It was Saturday around 4:30 p.m. ET. The sun was shining, but the air was fresh. My family of three was, as we do on lazy weekend days, spread out in three different areas of our home. And as always when I’m alone on days like this, I started playing around with the ESPN app to see what was going on.
This Saturday, like the last two Saturdays and until mid-May, it was football. College football. Like a lot of college football. For a moment, lost amid college hoops, baseball, softball, and NBA all-star chatter, I forgot college football, and I bet you did, too.
So I’m here now to remind you that the NCAA’s second tier, FCS, is currently playing a shortened spring season to make up for the fall that was canceled by the coronavirus. Some FCS schools played a handful of non-conference competitions six months ago, but the entire FCS (OK, all but the Ivy League) is now playing. Additionally, a handful of Division II teams kicked off last weekend with the majority slated to begin their spring season in 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 only heard of because they play SEC schools every November (wassup, Mercer!).
Your mantra for the spring 2021 season should be the same as it was in the fall of 2020: just be glad we have games at all. Between over-hyped Power 5 Spring Scrimmages, the USFL, XFL and whatever that fan-driven league we have now (Fan Controlled Football), we soccer fans have always wanted to get soccer going while the flowers were in bloom and the creepy Easter bunnies started popping up in the malls.
Finally we have it! We have HBCUs who exchange ideas on social media and smackdowns on Saturdays. We’ve resumed rivalries in classic conferences like the Southern, Missouri Valley, and Big Sky for more than decades. We have Eric Barriere, QB from East Washington, whirling it around and causing a stir as the sleeper choice 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 a 35-year-old man standing 6-foot-5,231 pounds in his pocket. In a football department that’s supposedly a step slower and a few inches shorter than FBS, he’s not.
And yes, 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 these names and colors – not to mention the wood chips, pitchforks, and furry humps – have worked just as hard as the stars you know from the college football playoffs. They were also forced to use more patience than players from these big programs because they had to sit and wait until spring. Some left, but most stayed. Why? Because they love it. And we should love her for it.
That’s why I rode on ESPN + last Saturday like the mechanical bull at Gilley, jumping from game to game as the competition list hit the last few minutes of the fourth quarter at 1pm. I was rewarded with 17 minutes of college football. It didn’t matter who the teams were, where they played, or how big or small the crowd was. For 17 minutes, March 6th felt like October 6th.
4:30 p.m .: Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium, Grambling, Louisiana
Jackson State, in just his second game led by Famer Deion Sanders’ Pro Football Hall, hit the end zone to ice his first win over Grambling since 2012, just his second win over the “other Tigers” rolled into one Decade to end Grambling’s 17-game home winning streak, the second-longest in FCS football. But fumbling on the goal line put the ball back in Grambling’s hands and got the previously subdued home crowd going again.
4:35 p.m .: Paladin Stadium, Greenville, South Carolina
The Furman Paladins scored a hit on a 73-yard screen pass after trailing 17 points and 14 points in the fourth quarter to tie the Samford Bulldogs (37-37), taking less than three minutes in the regular Remaining playing time.
4:36 p.m .: Spangler Stadium, Boiling Springs, North Carolina
The Gardner-Webb Runnin ‘Bulldogs and Presbyterian Blue Hose traded leads four times in the fourth quarter, and the GWU scored a 37-yard field goal to send the game to OT.
4:38 p.m .: Greenville
The Paladins scored a TD in OT to put them 44:37 ahead of the Blue Hose while the Furman University home crowd broke into what might be the biggest cheer in college football: “FU once! FU twice! FU all the time ! ” “”
4:39 p.m .: Grambling
The Tigers fumbled at Jackson End’s end zone and drove all the way to the 2-yard line. Her home winning streak and hegemony over Jackson State seemed inevitable. But with only 1:04 left, Jackson State linebacker Keonte Hampton fell on a grambling fumble at 1.
COACH PRIME IS HYPED‼ ️
Jackson State hands Grambling State their first home defeat 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 on the far right and they went to a second OT.
4:41 p.m .: Greenville
Furman was hit with a target penalty that put energy into Samford’s first TDC drive and scored the first goal for the Bulldogs.
4:42 p.m .: Grambling
Sanders has everyone in Grambling, Louisiana as the clock hit all zeros and Jackson State hit 2-0 after finishing 4-8 in his last full season. Neon Deion kept shouting to anyone who listened, “We believe!”
4:43 p.m .: Boiling Springs
Gardner-Webb made a beautiful 6-yard passing game on his first 2OT possession.
4:44 p.m .: Greenville
The first hit at Furman 2 hit the returning Presbyterian Jay Stanton towards the end zone, but let the ball pull off. The fumbling was salvaged at the goal line to ice the comeback victory for the paladins. The linebacker who fell on the ball? Cally Chizik, son of former Auburn head coach and SEC network analyst Gene Chizik, stands at Paladin Stadium alongside guest Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner.
4:47 p.m .: Boiling Springs
The Blue Tube had a first-and-goal at Gardner-Webb’s 13-yard line, and his quarterback shot a pass over the center and toward the goal line. The ball was thrown into the air on the 5th and a Hail Mary scrum ensued before the diversion fell into the arms of a Runnin ‘Bulldogs defender to win the game-winning INT in double OT.
I’ve spent the last 12 minutes watching Furman over Samford in OT, Gardner-Webb over Presbyterian in 2OT, and Jackson St. over Grambling for the first time in a decade over a last minute goal-line takeout … while I was Veranda sat on his back in sunny 58-degree weather. Is that October ?! pic.twitter.com/e8uvMRM351
– Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) March 6, 2021
So don’t tell me how impatient you will be when college football returns in months. It is here.
Don’t tell me you’re sore because your favorite school won’t let you take part in their spring game next month. You don’t need it. And don’t dare to speak to me, “Man, I just can’t get into spring training or sleepy NBA spring games. I need games that matter!”
A whole batch of such games takes place every Saturday. College football games. If you need me this weekend I’ll be back in my basement and watch them all.