By Austin Bucher
It’s early September, and for we, the football fans, this marks the return of renewed hope and undying loyalty to a game that is still played in its truest tradition. College football is more than just a competition ripe in fanfare. It is a way of life. Saturdays are met with utmost expectations and any weekend from now until the end of November can be ruined with just one mistake. One bad game can end the drive to New Year’s Eve. It’s time to put up or shut up. From the Pac-12 to the AAC, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
“Films, football, beer, and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult…” –George Orwell, from the novel “1984”
I love college football. And if you’re reading this, you probably do too. I’m here to talk about which beer you, the fan, nay, WE, THE FANS, should be enjoying with this weekend’s opening slate of college football games.
Let’s get the show on the road. For a little bit of background, I am by no means an expert in either beer or college football. I am not a beer snob, and I can’t rattle off college football stats from yesteryear. I simply like drinking beer and nothing goes better with football than a delicious brew.
Following, I will be offering a bit of a guide to a variety of games on this opening weekend’s slate, sans a few (okay, a bunch) of those wonderful early season FBS/FCS matchups. Sorry Virginia Military/Ball State, I won’t have a beer suggestion for you this time around.
University of South Carolina (-3 ½) vs. University of North Carolina
Here it is, the first FBS game of the 2015-16 football season. South Carolina will be making the trip north to Charlotte to play the Tar Heels at the home of Cam Newton and the Panthers. A simple look at this game sees an SEC team, who struggled a bit in 2014 (7-6, 3-5), come in to face UNC of the ACC, a team that is looking to bounce back from a disappointing (6-7, 4-4) campaign a year ago.
While it looks like the SEC is going to get out of Charlotte with the first win of the season, it’s a North Carolina beer that gets the nod for the first brew to be enjoyed with Thursday’s kick off. American Session Ales are becoming the new go to beer for the football fan that wants to drink more than one full bodied ale, but without the full bodied ABV. Our first beer packs plenty of hop character, and it will ensure you can still make it in to work on Friday. Get your hands on a growler of Sir Ryan the Pounder from Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, and enjoy the first game of the season!
Florida International University vs. University of Central Florida (-17)
The battle of the irrelevant Florida teams. Okay, team. The Golden Knights have proven they can hold their own the past couple seasons, but this is no longer the Blake Bortles lead BCS Golden Knights. While they come off a strong conference showing last year (9-4, 7-1), a disappointing bowl loss to N.C. State casts a shadow over an otherwise pretty good 2014 season. FIU on the other hand looks to be in the same boat as last year (4-8, 3-5), when they lost to a FCS Bethune-Cookman and afforded North Texas with one of their only two conference wins. Look for only the second game of the season to be a high-flying trouncing at the hands of UCF.
For this game, we have selected one of Florida’s best breweries, and perhaps a premier brewery in all of the U.S. Cigar City is renowned nationwide, and for good reason. UCF fans should enjoy a few Jai Alai IPAs, brewed in the tradition of the American IPA, hoppy and delicious, while they watch their team run away to their first victory of 2015. Maybe during UCF’s bye week, they can give Jai Alai a try (in full padding, of course)!
University of Michigan vs. University of Utah (-3)
Popular Mechanics has dubbed this one a cupcake game for Michigan (5-7, 3-5). Not so fast, my engineering friends! When they realized this isn’t 1997, and this is a LOADED Utah team, who’s 4 losses last year (9-4, 5-4) all came at the hands of a stacked Pac-12 (sans a fluke loss to Washington State), they made up for it by sending the entire Utes team gourmet cupcakes. Michigan better hope those cupcakes were loaded with bad juju if they want to escape Salt Lake City with their pride still intact. I think both the diehard Wolverines fans and Harbaugh Hopefuls will be sorely disappointed as UM limps out of the holy land.
Speaking of the holy land, the beer that MUST be enjoyed when in Utah, and especially when watching the Utes, is the mighty, nay ALMIGHTY, Polygamy Porter from Wasatch Brewing. They are now bottling this delicious, chewy porter on nitro, and it will surely make even those not keen on a little blasphemous fun desiring more.
Texas Christian University (-16) vs. University of Minnesota
TCU (12-1, 8-1) shocked the Big 12 and flipped college football on its head last year on their way to the most memorable season in Horned Frogs history. With only a loss to Baylor, which should have never happened, tainting their perfect season, the boys from Ft. Worth are out to prove they are the class of the Big 12. While TCU is trying to reign supreme, the Golden Gophers of Minnesota (8-5, 5-3) are looking to keep their heads above water. If Jerry Kill can maintain his health, and continue to improve his recruiting in the Northern U.S., Minnesota may find themselves in a good position down the road. But 2015 is TCU’s year, and they are going to push the gophers right back down into their holes, where they may not want to come out for a while.
Even though they won’t pull the upset of week one, Minnesota fans can revel in the fact that they have far better breweries in Minneapolis than one can find down in the heart of Texas. A delicious, crisp golden Lager is just the beer to enjoy while watching the golden gophers, and 612 Brew is the place to get it. Minnesota fans will be drinking up the Gateway Park Lager, which pays homage to classic Minneapolis landscape, this weekend and for good reason. Any beer drinker knows, when in doubt, get your hands on an ice cold lager and enjoy it with literally whatever you may be eating.
University of Texas at San Antonio vs. University of Arizona (-30 ½)
While the defending Pac-12 South Champions, UofA (10-4, 7-2), will undoubtedly beat UTSA (4-8, 3-5), don’t look for it to be a world numbing blowout. Remember, this is a team that lost to the Lobos of New Mexico by more last year than they did to Arizona (only a 3 point deficit). It will be a warm one down in Tucson this weekend, but don’t count on Rich Rodriguez and the ‘Cats to be as red hot as they were last year. Arizona wins, but Arizona doesn’t roll.
When in Tucson, it’s as easy as two words. Drink Nimbus. Nimbus Brewing has been putting out above average brews for nearly two decades now. With the desert heat and the dry landscape, nothing will wet the whistles of Arizona fans this weekend like the Pale Ale. Simple and to the point, they know what they’re brewing. A 3 hop (Chinook, Columbus, and Cascade) pale ale, that unlike so many other pales on the market today, leaves a sweet, malty finish for the drinker. UofA fans are lucky they get to enjoy this beer while they watch their Wildcats start the 2015 campaign 1-0.
Western Kentucky University vs. Vanderbilt University (-17 ½)
Since making the jump to FBS in 2008, the Hilltoppers of WKU (8-5, 4-4) have progressed in to somewhat of a mid-major powerhouse. But let’s not forget that Vanderbilt (3-9, 0-8) plays in the SEC. Yes, they are the forgotten SEC team. But look for Derek Mason and crew to try to win at least one game in conference play this year (yes, I’m looking at you Kentucky). And look for them to more importantly, at least for the worst SEC team, go undefeated in non-conference play. WKU is good, and will compete for the Sun Belt title, but they will unfortunately not escape Nashville with a win.
When it comes to Kentucky and Tennessee, only one alcohol comes to mind, and it isn’t beer. It’s whiskey. Whether it be Bourbon, Tennessee Sour, or Moonshine, Vandy and WKU fans won’t be wasting their time with low volume hop water. They’re going to be drinking whiskey, and lots of it. So grab your favorite mixer, or drink it straight, and have a DD on Thursday night!
University of Virginia vs. University of California, Los Angeles (-14 ½)
One has to love seeing a team like Virginia (5-7, 3-5) come west to play UCLA (10-3, 6-3) in perfect Southern California weather. But hey, the Bruins traveled east last year, and barely rolled out of Charlottesville with a win. The same won’t happen this year. UCLA is out to prove they can hang with the loaded PAC-12 South. Jim Mora is out to prove that he was the right man for the job in LA. This Bruins team has lofty expectations, and in the eyes of each player and coach, anything less than a trip to the playoffs on December 31 will be a letdown. On the other side of things, look for UVA to get bowl eligible with one more win. But don’t expect that win to come at the Rose Bowl.
When it comes to a beer to enjoy with this game, LA has many choices and many up and coming breweries. The pick for the weekend comes from Cismontane Brewery. Fans in SoCal will be enjoying the Nopalito de Trigo, a fantastic hefeweizen infused with prickly pear. If the Bruins faithful can get their hands on it (it’s only brewed during the summer), they will be sure to enjoy it on a patio, with carne asada on the grill and friends in the casa, while watching their Bruins cruise to an early season victory.
Arizona State University vs. Texas A&M University (-3)
Texas A&M (8-5, 3-5) wants us to take them seriously. They want to be an SEC team so badly, they seem to be faking something. This is Texas. This is Big 12 land. The SEC West doesn’t belong in Texas, no matter how hard the Aggies try to convince us otherwise. They can do all the midnight yelling they want. They were a mid-tier Big 12 team, and now they are one that thinks they can compete with the big boys in the west (as if yearly matchups with Oklahoma and Texas weren’t enough). Being an Oklahoma fan, I have an obvious dislike for all things South Texas. It’s apparent I am not a fan of Texas A&M in the least bit, but that is not to say they won’t give the Sun Devils of ASU (10-3, 6-3) an old-fashioned beat down. But hey, that would have happened back in the Big 12 days too right? RIGHT!? Okay, I’m swapping here. My heart is getting in the way of this matchup. I hate A&M. I want ASU to win. So, when the PAC-12 South boys from Tempe roll in to College Station, they will be bring with them a certain swagger that has been building out west for a couple years now. West coast football isn’t just about high-powered offenses anymore. ASU will show Texas A&M that the PAC-12 is on the heels of the SEC, and things won’t get easier.
For beer, there was a brew put out in the 80s by Spoetzl Brewery called Devil Beer. It was an official/unofficial Sun Devil Beer, and was quickly stopped once campus lawyers became involved. Of course, you’re not going to crack open a 30 year old bottle of beer, but it is a pretty cool novelty if you can get your hands on one (my dad found a bottle at a garage sale a few years back, unopened). For beer with drinkability, enjoy Kiltlifter from Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. It’s an unbelievably easy drinking brown ale, and screams fall football season!
University of Wisconsin vs. University of Alabama (-10)
The Gameday game. The reason we will all be waking up at 6AM in California. The squad of Howard, Fowler, Corso, and Herbstreit. Big and Rich. Ft. Worth, this week they’re in your city. College Gameday will be previewing all of the big Saturday matchups, but none of them bigger than the Cowboy’s Kickoff Classic. The Wisconsin Badgers (11-3, 7-1) will be looking to gain momentum in the Big 10. They, after all, look to be Ohio State’s biggest conference adversary this preseason, and they are only slated to play if each team reaches the Big 10 Championship. Their first test comes early, and it comes hard, as they face Alabama (12-2, 7-1) at AT&T Stadium. Saban’s team looks to be right back where they believe they belong at the end of the season, and Wisconsin knows that if they have any hope at a playoff run, it starts with Alabama. Look for Corso to pick Big Al (AGAIN), and the Crimson Tide to win this game, but look for it to be mighty close, as offense meets defense in this classic battle!
If Kentucky is known for whiskey, Wisconsin is beer mecca. Wisconsinites don’t take their beer drinking lightly, and there is one brewery everyone knows by the time they can talk. Miller. Miller Brewing Company is a pillar of the American brewing culture, and it belongs right there with Ford and McDonalds as a societal icon. Especially now that their biggest rival is owned by InBev, a Dutch conglomerate that seems to have a monopoly on big brewing. Don’t mention the other brewery when you’re in the land of Bucky. Drink Miller Lite and be merry. And cross your fingers the Badgers can pull one over on the Crimson Tide.
Pennsylvania State University (-14) vs. Temple University
Temple (6-4, 4-4) is a bit of an un-sexy team. They’re not bad, but they’re not great. They just kind of exist, and maintain the tradition of Pennsylvania football. Call them the little brother of the big boys. The big boys that will be traveling to Philadelphia to face the Owls. But it will feel more like a home game for Penn State (7-6, 2-6) as the Zombie Nation is sure to show up in droves at Lincoln Financial Field. Penn State needs to be back. College football needs it! Penn State knows that their road to recovery continues in 2015. They will be better, and they will remind Temple that they are one of the little brothers in the Keystone State .
This is actually the first game I selected to preview based off of a beer. Duquesne Brewing is putting out a beer honoring the greatest coach to ever live, Joe Paterno. A coach who was caught up in controversy at the end of his storied career and life, but lives on as a true legend. Their Legacy Series Lager won’t knock your socks off taste wise, but if you’re a Penn State fan, what better way to honor the late, great JoePa than with a beer in his dedicated to him.
University of San Diego vs. San Diego State University (No Line)
This matchup between the two major universities (UCSD does not have a football team) in America’s Finest City may not look like much on paper. I have to admit, I selected this game because it is being played in my home town. The city I love and grew up in. I have plenty of friends who have attended both schools, and really have no more than that as far as emotional ties. What I do know is that the Aztecs (7-6, 5-3) are coming off their fifth consecutive bowl appearance, and are once again a team to be proud of in the expanse of San Diego County. As the only FBS team in the far southland, San Diego fans are desperate to grasp on to something successful, especially with the threat of losing their beloved NFL team. USD visits as a storied FCS program, one responsible for getting Jim Harbaugh’s foot in the coaching door of college football. This game will be sure to include fireworks, but the most impressive will be after the game during the 40th Annual KGB Skyshow, one of the largest stadium fireworks shows in the nation. Aztecs roll, but the fans will be the real winners with all of the postgame festivities.
San Diego has evolved in to the craft beer capital of the world. With more craft breweries in the county than anywhere in the U.S, San Diego is beer nirvana. There are so many great choices, but the theme of drinkability paired with deliciousness means that the obvious choice for beer drinking when in San Diego is Ballast Point Brewing’s Sculpin IPA. Sculpin is truly a top-notch IPA. It screams West Coast style IPA. If you aren’t already drinking this amazing brew, which is available nationwide, the perfect place to start is in sunny San Diego!
**Bonus Game, Northern Arizona University vs. Stephen F. Austin State University (No Line)
My alma mater. The Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona University take on the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin. The start of college football always leads me to reminisce my amazing college years. The countless friendships. The late night study sessions. And of course, the parties. I remember cruising around NAU and Flagstaff like it was yesterday, and now 6 years removed, the days seem to fly by leading me further and further from my time as a NAU student. Anyone that attends a college, whether it be a large university with 40,000 students or a small community college develops a bond to their school. An undying bond. One that lives on with you and becomes a part of you, just as high school before it. NAU was that school for me, and every day I am thankful for the memories and experiences I shared. But enough of the sappy trip down memory lane. It’s football season. Both Lumberjack squads are coming off solid 2014 campaigns, but SFA is a FCS juggernaut. They are positioned once again to run the Southland Conference, and make a deep run in to the FCS playoffs. NAU won’t waltz out of Nacogdoches with a win, but they will have plenty of other opportunities to compete for a Big Sky Championship against the likes of Montana and Eastern Washington.
Flagstaff, AZ is full of hippies. Classic hippies. Don’t confuse a Flagstaffian with a PBR swilling hipster either. They are one of the few student bodies in the nation (along with the likes of Humboldt State, Colorado-Boulder, and UC-Santa Cruz) that proudly hang on to the notion of being tree huggers. But Flagstaff isn’t all incense and crystal galleries. It’s a thoroughfare along Route 66, and is a community made up of college students, transients and tourists stopping through on their way to the Grand Canyon. If there is one thing all of these groups have in common, it is a love for good beer made with good ingredients. Look for NAU students, alums, and fans alike to pack into one of Flagstaff’s numerous breweries and tap rooms to enjoy some suds while they watch THEIR (OUR) Lumberjacks take on SFA. Picking one brewery is a hard thing to do in Flagstaff, but when I go back to visit, I always pick the first one I visited as a student and enjoy what they have to offer. Beaver Street Brewery is the best brewery in Flagstaff, and their sister brewery Lumberyard Brewing is a close second. Get to Beaver Street and enjoy their Hefeweizen with notes of cloves and bananas. This beer has won numerous awards in the past, and is, in my wildly bias opinion, the best Hefeweizen in the world. Beaver Street caught on and is now providing the beer year round. Do yourself a favor and drink one, or 5, and GO ‘JACKS (of NAU!)!
There you have it. A small sampling of college football and beer. There are so many more games, and so many more beers to enjoy. This is just the start. The football gods have answered our 8 months of desperate pleas, and our game is back. Let’s raise a glass and enjoy the 2015-2016 college football season.
And one more thing….BOOMER SOONER!!