After months of real-world woe eating away at college football, the games can't get here fast enough for those longing for the simplicity of past comforts.

After months of real-world woe eating away at college football, the games can't get here fast enough for those longing for the simplicity of past comforts.

Bring on the band, the cheerleaders, the singing of the alma mater. Fire up the tailgate grill.

Give us all the emotion, pomp and circumstance that has stirred hearts since Rutgers and Princeton met in the first game on a New Jersey field measuring 75-by-120 yards a mere four years after the end of the Civil War.

Cheers greeted Rutgers' 6-4 victory on Nov. 6, 1869, just as they cheered 90 years ago in new Ohio Stadium, where 105,000-plus will cheer again on Saturday when the Urban Meyer era begins with his Ohio State Buckeyes meeting the Miami RedHawks.

It is OK to cheer, right?

Well, how exactly should you feel about college football in 2012? What do you see when you stare at a sport that now seems like a house of mirrors?

All perspectives changed on Nov. 5, when Penn State's world as it had been known for decades imploded in the child sex-abuse case of former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

"Think a year ago, how everything looked compared to right now," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said recently. "The whole thing is basically, for me, hard to comprehend."

Beyond that scandal of immeasurable degree, past the destruction of the late Joe Paterno's once-stellar reputation, lies the challenge of what to make of a sport bloated by TV demands and revenue.

For certain, the 143rd season that begins on Thursday with 17 games is not as tidy as, say, 1968, when Ohio State saw fit to play its first game on Sept. 28. This 2012 marathon stretches from August until the Bowl Championship Series championship game on Jan. 7, and long gone is the sport's quaint regional nature.

"Everybody watches everybody else now," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.

We do so amid the constant drumbeat of fawning praise for the Southeastern Conference, whose teams have won the past six national championships, in case you haven't been reminded of that fact in the past 10 minutes.

It's the SEC's world; we're just renting space.

The worship of Southern-fried achievements buries a report from last year that no other conference has committed more NCAA major infractions since 1987.

Outrage? Uh, not quite. The SEC has three of the top six teams, five of the top 10 and a sixth school ranked No. 23 in this preseason's Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Southern California of the Pacific-12 is No. 1, and the Trojans just finished consecutive seasons of bowl bans and the loss of 30 scholarships for NCAA rules violations.

In the past three years, scandals have stained LSU, Auburn, Michigan, Oregon, Miami, Texas Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and, oh yeah, a certain school near the Olentangy River.

So how is an Ohio State fan supposed to feel about the Buckeyes not being eligible this season for a Big Ten title or bowl game because of its tattoo shenanigans?

Penn State is facing four such seasons after the NCAA circumvented its own enforcement and infractions process when it penalized the Nittany Lions in July based on the Freeh Report on the Sandusky affair.

NCAA president Mark Emmert slammed Penn State for "the culture" around the football program, sounding much like someone from the Carnegie Commission for the Advancement of Teaching who once said there was a "distorted scheme of values" in college sports.

That observation from the Carnegie group was made in 1929.

Safe to say, there was no $7 million scoreboard measuring 42-by-124 feet at Ohio Stadium in the Roaring '20s, such as the monstrosity that will greet OSU fans on Saturday.

Emmert's lecture about "culture" and the NCAA hammer-drop on Penn State occurred in the same month that a board of 12 university presidents approved a four-team playoff system that OSU president E. Gordon Gee once said would only happen "over my dead body."

Thirteen months before the playoff announcement, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Emmert saying that there are "serious questions" about whether the BCS violates federal antitrust laws.

This week, a report surfaced that the BCS has spent $1.48 million on federal lobbying in the past nine years, with more than half the money spent from 2009 to '11, when the Justice Department was sniffing around. Yet, BCS officials said they finally agreed to the playoffs because they were listening to the fans' demands.

"Let's not be naive; it's a money-making venture, too," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of the playoffs.

On Saturday, ESPN begins an exclusive 30-day negotiating window with the BCS to purchase the playoffs that will begin in 2014. Industry analysts predict the media rights could reach $600 million, which buys a lot of culture.

No wonder Missouri recently announced it was spending $46.5 million to add 6,000 seats to its football stadium on the same day the school also said it was cutting several academic programs and 180 jobs to balance its budget.

Now, about that Carnegie Report from 83 years ago …

The playoff announcement came six months after Alabama defeated LSU in a BCS championship game that had the lowest TV ratings in the 14-year history of the game. Overall, BCS bowl ratings were down 10 percent from the previous year and down 24 percent from 2010.

Regular-season attendance in college football declined slightly last year for the second time in three years, and average bowl attendance last season was at a 33-year low.

Yet, college football is more popular than ever, right? So much of what we are watching has changed.

Since June 2010, twenty-six schools have switched leagues. Each of the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences gained or lost members. The Big East needs hospice care.

Old powers are limping. Florida, Florida State and the University of Miami combined to go 22-16 last year. Texas is 13-12 the past two seasons. Nebraska hasn't finished a season in the top 10 since 2001.

Longtime rivalry games are gone. The Longhorns no longer play Texas A&M. Oklahoma and Nebraska don't play. Neither do West Virginia and Pitt.

Coaches come and go. In the past three years, there have been coaching changes at OSU, Michigan, Penn State, Florida, Miami, Florida State, Notre Dame, USC, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M and UCLA.

Meyer is Ohio State's third coach since May 2011. The Buckeyes had three from 1951 through 2000.

Traditions are cheap. Notre Dame is wearing two-toned helmets in a game this season, and Penn State is putting names on the back of its players' jerseys.

Good is bad and bad is good.

Barry Switzer still has a statue; Joe Paterno's has been taken down.

Try making sense of it all at your own risk, but go ahead and cheer. It's OK, right?


For openers …




Minnesota at UNLV 11 p.m.

TOP 25

No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt 7 p.m.


Central Florida at Akron 7 p.m.

Towson at Kent State 7 p.m.



No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State 8 p.m.


Tennessee vs. North Carolina State 7:30 p.m.



No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama 8 p.m.

Northern Iowa at No. 12 Wisconsin 3:30 p.m.

Southern Miss at No. 17 Nebraska 3:30 p.m.

Ohio University at Penn State Noon

Northwestern at Syracuse Noon

Western Michigan at Illinois Noon

Iowa vs. Northern Illinois 3:30 p.m.

Eastern Kentucky at Purdue 3:30 p.m.

Indiana State at Indiana 8 p.m.

TOP 25

Hawaii at No. 1 Southern California 7:30 p.m.

North Texas at No. 3 LSU 7 p.m.

Marshall at No. 11 West Virginia Noon

No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn 7 p.m.

Bowling Green at No. 23 Florida 3:30 p.m.


Notre Dame vs. Navy 9 a.m.

Nevada at California 3 p.m.

Miami, Fla. at Boston College 3:30 p.m.

Toledo at Arizona 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 2

TOP 25

Kentucky at No. 25 Louisville 3:30 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 3

TOP 25

Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia Tech 8 p.m.

Ohio University's season opener will be front and center in the college football world, although most of the focus will be on its opponent: Penn State. ESPN will televise the noon game to a national audience.