clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

College Football Teams to Root for other than Illinois

We all got a side team.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Akron David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s not beat around the bush. It’s going to be another tough season for Illinois. The team is young and will struggle again in a rebuilding year. It can be frustrating to watch at times, but luckily for us, college football provides plenty of other teams to watch. There are many fine candidates to be your side team in 2018.

Some fans may never take a ‘mistress’ and that’s great. Good for you. But some of us need to be reminded that football can in fact be exciting and fun.

Side teams aren’t forever, but here are some of the best candidates for 2018.

Iowa State

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Iowa State vs Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Husinga: If there's a blueprint for Illinois to build a program, this would be it. Matt Campbell has done an impressive job accruing talent to elevate the level of play for the Cyclones. It's a fun offensive system, and it never hurts to root for a former Illini quarterback and all time nice guy in Nathan Scheelhause. It'll be very interesting to see where this Iowa State team ends up long term, but Campbell is a fun coach and the Big 12 is ripe for the taking.

Brandon Birkhead: A midwest team surrounded by corn that is usually a basketball school but is seeing an uprise after hiring an ex-Toledo coach....oh, what could have been...

Iowa State did lose Allen Lazard and they have a brutal road schedule, but the Cyclones should have enough to get to a bowl game and keep that momentum going.

San Diego State

NCAA Football: Armed Forces Bowl-San Diego State vs Army Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Thumpasaurus: This team will produce an 1800-yard rusher and I don’t even know his name. Over the last decade they’ve produced Rashaad Penny, Donnell Pumphrey and Ronnie HIllman, each of whom put up prolific rushing numbers during their Aztec careers. Boise State is the only team in the Mountain West that casuals pay attention to, but between this quiet RB factory, Jeff Tedford’s rapid resurgence at Fresno State, Mike Bobo’s bevy of talent at Colorado State and the rise of North Dakota State legend Craig Bohl out in Wyoming, there’s plenty of intrigue to be had among the challengers to the throne.


NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Raul Rodriguez: Mike Norvell is an offensive wizard and his teams are always fun to watch. Expect this Memphis team to light up the scoreboard and make a run for a New Year’s Six Bowl.


NCAA Football: Arizona at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle: Arizona, while not a championship caliber team yet, will have the most exciting player in college football running the Johnny Manziel/Texas A&M offense from a few years ago — potential Heisman candidate, Khalil Tate. Sign me up.

Brandon: This is a team that could either go 5-7 or challenge for the Pac-12 south. Love the chaos factor, and the time zone as well is beneficial to Illinois fans. I am a junkie for Pac-12 after-dark.


NCAA Football: Georgia Spring Game Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon: Someone needs to stop Alabama’s dominance and the best chance for that is Auburn and Georgia to both be excellent.

Kyle: Please Georgia, do something about Alabama. No offense to Alabama, but parity in sports can be fun. Auburn, you too. Someone has to take down the king. These two are your best bets.


NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Stanford vs Texas Christian Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon: No one dislikes Stanford, not even USC fans. The old school offense is a joy to watch. Bryce Love is also amazing and could be a Heisman contender. This is a much see Pac-12 after-dark team that at its ceiling could be a playoff contender, but will most likely be a solid 8 or 9 win team.

Also, Stanford has higher academic standards for their athletes, so we can pretend that this won’t be a problem for Illinois going forward like it has been in the past.

Boise State

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle: That field is worth the price of admission alone. It’s also a program that, like Xavier in basketball, just plugs in new head coach after new head coach and the beat goes on. Bryan Harsin has admirably filled the shoes of a legend. Always a fun team to watch.

Brandon: They are the best G-5 team if you still want to pretend a G-5 school is ever going to make the college football playoff.

Mississippi State

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Raul: If you’re sick of the Nick Saban/Kirby Smart high floor/low risk brand of football that his infiltrated the SEC, then you have to hope Joe Moorhead can get it going in Starkville. Sabanism has turned the SEC into a boring corporate conference that is most similar to the NFL. So, I love the contrarian nature of the hire and I hope Moorhead keeps Smart and Saban up at night trying to figure out how to solve his offense.


NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon: There is something so aesthetically pleasing about those Bruin uniforms on that natural grass field of the Rose Bowl. It makes me think all can be right in the world again.

The return of Chip Kelly to the college gameis must watch football. UCLA should at least be entertaining even if the Bruins aren’t that good.

Also west coach time. Basically I’m just telling you to pick a Pac-12 after-dark team.

North Texas

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Jabs: Conference USA is garbage, but man North Texas is fun to watch. The old ‘score more than the other guys’ mentality. Their defense is almost non existent, so they rely on the offense. If you like seeing a high tempo offense and high scores, the Mean Green may be the team for you. Head Coach Seth Littrell, who looks like a poor mans Eric Taylor, could find himself in the conference title game this season.

Brandon: Mason Fine y’all. He is freaking amazing. And their team name is the Mean Green.

If you don’t like North Texas you’re a cop.


NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon: We have their uniforms now, so it will be easy to pretend we are in the alternate reality where Illinois hired Dino Babers as its head coach and have an exciting vertical passing offense that makes Illinois a team no one in the Big Ten wants to play.

Miami (OH)

NCAA Football: St. Petersburg Bowl-Miami (Ohio) at Mississippi State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle: The last time Miami (Ohio) were relevant on a national level, Ben Roethlisberger was setting all kinds of school, MAC, and NCAA passing records on their way to a 13-1 record and the greatest single season in school history. That could change this year if Alex Malzone reaches his prolific upside.

Chuck Martin has had an uphill battle to bring a once moribund program back to life. This could be the season it all turns around. Malzone is the key. One of the quarterbacks you've never heard of, but probably should have, Malzone brings a skill set the RedHawks fans haven't seen since that amazing year of 2003. I won't predict a national ranking or anything, but the talent level has been raised in Oxford and a bowl game should be the expectation. They'll be an entertaining team to watch, at the very least.


NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Florida Atlantic vs Akron Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle: Say what you want about Lane Kiffin (and there's a lot to say about Lane Kiffin), but he's gotten his career arc back on an ascending track. His stint as OC at Alabama — where he won a National Championship — led to his hire at Florida Atlantic. He's coming off an 11 win season, and his team could take him to another high profile job with a similar season, which he'll crash and burn at, but let's enjoy good Lane Kiffin for as long as it lasts.

Brandon: They are college football’s “meme” team and their success pisses off the old guard of the coaching ranks. Sign me the hell up.

Joey Freshwater for future Illinois head coach.

Kansas and Oregon State

Let us know what teams you’ll be pulling for this year other than the Fighting Illini in the comments.

For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby.