There are no two ways about it, professional football took a big hit in 2017. Attendance at games was down, viewership was down, and overall profitability was down. Even with a bevy of outstanding games and last minute nail-biters, the NFL struggled to keep fans engaged. Between the growing frustration with new rules, and the failure to adequately address – in one way or another – the anthem protests, the NFL stumbled through the year trying to avoid the elephant in the room.
Meanwhile, college football thrived. Every year we see big comebacks, huge upsets, and Cinderella teams, but this year seemed better than ever. And all that enthusiasm that the NFL lost? It was fully present, loud and clear in the stands at NCAA Division 1 games. Let’s take a look at some ways that enthusiasm was rewarded.
There’s no doubt 2017 was the year of the comeback. It began in grand style during last year’s national championship game. Clemson met defending national champion Alabama in a repeat of the 2016 national championship game. That time, Bama came out on top, winning a thriller, 45-40. They seemed to be on the verge of a repeat, up ten points at the end of the third. Then came a wild fourth quarter that featured multiple lead changes and one of the most exciting periods in college football history. Four touchdowns between the teams put Clemson on top, for a 35-31 win.
Speaking of comebacks, this season featured the resurgence of the Miami Hurricanes into a national contender. Not since the early 2000s has the team from Coral Gables generated this much excitement. From the edge of your seat comebacks against archrival Florida State and ACC rivals North Carolina and Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes proved they are … at least almost … back. And they are every bit as exciting as ever.
And the ‘Canes were not the only big surprise coming out of the Sunshine State. The University of Central Florida shocked the nation, going undefeated in the regular season and earning a trip to face Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. While UCF didn’t play any major contenders, the team beat good teams from Cincinnati, Navy, and cross-state rival, the University of South Florida.
On the strength of these big winners, as well as a more than ample selection of big upsets and outstanding plays, college football made the most of its brighter spotlight this year. It will be interesting to see how they manage the increased attention going forward.