Leaves are starting to change color around the area and temperatures are getting a little cooler. It means fall is here and with it, comes the middle of the college football season. When your favorite teams aren't taking the field against conference rivals, though, here are some good movies and documentaries to watch out to get your fill of the game.
"Pony Excess," 2010
Between 1980 and 1986, Southern Methodist University's Mustang football team, coached by Ron Meyer and later Bobby Collins, had a great amount of success. During those years, SMU won three Southwest Conference titles, two bowl victories and finished ranked five years in a row.
Despite several other good college programs in the Lone Star State that are now considered Power Five, including the Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas Tech Red Raiders and Baylor Bears, SMU was competing just fine and beating many of them.
All of it, though, was far too good to be true. As this movie from ESPN explores, SMU and its football program was found to have several financial ties against NCAA rules. The depth of the scandal resulted in the NCAA giving SMU the "death penalty," canceling the entire 1987 and 1988 seasons for the school. "Pony Excess" is a fantastic documentary detailing just how far a program can go to win.
"We Are Marshall," 2006
The Marshall University Thundering Herd football program has had some very good years in the last three decades. It has compiled an outstanding 12-3 record in bowl games at the Division I level and earned a pair of national titles at the Division I-AA level in the 90s.
All of that success nearly never happened, though because of one horrible November night in 1970. On the way home from an away game at East Carolina University, the plane carrying the team and several others tied to the program crashed killing all on board.
"We Are Marshall" follows the aftermath of the crash. The film follows how the school president, played by David Strathairn, fought to keep the program going and made a chance hire on Coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey).
The film isn't about a sports team coming together and rising up to win a championship. It's about keeping a special part of a college and a town going in the face of tremendous odds. That's what makes it a great film to watch. It's also benefited by really solid performances from McConaughey, Strathairn, Ian McShane, Anthony Mackie and Matthew Fox.
"Youngstown Boys," 2013
Whether you are a fan of the Ohio State University Buckeyes or if you can't stand them, this film exploring the scarlet and gray is quite interesting. "Youngstown Boys" tells a dual stories about two people, Jim Tressel and Maurice Clarett. Both originating from Youngstown, Ohio, the two would unite at Ohio State, where Tressel was coach and Clarett was a running back.
Together, in 2002, the team went undefeated and defeated the Miami Hurricanes in a thriller. In the ensuing decade, though, both men were brought down from those heights. Clarett ran into many issues from being dismissed from Ohio State to eventually getting arrested and spending time in prison. Tressel, meanwhile, was eventually forced to resign because of an NCAA financial scandal.
The film, also from ESPN, is an interesting look into the Ohio State program, and two men with different backgrounds with similar roots. It follows the individuals' success and pitches the question of what would have been had things gone differently.
"The Express," 2008
This film takes audiences to the great state of New York to follow Syracuse legend Ernie Davis. The movie tells the story of Davis' recruitment by Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, to winning the 1959 national title and finally becoming the first African American to earn the Heisman Trophy. The movie also details Davis' tragic death from leukemia.
"The Express" isn't a perfect biopic. There are some artistic liberties and historical inaccuracies related to some of the games played, which is unfortunate. Plus the flick is formulaic. However, as a whole, the movie is an enjoyable experience and gives viewers insight into a college football legend who sometimes goes overlooked. The film also features a strong performance from Rob Brown and fantastic work by Dennis Quaid as Schwartzwalder.
"Rand University," 2014
The third ESPN documentary I'm recommending is one Minnesota Vikings fans should appreciate. "Rand University" is about wide receiver legend Randy Moss and his life growing up in Rand, W.Va.
The film details Moss' issues growing up and how he lost out on opportunities to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Florida State Seminoles. The documentary also details how Moss was able to take the field at the college level as part of the Marshall Thundering Herd football.
Moss was well known for much of his career for having a very charismatic personality and a lot of attitude. The movie explores how Moss developed as a person and became the well known figure in the NFL that many remember him for.
"Rudy" is well known for Sean Astin's memorable performance, the score by Jerry Goldsmith and some iconic imagery like Daniel Eugene Ruettiger getting carried off the field. What makes the movie work, though, is Rudy's story off the field.
The movie might not be the most accurate, as some have said Rudy's time with the Fighting Irish was different than the film's portrayal. However, people who have this view, my guess is USC and Michigan fans, miss the real point of the narrative.
"Rudy" is more than about just a single football player. Rudy grew up in the blue collar Midwest, came from a family of steel mill workers and was destined for the same career path. However, because of a tragic wake-up call, Rudy realizes life is short and he should fight for his dream of playing Notre Dame football.
It's not an easy path. Rudy has to build up his grades at a smaller college and push his way into the program as a walk-on. But, he does it. The film is all about seizing the moment, and that's what makes it a good movie.