The 2019 college football season is here. For some fans, that means putting your friendships - and possibly even your marriage - on hold to root for your favorite team.
ESPN's Laura Rutledge joined us to give her takes on the upcoming college football season. Over the course of the conversation, she revealed her picks for the College Football Playoff and how her "Football Prenup" will solve her football-watching time with husband, and Alabama fan, Josh.
The Spun: Why don’t you start with what you guys are doing at Buffalo Wild Wings?
Laura Rutledge: Sure, so it’s called the Buffalo Wild Wings Football Prenup and it’s a lot of fun. In my personal situation, my husband Josh is an Alabama fan and I went to Florida so a lot of times we had issues with sharing the remote during college football season - so this actually solved a lot of that. He signed on the dotted line and I signed on the dotted line so there’s no turning back. The rules are that I have to watch every Alabama game with him and he has to watch every Florida game with me and also apparently I have to give him a back rub during every Florida game, which I don’t know how I ended up agreeing to that. I think I need to work on my negotiating tactics. You can also add an addendum to your contract and add a few more games you’re interested in, so we also did that as well. One of the games we put on there is Georgia-Notre Dame because that’s one of the ones I’m interested in and he probably wouldn’t watch that game otherwise. It’s a lot of fun and we’ve had a blast doing it.
The Spun: So, what’s going to happen if Alabama and Florida play in the national championship game? How is that going to play in your house?
LR: Yeah so we won’t talk to each other for that entire week. We’ll forget that each other exists - no I’m kidding. We’ll have a lot of fun with it and, you know, it actually has happened even though Florida got totally annihilated by Alabama in the SEC title game so I didn’t have a whole lot to say back to him. From the standpoint of just watching it for my job I kind of thought Florida had a chance. This year if they get there it’s certainly going to depend on a lot of things and they have to look a lot better than they did against Miami. As far as the Football Prenup we would both be in good standing because we would need to watch the game with each other so it would actually work out great. In fact, I’d probably be working the game so [Josh] would be forced to be there with me.
The Spun: Let me follow that up with the Miami game. That had to be a little unnerving there for a while. How are you feeling about this season and how far away do you think Florida is from competing for national titles?
LR: Yeah so I’m trying to look at this like a clear-thinking clear-minded person because I think that’s the only way you can look at people seriously this time of year. I think a lot of what did happen in that game did have to do with Miami’s defense being really good. I think they’re one of the best defenses in the ACC and maybe a little more deserving of some national attention. Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney - they’re great and they have a lot that they can build on. I do think that’s why they wreaked havoc on Florida’s offense - and replacing four offensive linemen probably had something to do with that. I mean look, Feleipe Franks is just going to have to be better and I was surprised at how uncomfortable he looked because so much has been talked about that Dan Mullen has made all of these strides this offseason with [Franks] within the system. The good thing for Florida is they have a couple of weeks to figure things out and they’re looking at a win over those few weeks. It would be totally different if they had lost and I do think on the defensive side there’s a lot to be excited about. I love Todd Grantham’s style as a defensive coordinator. I love that he brings a defense that can confuse an opposing offense and certainly an opposing quarterback. I think there’s a lot to build on. I walked away from that saying ‘I’m still not sure what we know about Florida based off of that game.’ I think you almost have to say ‘put that one behind you and see how they look after a larger sample size.’
The Spun: We’re going to assume someone comes out of the SEC for the College Football Playoff, but what are your picks?
LR: I actually have both Alabama and Georgia in my College Football Playoff. I think Alabama will go undefeated up until that point. Even if Georgia beats them in the SEC title game or they beat Georgia and Georgia’s been undefeated up until that point their strength of schedule would be just too good and I don’t think there’s any way at that point based on some of the things that could happen elsewhere - specifically in the Big 12 I think that Texas can challenge Oklahoma and wash each other out. For me - and maybe other fans don’t want to hear this - we’re going to have Alabama and Clemson and then Georgia and I also have Oregon in there as well. So two SEC teams once again, but I think there’s a dilemma for the committee where they’re going to have to look at the eye test when Alabama and Georgia face off. It’s going to be difficult to say ‘okay, these are not two of the best football teams in the entire country.’
The Spun: So you’re saying there’s no love for the Big Ten this year?
LR: You know I love Ohio State, I actually think that Michigan could challenge them. But I think that Ohio State still ends up beating Michigan - which is crazy since that game is in Michigan. I think that they’ll be right on the cusp, I just think that they get tripped up somewhere, both of those teams. Ohio State and Michigan are two of the biggest challengers for the teams in the College Football Playoff, I have them just right outside. Nebraska is going to be really good too, but I don’t think they’re going to be quite there. They’ll have a win in there somewhere that we view as a program defining win under Scott Frost, but it’s just not quite enough launch them to the level of Ohio State and Michigan. It’s going to be crazy because if you look at how good some of these teams are going to be around the country and you look at potentially two teams from the same conference in the playoff I get why people aren’t going to like that, but I could still see it happening and that’s what I’m predicting at this point.
The Spun: Do you think another loss to Ohio State could be damaging to Jim Harbaugh’s career or is the damage already done? And what happens if he loses again?
LR: I think he absolutely has to beat Ohio State this year in order for more damage to not be done. I just don’t think there’s any way that Michigan fans and just fans in general - I just don’t see that sitting well with them, especially knowing that Urban Meyer is gone. You’d be talking about Michigan losing to a new coach and a new quarterback and it’s just not going to be acceptable. Like I said I think the game is going to be close, but I do think Ohio State wins that game and that could really mean the beginning of the end for Jim Harbaugh there at Michigan. It’s just not acceptable to lose to your rival in the conference every single year and not be winning the Big Ten title. Michigan fans expect better and they probably deserve better. I think Michigan could really be looking for “hey let’s see what he does this year and then make a decision.” I’m not saying he’s on any sort of hot seat because he could easily come out there and have a great year, but I think that that game holds a ton of weight - as it should.
The Spun: Let’s get back to Urban Meyer for a second. Do you think that he’ll eventually return to college football? Does he return for USC or Notre Dame - where do you think he’ll pop up?
LR: Okay so IF he returns it will be for a USC or a Notre Dame. I mean there’s just no way he returns to a program that isn’t of that caliber, especially from an historic perspective in college football. But I don’t think he returns. I know I’m in the minority there, a lot of people I’ve talked to think he’s going to come back and that he’s just too young at this point to not just give it another go. But I just don’t see it happening. To me, Ohio State was always his dream job, he had his dream job and had an exceptional record there. Maybe things didn’t necessarily end on the note that he wanted them to for many reasons that we all understand, but I do think that he’s somebody that will be able to say “you know what, at this point my health is important.” He cares about his grandkids, he obviously cares about his kids, family is very important to him. I think that he’s done. As a college football fan I wish that he wasn’t because I think it is better for college football when somebody like Urban Meyer is in the mix.
The Spun: We know you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling for the college football season this year, so we want to know the one item that you can’t travel without.
LR: I consider myself to be quite the travel pro, because I’ve spent way too much time traveling and I think biggest key and everyone should get one of these is a tiny steamer that you can put in your carry-on bag. I never travel - unless I’m on the road for three months straight - I try not to bring anything except a carry-on. You can fit one of these tiny steamers in your carry on bag and it will save your life so you don’t have to pull out the iron and ironing board in the hotel room - it just makes everything easier.
The Spun: Since you’re on the road all the time, what’s your favorite campus to visit that provides the best game day atmosphere?
LR: It’s so hard to pick because I truly believe that there is not a bad game day atmosphere. But in terms of something that I walk away from and say “man, that was really cool” I would actually pick Texas A&M. One of the reason I love going to College Station is that it’s just a different environment that they have there and the 12th man is just incredible and the Midnight Yell is crazy. If you want to experience something you don’t really get anywhere else in college football, I would recommend going to Midnight Yell at least once to see what it’s all about. But even their tailgating, you’ve got breakfast tacos going on out there. There’s a little bit of a Tex-Mex flare to it and it’s just a little bit different so I love that and I’ve been a really big fan of going to College Station recently. But like I said I love them all and you know any college football town that I go to, wherever it may be in the country it’s like trying to pick your favorite child.
The Spun: Speaking of children, you’re about to have your first so I was wondering how you and your husband are going to decide which fandom will get passed on to your daughter? Is it going to be a battle?
LR: It’s definitely going to be a battle. But I will say that I am adamant that she gets to make her own choice. So if she says that she wants to be an Alabama fan and that’s on her own terms and she can make that choice then I will accept it and I will support her - to a certain extent. I will say it’s kind of funny, we’ve been blessed with many great gifts and we’re so thankful for that, but she doesn’t have as many Alabama outfits as she had Florida outfits. So she may start to feel an affinity for Florida and I won’t go out and say that I strategically planned that, but I may have used a little strategy. No but we’re excited to see what she likes and see who she wants to pick as her favorite team.
The Spun: If you had to pick one college football coach to be a babysitter, who would you pick?
LR: Okay so this is going to be two parts. I think the funniest babysitter would be Les Miles, but I don’t really know what would happen. I might come back and she’d be eating grass or who knows what. But he would be awesome and he’s such a great family man and he would be so excited about the baby so I would put Coach Miles down as one. Another one, and one that I think would take it very seriously is Kirby Smart. You know I think that he’s really good at dialing in on what’s most important in a specific moment so he wouldn’t get distracted by anything else which is a great plus for a babysitter.
The Spun: You’ve had the chance to interview a few of the biggest names in the sport, but who’s someone from the past that you never got the chance to interview that you would like to?
LR: Oh, there’s a lot. There are so many options, but I would have to say Pat Summit. I’ve always enjoyed watching her and even growing up seeing what she did for not only women’s basketball but women’s athletics in general is something that will always be remembered and is so commendable. I would love to spend some time picking her brain. I feel like she would have so many great stories and I just love how strongly she stood for what she stood for and really no matter what was going on she was unwavering in her mission of promoting women so I would definitely love to sit down with Pat Summit.
Rutledge's picks for the College Football Playoff will get an early test this weekend. The Oregon Ducks open the season against No. 16 Auburn in a battle that could determine which program makes a deep run into the postseason.
If you're interested in reading more of our interviews with sports media stars, you can do so here.