In the United States, college football is almost as big as the NFL as rivalries can run deep and split families, and every Saturday is a huge day as teams battle for the chance to play for the BCS championship.
The season is a little shorter in college football, so there are greater senses of urgency, particularly in the early part of the campaign when teams are playing other non-conference contenders. This is especially important as strength of schedule plays a factor in a team’s final rating, although with the polls and the rest of the computer rankings that make college football a confusing entity. These non-conference games are important to watch as it’ll tell you who has a solid chance to being competitive in their conference.
And that is where a team really makes its money as conference play is two-thirds or more of the schedule and you have to consider the strength of the conferences. For example, an SEC team can get away with losing a game or two along the way because it is so well regarded by the coaches and the computers that they can still go on to a BCS title game (or a better bowl than they deserve) from playing in a power conference.
Like in most college sports, you should look to the coaches of the programs to estimate what kind of success a team will have as most coaches build a program in their vision, and then recruit the talent to fill the holes. More than in the pros, coaches will always have a role in college sports because they’re still teaching the game to kids, who are more receptive of their methods.