Early Saturday morning, hordes of dedicated USC fans and handfuls of Stanford’s faithful will trudge down Trousdale Parkway, across Exposition Boulevard and around the Rose Garden to wait patiently outside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s peristyle — maybe even in the rain — before ESPN personnel shepherd them into a gated area behind the set of College GameDay.
It’s an interesting practice, to be sure, but one that most can agree is exhilarating, engaging and exhausting, depending on how much sleep one chooses to sacrifice to get a prime location in the corral.
As fun as College GameDay can be for the casual fan who loves to see himself on TV and show undying support for his team, the renowned show’s presence at USC combined with all the accompanying national attention does little more than cultivate false hope this week that the Trojans have a good chance to topple the Cardinal.
The inflation of belief is bolstered as fans begin to think about the game more with the national spotlight centered on the contest.
And the more you think about a subject, the more you will convince yourself the obvious answer isn’t so right.
A rational fan’s first thought on this game probably goes a little something like this: Stanford is undefeated and ranked No. 6 nationally in the BCS polls. The Cardinal has won 10 straight games by 25 or more points. Quarterback Andrew Luck, the consensus No. 1 draft pick in April, leads Stanford into Saturday’s game. And the Cardinal ran for 430 yards last week in a 65-point slaughter of then-No. 25 Washington. USC stands no chance.
That same rational fan can mull things over for a few days in the midst of hype and USC fans growing confidence and might reach the following conclusions: USC’s passing game is great, so that will neutralize Luck’s passing game. USC lost to Stanford by only two points last year, and it might have won if not for some dubious clock operation by the officials. The running game looked kind of promising against Notre Dame, so it will break out on Saturday.
The same thing happened almost exactly a year ago when GameDay came to USC for the game against the Associated Press No. 1 Oregon Ducks. In the weeks leading up to game, the dominant narrative was that the Ducks were too fast, too offensively persistent, too unstoppable.
As the game approached, however, hope grew, and many were convinced USC was going to win.
That didn’t happen. But the false hope wasn’t a bad thing. If being competitive in every game is the goal — and that’s certainly a goal for the Trojans — the last thing you need is a bunch of demoralized fans convinced a loss is forthcoming.
Had GameDay not come to USC last year and had fewer people known about the stakes of the game, the Coliseum likely wouldn’t have seen that fiery atmosphere in the first half that was by far the best in the last two-and-a-half seasons. Sure, it started to erode when Oregon took off in the second half, but it made for an electric environment that should be there every Saturday of the season.
But if overanalysis isn’t the fuel for that false hope, here it is: When fans forgo sleep to stand and cheer, yell and scream, boo and hiss, there comes a point when they’re in too deep. They’ve put far too much energy into invigorating their own team and deriding the other that something has to give. There has to be some return on the mental, emotional and physical investment that many fans are making to see great football. After going to that great extent, for many, a loss just isn’t acceptable.
Fans put in too much time and effort to see their team not show up for a big game. A loss is simply a letdown to fans. Ideally, that’s probably what fanaticism should be every week. But it’s exactly that sort of delirium that leads to implausible expectations and excessive hope.
GameDay is fun, and it serves its purpose to rile up the fans and make for a much more fun and buzzing setting for a football game. But if you’re trying to make a focused, uninhibited prediction about the game, you’d better stay away from the Coliseum on Saturday morning because there will be only elation and confidence, no matter how baseless.
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