" conversation.
Three weeks later the Cards will travel to Notre Dame to square off for the first time against arguably the program that is more synonymous with the sport than any other. Toss in the fact that it will be Senior Day in South Bend and that the Fighting Irish might very well be 9-1 and playing in an unofficial playoff elimination game, and the glory of that potential win is as self-explanatory as the previous one.
And then there's Kentucky. Obviously this game is in a different solar system when we're talking about national relevance and impact on the program, but we all also know what a loss would subject us to ... and it's frightening. The UK game is always an unofficial state holiday, and the amount of chirping BBN has been doing after finally having the slightest degree of success this season figures to make that week even more heated than usual.
So I posed the question on Twitter this afternoon...
Rank these three potential victories in order of most-desired to least-desired: Florida State, Notre Dame, Kentucky.— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) October 21, 2014
I stopped tallying the results (the serious ones at least) at 60.
Forty-one people listed Florida State as their most-desired victory, 19 chose Kentucky, and zero picked Notre Dame. What was even more interesting, though, is that of the 41 folks who listed FSU first, all but two had Notre Dame second and Kentucky last.
If you assigned a point value for each selection (3 points for most desired, 2 for second most, 1 for third most), here's how it shook out.
Florida State - 154
Kentucky - 108
Notre Dame - 98
All this said, I'd be fine with winning all three.