It was Saturday around 4:30 p.m. ET. The sun was out, but the air was crisp. My three-person family, as we tend to do on lazy weekend days, was spread out into three different areas of our house. And as I always do when I find myself alone on those such days, I started fiddling with the ESPN App to see what was on.
On this Saturday, as it has been for the past two Saturdays and as it will be until mid-May, what it was, was football. College football. Like, a whole lot of college football. For a moment, lost amid college hoops, baseball, softball and NBA All-Star chatter, I forgot about college football, and I’m betting you did, too.
That’s why I am here now, to remind you that the NCAA’s second tier, FCS, is currently playing an abbreviated spring season to make up for its coronavirus-canceled autumn. Some FCS schools played a handful of nonconference contests six months ago, but the entirety of the FCS (OK, everyone except the Ivy League) is playing now. In addition, a handful of Division II teams kicked off last weekend with the majority slated to start their spring seasons over the coming days.
Is it Ohio State-Michigan? No. But we didn’t get Ohio State-Michigan last fall either, did we? Who cares if it’s a mix of schools you’ve heard of (North Dakota State! James Madison!) and schools you’ve never heard of or schools you’ve heard of only because they play SEC schools every November (wassup, Mercer!).
Your mantra for watching the 2021 spring season should be the same as it was during the 2020 fall schedule: just be happy we have games at all. Between overhyped Power 5 spring scrimmages, the USFL, XFL and whatever this fan-driven league thing we have now is (Fan Controlled Football), we the football fans have always wanted to make football work as the flowers bloomed and the creepy mall Easter Bunnies started showing up.
Finally, we have it! We have HBCUs exchanging smack on social media and smackdowns on Saturdays. We have decades-plus rivalries resumed in classic conferences, such as the Southern, Missouri Valley and Big Sky. We have Eastern Washington QB Eric Barriere slinging it around and creating buzz as a sleeper pick for next month’s NFL draft. We have Albany Great Danes QB Jeff Undercuffler, who looks like that one kid in your youth league who looked like he was a 35-year-old man, standing in the pocket at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds. In a division of football that’s supposedly one step slower and a few inches shorter than the FBS, he ain’t.
And yeah, his school’s mascot is a Great Dane. In FCS, they also have the Blue Hens, Governors, Sycamores, Racers, Lumberjacks, Delta Devils and Fighting Camels. The players who proudly wear those names and colors — not to mention those woodchips, pitchforks and furry humps — have worked just as hard to play as the stars you know from the College Football Playoff. They’ve also been forced to employ more patience than players from those big-time programs because they’ve had to sit and wait until the spring. Some left, but most stayed. Why? Because they love it. And we should love them for it.
That’s why last Saturday I found myself riding ESPN+ like the mechanical bull at Gilley’s, jumping from game to game as the 1 p.m. slate of contests all entered the final minutes of the fourth quarter. I was rewarded with a glorious 17 minutes of college football. It didn’t matter who the teams were, where they were playing or how big or small the crowds were. For 17 minutes, March 6 felt like Oct. 6.
4:30 p.m.: Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium, Grambling, Louisiana
Jackson State, in only its second game with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders at the helm, was punching the ball into the end zone to ice its first victory over Grambling since 2012, only its second win over the “other Tigers” in a decade to end Grambling’s 17-game home winning streak, the second-longest in FCS football. But a goal-line fumble put the ball back in Grambling’s hands and reenergized the previously muted home crowd.
4:35 p.m.: Paladin Stadium, Greenville, South Carolina
The Furman Paladins, after being down by as many as 17 points and facing a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, scored on a 73-yard screen pass to tie the Samford Bulldogs, 37-37, with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
4:36 p.m.: Spangler Stadium, Boiling Springs, North Carolina
The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs and the Presbyterian Blue Hose traded the lead four times in the fourth quarter, and GWU kicked a 37-yard field goal to send the game to OT.
4:38 p.m.: Greenville
The Paladins scored a TD in OT to take a 44-37 lead over the Blue Hose, all while the Furman University home crowd broke into what is perhaps college football’s greatest cheer: “F-U one time! F-U two times! F-U all the time!”
4:39 p.m.: Grambling
The Tigers took Jackson State’s end zone fumble and drove all the way to the 2-yard line. Their home winning streak and their domination of Jackson State seemed inevitable. But with only 1:04 remaining, Jackson State linebacker Keonte Hampton fell onto a Grambling fumble at the 1.
COACH PRIME IS HYPED‼️
Jackson State hands Grambling State their first home loss since 2015. pic.twitter.com/uKVIlg4Bpy
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 6, 2021
4:40 p.m.: Boiling Springs
After a four-and-out from Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb barely missed a 24-yard field goal wide right, and they headed to a second OT.
4:41 p.m.: Greenville
Furman was hit with a targeting penalty that injected energy into Samford’s first OT drive and set up first-and-goal for the Bulldogs.
4:42 p.m.: Grambling
Sanders high-fived everyone in Grambling, Louisiana, as the clock hit all zeroes and Jackson State reached 2-0 after finishing 4-8 in its last full season. Neon Deion shouted over and over to anyone who would listen, “We believe!”
4:43 p.m.: Boiling Springs
Gardner-Webb scored on its first 2OT possession, a beautiful 6-yard pass play.
4:44 p.m.: Greenville
On first-and-goal at the Furman 2, Presbyterian running back Jay Stanton pounded his way toward the end zone but had the ball stripped. The fumble was recovered at the goal line to ice the comeback win for the Paladins. The linebacker who fell on the ball? Cally Chizik, son of former Auburn head coach and SEC Network analyst Gene Chizik, in the Paladin Stadium stands alongside guest Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner.
4:47 p.m.: Boiling Springs
The Blue Hose had a first-and-goal at the Gardner-Webb 13-yard line, and their quarterback fired a pass over the middle and toward the goal line. The ball was tipped into the air at the 5, and a Hail Mary-ish scrum ensued before the deflection fell into the arms of a Runnin’ Bulldogs defender for the game-clinching INT in double OT.
I spent the last 12 mins watching Furman over Samford in OT, Gardner-Webb over Presbyterian in 2OT & Jackson St. over Grambling for the first time in a decade via a last-minute goal line takeaway…all while sitting on the back porch in sunny 58-degree weather. Is this October?! pic.twitter.com/e8uvMRM351
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) March 6, 2021
So, don’t tell me how impatient you are for college football to return months from now. It’s here.
Don’t tell me you are sore because your favorite school won’t let you attend its spring game next month. You don’t need it. And don’t you dare come at me with, “Man, I just can’t get into spring training or sleepy spring NBA games. I need games that matter!”
There’s a whole stack of such games happening every Saturday. College football games. If you need me this weekend, I’ll be back in my basement watching them all.
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