Driving across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Berkeley provides the first indication that you are in for something special when visiting the home of the Golden Bears. Once on campus, you are immediately permeated with a dose of California coolness – that perfect blend of eclectic eateries, shops, and personalities. Driving deeper into town and further up the rising picturesque landscape will make you wish you went to college here.
When it comes to the Cal football team, the vibe in Berkeley has been one of impatience – lots of opportunity and little to show for it. This year fit that same mold. The Golden Bears would have to win out against Washington, #4 Oregon, and #11 Oregon State in order to become bowl eligible – a monumental task for sure. A gorgeous early November afternoon morphed into a chilly Friday evening of football inside Memorial Stadium. Even though the stadium was not quite a sellout, loyalty and pride didn’t take a backseat. The band played with the same passion, the fans cheered with the same energy, and the players fought with the same amount of heart.
Somewhere between a cornfield and nowhere lies Champaign, Illinois. It’s a great college town with mounds of enthusiasm and passion for their team. On gameday, tailgating takes place in open fields where music blasts, games are played, and footballs are tossed. You might even catch the band perfroming a quick drumline or “Oskee Wow Wow” before they make their march into Memorial Stadium.
Another typical Illinois football afternoon was shaping up in Champaign. The tailgating didn’t miss a beat despite frigid temperatures. It’s never too cold for Big Ten football. The Illinois band boomed “Oskee Wow Wow,” and fans appeared geared for a big game. A casual observer might not be able to detect that Illinois is battling a four game losing streak that has caused the media to grumble and put Coach Zook on the hot seat. Perhaps it wouldn’t leave such a bad taste in the mouth had they not ignited hope with a six game win streak.
Due to basketball’s domination in the state of Indiana and a lack of winning seasons in the past decade, the Hoosier football program is starving for attention in the Big Ten. However, they have all the ingredients in Bloomington to be successful. John Mellencamp, an IU alum, donated a beautiful practice facility and the campus itself is very attractive. Memorial Stadium is hard to miss on campus. It’s old-fashioned press box and extremely high facades seem to go right up into the sky. Once you enter the stadium, there are winding paths and hills that provide many different perspectives of the game. Recently, Memorial Stadium has undergone a facelift with world class weight lifting facilities and added seats that closed one end of the stadium creating a horseshoe. All these pieces make Memorial Stadium primed to be a cauldron of excitement.
“Hoosier Football” are two words that go together about as well as “Lite Syrup” or “Economic Stability.” Combine one bowl in 17 years and six different head coaches in the same time span. Add to it a 45 year Big Ten title drought and you have the Indiana football program. Memorial Stadium in Bloomington has been recently expanded, which just means more empty seats. We got to the stadium early and stood in the expanded horseshoe area attempting to catch a few pregame practice kicks that lofted high enough to land in the stands.
“Play 13” has been the motto of Indiana football all year. It came from their head coach, Terry Hoeppner, who died of complication from a brain tumor this past summer. The idea behind “Play 13” revolves around winning enough games to qualify for a bowl game, thus playing one more game than their regular 12 game schedule. In his two seasons at Indiana, Hoeppner had reinvigorated the football program demanding championship quality football and bringing a brand of excitement that usually is found only in college students. His enthusiasm had been infectious and after his passing, his players have been charging toward keeping his goals alive.
October is not supposed to be this hot in the Midwest. The Illini aren’t really supposed to be that hot either, but with head coach Ron Zook at the controls, no 90 degree weather is going to keep their goals out of reach. Fifth ranked Wisconsin came in as an underdog to the unranked Illini and few people viewed this as surprising. The Badgers have been winning by a thread each week displaying a defense that had a tendency to spring leaks. The expansion and construction of Memorial Stadium served as a nice metaphor for the entire program as it is moving toward a bigger and better future. Today would be the major turning point.
Although Missouri football lacks a bit in tradition compared to its SEC siblings, Memorial Stadium offers plenty of atmosphere. Driving along Stadium Boulevard, parked cars are lined up for miles creating a pathway to the stadium. Welcoming fans into the arena is a large statue of Don Faurot for whom the field is named after. Faurot coached at Missouri and left a great legacy during the mid 1900s. However, the fans have seen mounds of frustration over the years and their mood reflects that.
Missouri football has been on the cusp of many breakthrough moments and when placed in the national spotlight, their program crumbles. Carrying one of their best records in years, the Tigers welcomed traditional power, Oklahoma, to Memorial Stadium in Columbia. Again, opportunity knocked and Missouri had a good enough team that could answer the door and storm through. However, the Sooners’ agenda failed to coincide with Missouri’s plan and Oklahoma kept all hopes of a Missouri resurgence bolt-locked.