The Best College Football Conference: Literary Edition


The debate over which is the best college football conference takes fans to some ridiculous places. Honks for certain conferences tout such mind-numbing things as television revenue to declare their league’s superiority.

So long as the best college football conference debate is going to include facets that have literally nothing to do with, well, football, why not debate something awesome?

Employing a highly scientific process, a great American author was chosen to represent each Power 5 conference.

These metrics are (shockingly) completely arbitrary. Please add your own suggestions in the comments below, but understand this disclaimer: in no way is any of the following meant as a serious interpretation of any of the mentioned authors’ works. Inferring otherwise is just silly.


Edgar Allan Poe

Conference realignment casts some doubt on Edgar Allan Poe’s affiliation. The Big Ten is trying to plant its flag in Poe’s home state with the addition of the Maryland Terrapins. But until proven otherwise, the Mid-Atlantic is ACC Country.

Moreover, some of Poe’s dark work would resonate with certain ACC fans. Consider “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Insulted by Fortunato, Montresor plots revenge far outweighing the significance of said slight. He lures a drunk Fortunato into a wine cellar, where Montresor builds a brick wall around the still-alive and chained Fortunato.

Sounds like #FSUTwitter overreacting to an analyst picking Clemson.

Additional Notes

University of North Carolina graduate Thomas Wolfe is a worthwhile choice to represent the ACC. Though Wolfe died at just 37 years old, his writings have been of great importance for more than seven decades.

To compare the themes of You Can’t Go Home Again to anything college football-related is gravely diminishing the importance of the message. Wolfe’s staunch criticism of fascism in 1930s Europe, particularly the rise of the Nazis in Germany, is of far greater importance than the frivolity of college football Saturday.

That said, the title could certainly be applied to Maryland’s acrimonious split with Maryland.


Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway did great work in the Big Ten.

Sorry, wrong Hemingway. But celebrated author Ernest Hemingway was a native son of Chicago. Per The Newberry, he resided in the Windy City after his service in World War I.

Hemingway references Chicago in his classic, A Farewell to Arms:

I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.

Additional Notes

Another vagabond author wrote of the Chicago stockyards in the early 1900s. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle helped change labor laws in Chicago’s notoriously dangerously meat packing plants.

Sinclair’s a possible representative of the Rose Bowl though, as he also has extensive history with California. His novel Oil! inspired the excellent 2007 film There Will Be Blood, and Sinclair ran for Governor of California in 1934.

Kurt Vonnegut was born in the same city that hosts the Big Ten Championship Game, Indianapolis. Vonnegut also studied at another metropolitan epicenter for the conference, Chicago.

Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five are two of the essential reads of 20th Century literature (obligatory aside: “Champions” in the title? No wonder he wasn’t chosen to represent the Big Ten, Paul!).

Had the University of Chicago not shut down its football program, thus forcing the Big Ten to revoke its membership, Vonnegut would have made for a slam-dunk Big Ten representative.

Big Ten expansion has been eyebrow-raising, and in the literary world there is no exception. By adding Nebraska, the Big Ten now has regional claim to Nicholas Sparks.

BIG 12

Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry is to the literary world what the Texas Longhorns are to college football. Times and trends change, but like his home-state Longhorns, McMurtry always pens something of cultural relevance.

Lonesome Dove is his best-known work and is the quintessential Big 12 series. Picture Bill Snyder as Augustus McRae and Bob Stoops as Woodrow Call and tell me I’m wrong.

Conference USA can stake its claim to McMurtry; he earned degrees from both North Texas and Rice, making him the second-most influential Mean Green alumnus ever (what’s up, Ben Kercheval?).

But for his depiction of the Texas Rangers in the Lonesome Dove series, McMurtry is the Big 12’s representative for the purpose of the best college football conference debate.

Additional Notes

There’s some inherent controversy in associating Cormac McCarthy with the Big 12. McCarthy spent his formative years in Tennessee, though All The Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian and The Road are all either set in or influenced by Texas. Yet, with Texas A&M’s transition two years ago, the SEC has a worthy claim to one of the most acclaimed authors of modern time.

McCarthy’s work often has a decided Western thematic element more closely in line with the aura of the Big 12 than the SEC. For example, No Country for Old Men villain Anton Chigurh travels the West Texas countryside in pursuit of protagonist Llewellyn Moss, blowing up anything in his way.

It’s quite the metaphor for Art Briles’ offense.


John Steinbeck

One of the most prolific American authors of the 20th Century and a Nobel Prize winner, John Steinbeck’s work often captured the essence of California.

Steinbeck wrote more famous novels–Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath, specifically–but Cannery Row is his most thoroughly Californian work.

The Palace Flophouse is a collection of hard-partying folks with good intentions, but their fun often results in the annoyance of others. Their leader Mack’s intelligence is matched only by his shiftlessness.

In other words, the Palace Flophouse is a forerunner to the Stanford Band.

Full disclosure: I attended a Pac-12 university, live in the conference’s geographic footprint and cover the league professionally. Thus, it’s probably no coincidence Steinbeck is my favorite novelist.

Additional Notes

L. Ron Hubbard went to high school in Seattle and had profound influence in Los Angeles’ celebrity scene. I’ve never read anything of Hubbard’s, but his science fiction writing is at the foundation of Scientology.

Science fiction literature may very well have influenced Oregon’s various uniform combinations.


William Faulkner

True story: If you place The Sound and the Fury on a record player and turn it backwards, it’s masked to shout “Roll Tide!”

OK, that might not be the case–though I have yet to test it. However, Mississippi-born William Faulkner may be the only Southerner whose fame and influence surpasses that of Bear Bryant or Nick Saban.

Faulkner is arguably the most influential American novelist of all-time–much in the same way the SEC is widely considered football’s most influential conference.

In all seriousness, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning Faulkner set the gold standard for versatility. The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying read as if they’re penned by different authors depending on narrator.

That’s what we call S-E-C speed narrative.

Additional Notes

SEC Country produced some of the most important literary works of the 20th century, many written by authors known for just a single novel.

Former Alabama law student Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is among the must-read American fictional works.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, as depicted by Carol Hall, may be the only place at which paparazzi and social media sleuths didn’t snap photos of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

The quintessential SEC novel may well be A Confederacy of Dunces. For those unfamiliar with John Kennedy Toole’s work, a quick synopsis: A Louisiana man who often wears a comical hat encounters numerous pitfalls, virtually all of his own doing, yet somehow comes out on top of his situation in the end.

If this sounds like it’s about Les Miles and his end-of-game clock management, surely you’re not alone.