I have a set of friends that I talk to on Saturdays in autumn more than any other time of year. These are friends who understand why my football passion is Saturday's college games not the pro-games on Sunday. Whether they attended a big-time college football school, or played college football, or grew up in a place that was a "college football town", they know the passion that exists for that sport dwarfs the Disney-esque semi-glee of today's watered-down NFL.
Sure, the NFL has all the pro-athletes - guys who were all college football elites - but that doesn't mean it's a more exciting game. Having been to big-time college football games and NFL games, I can tell you the atmosphere isn't even close. A college town (by town I mean city, if it's a city like South Bend or Columbus, Ohio) football game day experience is more like a "weekend" experience. Partying starts the night before and doesn't end until well after the game. Usually you can't get within a mile of the stadium with a car, so starting early is the way to go on game day. The bands and fanfare (with all apologies to the band in Baltimore) doesn't exist in the NFL. The opening of the game at Clemson is worth the price of attendance, or Block M in Ann Arbor. At an Ohio State game after Script Ohio, the entire stadium sings the Buckeye Battle Cry. Ever heard 105,000 people (there aren't empty seats, try to find one) sing the same song at the same time? It's loud. Loud, how about Washington's home games. Tradition? LA Coliseum for USC? Notre Dame Stadium? Any stadium in the SEC?
In college football, because of the difference in athletes, you can see gimmick offenses like Oregon or Air Force run options or spreads that would never work in the NFL. You can see plays run just to get an elite athlete in the open field (in the NFL, there's always a defensive player who can take out an elite RB or WR) and you get to watch coaches coach around this on defense. When Vince Young was on Texas, he nearly single-handled won a Texas a national championship vs. a USC team with probably a dozen good pros on it. Ted Ginn's kick off returns? Every time this guy touched the ball in college a touchdown was possible. The efficiency of Boise State's offense? Check it out, no one does that in the NFL.
The traditions in college football make yearly games special no matter what the teams are doing that season. Alabama-Auburn this year will be a good example. Auburn may go into that game in last place in the SEC with two or three wins, but just watch. The game will be close. Ohio State plays Michigan this year with no chance for a bowl game due to probation - try to find a ticket though. Oregon and Oregon State will have an even greater meaning than usual this year - the "Civil War" winner will likely get a berth in the Pac-12 championship and Oregon likely a chance for a national title.
The biggest problem with college football is the lack of a playoff system. I totally understand the anti-BCS sentiment of sports fans - it's wrong to vote / have a computer choose a championship game. The current system is improved but even last year people weren't happy with an LSU-Alabama title game (since they'd played in the regular season). They were the two best teams - either would have beaten Oklahoma State - even with a playoff system we'd have likely had the same champion (or, at least LSU or Alabama winning). Next year, however, there's a four-game playoff. I'd rather eight (8 out of 100+ teams making the playoffs + home field advantage in the first round doesn't negate the value of the regular season to me - just means you better have zero or one loss to be guaranteed a chance).
When you watch an NFL game, what you don't notice (because they don't show it) if one of the traditional teams isn't playing, there's a lot of empty seats. Because there were so many unsold seats last year, the NFL changed their blackout rules this year , else you'd be missing a lot of games in local areas (J-E-T-S Blackout Blackout Blackout!). All these empty seats but years waiting list to get season tickets at other stadiums? Maybe this is because season ticket holders are forced to pay full price for exhibition games where teams give their number one unit about 10 plays. Prices for tickets are very expensive, so ticketholders usually sell big games to offset the losses from exhibition games. You end up with a stadium in Jacksonville full of Ravens fans or the St. Louis Rams playing in front of 80-percent Cowboy fans. It happens in other sports, yes, but the crowds are usually a little more home-team based because they play more than once or more than once every four years (the exception being interleague in baseball when Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox-type opponent comes to town).
The technology and improvements in production for football games really gives viewers at home a better view of the game than any seat in the stadium. What does the NFL have to offer people in attendance at the game? Really long commercial breaks where they can try to get from their seat to the bathroom in back without missing an offensive series? Paying $40 to park (some teams you have to buy the parking beforehand or there's not any facility-managed parking you can get)?
The NFL could also be called the NFFL - National Fantasy Football League. I used to play fantasy sports, but I lost interest. On top of the people who just watch football (or any sport!) for gambling purposes, now we have a league focused on statistics in a 16-game sampling. How many times have you heard "Player X had 125 yards rushing and 2 TDs!" from someone who doesn't even remember who won the game? Football is about winning not fantasy sports.
The last thing I hear about college football from non-fans is "you're just rooting for the team, not for the players because they only play four years and the good ones leave early". Currently, the average NFL player plays more seasons at their college than they do in the NFL. Take a look at your favorite NFL team's roster from 4 years ago. I bet a third of the guys are still there. Free agency, the salary cap (players' greed plus owners' greed) has forced a ton of player movement and a very watered down league. I don't think the NFL will be happy until there are 24 8-8 teams at the end of the season (entering Week 5 of the NFL season this year, there were only 2 teams in the AFC with a winning record - so they are almost there). My old boss used to say his old Cowboys' teams (he's a huge Cowboy fan) would destroy any of these teams. Hall of Fame QB, RB, WR, TE - great defenses. I liked the dominating teams, even if I rooted against them, rather than seeing teams that fill out the roster with players strictly for financial reasons, then injuries destroy their year (look at the Packers swoon last year - that was the most dominant team in the NFL - they didn't lose a "skill guy" but by the end of the year they were a very average team).