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Austin Murphy knows a thing or two about football. His twenty-three years at Sports Illustrated include six covering the NFL and a decade chronicling the college game. In Saturday Rules, Murphy leaves no doubt as to which beat he preferred. Does the NFL have better athletes? Yes. Does it entail more direct flights? Undoubtedly. Which game is better, more entertaining, less predictable? It's not even close—college football wins by two touchdowns.
With rich traditions and deep passions—marching bands and menageries of living, breathing animal mascots; arm-long lists of ancient blood grudges—college football is far more captivating, fan-friendly, and, frankly, more fun than the corporate, clinical, risk-averse, imitation-intensive, hermetically sealed game they play on Sunday.
No two programs are more storied than Notre Dame and USC, headed by those ex-NFL rivals and philosophical (and physiological) opposites Charlie Weis and Pete Carroll, perhaps the biggest names in the college game. With the inside scoop on these top-ranked teams, Murphy closely follows their arcs through the 2006 season, up to their late-November showdown in the L.A. Coliseum. He puts you in the field, in the meeting room, and in the huddle as both teams fight to keep alive their national title ambitions.
Between trips to South Bend and Los Angeles, Murphy ranges repeatedly into Big Ten country, hooking up with Michigan and Ohio State, whose November 17 collision in Columbus constitutes one of the book's most memorable chapters. He ventures into the proud SEC, bearing witness to Florida's single loss of the season (and the ensuing "rolling" of Toomer's Corner). He is in the Rose Bowl for the season's most stunning upset (UCLA 13, USC, 9), and is in that grand old bowl a month later, as the Trojans are born anew. Murphy is on the field after the national title game, asking the Gators how they pulled off the upset. ("This is a fast . . . ass . . . team!" replies linebacker Brian Crum.) And he makes it his business to drop in on the Boise State Broncos after their miraculous, trick-play-intensive upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Whether hanging out with members of the Ohio State marching band (including the senior sousaphonist, who will "dot the i" in the Buckeyes' famed cursive Ohio), or sampling the frighteningly potent "Gator-Killer punch" at TGFKATWLOCP (The Game Formerly Known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party), or staying up past his bedtime to witness Notre Dame's midnight drum circle, Murphy is the perfect guide for this rich and raucous celebration of the pageantry and tradition, the talismans and rituals, that prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that when it comes to football, Saturday rules.