College football is a sport unlike any other for many reasons. One of those reasons that has always stood out above the rest in my eyes is the lack of a need for complete exclusivity. I grew up casually rooting for Washington State (sadly, Dad's alma mater didn't catch my attention, sorry Columbia), Rutgers during their big run in 2006, and big-time players like Tim Tebow, Reggie Bush, and Vince Young doing big-time things. When I enrolled at Penn State back in 2010, my rooting interests narrowed significantly, but I never felt the need to turn my back on any of those teams or players I used to follow (except you Rutgers, you are oh so far gone).
With such an expansive landscape, there's no need for people to simply choose one team out of the 128 available (Or more! There are some damn fun FCS teams) and declare war on the rest of them. I'm not saying you can't, or shouldn't do that, because I know plenty of people who feel that way. Rather, the point is that you don't have to. With the way the bowl system is set up and how little room for creativity programs have with their non-conference schedules, it's perfectly plausible for someone to religiously follow two different FBS teams and never see them on the same field.
That blurred line of team allegiance comes squarely into focus when you start talking about teams in your own conference, though. You'd be hard-pressed to find an Auburn fan who also enjoys their LSU football, a Virginia Tech fan who spends their free time catching up on NC State's exploits, or a Penn State fan who stays up to date on all things Ohio State. But it doesn't have to be that way.
As someone who spends much of his free time writing about Penn State football, talking to recruits, and talking to other people about Penn State football and recruits, I'm constantly tight-rope walking across the line of fandom and objectivity. I love the Nittany Lions and you can bet that I root hard for them and want every possible good thing to happen to them.
But it's important to me to make sure to take a step back sometimes and appreciate the sport as a whole. Woven into the fabric of the sport is dominance. Alabama's run of championships and playoff appearances is usually the first thing that comes to mind when broaching the subject. One that is a little closer to home for Penn State fans comes to mind- Ohio State recruiting under Urban Meyer.
With the Nittany Lions having suffered two five-star decommitments already in the 2018 recruiting class, I understand if I've lost you. But amazing things deserve to be appreciated. Urban Meyer, despite your feelings about him as a person, is an incredible college football coach. And I didn't include the words "college football" in front of "coach" to imply that he wouldn't be a great football coach at any level, but because being a head coach in college football means you have to do everything every other coach does AND you have to recruit.
The Buckeyes haven't yet dethroned Alabama from their perch atop the recruiting rankings (seven straight years of No. 1 finishes), but that's a tall burden to ask when going against a team with four championships in eight years. Everyone expected the already impressive Ohio State recruiting efforts to improve even more under Meyer, but I don't think anyone truly predicted the degree to which he would.
Meyer took over previous to the 2012 season, meaning that the first recruiting class that was completely his was the class of 2013. In the five classes proceeding Meyer's arrival, the Bucks finished in the top-five nationally twice. In the five years since his hiring, they've only dropped below No. 5 once. That's incredible.
And of course this doesn't take into account that the Buckeyes are in great position to finish No. 1 in 2018, with Alabama set to take a small class.
It's not great news for Penn State that Ohio State could wield a three-deep made up entirely of four and five-stars in the very near future (or maybe now), but they still have to prove it on the field. The numbers show that blue chip prospects create championship teams, but they also create greater adversaries and stronger teams on the schedule. So if you don't want to appreciate the Bucks efforts for their impressiveness, you can at least appreciate them for what they're doing to improve the Nittany Lions' strength of schedule.
Me, though? I'm going to sit here and continue to be in awe of what Urban Meyer and his staff (despite some significant turnover in that span, mind you) have done. Just like I love watching Mike Trout play baseball despite my Mariners fandom. Just like I loved seeing Colin Kaepernick in his prime (which he's still in, you stupid, stupid NFL owners) despite my Seahawks fandom. Sometimes, it's okay to set allegiances aside for a moment, and enjoy watching something truly special.