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Karnes: College football’s game of thrones (Sept. 6)

Casey Karnes | Thursday, September 5, 2013


College football is back, and with it come the fall traditions we all love. The roaring crowds singing fight songs, the clashing rivals with bad blood that run back for centuries, the gleaming helmets as two sides charge into battle, waving flags proudly displaying each sides’ unique sigils and colors. Remind anyone else of HBO’s Game of Thrones?

The only season I anticipate as fervently as college football’s is Game of Thrones, and I love them for very similar reasons. They both feature fascinating individuals, villains you love to hate, crumbling alliances, and, of course, a heaping helping of corruption.

So, logically, in lieu of a normal college football preview, I’ve examined a few similarities between the sport and the chaos of Westeros. For anyone who is not caught up on the third season of Game of Thrones, read with caution. While I won’t flat out spoil anything, I will make reference to events that occurred at the end of last season.

First up, the NCAA itself. A chaotic, poorly run organization that is inconsistent in its rulings and seems to be on the verge of coming apart at the seams? Sounds like a perfect match for Westeros. With the off-season comments by the SEC, ACC and Big 12 commissioners demanding major changes to NCAA procedures, it seems to be only a matter of time before the power conferences break away from the NCAA. Like Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and the Baratheons, the conferences believe they can govern more efficiently and fairly than the current regime, and they’re probably right.

But for the time being, the kingdom remains intact, and it’s clear who the dominating group is. The SEC is the Lannister Family of the NCAA. It has better warriors, smarter tacticians and more resources (gold for the Lannisters, fertile recruiting ground for the SEC). And at the end of last season, it was clearly in control, with Joffrey Football on the throne and its cold, calculating patriarch continuing to dominate the game. 

Like Tywin Lannister, Nick Saban will pick apart your strategy and show you no mercy. And is there any better analogy for the petulant boy-king Joffery than the insufferable reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel? The one likable Lannister, Tyrion, is more difficult to find a comparison to, but Coach Les Miles at LSU fits the mold of a quirky genius who never quite gets the credit he deserves and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. In addition, SEC fans tend to show some incestual tendencies similar to the Lannisters, chanting S-E-C at their home games and boasting of Alabama’s championships like the whole conference won for some reason. 

So, who would Notre Dame be in this scenario? Well, like the Starks of Winterfell, the Irish are coming off a stunningly brutal defeat at the end of last season after a shocking streak of unexpected victories. They’ve lost several key leaders, and while there are returning members of the team/family, many expect the slaughter at the end of last season to mark the end of their opportunity to return to glory. Both the Starks and Notre Dame have been called honorable to a fault, and while hope remains in feisty younglings Arya Stark and Jaylon Smith, only time will tell if they will ever be able to challenge the Lannisters or SEC again.

Now for Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons. She’s separated from the rest of the main powers but enthralls viewers with her beauty, unique tactics and deadly fast dragons. In much the same way, Oregon has emerged as a new football power based on the strength of the team’s flashy looks, inspired offense and unfathomably fast stable of athletes like De’Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner. And just as Daenerys barely missed a beat after losing Khal Drogo, Oregon seems to be doing just fine without Chip Kelly, racking up more than 700 yards and 66 points in Coach Mark Helfrich’s first game. 

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Stanford is adjusting to its new role as a national championship contender. With its history as an academics-first institution, it must be careful not to be corrupted by the football religion that develops at other schools. As Stannis Baratheon showed in Thrones, even the most honorable men will compromise their values when facing the allure of ultimate power.

I can’t wait to see another epic season of explosive battles, brutal blows and brilliant tactical maneuvering, both in college football and in Game of Thrones.


Contact Casey Karnes at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.