A germane (if flawed) comparison, college football and European soccer share a few key traits. Both showcase elaborate pageantry, ferocious rivalries, remarkable tradition and the tribal passions of zealous fan bases across small towns and large cities. But even if you didn’t graduate from a big-time football school, that’s no reason to miss the party. Follow our guide below to settle on a rooting interest based on your preferred soccer club.
One of the most recognizable yet reviled teams which exists to win, antagonize and be patently unlikeable. Their fans are aware of your hatred. They do not care and revel in their obnoxiousness. They also accrue some of the least likable yet most remarkably talented players.
Comparable to … Real Madrid. The Galacticos and the Seminoles have the finest talent, the saltiest fans and a full-throated embrace of being the enemy. It’s hard to find anybody who wants to see them win, but everybody tunes in to watch the show.
A finely oiled machine coached by a tactical genius in Urban Meyer. This year’s unanimous preseason No1 are regularly one of the five best teams in the sport, one that often dismantle fellow powerhouses on grand stages while playing an aesthetically gorgeous brand of football.
Comparable to … Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola developed Barcelona into the most dominant team in recent memory before moving to the Bundesliga and creating a similarly indomitable unit. His and Meyer’s abilities to get maximum effort and performance from his players are unparalleled.
A proud program with a storied tradition and a passionate, if often insufferable fan base. The richness of their history is frequently invoked by its fans, even if the club has not won anything of consequence in the last decade. It has a penchant for losing (sometimes in embarrassing fashion) in marquee games. It has probably the catchiest fight song in all of college football, one every fan can hum from memory.
Comparable to … Liverpool. Just like You’ll Never Walk Alone rings in the ears of even the opposing fans, Notre Dame’s fight song is probably the most ubiquitous in college football. Both teams always have substantial talent, but are often safe bets to falter in their biggest games. Liverpool may not engender the widespread resentment that Notre Dame do, but you’ll be aware if you’re within earshot of any supporter.
A former powerhouse whose influence has completely waned. Strife at the highest levels have only exacerbated its former decline. Located in a cold, dreary area where few people actually want to travel unless they have to.
Comparable to … AC Milan. It’d be hard to find anybody resembling Silvio Berlusconi in the Michigan booster club, but in-fighting and mismanagement have taken the former titans into general irrelevance. While the Wolverines are now infused with the arrival of touted head coach Jim Harbaugh (a Michgian quarterback in his playing days), AC Milan remain mired in relative mediocrity.
Once their sport’s most respected and historically successful team but one which has struggled through the last decade after dominating the previous two. They lose in inconsequential games that prevent them from ascending to the true upper echelon. Often pegged by fans and national pundits as “on the verge” of returning to their rightful throne.
Comparable to … Arsenal. Thierry Henry and Reggie Bush were marquee players on the best teams of the mid-aughts. When they left, neither team could regain its primacy.
A good club on the wrong end of a storied rivalry for many years. Now they feature one of the game’s most fearsome offenses designed by a man who could be mistaken for a high-school biology teacher.
Comparable to … Manchester City. The Citizens spent most of their history losing the Manchester Derby to United. Now, it’s an even rivalry because of superb young talent and a high-flying offense under the watch of the rumpled Manuel Pellegrini. Auburn are a proud team that once featured Bo Jackson, but they are ultimately known as the second fiddle to Alabama. With the arrival of coach Gus Malzahn, an offensive whiz in a sweater vest and geeky bifocals, the Auburn-Alabama “Iron Bowl” rivalry now has new life.
A blue-collar unit elevated to national prominence by an exceptional coach. A former afterthought to the sport’s zealous fanbase, they have since appeared in some of college football’s biggest games.
Comparable to … Borussia Dortmund. Gary Patterson doesn’t look much like ex-Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, but both coaches took unlikely teams to the top of their respective sports. Texas Christian had little relevant history before Patterson arrived to lead them to a Rose Bowl win in 2011 while Klopp took Dortmund, a historically middling Bundesliga team, to the Champions League final in 2013. Boise State would offer another apt comparison.
One of college football’s proudest franchises formed by a legend (Bear Bryant) and always among the nation’s finest. Anchored by a particularly loud, voracious and far-flung fan base.
Comparable to … Manchester United. Both Bear Bryant and Nick Saban share a bit in common with Sir Alex Ferguson, whose fingerprints remain all over Manchester United even if he relinquished his managerial post three seasons ago. Like Sir Alex, both men’s legacies are marked by their gruffness and long-term visions. Alabama, like United, are always at the top and retain permanent respect among its opponents. And Crimson Tide fans, like the Red Army, are a diffuse group who know no geographic bounds.
North Dakota State
A virtually unknown team from a lower division that command widespread respect. Can be pegged to unexpectedly upset richer teams with better players from more desirable locations. Always tactically sound and consistently dominates a league that nobody watches.
Comparable to … Shakhtar Donetsk. No matter what year it is, Shakhtar is playing in the Champions League and disturbing the paths of world powers in group play. North Dakota State spends most of its year playing in the Football Championship Subdivision (a division lower than the Football Bowl Subdivision), yet has managed to upset teams from the higher division (Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas State) whenever they can get a game.
A team with a boring, unspectacular recent history which has employed a shocking amount of tremendous talent (Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson is a very small sample size) but can’t even reach a marquee game. Cal fans are self-effacing, but pessimistic about any eventual outcome.
Comparable to … Tottenham Hotspur. Like Cal have employed a host of players who are now NFL stars, Tottenham once had Gareth Bale and Luka Modric in the same starting lineup. Now, both are gone without bringing Spurs any glory. Harry Kane is starring for Tottenham now, but fans are already lamenting his future outside of White Hart Lane. While Notre Dame and Liverpool tend to blow it in the big game, Cal and Tottenham are most susceptible to falter one game before that.
At one point the unassailably best team in the world that opposing units dreaded to face. Now only known for having extremely talented players at young ages that fail to produce any significant success.
Comparable to … Ajax. The 2001 Miami Hurricanes had 17 players that would eventually be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Ajax in 1971/72 won their domestic treble and the international cup in the same season. They employed Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard on the same team, and also scored one of the truly gorgeous goals in soccer history. Today, Miami often haul in some of the nation’s finest recruiting classes, but haven’t won more than nine games since 2003 (though they did suffer severe NCAA sanctions in 2013). Ajax employed Luis Suarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before they were world superstars.
A rowdy fan base from a non-traditional environment with loud, terrifying chants and a deliberately unrefined group of raging supporters. Usually an exciting team to watch even if their success is limited, partially because of the raucous home atmosphere.
Comparable to … Besiktas. Istanbul isn’t Appalachian coal country, but both teams are revered for their fervor and general disregard for authority. While the Beisktas goal song isn’t John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads (the preferred anthem of Mountaineer faithful), it feels like a song that could whip up the riotous bunch. Arkansas were also considered for this comparison.
Harvard and Yale
A meaningless rivalry on the pitch that matters only to the fans of the respective teams, yet has considerable cultural and historical significance.
Comparable to … Celtic and Rangers. Neither team does anything internationally significant, but studying Old Firm can teach you a great deal about Scottish culture and geography. Studying Harvard and Yale can teach you about most US presidents.
These two teams share nothing in common except that their coaches (Kliff Kingsbury and Andre Villas-Boas) look like movie stars and their respective cities (Lubbock, Texas, St. Petersburg, Russia) are the most likely to attempt a government overthrow.
Comparable to … Zenit St Petersburg. Naturally.
A historically terrible team recently mired in scandal because of a potentially abusive coach. They do not and will not matter in the foreseeable future.
Comparable to … Sunderland. Illinois’ Tim Beckman was fired last week because he allegedly forced players to play with injuries. Sunderland’s Paolo di Canio, an avowed fascist and notoriously choleric player, was fired after 13 games after his players complained of “brutal and vitriolic treatment.” Neither team are worth monitoring unless it has a new scandal or nadir.
Once historically awful and completely irrelevant. Beneficiaries of an unexpected surge over the last few seasons. Once won 23 games in a span of 13 seasons. Appeared in their conference title game in 2013.
Comparable to … Swansea City. The Swans were broke and toiling in the English third division as late as 2001. Now they are a stable Premier League side. How good was their surge? Let this graph tell you.
And to close, one coach:
The ‘old ball coach’ who led Florida to a national title and currently coaches South Carolina, Spurrier is known for his quick-witted irreverence and braggadocio. After learning of a fire in the Auburn University library, Spurrier once quipped “It’s a shame because half the books weren’t colored yet.”
Comparable to … Jose Mourinho. Be honest, is there a finer braggart and better coach in the world? Snipings between these two would be world-class web fodder.