Rising tide: It's Alabama
There are passionate fans across this country, from sea to shining sea. But if you want to find the most passionate, you must head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., home to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Why are they the most passionate? For one, cheering for the Tide is a way of life. Football is discussed every day of the year, from recruiting to coaching to play calling to expectations.
There is a museum across from the athletic complex dedicated to former coach Bear Bryant, plus a street and stadium that also bear his name. After Nick Saban was hired as coach in early 2007, about 92,000 people came to watch the spring game.
You would be well-served to read "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" by Warren St. John for a complete understanding of what makes these fans the most passionate in America.
Gators fans the chomps
Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State routinely fill their stadiums with more than 100,000 fans on game days.
Other colleges, such as Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, boast a venerable history full of success and respect for the game among their followers.
Air Force, Army and Navy deserve to be mentioned because their supporters often are attached to the program through support of the country's armed forces, whether personally or through family and friends.
Nothing, however, compares with what happens in the Southeastern Conference, and one team shines above Alabama, Tennessee and the other programs.
Florida's recent success puts the school at the top of the list.
The Gator Chomp is one of the most recognizable taunts in college football, and no one wants to play in "The Swamp," where the Gators are 113-13 since 1990.
Buckeyes spring to mind
Here's my objective measure for judging the passion/insanity of college football fan bases: attendance at the spring game.
How many face-painters will set aside three hours of their lives to watch a glorified scrimmage? The top five, according to 2009 numbers: Ohio State (95,722), Alabama (84,050), Nebraska (77,670), Penn State (76,500) and Florida (65,000).
Of course, this method is about as perfect as Tiger Woods' marriage. Schools can fudge the numbers (Michigan reported a remarkably even 50,000), and some charge $5 to $10 for entry, while others simply open the gate.
Still it's a better method than counting the number of foam fingers sold or angry e-mails sent to columnists. Just look at the bottom of the list: Washington State attracted 400 people for its 2009 spring game. Not sure if that included the players.
Tide is high - and mighty
Nebraska has the smartest football fans. They know down and distance and, in the grander sense, what the score is. I remember being at a game in Lincoln years ago and the scoreboard quiz asking fans to "name that formation."
But the most passionate fans, a euphemism for nuts, are in Tuscaloosa and cheer for Alabama. I know this firsthand for having underrated the Crimson Tide all year, even though Alabama ended up No.2 in my poll. And for having the audacity to pick Texas to win the BCS title game, even though Alabama is 0-7-1 all-time against the Longhorns.
I've spent 80 billable hours this season answering e-mails to Alabama. It doesn't matter to 'Bama fans.
You are with them or against them, as evidenced by the case of former coach Dennis Franchione, whose name was virtually purged from Alabama history after he betrayed the school by leaving for Texas A&M.;