129 Things The Open Man Loves (and Hates) About College Football: Documentaries

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The first games of the 2018 college football season kick off 127 days from today. To commemorate, The Open Man begins the countdown with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.

Who’s got it better than us? Nobody! 

Jim Harbaugh leading Michigan in this locker-room cheer after wins intros the title card of Amazon’s recently release series All or Nothing. The all-access program — which I am watching while writing this entry in The Open Man 2018 countdown — might be the best of the various college football documentaries available on a variety of platforms. 

All or Nothing is my favorite, anyway. Opinions may vary, since the genre has no shortage of great options. As college football fans in 2018, no one at any time in the sport has had it better than us. The same multimedia environment that makes it possible to tune into games from the SEC, Sun Belt, Conference USA or FCS all the same time on any football Saturday has fostered a market for unprecedented peeks behind the scenes. 

Burgeoning conference-operated networks launching in the past decade needed inventory beyond the schedule of games. The starting point for the recent wave of football documentaries surfaced as a result.

The conferences, in need of original programming going beyond simple highlight and analysis programs, leveraged their influence over member programs to go behind the scenes. Big Ten Network’s The Journey chronicles each season, with off-the-field stories from around the league. 

Pac-12 Network went a step further with The Drive, which spent the duration of a season with just one or two teams before expanding to cover the entire conference in 2017. While covering UCLA during the 2014 season, I often noticed a drone hovering above Bruins practices to film workouts from above. 

ESPN’s ownership of the SEC Network provides the Southeastern Conference access to world-class production means, and the SEC Storied series demonstrates the lofty potential for documentaries. 

Historic retrospectives and insight on players beyond game day are very much in my wheelhouse. The same concept in written form was what attracted me to sports journalism. All or Nothing‘s coverage of Michigan defensive line standout Rashaun Gary has quickly made him one of my favorite players, and has unfolded like the excellent Sports Illustrated features I read as a teenager, dreaming of one day writing myself. 

Documentaries were a previously under-utilized medium for presenting the virtually limitless pool of stories waiting to be told. 

The medium’s under-utilized no more. And in the last couple years, filmmakers are taking full advantage of the possibilities. 

Netflix’s acclaimed Last Chance U., first released in 2016, was the game-changer. The all-access pass into the tumultuous world of junior college football at recruiting factory East Mississippi can be emotionally exhausting; I rarely watch two episodes in a night, rendering a binge-watch impossible. 

I personally get more enjoyment from watching a show over a period of time, however. The college football season wouldn’t be any fun if you watched all 12 games of a team’s schedule in one weekend; I feel the same about a television series. 

In the case of Last Chance U., there’s a lot to process. The struggles some EMCC Lions face, whether self-inflicted or unfortunately inherited, are more dramatic than any fiction writer could hope to script. The unvarnished access Netflix has at EMCC is astounding, frankly. 

And EMCC isn’t the winningest program in college football history. All or Nothing has fast become my favorite of the college football documentaries providing a well-rounded examination of a big-time program; not from the perspective of the program nor its conference, but with third-party cameras and filmmakers going into all phases of the program. 

The Showtime series A Season With has done likewise in its three years following Notre Dame, Florida State and Navy. A fourth season is presumably on the horizon come autumn, and I will be tuning in. 

I can’t get enough of the current catalog of college football documentaries. No one has it better than we do in following college football in 2018.