‘Twas the night before college football, and all through the land

Not a creature was stirring, not even the marching band.

The ribs were all smoked, dry rubbed with such care

In hopes that kickoff soon would be there…

Tonight, the eve of college football, is a sacred day for fans all across the world. Tomorrow, we’ll watch programs we don’t care about in games featuring players we’ve never heard of. It doesn’t matter. We’ll gather with friends, we’ll show off our new grill, and we’ll get our first taste of this absurd spectacle that we all love and have missed so much. After a long wait, all is right in the universe again.

More than anything else, college football represents everything that Religion of Sports stands for. No matter how big or small a school is, it has its own traditions and hymns and holy wars. We wear our Sunday Saturday best. We take communion by dipping chips into salsa.

(Chris Keane)

It’s nothing new that the pageantry of college football borders on religion, or, as many have accused, a cult. But think about it, and it goes deeper than just the obvious religious symbolism. At the end of the day, religion isn’t just about celebrating holidays or singing songs in church. The more important part is the little things, the quiet lessons that add up to inform us how to live our lives. College football does that too. Here are some of the tenants of our faith: 

Honor thy uniform: When Oregon started trotting out weekly new uniforms about a decade ago, people thought it was a gimmick. Now, teams wear so many uniforms that Sports Illustrated had to curate a massive season preview to help us sort through every uniform change this season. It’s a good lesson for us to remember that as much as you might love that old t-shirt and sneakers, you should always be keeping an eye on current fashions. You want to look hip and classy (like Nebraska), but whatever you do, you never, ever want to be Michigan State. 

Thou shalt take heed of who thy mentors are: College football teams live and die by their head coach. It’s why, in 31 of the 50 states, the highest paid state employee is a football coach (another 8 states are topped by basketball coaches). Get a good person strategizing for you and giving advice, and you’ll be a perennial fixture in the playoffs. But start following someone clueless who’s shouting in your ear, and it could take you years to get things back on track.

(Neil Leifer)

Thou shall not make unto thou’s ownself any graven image: You know the old advice that you need to visualize success before it happens? There’s something similar at work with college football mascots. Teams play like the animals that represent them. You can choose to be embodied by something cute, like a bulldog, or something fierce like a gigantic steer. Always pick the steer. If the two ever meet up, it’s clear which one will win. And then, success on the field—or in life—follows pretty quickly after that.    

The big guys shall win most of the time. But they shall not win every time: Sure, the Alabama’s and USC’s in your life have all the advantages in the world. They have more money, more exposure, and more opportunities. But that doesn’t mean you don’t stand a chance. Should we watch the Appalachian State field goal block one more time? Let’s watch the Appalachian State field goal block one more time.

Thou shall celebrate the little things: Sure, you could just celebrate the championships and season-altering wins. But even when they knock off little FCS schools, Auburn wraps Toomer’s Corner, and Clemson fans storm the field. Follow their lead, and celebrate often.

Thou shall keep thy options open: The backbone of so many college football offenses is the time-tested option play. Why call a bubble screen or a halfback dive when you have the chance to throw it, hand it off, or keep it yourself? The more options the better. Just make sure you make the right read.

Live in thy present, but remember thy future: The current season isn’t the only one that matters in college football. There’s always recruiting, and without that, your team is going to fade into obscurity faster than Johnny Football in the NFL. So do yourself a favor, and always invest in your future. It might take a few years for you to realize it, but if load up on enough five star talent, you’ll be playing for championships soon enough.

(John G. Zimmerman)

Thou shall not neglect trap games: Just because you have a big game coming up doesn’t mean you can ignore the little one in front of you right now. Each week matters. Treat it that way. 

Pace thyself: This applies for football teams, tailgating, and life. Do you really need to run a hail mary on the opening play? Do you really need to double up the vodka in your first bloody mary of the day? Take the long view. You’ll thank yourself later. 

Keepeth things in perspective: I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t take college football—or your life—seriously. You should. It matters. Just remember to keep things in check. Did you miss a big third down conversion? You can always run a fake punt. Lose to your bitter rivals? You’ll get them next year. Going against Nick Saban next week? Well, then it’s time to call in the big guns. Forget this college football religion nonsense. Start praying to a real god.

Follow those pieces of advice, and you’ll find yourself in a bowl game soon enough. And if not, who cares? We have college football back, and that’s really all that matters.