Rivals on the field, and on the couch

The closer the college football season gets, the more unsettled my house becomes. My husband’s alma mater, pride and joy and some would say reason for living, Michigan State University, faces my mom’s alma mater and the major college of my birthplace in Idaho, Boise State University, for their season opening game Friday.

Only Sophie before me has experienced such a difficult choice. The difficulty stems, not from a loyalty perspective, but a peaceful marriage perspective.

My husband and I wrote our own wedding vows when we married last November. Among many heartfelt promises, and many sniffles from our guests, the bride lightened things up with this line: “I vow to give you more loyalty than you give Michigan State.”

Even our priest, with whom we’d been acquainted just a few months, buckled with laughter. To know my husband is to know the recruiting efforts, unfair referee treatment, Rose Bowl visits, Rose Bowl denials, Nike pro combat uniforms, starters’ mothers’ names, and field maintenance schedule of MSU.

A green and white flag hangs in our home office, a Spartan gnome lives on our bookshelf and an MSU leash walks our dog. You get the obsessive-compulsive idea.

Before meeting him, I couldn’t tell you much about college football, outside of my alma mater University of Utah’s record against its archrival Brigham Young University. That game alone, known as The Holy War, earned my attention every Thanksgiving. Not until dating and living with my husband did I learn the differences among the conferences, the significance of busting the Bowl Championship Series, and the criteria used for team rankings.

When a Big Ten fan teaches you all these things, however, your understanding gets a little skewed. Or, as my big brother would say, screwed.

He’s a Boise State fan. We have pictures of him smiling his toothless grin and flexing his boyish muscles in an orange Broncos shirt. We also have pictures of my mom wearing a cap and gown on the Boise State campus, holding my diapered butt with one hand and a college diploma with the other. And, although we don’t have photographic proof of it, my memory will never forget the moment my nonsocial father hugged and hopped with a strange Idahoan man at the Chili’s bar here in Vegas when Boise State’s Statue of Liberty play against the University of Oklahoma clinched the 2007 Fiesta Bowl win in overtime.

While my husband has learned to respect the Utes and the Broncos since we’ve been together, he doesn’t hesitate to pull the “strength of schedule” card when his wife, or the media, gets a little too proud of them.

As I recently learned while discussing the topic with a University of Nevada, Reno fan, he’s not alone. The accusation that BSU is overrated didn’t surprise me. Hearing it from the fan of a team that has shared small conferences with BSU when it belonged to the Western Athletic Conference, and now with the Mountain West, did surprise me. His next assertion, though, proved rivalry hadn’t completely soured his opinion.

Boise State may be overrated, he said, but they win big games.

My family would argue that overrated teams aren’t capable of winning big games. This is what makes this year’s season-opening game so exciting, so crucial, so big.

When my husband heard who I’d be pulling for Friday, he didn’t get it. He fought it, actually. To help him better understand, I posed this scenario: “Imagine I get pregnant and we have a little girl. She grows up in a family of Michigan State fans. She falls in love with, and marries, a Michigan Wolverine.”

He stopped me right there.

The husband gets it. He finally gets why I’ll be cheering for the Broncos. Yes, it was an extreme example, but it worked. He pulls the “strength of schedule” card, I pull the “Wolverine” card.

To be clear, I’m still new to this college football thing. Just a couple of years ago, I’d plop next to my husband on our living room couch and ask which team he was voting for. He’d explain there were no ballots involved. I’d grumble something about semantics.

Thanks to ESPN talking heads, this I do know: Defense wins games.

While both Michigan State and Boise State have lost their outstanding quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins and Kellen Moore respectively, to the NFL, most of Michigan State’s defensive line returns this year. The same defensive line that was one of the best in the NCAA last season.

The Broncos only have a handful of returning starters. I’d ask you to wish them luck, but maybe they won’t need it.

Defense wins games, but Boise State wins big games.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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