By Andy Staples
November 19, 2009

You aren't as different as you think, Big Ten fans and SEC fans. Same goes for you, Big 12 fans. And those Pac-10 fans over there may crave spicy tuna rolls instead of brats or barbecue, but they consider Saturday just as sacred as you do.

You all prefer the pageantry of college football to the sterile NFL. Most of you watch at least four games a week, and the truly depraved from every conference fan base -- more than half of you, actually -- watch college football on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

How do we know this? You told us. In October, we asked college football fans of all stripes to tell us about themselves. We received 33,144 responses to questions such as "What is your favorite team?" and "How closely do you follow recruiting?" We received responses from fans of all 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and everyone's answers counted the same -- whether they came from Ohio State fans (the most, with 2,004 responses) or Florida Atlantic fans (the fewest, with four responses).

One chunk of data jumped off the spreadsheet. We often hear fans from the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, ACC and Big East complaining that the media overhype the SEC. Well guess what? It isn't us. It's you.

We asked fans what conference other than their team's league played the most enjoyable brand of football. More than a third (11,497) of the total respondents picked the SEC, which is dramatic considering 6,987 voters identified themselves as fans of SEC teams and couldn't pick their own conference. We also asked fans which conference, outside their own, was the strongest on a year-to-year basis. The SEC won in a landslide, receiving 21,000-plus votes, or 80.4 percent of the fans of the other 10 FBS conferences and independents. Most SEC fans, meanwhile, considered the Big 12 as the strongest and most enjoyable conference outside of the SEC.

We also learned that while the largest concentration of recruitniks dwell in SEC country, the average fan in all 11 conferences doesn't obsessively follow college football's hot stove league. More than half of all respondents said they follow recruiting either casually or not at all. The fan bases most obsessed with five-stars, solid verbals and heavy leans were the SEC and Independents (mostly Notre Dame fans). More than half of the respondents in those leagues said they either follow recruiting "very closely" or consider themselves full-blown recruitniks.

Surprisingly, fans in most conferences seemed torn as to whether schools should sell alcoholic beverages at games. "Yes" votes nipped "no" votes in the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten. Meanwhile, no votes edged yes votes in the Mountain West, SEC, Sun Belt and among the Independents. The largest margin came in the Big East, where 65.9 percent of respondents wanted the right to crack a bottle in the stadium.

It's pretty easy to understand why Mountain West fans voted down the booze. The greatest number of responses in that conference came from BYU fans. BYU is run by the Mormon church, which discourages its followers from drinking caffeine, much less alcohol. But why would so many Big 12, Big Ten and SEC fans thumb their noses at social lubricants? Presumably, because they are drinking their fill before they go into the stadium. While Big East fans were lukewarm about the tailgating scene at their schools, the vast majority of Big 12, Big Ten and SEC fans rated their tailgate scene as "strong" or "Olympian." Texas, Penn State and LSU fans were most proud of their tailgating, and rightfully so.

Of course, most fans are tailgating on their couches. Fewer than a third of the respondents are season-ticket holders, and most said they attend between zero and two games a year in person. The homebound fans shouldn't despair, though. If they have high-definition televisions, they have a better view of the game than the replay officials in their favorite conferences.

When fans do travel to watch their favorite teams, they have definite ideas about which conference opponents are most and least hospitable. Vanderbilt and Northwestern tussle annually near the top of U.S. News and World Report's academic rankings, and the Commodores and Wildcats found themselves competing again for the title of Most Polite Home Fans, which isn't necessarily a compliment. (Nebraska also performed well in that category despite its rich tradition as a powerhouse. Stanford received a high percentage of votes as well.) The rudest home fans, according to the respondents, live in Morgantown, W.V., Columbus, Ohio, Baton Rouge, La., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Gainesville, Fla.

Also interesting were some fans' ideas about which conference opponent is their team's biggest rival. While Washington State fans overwhelmingly chose their Apple Cup opponent as their chief rival, Washington fans were split between Wazzou and Oregon. North Carolina fans couldn't decide which fellow Research Triangle-dweller they disliked more: Duke or NC State. Blue Devils and Wolfpack fans had no such division. Almost all of them hate the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, some people apparently missed fan orientation day. Of the 542 respondents who identified themselves as Auburn fans, 512 identified Alabama as the Tigers' biggest conference rival. The other 30 should be deported to Georgia.

One issue unites fans of every conference. Most of you despise the way major college football picks a national champion. Only 17.9 percent prefer the BCS or the old bowl system. Meanwhile, 20.8 percent would prefer a plus-one, and 60.4 percent would prefer a full-blown playoff.

Given the resistance of the people in charge of college football to a new method of crowning a champ, fans of every team can join together in frustration. Chances are, they'll do it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and especially Saturday, when fans of 120 teams in 11 conferences gather at stadiums and in living rooms to celebrate the one sport they love universally.

Click on your conference pages to find out more:ACCBig EastBig TenBig 12Pacific-10SECIndependents (Notre Dame)Conference USAMACMountain WestSun BeltWAC

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