It’s a few hours before Florida hosts Vanderbilt, and hundreds of fans are hovering around the statues of Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel that grace Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Some pose for photos and then linger, as though hoping the school’s Heisman Trophy winners might unbend their bronze arms and offer benedictions. Tebow was 23 when his monument went up in 2011—too young to rent a car without added fees, but old enough to be canonized. Like religion, college football is full of miracles, steeped in nostalgia and not extremely logical.

I make my way through the picture-takers and around the curved walls of the stadium, passing tailgates set up under blue and orange tents. One lot is particularly packed, with fans pressed up against a rope-line running down its middle. Cheers erupt when coach Dan Mullen and his team parade through on their way to the locker room. The players high-five fans who’ve gotten close to them, the football gods. It’s game day in Gainesville.

As I enter the stadium a few minutes before kickoff, the audio system rumbles through the cement pillars and I’m ready for an overwhelming surge of energy. But when I make it out into the open air, the first thing I notice are empty metal bleachers reflecting rays of bright Florida sun. While the alumni section I’m standing in is filled, the top third of the student section opposite me is mostly empty, a scatter-plot weighted toward the bottom. I was expecting the frenzied vibe of a rave; what I’ve got is more of a buzzy mimosa brunch.

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