Useful Notes / Collegiate American Football
aka: College Football

American Football is enjoyed on more than one tier. While fans of the pros have the National Football League, fans of college football have their own leagues. Most schools of any size will at least have one sport; football is a popular one because a successful football team, particularly in the southern states, is a huge boon on prestige and enrollment. In some schools, it's the only men's sportnote  - the federal Title IX requires equal amounts be spent on men's and women's athletics based on gross expenditure so a top-tier football program is a major resource hog by that standard even if the whole point of running it at that level is that it's a profit center for the school and the black from football makes up for the red most if not all of the other sports operate in. A collegiate football player's career begins in high school, with National Signing Day. Prospects, rated on a scale from one to five stars, are selected by the colleges of their choice and are given scholarships.

College football players are not allowed to be directly paid, and schools face harsh punishment if they are found to have paid their players, directly or indirectly. The University of Southern California was found guilty of providing "improper benefits" to football player Reggie Bush in 2004 and 2005, and as a consequence USC was required to forfeit all the games in which Bush appeared after receiving the gifts, including the 2005 national championship gamenote . The player himself was scrubbed from team records and university promotional materials. Many other schools have suffered similar fates, most infamously Southern Methodist, which is the only football program to have received the NCAA "death penalty", for over a decade of widespread payments to players. The combination of penalties (including two canceled seasons and 55 scholarships lost) and stigma (few players wanted to play for SMU after the scandal) was so damaging that it took 22 years before SMU, a former powerhouse, had its first winning season since the scandal (by which point none of the current players had even been born when the scandal broke), and the school still hasn't come anywhere near its former prominence.note 

College football is played mostly on Saturdays, but there is at least one game every week on Thursday and Friday and often also Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and the opening week of the season sees the remaining two days of the week represented as well.note  As with high school football, the playing season is basically the same as the fall semester, but some schools will play a defense vs. offense team scrimmage in the spring to make sure the players are keeping themselves in shape. There is a "bye-week" for most teams to give them some mid-season rest, although some teams use a Thursday for this purpose instead, while others, such as Penn State, play the entire season through without a break. Virtually all college football games are sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

NCAA football is divided into four divisions: Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A), Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), Division II, and Division III. Each division, in turn, is divided into conferences of about a dozen teams who play most games amongst themselves. A handful of teams (most notably Notre Dame) are independent of any conference.

Division I FBS is the highest level of play and garners the most national attention. There is no officially sanctioned (by the NCAA) national football champion at this level. For most of the FBS's history, national champions were chosen in polls of sportswriters or coaches, with a sole "national champion" being unofficially crowned if both polls agreed and a split national championship resulting if they didn't. (Originally the sport was primarily played in a number of regional conferences that no one particularly bothered to organize into a coherent whole; the AP didn't start crowning a "national champion" until the 30s.) Only one split national championship has occurred since the 1998 introduction of a postseason system that gives the top teams (two since 1998, four since 2014) an opportunity to compete against each other for the title.

The rules of collegiate football are very similar to those detailed on the page about American football, so we won't go into them here save for the most basic explanation: 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense. Scoring is almost the same as in the professional leagues as well—the defending team has long been able to score a point on a blocked PAT (a rule that the NFL didn't adopt until 2015) and college overtime rules are complicatednote . There are a few different rule changesnote , but nothing enough to disrupt the basic flow of the game.

While professional football players can ostensibly play as long as they like (10-15 year runs are not uncommon and 20 years is not unheard of, especially for kickers and punters since they tend not to get hit very often), a college football player's eligibility is more or less limited to four years. We say "more or less" because there is the option of redshirting, where a coach is allowed to stretch a player's eligibility to five years instead of four, with the stipulation that one of those years (most commonly the first, as many freshman are felt to be not quite ready for the collegiate level) will be spent sitting on the bench, and that the player not participate in any games (but can participate in practices, which is the origin of the name; such players traditionally wore a red jersey in practice). Extra redshirt seasons are occasionally granted in extreme cases of injury where a player is sidelined for multiple seasons. Finally, a college player has the option after he is three years out of high school, if he so decides, to forgo the rest of his collegiate eligibility and enter the NFL Draft early. Also, a player forfeits his eligibility in a sport if he accepts a salary to play the same sport (but not a different sport - mostly notably a few high-profile college footballers have played minor league baseballnote ), accepts endorsements or signs with a sports agent. A player who leaves early for the NFL Draft but pulls out of the draft before it's held can apply for reinstatement of college eligibility, and the NCAA normally grants it. But once the draft has been held, it's too late even if he isn't drafted.

The Football Bowl Subdivision has quite a few teams, separated, as stated earlier, split among number of conferences. There are a total of 10 conferences in FBS, not including the various independents - such as Notre Dame. While you can find a list of these conferences further down the page, we also have a separate page with more information, including each league's current membership.

The Bowl Games

A number of "bowl games" are played between high-ranked teams at fixed sites in late December and early January, but they don't form any sort of organized tournamentnote . (Originally the bowls were exhibitions; there wasn't even any polls taken after the bowls until the 60s.) Today, a team must have at least as many wins as losses (at least six wins for a typical twelve-game schedule) in order to participate in a bowl game, although the NCAA can make exceptions.

The term "bowl game" comes from the earliest bowl, the Rose Bowl Game, which was named after the bowl-shaped stadium where it's played (which in turn got its name from Yale University's stadium, the Yale Bowl; the Rose Bowl was designed as simply a bigger version of the Yale Bowl... and in the better wintertime climate of Pasadena, California).

The lower divisions of the NCAA actually have NCAA-operated national championship tournaments, and have for decades, but these divisions get little interest except from students and alumni of the participating schools themselves (along with NFL scouts, as many successful pro players have come from the lower-division schools), and sometimes not even then.

There have been a few systems that have attempted to pair up #1 and #2 ranked teams in a championship bowl game; complaining about the systems is in some circles as cherished a pastime as football itself. The current system is the College Football Playoff (CFP), launched in 2014, with the survivor being recognized as national champions.note  The season ends with numerous bowl games that are played between schools. The "New Year's Six" games associated with the CFP are:
  • Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl – The four games that were part of the BCS.
  • Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl – Added to the mix when the CFP began.

In the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era from 1998 through 2013, the #1 and #2 ranked teams were placed in the BCS National Championship Game, which was played about a week after the other major bowl games. The NCG rotated between the stadiums of the four major bowls of that era.note 

These games had (and still have) conference tie-ins, giving certain conference champions automatic invitations. The Rose Bowl invited the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, the Orange Bowl invited the ACC champion, the Sugar Bowl invited the SEC champion and the Fiesta Bowl invited the Big 12 champion. All of these tie-ins still exist in the CFP era except for the Fiesta Bowl, whose Big 12 tie-in shifted to the Sugar Bowl. When a conference champion was unavailable due to playing in the national championship game, the runner-up traditionally took their place in the bowl game, although this was at the individual bowl's discretion and they were not strictly mandated to take the runner-upnote .

In addition to the conferences with tie-ins, during the BCS system, the Big East champion was guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl, but not in any specific one. Together, the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10/Pac-12 and SEC were the "Automatic Qualifying" conferences. The champion of a non-AQ conference (an FBS conference other than those six) could be guaranteed a spot if they were in the top 12 in the year's final BCS ranking, or in the top 16 and ranked higher than the champion of at least one AQ conference (in practice, usually the Big East). If more than one non-AQ champion met those criteria, only the highest-ranking one was guaranteed a BCS bowl selection. Non-AQ teams who met these qualifications were referred to as "BCS busters".

If Notre Dame was in the top 8 of the final BCS ranking, they were guaranteed a BCS bowl. No conference could have more than two teams playing in BCS bowls, unless the two teams selected to the championship game were from the same conference and neither was the conference championnote .

If there were any berths remaining after these criteria are dealt with, and the team ranked third in the final BCS ranking was from one of the AQ conferences and was eligiblenote , they got a bid, and if this didn't fill the last bid and the #4 team in the final BCS rankings met those same criteria, they were given a bid. If there were still any berths in BCS games left, any remaining eligible teams in the top 14 of the final BCS rankings could be given at-large bids to fill them, at the individual bowl game's discretion, though if somehow there weren't enough eligible teams in the top 14, this could be extended to the top 18, then the top 22, and so on in increments of four until the bids were filled.

Things finally came to a head at the end of the 2011 season, when the BCS selected LSU and Alabama, two teams from the SEC West (the same division of the same conference, meaning that officially one of them was the third place team of the conference), as the #1 and #2 participants in the championship game, thus effectively snubbing every other conference in the entire FBS. After this, discussion of implementing a playoff system accelerated greatly and, after numerous negotiations between the "power" conferences, a brand new "College Football Playoff" model was formally drawn up and was adopted beginning in the 2014 season to replace the BCS.

The new four-team playoff model features the teams being chosen by a selection committee (as in the NCAA basketball tournament) instead of by polls. The sites for the first two semifinal games are played at existing bowl sites (to be rotated between the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, and Peach Bowls), and the Championship game is awarded to a city based on a bid, much in the same way that the Super Bowl location is decided. Things are still not entirely rosy however. Almost immediately after its announcement, the new system was met with various criticisms from fans, ranging from concerns that the new selection committee would be no more unbiased in selecting teams as the old BCS formula (which mixed human polls with a set of complicated computer algorithms that nobody outside the programmers actually understands) to complaints that having only 4 teams compete is nowhere near enough to fairly decide a true champion in the 128-team FBSnote . The TV deals for this new system extend through the 2025 season, so any hope of expanding the playoff to 8 or 16 teams is a ways down the road.

The second tier of games consists of lower profile bowls such as the Russell Athletic Bowlnote , Outback Bowlnote , Sun Bowlnote , TaxSlayer Bowlnote , and Alamo Bowlnote  which are treated with some respect, but usually feature matchups among the teams in the middle of the pack of their conferences, with mid-major conference champions and major-conference runners-up making the occasional appearance.

For many years prior to the implementation of the BCS, the Cotton Bowl was one of the top four bowl games, but was surpassed by the Fiesta Bowl and demoted to second-tier status by the time the BCS came around, mainly because of the condition of the Cotton Bowl stadium and heavy campaigning by the Fiesta Bowl contingent to up their game's reputation (and the fact that when the Big Eight became the Big 12, they switched their affiliation from the Cotton Bowl to the Fiesta Bowl). It long sought to regain its former status and become the fifth major bowl, and is now played in the showplace Cowboys Stadium (the world's largest dome stadium) to demonstrate this. The Cotton Bowl succeeded in this quest when it became one of the "New Year's Six" bowls of the College Football Playoff system. The Cotton Bowl stadium itself remains in use by the decidedly less tradition-filled Heart of Dallas Bowlnote .

Like the BCS and CFP bowls, these second-tier bowls also have conference tie-ins, but for second place, third place (and so on) teams in the conferences in question. Most of the tie-ins are to the major conferences, making it rare for a mid-major team to play in one of these bowls.note  Which of these games is the most prestigious is debatable. While the Cotton Bowl has strongest tradition and retains its famous name, the Russell Athletic Bowl has the largest cash payout of any non-CFP bowl; the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which reverted to its historic name of Peach Bowl when it became part of the New Year's Six (though retaining Chick-fil-A as name sponsor), usually had the best attendance among non-BCS bowls in the BCS era.

The lower tier of bowl games exists solely as cash grabs and Padding for ESPN during the traditionally quiet holiday week in sports, and the stadiums and cities the games are played in (until ESPN grabbed a monopoly on most bowl games in the 1990's, most of these games were still few and far between, aired on syndicated broadcast television and were special). If there was a playoff in college football, the teams in these bowls would be blown out of the first round of the playoffs by the top teams or not even make it, as they usually have records which are only one game above .500 (if that)note . These games are usually sponsored by Names to Run Away from Really Fast, such as the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Quick Lane Bowlnote , AdvoCare Texas Bowl note , the Foster Farms Bowlnote , the Famous Idaho Potato Bowlnote , the Belk Bowlnote , the Cactus Bowlnote , the Camping World Independence Bowlnote  or the St. Petersburg Bowlnote . Many of these bowls used to have less embarrassing names, before the trend of sponsors using their own name as the sole name of the bowl instead of just tagging their name in front of the bowl name (something near-universally loathed by football fans) came aboutnote . These games are solely of interest to the universities playing only (or will be a future Old Shame if your team is invited to the not-very-prestigious-at-all GoDaddy Bowlnote ), and about the only accomplishment to be earned by the players outside of a free unwanted trip to Detroit, Boise, Shreveport, Louisiana or Birmingham, Alabama is a Cosmetic Award which means nothing. Unless the team lucks out and gets invited to the Hawaii Bowl or the Bahamas Bowl. There now so many lower tier bowl games that a majority of FBS teams will play in a bowl game every year, a fact widely ridiculed by fans. In the 2010–11 season, there was even some worry that there wouldn't be enough bowl eligible teamsnote  to play all the bowl games, which would have required teams with losing records to be invited to fill the remaining slots; two years later, this worry resurfaced when four separate teams ended up on postseason bans at once and all four would've otherwise been bowl eligible including one that went undefeated. While ultimately this didn't happen, it illustrates what a meager accomplishment being invited to a minor bowl has become. Once again, there are conference tie-ins for these bowls, but they tend to be a lot less strictly enforced than in higher-tier bowls (especially since a conference might not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all its tie-ins, but also because a major conference probably doesn't care all that much about the tie-in for its 6th place team and a minor conference lacks the influence to do anything about it if their tie-in is ignored). Since non-AQ conferences' tie-ins are exclusively with the bottom-tier bowls, non-AQ champions are almost always stuck in these bowls, but with exceptional seasons they can become BCS busters and jump all the way to the top four bowls.note 

Obviously, as stated above, it's far from perfect, but it's also difficult for fans to agree on what exactly would constitute a fair playoff system. (Not to mention the difficulty in untangling the tens of millions of dollars in contracts made between the power conferences and the bowls themselves.) Oh, and the discussion is Serious Business. Even the United States Congress has gotten involved in recent years, in college football's own version of Executive Meddling note , with some members proposing a law that would ban the BCS from being advertised as a "national championship" unless it were converted to a playoff system. To the surprise of very few, the most vocal proponents of this idea were Congressmen whose local schools were perceived as having been "screwed" by the BCS. There are pro-BCS and anti-BCS parties, and while the sheer fatigue from injuries might make an elaborate playoff difficult (though lower-division schools manage it), most feel something has to happen.

Different Levels

Not all American universities, that sponsor varsity football, play within the bowl system. The NCAA has three divisions and Divisions II and III actually have a normal football playoff system. Likewise, Division I has a special subdivision called the "Football Championship Subdivision,"note  where Division I schools, that don't want to put as much emphasis on football as their larger cousins, can play. The current all-divisions record holder for most consecutive winning seasons is Division III's Linfield College, currently at 58. Each of these have their own playoff system to determine a national champion. While most regular season games are done within a division, several teams will play one or two games outside of their division. Teams in the NCAA's Divisions II and III sometimes even play non-NCAA teams. Playing lower-division teams isn't without its risks; when a highly regarded FBS team loses to an FCS team (such as the infamous defeat of then #5 ranked University of Michigan by FCS opponent Appalachian State in 2007, quite possibly the biggest upset in college football history), they become a national laughing stock.note  Also, only one FCS win can count toward bowl eligibility for an FBS team, meaning that if a team schedules two such games they'll need to have at least a 7-5 record instead of 6-6 to qualify for a bowl. By design, this usually discourages FBS teams from playing against more than one FCS team per year. Despite the great majority of these games resulting in a win for the higher-division team, the lower division schools are happy to play them because the higher-division team invariably pays them a lot of money to do it.

There are also smaller college sports organizations outside of the NCAA, including the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the National Junior College Athletic Association.note  While these organizations are greatly overshadowed by the NCAA, several NAIA and NJCAA football players have gone on to play in the NCAA and/or the NFL.

Conferences

As in most American college sports, college football teams are divided into regional athletic conferences. These conferences determine most of a team's schedule, and winning a conference is an easy way to get into a major bowl game.

Within the FBS, there are ten conferences, but not all conferences are created equal. The NCAA officially divides the conferences into two tiers: the Power Five (or "Big Five") and the Group of Five. Power Five conferences are bigger and more competitive, and the winners of these conferences are guaranteed qualification to one of the six top-level bowl games. Depending on their conference, this will be the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, or Orange Bowl, unless that bowl is hosting a national semifinal game. Group of Five conferences are considered more like mid-major conferences; they're smaller, not as well known, and not as likely to win championships. Only one Group of Five conference winner is automatically given a shot at a major bowl game, either the Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, or the Peach Bowl. The other five teams to play in those bowls are selected by committee.

The Power Five conferences are...
  • The Atlantic Coast Conference, which started out as a conference covering the Carolinas and Virginia, but has since extended out to cover teams from all over the East Coast as far north as Boston College and as far south as UMiami. It now has spread well beyond the East Coast to include Louisville for all sports and Notre Damenote  for most sports apart from football. Notre Dame isn't officially part of any football conference, but it is considered connected to the ACC due to that school's full but non-football membership.note  The ACC champion is guaranteed a spot in the Orange Bowl, and Notre Dame also has a chance to get in the Orange Bowl, depending on the year.
  • The Big Ten (sometimes called "B1G", from its logo), which covers the Midwest and, for some reason (OK, this reason), includes members in the distinctly non-Midwestern states of Maryland and New Jersey. It's the oldest conference of the NCAA, dating back all the way to the 1890s. Confusingly, it has fourteen member teams. The Big Ten champion is guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl. While the conference has many storied schools, the best-known are arguably (as of 2016) eternal rivals Michigan and Ohio State.
  • The Big 12 consists of teams from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and West Virginia (which is nowhere near any of the other states with Big 12 teams). It's the newest of the major conferences, having been formed when two other conferences merged into one. Unlike the other Big Five conferences, the Big 12 determines its champion based on the best record, not a conference championship game. The Big 12 champion is guaranteed a spot in the Sugar Bowl, with the second team potentially going to the Orange Bowl. Just to make things confusing, the Big 12 has ten teams. Yes, the Big Ten has 14 teams (12 from 2011 to 2014) and the Big 12 has ten (though is widely reported to be ready to expand to 12 or 14 in the near future). No, that doesn't make any sense. Don't think about it too hard.
  • The Pac-12 covers the entire West Coast, as well as Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. It's currently considered the second-strongest conference in the NCAA, and the Pac-12 champion plays the Big Ten champion in the Rose Bowl. Oregon is currently the flagship team of the conference, known for its flashy offense and flashier uniforms.
  • The Southeastern Conference, better known as the SEC, is considered far and away the strongest college football conference. As with all the other conferences, its name isn't 100% geographically accurate, since it has teams from Missouri and eastern Texas. The SEC is home to some of the biggest rivalries, coaches, and players in all of college football right now, especially the SEC West division, to the point that from 2007, the year the BCS National Championship Game was established as separate from any other bowl game, to the end of the BCS system, there was at least one SEC team playing every year, and it wasn't until the last of those that a non-SEC team won. In fact, the reason the BCS finally collapsed was that the 2012 championship paired two SEC West teams against each other, which caused chaos with scheduling other bowl matchups and demonstrated how poorly designed the BCS really was. While the league has many traditional football powers (plus basketball superpower Kentucky), the biggest name in recent years is current national champion Alabama, with four national titles since current head coach Nick Saban arrived in 2007.

The Group of Five conferences are...
  • The American Athletic Conference is considered the successor to the Big East, which collapsed due to instability, but unlike the Big East, it isn't considered a power conference. Geographically, its members are all over the place; most are from the old Big East, but it also includes teams from Texas and Oklahoma. Navy, located in the old Big East footprint, joined for football only in 2015.
  • Conference USA, which includes teams from all over the South. Its membership has shifted more towards the Sun Belt as conference realignments changed up its membership. Right now, its most notable team is one that doesn't even play football, at least for now—UAB, or Alabama–Birmingham, dropped the sport after the 2014 season, citing financial concerns. However, further developments made it clear that the move was more about University of Alabama system politics than finances, which led to a strong move to bring football back. UAB relented, announcing that football would return in 2017.
  • The Mid-American Conference, which covers the Great Lakes area. For a few years, it had an outlier for football only in UMass (Massachusetts), but the Minutemen were effectively kicked out after the 2015 season.
  • The Mountain West Conference, which includes teams from the Mountain West, a few California teams, and even a team in Hawaii (though that team is only a member in football). It's the youngest of the conferences, having started up in 1999. Its most notable member at the moment is Boise State, which earned a reputation in the late 2000's for performing on par with power conference teams and getting into major bowls... and is also famous for its blue football field.
  • The Sun Belt Conference, like the SEC and Conference USA, is mostly located in the South, but for football only, it includes the distinctly not-Southern state of Idaho (as well as the more Southwestern, but still "Sun Belt", state of New Mexico). The teams from Idaho and New Mexico will be bounced from the football league after the 2017 season; Idaho soon announced that it would return to FCS football starting in the 2018 season. Coastal Carolinanote  began a transition to FBS in the 2016 season, joining the Sun Belt as a full but non-football member; the football team will join in 2017.

Additionally, there are four independent football programs in Division I FBS (as of the upcoming 2016 season) that do not belong to a conference.

  • The University of Notre Dame has a legendary place in the history of college football (they're the only team, collegiate or otherwise, who have a national television contract for all home games, and still have more national championships than any other team, despite none since 1988). They are also the traditional flagship team of American Catholicism (as Notre Dame is a Catholic school). Notre Dame is thought of as a "Power 5" school and has special arrangements to appear in the Orange Bowl as a potential opponent for an ACC team. It can also appear in lower-profile bowls instead of an ACC team and plays at least 5 ACC opponents a year, as part of a deal made when Notre Dame's other sports teams joined the ACC in 2013.
  • Army (the United States Military Academy), one of the service academy teams. Navy's football team was also independent until it joined the American Athletic Conference in 2015, while Air Force has been in conferences since 1980, first in the Western Athletic Conference and since 1999 in the the Mountain West Conference. Like Navy and Air Force, Army is considered on par with the "Group of 5" teams. However, two of the Power Five leagues (the Big Ten and SEC) have included Army as a surrogate Power Five opponent for purposes of non-conference scheduling.note  The Army-Navy game serves as the traditional last game of the season, and it is still televised nationally despite both service academies having been out of top 25 contention for decades; the service academies have very strict academic and physical requirements (specifically weight limits) that preclude the ability to compete with more forgiving civilian schools.
  • Brigham Young University (BYU) has been independent in football since 2011. BYU's football team has been successful in recent years. It is the traditional flagship team of American Mormonism (BYU being a Mormon university). BYU also owns their own television network, which is grouped with the religious channels on most cable systems but also shows the occasional sporting event. The ACC, Big Ten, and SEC count BYU as a surrogate Power Five team for non-conference scheduling purposes.
  • The newest independent is UMass, more properly the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The Minutemen had been a fairly decent team at the FCS level, even winning a national championship in 1998, but decided to move up to FBS, gaining football-only membership in the MAC starting with the 2012 season. UMass enjoyed little success at its new level, yet decided to turn down an offer of full MAC membership; the MAC responded by not renewing their football-only membership contract after it ended with the 2015 season.note  It remains to be seen whether UMass will stay at FBS level or return to FCS... watch this space.

Rivalries

While all sports have bitter rivalries, college football tends to have the most pronounced ones in American sports. Some of the more notable have been mentioned above. Rivalries will most commonly feature two teams within a state (like Auburn vs. Alabama), teams whose states border one another (like Texas vs. Oklahoma), and ones with historical significance (like Army vs. Navy).

The following are all notable rivalries. Most feature teams that are frequently in the top 25, and therefore, more likely to put up a good game.

  • Harvard vs. Yale (The Ur-Example, though no longer of much importance except to students at the respective schools. Formerly known as "The Game"note  until the more relevant Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry usurped that name.)
  • Army vs. Navy vs. Air Force (For the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy; Another one of the oldest rivalries, and still going strong. The Army-Navy Game is traditionally the last regular-season game of the year and also a focal point for the oldest and strongest Interservice Rivalry in the American military, making it a big draw even when, as is usually the case in the modern era, neither team is nationally relevant.)
  • Auburn vs. Alabama ("The Iron Bowl"note )
  • Texas vs. Oklahoma ("The Red River Rivalry"note ) - played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which is almost exactly halfway between the two campuses. Was a non-conference game for decades until becoming a conference rivalry starting in 1996.
  • Ohio State vs. Michigan ("The Game" - voted the #1 rivalry in North American sports by ESPN in 2000.) The final game of their regular season since 1935, and before the expansion of the conference and advent of divisional play it was usually the de facto Big Ten championship game. Like many big rivalries, this one grew out of existing animosity between the bordering states.note 
    Oh, we don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
    The whole state of Michigan, the whole state of Michigan
    We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
    We're from O-hi-o!
  • Wisconsin vs. Minnesota ("Paul Bunyan's Axe") and the oldest annual rivalry in FBS football — these teams have played every year since 1907.
  • Florida vs. Georgia ("The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party"note ) - Played on a theoretically neutral field in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • The Pac-12 divides neatly into six regional groupings, providing for many natural rivalries.
    • UCLA vs. USC ("The Battle for the Victory Bell"/"The Battle of Los Angeles")
    • California (Berkeley) vs. Stanford ("The Big Game"; see also "The Play." Often considered the modern version of Harvard vs. Yale, being played between a pair of very academically prestigious schools... but unlike Harvard and Yale, they still frequently play good football.)
    • Oregon vs. Oregon State ("The Civil War")
    • Washington vs. Washington State (The Apple Cup) note 
    • Arizona vs. Arizona State ("The Duel in the Desert," notable for being played for the Territorial Cupnote , which has been certified as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, having first been awarded in 1889.note )
    • Colorado vs. Utah (The "Rumble in the Rockies") – Had been one of the hottest rivalries in the West for the first half of the 20th century, but stopped after 1962. Revived in 2011 when Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-12 and were placed in the same football division.
  • BYU vs. Utah ("The Holy War"note )
  • Boston College vs. Notre Dame (also "The Holy War"note )
  • West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh ("The Backyard Brawl", although after WVU left to join the Big 12 Conference in 2012, this series did not continue) note 
  • Kansas vs. Missouri ("The Border War"/"Border Showdown"note ) - Dates back to 1891, and grew out of the considerable animosity that already existed between the states. Though it had been played for 120 years, interrupted only by the 1918 flu pandemic, the annual rivalry ended when Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC. Inevitably, fans of each school accused the other of having "surrendered".
  • Illinois vs. Missouri ("The Arch Rivalry"note ) – An offshoot of "Braggin' Rights", a longer-standing men's basketball rivalry between the two schools, with those games also being played in St. Louis.
  • Michigan vs. Michigan State ("The Battle for the Mitten"note /"Paul Bunyan—Governor of Michigan Trophy". Taken more seriously by MSU than UM—as UM has OSU to deal with—with the result that MSU takes it even more seriously, in a "what are we, chopped liver?" kind of way. The OSU thing leads to a lot of conflicted emotions for MSU fans, since on the one hand Michigan is the great rival but on the other hand OSU is from Ohio and most MSU fans are Michiganders, leading one to recall Henry Kissinger's comment about the Iran–Iraq War: "It's a shame they can't both lose.")
  • USC vs. Notre Dame ("The Battle for the Jewelled Shillelagh")
  • Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss ("The Battle For The Golden Egg"/"The Egg Bowl") note 
  • Miami note  vs. Florida State - in addition to being a cross-state rivalry, both teams often vie for the ACC championship.
  • Florida vs. Florida State - Traditionally the last game of their regular season every year.
  • Georgia vs. Georgia Tech ("Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate") – Played every year since 1925.
  • University of Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Battle for the Commonwealth Cup) note 
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State ("The Rocky Mountain Showdown")
  • Tennessee vs. Alabama ("The Third Saturday in October"note ) – Notable for having long winning streaks by whichever team is ascendant in a given decade.
  • Tennessee vs. Florida – One of the newer rivalries, but for most of the 1990s it was the de facto SEC championship game. With both teams having declined since then, it's become lower-profile nationally but remains bitterly contested.
  • Clemson vs. South Carolina – The second oldest uninterrupted FBS rivalry by just two years, dating back to 1909. The rivalry between the schools predates their even having football teams, and indeed traces back to before Clemson actually existed, having originally been fueled by post-Civil War state politics.
  • Southern Methodist and Texas Christian – Both are in the same metro area and both are affiliated with different Protestant denominations (SMU with the United Methodist Church and TCU with the Disciples of Christ). The prize is the Iron Skillet. TCU (Fort Worth) has been more victorious since 1987, since SMU's (Dallas) infamous Death Penalty judgment.
  • Auburn vs. Georgia ("The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry") – First played in 1892 and became an annual game in 1898. But interruptions for World War I and World War II prevented it from being the oldest annual rivalry.
  • LSU vs. Auburn ("The Tiger Bowl"note )
  • LSU vs. Arkansas ("The Battle for the Golden Boot"note )
  • Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State ("Bedlam Series"note )
  • Texas vs. Texas A&M ("Lone Star Showdown"note ) – Dates back to 1894 and was a long-standing traditional Thanksgiving Day game, but like the Border War it ended because of conference realignment. With A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, Texas has said they have no room on their schedule for the game until 2018 at the earliest. Both fanbases seem to simultaneously blame the other school for the ending of the game as if this is a bad thing, and then claim they didn't really want to play it that much anyway. A significantly less tradition-filled game between Texas and either Baylor or Texas Tech (or TCU since their joining the Big 12) has for the time being stood in for Thanksgiving.
  • Arkansas vs. Texas A&M – An old Southwest Conference rivalry that was recently revived as a non-conference game played in Arlington, and is now entrenched annually as Texas A&M joined the SEC and was placed in the same football division as Arkansas.
  • TCU vs. Baylor ("The Revivalry"note ) - another old Southwest Conference rivalry with the added enmity that Baylor allegedly played politics to keep TCU out of the Big 12.note  With TCU joining the Big 12, this rivalry has now come full circle. As of the 2015 game, a TCU victory in overtime, the record is dead even at 52-52-7.
  • Iowa State vs. Kansas State ("Farmageddon")
  • Kentucky vs. Louisville ("The Governor's Cup") – Although hard-fought on the football field, this matchup is much better known as a men's basketball rivalry. This is a relatively recent rivalry—after the first half of the 1920s, UK steadfastly refused to schedule U of L in either sport for decades. The modern basketball rivalry began in 1983 (after no regular-season games for over 60 years), but the modern football rivalry had to wait until 1994, after a 70-year absence.note 
  • North Carolina vs. Virginia ("The South's Oldest Rivalry", which has been played since 1892, continuously since 1919)
  • Florida State vs. Virginia (awarding the "Jefferson-Eppes Trophy"note )
  • Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, which ran from 1912 to 2010, when Nebraska left the Big 12 - because the Big 12 wouldn't schedule the game every season. note  The highlight was the 1971 "Game of the Century", with #1-ranked Nebraska narrowly beating out #2-ranked Oklahoma. The rivalry will return in 2021 and 2022 with two specially-scheduled games.
  • Lafayette vs. Lehigh ("The Rivalry") – A matchup between two lower-level FCS teams, both members of the Patriot League and located in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania. It's notable here as the most-played matchup in college football history (the upcoming 2016 game will be the 152nd) and the longest uninterrupted rivalry (since 1897) in all of college football. The Leopards and Mountain Hawks first played in 1884; the large number of games is because the teams played twice each season from 1884 to 1901 (except 1896, when they didn't play at all, and 1891, when they played three times), as well as in the war years of 1943 and 1944.

College Football Individual Awards

A list of the major awards for college football players presented annually. There are several governing bodies in charge of selecting the various award winners, so some of the awards may seem a little repetitive in terms of what the award stands for. (Ex. the Heisman, Archie Griffin, Maxwell, and Walter Camp awards all being practically the same.) The "most recent winners" listed are all from the 2015 season; those who repeated from the 2014 season are also noted.

  • Heisman Memorial Trophy Award (aka "The Heisman"): The top award a college football player can hope to receive. It is given out annually to the "most outstanding" player in college football. It is also the oldest award on the list, with the first being presented in 1935. While any player at any position is eligible to win the award, it has historically been awarded to Quarterbacks and Running Backs by a wide margin. The winner is chosen by voters consisting of "informed, competent, and impartial" sports writers along with every living recipient of the award also getting a vote. Most recent winner: Derrick Henry, Alabama
  • Archie Griffin Award: While the Heisman is given to the "most outstanding" player, the Archie Griffin award is given to the "most valuable" player in college football. (Which, unsurprisingly, is also frequently the Heisman winner.) Most recent winner: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Award given to the best defensive player in college football. Most recent winner: Tyler Matakevich, Temple
  • Buck Buchanan Award: Award given to the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. Most recent winner: Deon King, Norfolk State
  • Burlsworth Trophy: One of the newer awards (first presented in 2010), which is given to the most outstanding player who began his college career as a "walk-on" (not offered a scholarship). Most recent winner: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
  • Butkus Award: Award traditionally given to the top linebacker in college football. Starting in 2008, the award has expanded to include a professional and high school player each year as well. Most recent winner: Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
  • Chic Harley Award: Also known as the "College Football Player of the Year" award. Like the Archie Griffin Award, it is not uncommon for the winner of the Heisman to win this award as well. Most recent winner: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
  • Chuck Bednarik Award: Award given to the defensive "player of the year" in college football. The Nagurski Trophy recipient frequently gets this award as well. Most recent winner: Matakevich
  • Davey O'Brien Award: Award given to the best quarterback in college football. Whenever a quarterback wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Most recent winner: Watson
  • Doak Walker Award: Award given to the best running back in college football. Whenever a running back wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Most recent winner: Derrick Henry
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award: Award given to the best Wide Receiver in college football. Most recent winner: Corey Coleman, Baylor
  • Gagliardi Trophy: Award given to the "most outstanding" player in Division III football. Most recent winner: Joe Callahan, Wesley (Delaware)
  • Gene Upshaw Award: Award given to the best lineman, offensive or defensive, in Division II football. Most recent winner: Darius Allen, Colorado State–Pueblo (2014 and 2015)
  • Harlon Hill Trophy: Award given to the "most valuable" player in Division II football. Most recent winner: Jason Vander Laan, Ferris State (2014 and 2015)
  • Jet Award: The newest major award (first presented in 2011note ), which is given to the top return specialist in college football. "Jet" comes from the nickname of legendary 1970s Nebraska receiver/return man Johnny Rodgers. Most recent winner: McCaffrey
  • Jim Thorpe Award: Award given to the top defensive back in college football. Most recent winner: Desmond King, Iowa
  • John Mackey Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" tight end in college football. Most recent winner: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
  • Johnny Unitas Award: Award given to the best quarterback who has spent at least four seasons in college football (i.e., either a senior or a redshirt junior). Originally, only seniors were eligible, but redshirt juniors have been added, probably because many top QBs now leave for the NFL before their fourth season. Most recent winner: Connor Cook, Michigan State
  • Manning Award: Another award given to the best quarterback in college football; named after the Manning quarterbacking family.note  Whenever a QB wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Unlike most college football awards, it's given after the bowl games. Most recent winner: Watson
  • Lou Groza Award: Award given to the top placekicker in college football. Most recent winner: Ka'imi Fairbairn, UCLA
  • Maxwell Award: Award given to the "best football player in the United States." Predictably, the winner of this award is also frequently the Heisman winner as well. Most recent winner: Derrick Henry
  • Outland Trophy: Award given to the best "interior lineman" in college football. This includes any offensive linemen, as well as defensive tackles. Most recent winner: Joshua Garnett, Stanford
  • Paul Hornung Award: Another relatively new award (first given in 2010), presented to the most versatile player in college football. Most recent winner: McCaffrey
  • Ray Guy Award: Award given to the top punter in college football. Most recent winner: Tom Hackett, Utah (2014 and 2015)
  • Walter Camp Award: Award given to the college football "player of the year." Predictably, the winner of this award is also frequently the Heisman winner as well. Most recent winner: Derrick Henry
  • Walter Payton Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. Originally given to the most outstanding player on either side of the ball, but restricted to offensive players since the Buchanan Award was established in 1995. Most recent winner: Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington

Names to know in College Football (alphabetical in category, by last name)

Many of these players also went on to noteworthy NFL careers. Details can found on the National Football League page.

    open/close all folders 

     Coaches and Administrators 
  • Bobby Bowden: While he had early-career gigs at Samford and West Virginia, he's most famous for his long tenure at Florida State (1976–2009), building the school into a national powerhouse. He won two national titles at FSU, and also had 14 consecutive 10-win seasons (1987–2000). Broke Bear Bryant's record for most wins as an FBS head coach., ending with 377 (not counting 12 wins vacated by the NCAA).
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant: Was the legendary head coach of Alabama for 25 years in the 60s and 70s. He won 6 national titles in his time as coach, while also serving as the school's athletic director. His 323 wins were the most ever by a Division I head coach when he retired. One of the many awards for the National Coach of the Year bears his name.
  • John Gagliardi: The winningest coach in college football history by wins, regardless of division. Began his head coaching career in 1949 at NAIA school Carroll College in Montana. He then went to Saint John's of Minnesota, an NCAA D-III school, in 1953, and stayed there for 60 seasons, finally retiring in 2012 with 489 total wins. The award for the top D-III player bears his name.
  • Larry Kehres: The winningest coach in college football history by percentage, regardless of division. Coached at D-III Mount Union in Ohio from 1986 to 2012, also serving as AD in his final years on the sidelines. Holds all-division records for winning percentage (.929), national titles (11), unbeaten regular seasons (21), and conference titles (23, with the last 21 of them being in succession).
  • Joe Paterno: An institution at Penn State for over 60 years, arriving as an assistant in 1950 and becoming head coach in 1966, JoePa won two national titles, had five unbeaten seasons, won 24 bowl games, and amassed an FBS record of 409 career wins. However, his once-pristine image was badly tarnished in 2011 with the revelation that the school had covered up the sex crimes of former assistant Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade. He was fired during the season, died only two months later, and had all 111 wins between 1998 and his firing stricken from the record books by the NCAA, giving Bowden the record for most FBS wins. The wins were restored in January 2015, once again making him the winningest FBS coach, after it came out that the NCAA had, shall we say, bent its own rules to the breaking point in the Sandusky investigation.
  • Eddie Robinson: Was the legendary head coach at Grambling, a historically black school in Louisiana, from World War II until the 1990s. Won 17 conference titles and nine black college national titles, and ended his career with 408 wins, at the time the most in college history at any level (now third behind Gagliardi and Paterno).
  • Knute Rockne: A Norwegian immigrant raised in Chicago, Rockne was the main builder of Notre Dame's football tradition, leading the Fighting Irish to three national titles in his 13 seasons (1918–1930) and also relentlessly publicizing Notre Dame football throughout the country. He also popularized the forward pass, and is also famous for the "Win one for the Gipper" locker-room speech. His winning percentage of .881 is the highest in major-college history, and second only to Kehres among those with at least 10 seasons as a head coach at any level. Rockne's death in a plane crash during the 1931 offseason led to an outpouring of national grief comparable to the death of a U.S. president, with his funeral drawing tens of thousands and being broadcast on radio worldwide. The public reaction to his death was also credited with launching a safety revolution in commercial aviation.
  • Nick Saban: Currently the colossus of college coaching, with four national titles at Alabama since his 2007 arrival (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015). Also coached LSU to a national title in 2003, and before that enjoyed great success at Toledo and Michigan State. We will not mention his two seasons with the Miami Dolphins between LSU and Bama.

     Quarterbacks 
  • Eric Crouch: A record holding QB for Nebraska who won the 2001 Heisman Trophy (in one of the closest votes ever, narrowly beating out Rex Grossman and Ken Dorsey,) as well as being one of the last great "option" quarterbacks in major college football.
  • Ty Detmer: Was a record-shattering passer for BYU and winner of the 1990 Heisman Trophy. Was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
  • Doug Flutie: Won the 1984 Heisman Trophy playing for Boston College. Is probably best remembered for his "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to defeat Miami, which is frequently rated as one of the greatest plays in college football history. Went on to have a successful professional career as well in the CFL and NFL.
  • Matt Leinart: Won a National Championship with USC as well as the 2004 Heisman Trophy. Had an incredibly successful career at USC as part of what is widely considered one of the most talented football teams ever from 2003-2005. Was an NFL first round pick but failed to live up to his college career, being considered one of the bigger NFL Draft "busts" of all time.
  • Archie Manning: College Football Hall of Famer who had a legendary career at Ole Miss. Was a Heisman finalist twice, falling just short both times. Went on to have a moderately successful pro career and is better known nowadays as the father of Peyton and Eli Manning. He was one of the first members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, but took a health-related leave in the fall of 2014 and resigned from the committee the next spring, never having participated in any voting.
  • Kellen Moore: Was the quarterback of the perennial "BCS Buster" Boise St. Broncos of the late 2000s. Though significantly undersized compared to most high level NCAA QBs, he ended his college career as one of the winningest QBs in history, and the winningest at the FBS level.
  • Davey O'Brien: A legendary QB for TCU, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1939. He set a number of records during his college career, a few of which still stand to this day (such as fewest interceptions per passes thrown). The award given annually to the best quarterback in college football bears his name.
  • Keenan Reynolds: The triggerman for Navy's option offense from 2012 to 2015, Reynolds is notable for a couple of reasons. First, he is arguably one of the greatest running QBs in NCAA history, notably setting an all-time FBS record for most career rushing touchdowns (88). Second, despite holding one of the NCAA's highest-profile records, he will never be in the College Football Hall of Fame (at least under current rules). The Hall currently requires that inductees have received first-team All-America honors before being considered. In the modern game, QBs are evaluated mostly as passers, with running being a secondary factor. However, Navy's offense is heavily run-oriented (being more similar to the types of option offenses seen in the last third of the 20th century), which means that Reynolds was never able to put up the type of passing numbers that would have given him All-American notice.
  • Tim Tebow: Two-time BCS Championship winning QB for Florida and winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy. Another candidate for greatest running QB in NCAA history, with a unique style of preferring to plow through defenders like a fullback (most running quarterbacks are more agile and try to avoid hits). Went on to a brief, somewhat controversial NFL career. Returned to college football as an analyst for the SEC Network; gave the NFL another try in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was one of the last roster cuts.
  • Vince Young: Won the 2005 BCS National Championship with Texas and was runner-up in Heisman voting to Reggie Bush (who was later stripped of the award.) Is considered one of the greatest players in Texas' storied history, as well as one of the greatest ever in NCAA history. He was drafted 3rd overall into the NFL but after some initial success, is considered a borderline draft bust.

     Running Backs and Fullbacks 
  • Jay Berwanger: Halfback for the University of Chicago, and winner of the first ever Heisman Trophy. He was also selected as the first ever draft pick in the NFL, but didn't play a single down professionally as he was unable to agree on a salary.
  • Felix "Doc" Blanchard & Glenn Davis: One of the most famous running duos in the sport's history, "Mr. Inside" (Blanchard) and "Mr. Outside" (Davis) played at Army from 1944 to 1946, helping the Cadetsnote  to a 27–0–1 record, with the only blemish being a famous scoreless tie against Notre Dame in 1946. They set a record for most touchdowns by a pair of teammates that lasted for over 50 years, and Davis set records for yards per carry in a season (11.5) and career (8.3) that stand to this day. Each won a Heisman Trophy, Blanchard in 1945 (the first junior to win) and Davis in 1946, and both are in the College Football Hall of Fame.
  • Tony Dorsett: A legendary three-time All-American running back for the University of Pittsburgh, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1976. Is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame.
  • Harold Edward "Red" Grange: Was a legendary halfback for Illinois, earning the nickname "the Galloping Ghost." He was one of the first star players in college football and helped to popularize the sport, even appearing on the cover of TIME magazine in 1925. He is a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. ESPN named him as the greatest college football player of all time in 2008.
  • Archie Griffin: Star running back for Ohio St. and, to date, the only two-time winner of the Heisman trophy. He is also the only player to ever start in four Rose Bowl games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. Also known for being rather undersized for the position, even by today's standards. (5'9", 182)
  • Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski: Was a legendary, Canadian born fullback for Minnesota, who also played tackle on defense. Legend has it that he was virtually impossible to tackle with the ball in his hands. He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. He also made a career as a Pro Wrestler when his football career was over. The award given annually to the best defensive player in college football is named after him.
  • Herschel Walker: Legendary running back for Georgia in the early 1980s. He was named an All-American in each of the three years he played, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982. Went on to have a moderately successful NFL career as well. Expect any analysis of a great college football running back to make at least one comparison to Walker.

     Wide Receivers 
  • Fred Biletnikoff: Was an All-American wide receiver for pre-Bowden Florida State and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. The award for the best receiver in college football is named for him. Also had a Hall of Fame professional career with the Oakland Raiders.
  • Michael Crabtree: Was a prolific receiver for Texas Tech. He set 7 NCAA receiving records for freshmen in his first season and would become the first two-time Biletnikoff Award winner.
  • Larry Fitzgerald: Was an All-American wide receiver for Pittsburgh and had one of the greatest seasons by any college WR in 2003. He won the Walter Camp, Chic Harley, and Biletnikoff awards and was the runner up in Heisman voting, losing to Oklahoma's Jason White by only a slim margin. It was the highest finish in Heisman voting by a sophomore up to that point. In addition to holding nearly every major school record, he also still holds the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a TD catch at 18. Went on to have an extremely successful pro career as well.

     Offensive Linemen and Tight Ends 
  • Mark May: Was an All-American offensive tackle for Pittsburgh and won the Outland Trophy in 1980. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and famously serves alongside Lou Holtz as an ESPN college football analyst.
  • Gerald Ford: Was a center and linebacker (he switched, as happened more often back then) for the Michigan Wolverines in the early 1930s. He was recruited by the Lions and Packers, but decided to go to law school instead, and ended up President of the United States.

     Defensive Players 
  • Dick Butkus: Legendary All-American linebacker for Illinois, who also played center on offense, making him one of the last great two-way players in major college football. The annual award for the nation's best linebacker is named after him. Is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
  • Pat Fitzgerald: All-American linebacker for Northwestern in the mid-1990s, and to date, only player to win the Dick Butkus Award twice. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He is the current head coach for his Alma Mater.
  • Charles Woodson: The only defensive player to date to receive the Heisman Trophy (winning out over Peyton Manning). This was likely due to the fact that he was occasionally inserted into the offense as a wide receiver/running back, as well as being the most dominant cornerback of his time (not to mention being the team's primary kick/punt returner). The man was essentially the Swiss Army Knife of football.

     Special Teams 
  • Ray Guy: Was an All-American punter for Southern Miss, and is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The award given out annually to the nation's top punter is named after him.


<<|Useful Notes|>>

Alternative Title(s): College Football

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