Summer Reading: College Football Book Recommendations

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Full disclosure: though I’m a college football junkie, I absolutely love summertime. There’s no question autumn is the best time of year, but working in college football media, it’s also the busiest.

Summer — and specifically, summer between Memorial Day weekend and before media days get rolling in late July — is an opportunity to take a deep breath, enjoy time with family and friends, hit the pool or beach, and, for me, indulge in another favorite activity: reading.

I love reading on a variety of topics, but it should go without saying that I enjoy reading about college football. Considering that is quite literally what you’re on this site to do, I can assume the same is true for you.

The following are some of my favorite college football-themed books. Grab a copy or download one to your Kindle, pull up a lawn chair and enjoy. Also, if you have a suggestion I missed, please share in the comments.

The Opening Kickoff

Dave Revsine
2014; 320 pages

opening-kickoff

College football and late 19th/early 20th century American history are two of my favorite subjects, so it goes without saying that Big Ten Network personality Dave Revsine’s The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation was an immediate must-read for me.

You don’t need to be fascinated by the cultural and political climate of the era to enjoy Revsine’s examination of college football’s earliest days, however. He expertly juxtaposes the issues of the time period with the problems college football faces today — and honestly, they aren’t too different.

The cast of historical characters include Fielding Yost and Amos Alonzo Stagg, but the book’s central figure is Pat O’Dea. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the former Wisconsin Badger O’Dea has one of the most fascinating stories in college football history.

Dixieland Delight

Clay Travis
2007; 384 pages

dixieland-delight

Fox Sports’ Clay Travis is one of the more polarizing figures in college football media. That’s by design, and I am certainly guilty of jabbing at some of his lowest-common-denominator baiting. Before he made his name trolling the dregs of the sports’ most boisterous fan bases, however, Travis wrote a perfectly fun, relatable and, at times even emotional travel journal through the Southeastern Conference, Dixieland Delight.

Dixieland Delight is the literary equivalent of the first few seasons of Entourage: it won’t exactly teach you anything, but it does effectively pull you into a carefree atmosphere. And really, why are we college football fans if not for the fun of it?

Dixieland Delight is the closest you can feel to being an undergrad again — well, while reading a college football book, anyway. It doesn’t come with a keg. That said, it’s a quick read that can be enjoyed poolside with a cold beer.

Three & Out

John Bacon
2011, 464 pages

three-out

Journalist John Bacon was invited into the Michigan Wolverines football program for Rich Rodriguez’s first season at the helm. Bacon remained embedded with the Wolverines for the duration of Rodriguez’s tenure, which was so tumultuous, a novelization would be deemed too fake if it included all the turmoil detailed in Three & Out.

Three & Out is a pretty clear demonstration that fact is indeed stranger than fiction, and only the most devoted Michigan fan (or Rodriguez hater) could come away from reading this book with anything but sympathy for the ousted head coach.

Fourth & Long



John Bacon
2013, 352 pages

fourth-long

Bacon’s appropriately entitled follow-up to Three & Out follows four Big Ten teams in the conference’s 2012 season, each facing its own, unique issues: Ohio State in its campaign under Urban Meyer; Michigan amid the turmoil of Dave Brandon’s corporatizing of the athletic department; Northwestern, with its best team in nearly two decades; and Penn State, just a few months removed from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, death of Joe Paterno and sanction hammer delived by the NCAA.

Each portion reads as its own book, but the four stories converge nicely under a central theme: college football is built on tradition, tradition being tested by the influx of big money into the game.

Bacon has a unique skill of reporting in great detail, demonstrating his journalistic chops, but also presenting the information as a novelist would. The narrative never goes dry, as non-fiction text sometimes can.

The chapters on Penn State are some of the most emotionally raw stuff you’ll find in any college football book. The portion that deals with the Nittany Lions’ game against Illinois might have you seeing red when you next see orange-and-navy.

The Wow Boys

James W. Johnson
2006; 220 pages

wow-boys-cover

James W. Johnson devotes an entire book — albeit a relatively short book — to one offensive formation. However, the 1940 Stanford Indians’ implementation of the T-formation helped revolutionize the sport.

A former journalist and professor of journalism, Johnson uses his background to dig deep into Clark Shaughnessy’s innovation of a never-before-seen strategy, which powered Stanford to a share of the national championship.

For those intrigued by the schematics of the game, The Wow Boys is a must-read college football book. It’s a read one can knock out over a weekend, but gain years of insight into how offenses evolved from the days of wedges and other such strategies.