America loves a winner.
Michael Jordan posters adorn bedrooms. Serena Williams-sponsored products line shelves. The national anthem gets slightly less buy-in from attendees at sporting events than DJ Khaled’s seminal 2010 masterpiece, “All I Do Is Win.”
However, I would argue America is even quicker to fall in love with a loser. The squandered efforts, the heartbreaking failures — it all connects with something utterly broken deep inside us that probably led us to the masochistic pastime of college football in the first place.
After Week 11 of the college football season, we honor the lovable losers who got one in the win column. Don’t get me wrong; we will absolutely go back to making fun of them next week. Just enjoy it while you can.
UConn is bowl-eligible (beat Liberty 36-33)
Look, say what you will about Liberty. That it’s lame. That it employs largely repulsive humans. That it arguably shouldn’t exist in the first place. This isn’t a setup for a counterpoint or anything; I’m just giving you examples of things you could say about Liberty.
However, one thing you can’t refute about Liberty is that its football team just granted UConn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2015, and that’s awesome. The Huskies have been so bad for so long that it’s easy to forget they played Oklahoma in a BCS bowl in 2010. And we might even see a rematch this season, considering the Sooners are once again a UConn-adjacent program.
Well, almost UConn-adjacent. Give them a couple years.
Washington (upset No. 12 Oregon 37-34)
Aside from last year’s 4-8 disaster, Washington is far from a loser. No, I’m talking about the true source of the Huskies’ success in 2022, that being the Indiana Hoosiers.
Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer was Indiana’s offensive coordinator in 2019. In his four seasons with the Hoosiers, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. gave more cartilage, tendons and ligaments to an Indiana institution than a car crash victim in Terre Haute.
Mere hours before Penix lit up Oregon on Saturday, Indiana fought valiantly, admirably — indomitably — to very nearly cover the 40-point spread against No. 2 Ohio State. But when Washington wins, so does Indiana. Those tears streaming down the faces of Hoosier fans? Those are tears of joy. I swear.
Vanderbilt beat an SEC team (more specifically, Kentucky, 24-21)
Man, just imagine if Kentucky had eleven Will Levises on offense. All that NFL talent? By God, they’d be unstoppable.
Shamefully easy Levis jokes aside, the real story is Vanderbilt, which crossed the elusive four-win mark for the first time since 2018. Head coach Clark Lea is investing in the future big-time by giving Vanderbilt students something to root for. Some day, when one of those alumni releases a multi-platinum country music album or wins a governorship on the platform of violating more human rights than their opponent — it’s one of the two; nothing in between — the booster money for the Vandy’s football program is going to be glorious.
Auburn kept its bowl hopes alive (beat who else but Texas A&M 13-10)
I realize Auburn doesn’t exactly fit the criteria of a lovable loser. And if there are two teams that are less fun to talk about than Auburn and Texas A&M, don’t poison my mind by telling me who they are.
Still, there’s something morbidly fascinating about a program as well-endowed yet infrastructurally inept as Auburn finally meeting its match in an even more well-endowed yet infrastructurally inept program like A&M. Of course the school that just fired its coach was the victor. Neither of these teams seem to have a great deal of buy-in from anyone outside its boosters, but only the winner was willing to buy out.
The entire Big Ten West is playing for the fans
If you’re a fan of a team at the top (“top” being a relative term) of the Big Ten West, I am sorry for you. Or I’m happy for you? I don’t know how to feel.
Illinois is choking away a ticket to Indianapolis while Iowa marches toward it at a blistering 1.75 points per drive. Meanwhile, Minnesota and Purdue are taking turns winning to generate hype and immediately losing once they have it.
Logic and rules tell me someone has to win this division, but I haven’t ruled out the possibility that a fan 30 years from now will check the record book and see the 2022 Big Ten West champion listed as N/A, a nonexistent team that somehow still had a better offense than Iowa.
N/A did still lose to Iowa 6-3, of course.