It’s never too early for some preseason football hype, even on the West Coast

For those who know only one sport, who would spend every February through August in a coma if they could and who think heaven’s gates are where they scan your ticket on Saturdays in the fall, Monday was one of the best days of the year.

Fresno State’s football team finally began spring practice. Everyone and their mother came to watch.

Tom Brandstater showed up and threw a few short passes in preparation for the NFL draft. A bulldog named Butch roamed the sidelines. A coach from Hoover High watched intently. Athletic Director Thomas Boeh was on hand, wearing a shirt and tie. Plenty of reporters and even regular ol’ fans were there as well.

Of course, everyone talked non-stop about the final four – the Bulldogs’ quarterback quartet composed of Derek Carr, Ebahn Feathers, Ryan Colburn and Matt Faulkner – and about which one deserves the starting job.

Four fights broke out during 11-on-11 drills. People discussed the length of offensive lineman Matt Hunt’s hair. A reporter asked running back Ryan Mathews if he was growing out his hair as well (don’t worry, he is). Wide receiver Marlon Moore was asked about his scary-looking red contact lenses.

If you think all of this attention is nerdy at best and creepy at worst, especially when considering that the team won’t play a game for five more months, you’re wrong.

College football fans are starved for their sport, and they will use anything as an excuse to get worked up.

Of the 120 Division I teams that will play this fall, 10 will get the distinguished honor of playing 14 games next season, thanks to conference championship matches. About half of the other 110 will qualify for bowl games, giving them 13. And the rest will play only 12.


Matt Weir / The Collegian

This means that even fans of the most elite teams spend 351 days a year not watching their team play.

For the die-hard fan, waking up on game day is like Christmas morning, and spring practice is when you mail your letters to Santa.

“Maybe we’ll use the spread offense this year,” says the die-hard Bulldog, foaming at the mouth, “Maybe Feathers and Carr can be used in tandem the way Florida used Chris Leak and Tim Tebow in 2006. We’re gonna dominate!”

Even better, nobody has to see their team lose a game until almost Labor Day. Oh, how sweet it is.

You can call these people losers if you want, but you can’t call them rare. Entire blogs, magazines and Web sites are dedicated to spring football, and they are read by millions.

As you might expect, the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 are national leaders in this kind of excess. The latest phenomenon has been the rise of the spring scrimmage. Alabama and Nebraska each sold out their spring game after hiring new head coaches in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

I’d bet that no professional sports team in the world, the New York Yankees, Manchester United, the New Zealand All-Blacks, whoever, could completely sell out a game that didn’t even feature an opponent.

The southern buzz this spring is over new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin created an uproar even before spring practice, by accusing Florida head coach Urban Meyer of cheating and by orchestrating a stunt where all his assistant coaches ripped their shirts off and jumped up and down to get their recruits excited.

I await being asked about him when I head home to Georgia over spring break.

None of this is to say that fans on the West Coast are unspirited or boring. I once had my nose broken by a wayward Georgia fan after I insulted his beloved Bulldogs.

I witnessed a family friend take his retirement money in a lump sum and blow half of it in a week on a brand-new red truck and a few thousand dollars worth of UGA merchandise from the local mall. A better word to describe fans in the Pacific Time Zone is “sane”.

Nonetheless, Fresno State fans have plenty to get excited about this spring.

Besides the fights, the hair, the cosmetic contacts and “Butch”, the epic quarterback battle will be put on display for all to see. It culminates April 25, when the spring scrimmage is held at Bulldog Stadium. Officials expect a high turnout.

Coach Pat Hill said the final decision may not be made until the third game of the season, but that won’t stop anyone from forming an opinion right now.

So, who wins it all in your bracket?

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