SportsPulse: They are always talked about but really have nothing to show for it. For Michigan and Notre Dame, winning this weekend will go a long way for them to be taken seriously.
College football isn’t beloved for the players or the results. In reality, what tethers fans to their teams every fall Saturday revolves around the ethos of tradition.
Tradition oozes out of the heavyweight programs, meaning there will be plenty of it on display Saturday when No. 3 Georgia (3-0) hosts No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0).
Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish” mascot is ubiquitous, as is the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign players tap in the tunnel before games. At Georgia, it’s said that games at Sanford Stadium are played “between the hedges,” in reference to the pristine-cut bushes that have lined the field since the stadium opened in 1929. And English Bulldog “Uga” roams the sidelines in his red jersey as one of the goodest live mascots.
All of that will be on display Saturday, as will dozens of other traditions across the sport that make it what it is. Here are some of USA TODAY Sports’ favorites:
Howard’s Rock (Clemson)
Clemson’s rise to prominence under coach Dabo Swinney over the last decade has made this tradition a must-watch entrance. Coaches and players rush down the hill on the eastern side of the stadium and tap the rock, which sits at the top of the hill.
The rock, from Death Valley, California, was a gift presented to then-coach Frank Howard in the 1960s. Eventually, it was placed on a pedestal in the eastern end zone.
This tradition also gives a literal meaning to the term “running downhill.”
Army vs. Navy
One of college football’s proudest traditions, the contest reserves its own Saturday in December. The cadets and midshipmen cheer their teams on in their formal military garb. The first game was played in 1890 and this year’s meeting will be the 120th (Navy leads the all-time series 60-52-7).
Presidents have been known to make appearances to watch the game. Without a dog in the fight, most fans will tune in to watch one proud branch declare “Beat Navy!” or “Beat Army!” at the final whistle.
Enter Sandman (Virginia Tech)
Virginia Tech gives Clemson a fight for not only the best entrance in the conference, but perhaps the country.
The Hokies begin their walk from a locker room at the practice field and make their way into a claustrophobic tunnel inside Lane Stadium. Like Clemson, they also touch a rock — the Hokie Limestone — that hovers above the entrance to the field.
The opening notes of Metallica’s Enter Sandman, popularized in the sports world by New York Yankees longtime closer Mariano Rivera, shakes the earth as the Hokies take the field.
Tech began the tradition in 2000 to coincide with the new scoreboard.
Children’s Hospital Wave (Iowa)
This one pulls at the heartstrings. The University of Iowa Children’s Hospital moved into a new home in 2012 and the top floors offer the opportunity to peek into Kinnick Stadium.
The new facility has a top-floor lounge that allows patients and their families to watch Iowa home games. At the end of the first quarter, the black-and-gold clad fanbase turns to face the ceiling-to-floor windows and waves to the children and their families.
Turnover Chain (Miami)
The U has long been one of the most prominent brands in college football. The image was revitalized two years ago under Manny Diaz, the then-defensive coordinator who is now head coach, through the creation of the “Turnover Chain.”
When a Hurricanes defender forces a turnover, he is presented with the bling on the sidelines. Talk about swag.
12th Man (Texas A&M)
The 12th man is a philosophy, a willingness to serve the team, and the belief that there is strength in numbers.
The story goes that in 1922, a Texas A&M player named E. King Gill was in the press box helping reporters identify players. But the Aggies required him on the field, and he descended to the field, suited up and helped Texas A&M to a 22-14 victory against Centre College.
The school has adopted that mindset since (and the Seattle Seahawks have adopted the term to demonstrate home field advantage).
Jump Around (Wisconsin)
The first notes of the House of Pain jam blare over the speakers, and the Camp Randall collective loses its mind and proceeds to jump in a frenzy for two minutes straight.
The song is played between the third and fourth quarters, setting the stage for the final 15 minutes of play.
Toomer’s Corner (Auburn)
Sometimes, tradition resembles a public forum of mass littering. At the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street, Toomer’s Corner is the sight where Auburn fans gather and hoist toilet paper — “rolling the corner” — into the trees after big wins.
The tradition originally started because employees employees of Toomer’s Drugs signaled a road Tigers victory by throwing ticker tape from the telegraph onto the power lines outside of the store. Over the decades, the tradition morphed into what it is today.
The historic oak trees were poisoned by a salty Alabama fan named Harvey Updyke in 2010, and attempts to replant and sustain new trees have been made.
Sooner Schooner (Oklahoma)
It’s like “Oregon Trail” come to real life. But instead of facing threats of characters contracting dysentery in the popular desktop computer game, Oklahoma Sooners fans watch the schooner — a replica of the wagon settlers used to reach the Oklahoma Territory in the 19th century — race out of the tunnel following a score. The wagon is pulled by a pair of white ponies named Boomer and Sooner.
Flipping the Banner (Syracuse)
Big wins have largely eluded the Orange over the years. But every victory provides an opportunity for the band to head down to Varsity, a local food establishment that displays the banners of each of Syracuse’s opponents on that season’s schedule.
Members of the band will climb a ladder and, with the rest of the group playing in the background, will turn the banner upside down.
Osceola’s Spear Plant and “War Chant” (Florida State)
Osceola is Florida State’s mascot who wears a Native American costume approved by the Seminole Tribe. The figure rides Renegade, an appaloosa horse, bareback to midfield before every game and spikes a flaming warrior spear into the ground.
While Osceola’s appearance migh seem controversial, the Seminole Tribe has supported the tradition. He is considered more symbol than mascot; for example, he does not participate in cheerleading on the sideline.
Additionally, since 1984, Florida State has confused many an opposing huddle by executing the “War Chant.”
Dotting the “I” (Ohio State)
When it comes to college marching bands, Ohio State certainly has a claim for the top spot. Week in and week out, the group finds ways to fuse pop culture and a deference for tradition in its songs and formations.
The one constant? Getting pumped up for when the band completes the spelling of the script “Ohio” by dotting the “I.”