College football and its over-the-top pageantry are back

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By Dan Mennella

The conversation around college sports these days is passionate, to put it kindly, but the games must resume. And with the return this week of the venerated institution that is college football in places like Columbia, S.C., where it is closer to religion than recreational endeavor, we are reminded of the awesome culture around the sport.

For several years, the unofficial start of the major-conference college football season has been marked by a South Carolina home game on the final Thursday in August. It's a production fraught with excitement, as are many college games, but with that extra buzz of being a nationally televised contest. This year's affair was no different. Here's a look at some quintessentially college football sights and sounds from that game and others, as we usher in a new season.

This adorable tyke, decked out in South Carolina cheerleader garb, awaits the arrival of Gamecocks players outside Williams-Brice Stadium prior to Thursday's game against Texas A&M. Let's just hope she doesn't end up going to mortal-rival Clemson -- that's how families are torn apart.

The State

The talking heads are back, too, and TIM TEBOW has taken his place among them on ESPN's new SEC Network. We'll also be seeing plenty of the traveling band of troubadours known as the College GameDay crew. A staple of these shows is to allow the throngs of students standing behind the sets to display homemade signs that are funny, weird, and, in some cases, controversial.

The State

Also, why are Tebow's co-hosts laughing so hard? As it turns out, he's pretty funny. Check out his impression of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier:

Tebow's Great Spurrier Impression


Of course, no college football game worth its salt goes on without a dynamic marching band performance. As someone who can't dance even when it's just me and my two left feet, these talented guys and gals get my respect for doing it while toting heavy instruments in really awkward uniforms. Ohio State's "Moonwalk" holds the crown at season's outset -- will anyone challenge?

Getty Images North America

Power couple alert: NASCAR drivers Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse were decked out in Ole Miss gear at Thursday's Rebels-Boise State game in Atlanta.

Getty Images North America

These brodacious Texas A&M fans presumably travelled from Texas to South Carolina to cheer on their Aggies, and they went home very happy after witnessing the birth of a star.

The State

And Utah's mascot -- this caped, muscled bird of prey -- is a legitimate challenger to Pierre the Pelican for the creepiest in all of sports.

AP

Welcome back, college football.

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College football and its over-the-top pageantry are back
South Carolina fan James Armstrong flies a Palmetto flag during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M won 52-28. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
South Carolina fans young and old prepare to see the team take part in the Gamecock Walk prior to the start of their game against Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT via Getty Images)
Texas A&M fans enjoy Aggie Yell Practice on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds at midnight in Columbia, S.C. Aggie fans, starting in 1931, annually gather -- at a chosen location if on the road -- to ring in the coming season's opening game. (Tracy Glantz/The State/MCT via Getty Images)
Joe Tessitore and analysts Tim Tebow, Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum begin the inaugural SEC Nation before South Carolina takes on Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (Tim Dominick/The State/MCT via Getty Images)
South Carolina takes part in the Gamecock Walk prior to the start of their game against Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT via Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: The colors are displayed before a game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Texas A&M Aggies at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: The South Carolina Gamecocks marching band performs before a game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: The South Carolina Gamecocks marching band performs before a game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
South Carolina band members perform before an NCAA college football game against South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M won 52-28. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
The South Carolina band performs before an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M won 52-28. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
South Carolina cheerleaders perform during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M won 52-28. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
South Carolina cheerleaders perform during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M won 52-28. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: South Carolina Gamecocks fans cheer after a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks takes the field for a game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Texas A&M wide receiver Edward Pope (18) celebrates after reacing the goal line in the first quarter against South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (Kim Kim Foster-Tobin/The State/MCT via Getty Images)
Former NFL player and television analyst Tim Tebow watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Texas A&M and South Carolina, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M won 52-28. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
In this photo taken with a fisheye lens, South Carolina players run onto the field before an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
In this photo taken with a fisheye lens, South Carolina wide receiver Andrew Bunch gestures before an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Texas A&M Aggies players and fans celebrate after a win over the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. Texas A&M won 52-28. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Texas A&M Aggies players and fans celebrate after a win over the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. Texas A&M won 52-28. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Ricky Seals-Jones #9 of the Texas A&M Aggies reacts after scoring a touchdown South Carolina Gamecocks during the second quarter of their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 28: NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pose for pictures during the game between the Mississippi Rebels and the Boise State Broncos at Georgia Dome on August 28, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze gets dunked by Mississippi offensive linesman Justin Bell after Mississippi defeated Boise State 35-13 in an NCAA college football game Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 28: Bo Wallace #14 of the Mississippi Rebels wears the old leather helmet trophy after their 35-13 win over the Boise State Broncos at Georgia Dome on August 28, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Rice-Eccles Stadium is viewed in the third quarter during an NCAA football game between Idaho State and Utah, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
A member of the Utah cheerleaders pose for a photograph before the start of their NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Members of the Utah cheerleaders pose for a photo before the start of their NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Members of the Utah band perform before the start of their NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Members of the Utah band perform before the start of their NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Members of the Utah dance team perform before the start of their NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Members of the Utah team take the field before the start of their NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah fans cheer in the first quarter during an NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah's mascot swoop performs in the second quarter during an NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah's Kaelin Clay returns a 100 yard kickoff return in the third quarter during an NCAA college football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Utah won 56-14. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah's quarterback Travis Wilson, right, celebrates with Utah's Dres Anderson, left, after scoring in the first quarter during an NCAA football game against Idaho State Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Member of the Utah football team celebrate after an NCAA football game against Idaho State on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Utah won 56-14. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The Washington State Cougars logo and letters to spell out "Cougs" are run on flags on the field during an NCAA college football game between Washington State and Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington State fans cheer in the end zone during Washington State's NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington State fans cheer in the end zone during Washington State's NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington State cheerleaders perform during an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Butch, the Washington State Cougars mascot, pretends to use a photographer's camera during an NCAA college football game between Washington State and Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Butch, the Washington State Cougars mascot, pretends to use a photographer's camera during an NCAA college football game between Washington State and Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington State cheerleaders perform during an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rutgers' Kenneth Kirksey does a flip as he celebrates after Rutgers beat Washington State 41-38 in an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood, center, celebrates with his team after they beat Washington State 41-38 in an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Minnesota fans cheer their team before an NCAA college football game against Eastern Illinois in Minneapolis Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Minnesota fans cheer their team before an NCAA college football game against Eastern Illinois in Minneapolis Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Minnesota wide receiver Donovahn Jones (4) runs into the end zone for a touchdown on a 35-yard pass from quarterback Mitch Leidner during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Eastern Illinois in Minneapolis Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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