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Beware the "Dead Season"

By Justin Cates | June 16
Desert Dunes 2560x1600

As the days stretch longer and longer into late spring and early summer evenings, we sit fewer than 80 days from the start of college football season.

This is a time of minimal news and few meaningful developments —though the things that do tend to come up during this window are rarely positive.

Despite the nature of it all, a funny thing can start to happen during the sweltering desert that is the off-season. Seemingly out of nowhere expectations begin to develop. It often starts as a trickle of a thought.

“You know, I really like their quarterback. I think he’s gonna have a good year.”

A preseason award nomination might follow for this player. He and 50 other FBS starters are named to the Winn-Dixie regional watch list and now it’s off to the races.

People can convince themselves of anything, good or bad in the Dead Season.

There’s a great scene in The American President where the criminally underrated dramatic talents of Michael J. Fox take the president to task for his public silence on several issues.

“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand."

Substitute ‘any piece of info about my team or one I dislike’ for leadership and you’ve kind of got the gist of things.

It’s the sort of desperation that led folks to believe North Carolina was a top ten team in 2021 or that any number of guys who have fallen woefully short over the years would win the Heisman. You can also fall into the trap of convincing yourself that your team is completely and utterly doomed before a single snap.

This of course may ultimately prove to be true. You’ll know soon enough. But things are rarely as good or bad as they seem when needlessly projecting outcomes in June.

And yet now is the time when preseason magazines —a delightful relic of the pre-online era that somehow manages to survive— live rent free in our collective heads.

Previews and capsules will rule the high summer as experts and fools eat tape —and occasionally paste— at dizzying rates. All in the hopes of stumbling into a good preseason pick or two.

It’s one thing if you’re just out to have fun or even to yank the many chains available to a member of the modern sporting press. But if you’re warped enough to think you can really predict the ins and outs of the fall gridiron before the corn is knee-high? Well, you’re a bigger rube than the scarecrow keeping watch over the field.

I will join in myself at least on the chain-yanking, at some point making a bland, offhand remark on some podcast about a team, “…really coming together.” Then again, we could fully lean in to punditry and make bold but unverifiable claims like, “Florida State should be better but their offensive line is still comprised of those recycled tire bits used on playgrounds.”

That’s tough to quantify, but hard to disprove especially after your team has just given up another sack on third and long.

In that scene mentioned earlier, Michael Douglas as the president responds to the criticism of his staffer with a painfully accurate condemnation of the public yearning for ‘leadership’ or in our case the semblance of ‘news’.

“People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.”

Something to consider as we crawl through the desert eating tape and coating ourselves in SPF 100. Football is closer than you think, just hang in there.


My Dad graduated from Tech in 1981 and I’ve been attending Virginia Tech sporting events since I first moved to Blacksburg in 1988. I myself graduated in 2008 with a Communication degree. During my time as a student I was the Sports Director for WUVT and helped establish and run Planet Blacksburg, an independent student-run news website. I’ve since written for numerous publications including SBNation, Inside The ACC, and Sports Illustrated's AllHokies. Currently, I host The Justin Cates Show in addition to other contributions here at Sons of Saturday and various other sites as the need arises. I now live in a fortified compound in upstate New York with my wife and numerous animals. The smell of popcorn makes me think of Cassell.

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