Few sports come close to matching the passion that coincides with college football. The colors, pageantry and fight songs sung from the stands aren’t generally found in professional sports.
Perhaps the most comparable atmosphere comes in international soccer where the pride of nations rests on 11 men competing on fields of grass, similar to the phenomenon that sweeps across our country during Saturdays in the fall.
That drama and excitement will be on full display over the next month as Friday marks the beginning of the UEFA European Football Championship, a 24-team tournament to determine the champion of Europe.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the “The Beautiful Game,” or are still simply searching for who to root for, here’s a college football fan’s guide to the tournament.
Alabama — Germany
Both are ruthless, machine-like and are hated and feared by everyone else. Germany has won the World Cup four times and has been the champions of Europe on three occasions. Meanwhile, Alabama claims 18 national championships and is arguably the most successful program in college football history.
Like Alabama, Germany is always a contender and isn’t afraid to impose its will on its way to glory. Remember that 7-1 drubbing of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals? It’s reminiscent of some of the College Football Playoff wins Nick Saban’s side has racked up in recent years.
Germany might have aged out some of the players who won the 2014 World Cup, but it has a nice class of youngsters coming in. Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry and Timo Werner offer an exciting new wave much the same way Bryce Young, John Metchie III and Will Anderson Jr. do for Alabama.
Bonus points: Nick Saban owns stakes in three Mercedes-Benz dealerships. Guess who sponsors the German national team.
Georgia — England
These two both have plenty of talent and are often met with high expectations. They just never seem to win the title.
No matter how good England is, it always finds a way to come up short. All too often, that comes at the hands of Germany in some painful manner.
The two teams met in the quarterfinal of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico where England took a 2-0 lead into the half only to see Germany storm back for a second-half comeback en route to winning 3-2 in extra time. Sound familiar, Georgia fans? England also fell to Germany in penalties in the 1990 World Cup semifinals as well as the semifinal of the 1996 Euros — both agonizing defeats.
Despite winning just one World Cup back in 1966, England claims to be the home of soccer. That’s kind of like how Atlanta is the home of college football when Georgia hasn’t won a national title since 1980.
It’s not all bad though. Both England and Georgia could have their best teams in years. Will they finally find glory, or will Germany and Alabama ruin things once again?
Bonus points: Georgia’s mascot, Uga, is an English Bulldog. I mean, these are just writing themselves.
LSU — France
Both always have talent. Both generally have drama. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes they’re horrible. They’re always entertaining, though.
France at its best is a beautiful site, carving through opponents with equal parts flair and efficiency. However, when things go wrong, they tend to get messy.
For example, France won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euros before being bounced in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup. The French then went to the final of the 2006 World Cup before again failing to get out of the first round four years later. The 2010 collapse featured its fair share of drama as striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for a profanity-laden outburst at head coach Raymond Domenech which ultimately led to a team protest.
LSU put together one of the best teams college football has seen in 2019 only to follow it up with a 5-5 season last year. When it comes to drama, the Tigers also have plenty of that to go around as well.
All that being said, neither France nor LSU stay down for long. The French are the defending World Cup Champions and one of the favorites to win the Euros this year. Don’t be surprised if LSU makes a similar rebound in the coming seasons.
Bonus points: Just look at the last names on LSU’s roster. The French connection isn’t hard to spot.
Michigan — Italy
They used to be good. As a sport, we still want them to be good. They just aren’t anymore. But we’ll keep pretending like they are.
Italy didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup after failing to get out of the group stage the two previous World Cups. The Italian’s 2006 World Cup glory now seems like a distant memory, much like Michigan’s last college football national championship in 1997.
Italy has claimed four World Cup titles and won the Euros in 1968. Michigan has a similar storied history, claiming 11 national titles. Both teams have iconic jerseys and are one of the first that comes to mind when discussing the history of their respective sports. Eventually, they’ll both return to their glory days of old. Right?
Bonus points: Italy’s nickname is “gli Azzurri” which translates to the Blues. Michigan is commonly referred to as “Big Blue.”
Texas — Spain
They both have arguably the best recruiting pool but have been underperforming in recent years. You couldn’t tell though because they are both still basking in the glory they achieved 10-15 years ago.
Spain was on top of the soccer world roughly a decade ago, winning the 2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros in succession. Since then, La Roja has been on a downward trend. Spain failed to make it out of the group stage of the 2014 World Cup and was eliminated in the Round of 16 in the 2016 Euros. During the 2018 World Cup, it was upset by Russia in the Round of 16.
Vince Young led Texas to the 2005 national title. At the time, it appeared as though the Longhorns would be a powerhouse for years to come. Texas went on to win 10 or more games over the next four seasons, including 2009 when it lost to Alabama in the national championship game. The Longhorns have had just one 10-win season since.
Bonus points: The state of Texas was colonized by Spain from 1689-1821.
Oklahoma — Portugal
It always seems like both these teams have the best player, but there’s usually not enough around him to put it all together.
Oklahoma is tied for the most Heisman Trophy winners, including two of the past four in Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018). However, in recent years, the Sooners haven’t seen that individual success translate to team glory as neither Mayfield or Murray were able to lead their teams to national titles.
Portugal has produced Eusébio, Luís Figo and, most recently, Cristiano Ronaldo — arguably the best player of the current generation. Still, the country didn’t claim its first major title until it won the most recent Euros in 2016.
The defending champions still have Ronaldo on this year’s team. However, the 36-year-old will soon have to hand over the reins to the next generation. Some believe 21-year-old João Félix could be a future top player in the world, similar to how sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler is a favorite for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
Bonus points: Portugal’s nickname is “Os Navegadores” which translates to The Navigators, a nod to the country’s exploratory roots. Oklahoma’s mascot is the Sooners, the name given to the settlers who entered the Unassigned Lands which are now Oklahoma.
Oregon — Belgium
These are cool and trendy teams. They both have some of the best uniforms, too. More often than not, they’re both pretty good. The only downside is that neither has won a major title.
Oregon is perhaps the best team in the nation to never have won a national championship. Similarly, Belgium has experienced its share of success in the past but has yet to claim either a World Cup or Euro title.
Belgium is currently the No. 1 team in the world according to the FIFA rankings. It probably stands a better chance of success this season than Oregon does.
Bonus points: Prince Eugène de Ligne was a key figure in the early history of modern Belgium. Oregon plays in the city of Eugene. Look, we’re trying here. Just go with it.
Kentucky — Greece
Wait, Greece has won the Euros and Belgium hasn’t? Yep, that’s right. You might be equally surprised to learn that Kentucky claims a national championship from 1950 while Oregon is still looking for its first national title.
Kentucky’s lone national title is a bit iffy. The Wildcats went 11-1 in 1950 under Paul “Bear” Bryant, beating No. 1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. While the Wildcats weren’t named national champions that year, they were listed as the No. 1 team that season in a computer ranking produced by Jeff Sagarin 40 years later. Kentucky claims the title, so we’re counting it.
Greece’s lone triumph is a bit more celebrated. The Greeks accomplished one of the biggest upsets in soccer history by winning the 2004 Euros, beating home nation Portugal in the final.
Greece isn’t in this year’s competition. However, when you think about it, neither is Kentucky. It’s OK, both are generally more concerned with basketball anyway.
Bonus points: They share the exact same colors.
Tennessee — Netherlands
Bright orange jersey? Check. Fallen off dramatically from their past success? Also, check.
The Netherlands has long been one of the powerhouses of European soccer, finishing as runners-up in the World Cup in 1974, 1978 and 2010 while winning the Euros in 1988. The country has produced some of the best players the world has ever seen such as Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp and Marco van Basten, but lately, those glory days are a thing of the past. The Dutch failed to qualify for the 2016 Euros before missing out on the 2018 World Cup. Now they sit at No. 16 in the FIFA world rankings, just one spot ahead of Wales.
Similarly, Tennessee was a perennial contender in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning the national title in 1998. Now, the university that gave us Peyton Manning and Reggie White hasn’t recorded a 10-win season since 2007.
Bonus points: The Netherlands has a fierce rivalry with Germany, similar to Tennessee’s rivalry with Alabama (who we already established is Germany in this exercise). Unlike the Third Saturday in October, which has been won by Alabama the past 14 years, the Netherlands actually holds its own against Germany, including a 4-2 victory in the two sides’ most recent meeting in 2019.
Nebraska — Hungary
Believe it or not, both these teams used to be powerhouses in their respective sports. Nebraska claims five national titles and a whopping 46 conference titles while Hungary boasts three Olympic gold medals. Unfortunately, neither team has had much recent success.
Hungary’s golden generation came in the 1950s. The “Mighty Magyars” recorded 42 victories, seven draws and just one loss between 1950-56. During that span, it earned the 1952 Olympic gold medal and finished runner-up in the 1954 World Cup. Hungary also earned gold in 1964 and 1968 but hasn’t won a major title since.
Nebraska won back-to-back national titles in 1970 and 1971 before winning three titles in four years in the 1990s (1994, 1995 and 1997). However, the Cornhuskers haven’t been able to come close to that success in recent years, failing to record a winning season the past four years while not reaching 10 wins since 2012.
Unlike other slumping teams on this list, both Hungary and Nebraska don’t figure to return to their winning ways anytime soon.
Bonus points: Corn is the main agricultural crop in both Hungary and Nebraska.