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College football's long-awaited return is celebrated nationwide

More than 46,000 attended Missouri's home opener at Farout Field, one of many packed venues this first full weekend of college footballGETTY IMAGES

College football came back coast-to-coast "in earnest over the weekend, and it came back with reminders of its verve" even as it "came back with a reminder that one color -- crimson, Alabama -- still reigns with emphasis," according to Chuck Culpepper of the WASHINGTON POST. So "starved were Americans to get out to a football stadium this weekend after all the deprivation of this pandemic that they even just about filled up" the Rose Bowl, which UCLA has found difficult to do over the last few years. In '19, the last year of crowds, the Bruins drew a season-high 47,118, "a visit from Oklahoma on Troy Aikman Coin Giveaway day." On Saturday, 68,123 "saw the neon sign and climbed the ancient stands" even if the number "got a big boost from those whose moods can hinge upon LSU final scores" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/5). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler noted at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night, there were "more than 74,000 other people for one of the most claustrophobically crowded sporting events in Charlotte’s history." The tailgate scene "was tremendous" leading up to the Duke's Mayo Classic between Georgia and Clemson, and the crowd looked bigger than any Fowler has "seen at Bank of America stadium since the Panthers’ Super Bowl run" in '15. Concession stands "sometimes had 50 people in line." Fowler: "Let’s just hope this doesn’t turn out to be a COVID superspreader event" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/5).

FANS PACK STADIUMS: In Detroit, Roger Sabin wrote with 109,295 "fans back in the stands," in Ann Arbor, the "fight song blaring and Michigan prevailing at home again, things seemed almost normal for the first time in a long time" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/5). Other attendance notes from the weekend:

  • The "screams of the more than 76,000 fans in attendance" at Camp Randall Stadium for Penn State-Wisconsin was welcome, but it also was "an adjustment for the defense after a year of silent stadiums" (WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL, 9/7).
  • Alabama cruised past Miami 44-13 "before a Bama-heavy crowd of 71,829" at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (MIAMI HERALD, 9/5).
  • A crowd of 68,316 at Doak Campbell Stadium for Notre Dame-Florida State on Sunday night "was a smidge over 10,000 under the stadium's capacity of 79,560." That comes off a season where capacity was "heavily reduced to 25%" (TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRACT, 9/7).

A MOST WELCOME RETURN: ESPN.com's David Hale wrote after a year in which the sport was "little more than a mirage, a made-for-TV event amid an exhausting pandemic," Saturday's Georgia-Clemson game was "tangible old-school college football." So much of Week 1 "offered reminders of what was missing" in '20. There were "reminders of COVID-19, too." Oklahoma State was "without its QB" and Ole Miss without its head coach after Lane Kiffin tested positive. But a year ago, half the country "wasn't playing." Hale: "This was progress" (ESPN.com, 9/4). In Birmingham, Joseph Goodman wrote fans were "in the stadiums after a year away, and with their return so was the heartbeat of college football." Touchdowns "felt like touchdowns again." The "chorus of crowds after sacks and interceptions once more rattled the soul." Goodman: "It felt like a party again" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 9/6)

TIMES HAVE CHANGED: In Chicago, Paul Sullivan writes there is "nothing quite like the start of the college football season," even if the "sport we love for its sameness currently is undergoing a massive amount of change, most of it having to do with the pursuit of even more money." Some of it "will take getting used to, particularly the conference realignment" and an "unlikely alliance between the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 so those three can, well, we’re still not sure what they intend to do." NIL rules also now are in place, and "we'll see Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei popping up in ads promoting Dr Pepper," just as we’ve seen Browns QB Baker Mayfield "appearing in every other commercial during the NFL season" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/5).

OPPORTUNITY FOR EXPOSURE: In San Jose, Jon Wilner noted there were 55 college football games available for viewing on Saturday, but only one on Sunday (Notre Dame-FSU) and Monday (Ole Miss-Louisville). The Pac-12 "needs to generate revenue through creative scheduling," so it should "schedule two or three games on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and one or two more on the holiday itself." There are "two hurdles to the Pac-12’s takeover of Labor Day weekend." They are that "non-conference schedules are set for years to come" and the "disruption to preparations for the Week Two game." Both are "significant but neither insurmountable" (San Jose MERCURY NEWS, 9/6).

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