1. It just feels more real.
I’ve been to a decent number of NFL games, and each one I attended felt like I was at the taping of a TV show. Because I was. Don’t get me wrong, it was usually a lot of fun. But there is simply a different atmosphere at college football games, whether they are on television or not. There is simply more energy, more enthusiasm, and more excitement than at an NFL game.
2. The rivalries.
The NFL simply does not have rivalries that can match the age-old rivalries of college teams. Think of the Iron Bowl, the Texas Shootout, the Apple Cup, the Battle of the Brazos, games at State Fairs. Most every state has an annual game between the University of X and X State University. They almost take on a life of their own. Many of these competitions even have trophies awarded at the end.
3. The changing players.
Every year is new, much more so than in the NFL. This is because players graduate and must be replaced with new recruits who have yet to be proven. A college team can go from great to terrible and back to great very quickly. There’s no salary cap. It’s all about strong traditions, attractiveness, good recruitment, good coaching, and a fair amount of luck.
4. College traditions and school spirit.
Unlike the NFL, college football is a family matter. Your Loving Mother (Alma Mater) is her honor on the field of battle. And it does feel like a big family. It’s likely your parents and grandparents and siblings might have attended there. You probably made life-long friends there. And perhaps even met your spouse there. All that makes you feel more invested in the game.
5. It's a small town vs big town game.
By its nature, NFL teams (with the exception of Green Bay) play in huge metropolitan areas. In contrast, many large universities are in relatively small towns or mid-sized cities. Hence the term “college town.” Think of Manhattan (Kansas), Oxford (Mississippi), Stillwater, College Station, Ann Arbor, and Tuscaloosa. That makes a difference. I think it helps you feel more attached. You feel lost in a big city sometimes, but with a small town it just feels less anonymous and more connected.
6. More arguments.
Without a real playoff (the current playoff is just a “plus one” arrangement), there is a lot of room for argument about who is the best. Until just recently, this was determined by an AP poll. Imagine if the contestants in the Super Bowl were determined the same way. And that’s part of the fun. The field is only partly the determiner of who is the best. The other half occurs in the car, the park, the water cooler, the back yard patio, the online chat room, and the board room.
7. It's not so perfect.
Part of the fun is that anything can happen on any given field of play. Think of some of those amazing plays we get from time to time. There’s the famous “Immaculate Reception” of the NFL. Those kinds of plays come one a decade. But in college, they come once a year, maybe once a week. Part of the anticipation and excitement of the college game is that things are not so refined. Tackles are missed, interceptions become touchdowns, finals scores turn on missed extra points and two point conversions, and trick plays are common. Any team can get an amazing play at any moment.
8. There’s a band.
No NFL team has a band that gives you a half-time show and that continuously adds a soundtrack throughout the game. It’s that simple.
9. Live mascots at the game.
When this is possible, a college team will have a live mascot (a bear, a longhorn, an eagle, a bulldog, etc.). In the NFL, the Denver Broncos are the only team I know of that have a live mascot on the field.
10. High stakes, but plenty of Bowl games.
No NFL fan hangs their head in shame after one loss at the end of a long winning season, saying, “There’s always next year.” But in college, it’s like that. You have to go undefeated or have only one loss to be considered a national or even conference champion. With two losses, you can’t even make it into the top 10. In the NFL, the teams in the Super Bowl normally have several losses throughout the year. Only one NFL team (the 1972 Miami Dolphins) have played an undefeated season. So in college, the games are much more high stakes when any single loss can ruin your chances. And yet, there’s also plenty of bowl games. So even mediocre teams can make it into one. Each one is different, and each one is a post-season celebration.