Television was again overrun with college football this past weekend, especially since Friday night. I couldn’t possibly watch every game but I sampled many.
If you asked me to dance at different weddings at the same time, I couldn’t. But I watched a few games in their entirety, chunks of many and pieces of others.
As I covered these games, I thought of the line by Richard Sandomir, the longtime sports media critic of the New York Times who left a couple years ago for the newspaper’s obituary section. In preparing obits of the obscure, he says that he’s often asked to research the lives, accomplishments and characteristics of people he didn’t even know existed. Some of the subjects excelled in esoteric fields the general public wasn’t familiar with, including Sandomir. Frankly, as I watched these games, there were quite a few announcers whose names and work weren’t familiar to me.
Watching so many games on TV, I also had a longing for the day of Keith Jackson when essentially there was one featured national game televised each Saturday. You might remember that until 1984, when the Supreme Court ended the NCAA’s monopoly on college football telecasts, fans only got limited telecasts. Change was coming at the time. ESPN had been born five years earlier and the financial spigot was about to gush. Colleges and conferences had their buckets ready, waiting to fill them with green cash.
Here we sit, three decades later, with so many games available that it’s almost unhealthy – like a store full of nothing but candy.
Sorry for the length of the review. Doing it was almost like preparing a dissertation. Lots to cover.
Again, one disclaimer, I only saw snippets or stretches of many of these telecasts. There were a few games that I missed entirely. Let it roll.
|FAU @ Central Florida: Jason Benetti and Kelly Stouffer||Benetti is a good story teller- a quality sharpened by his baseball experience with the White Sox. The duo told of the heartwarming story of FAU’s Azeez Al-Shaair who saved family members in his grandmother’s flame-engulfed house when he was 15. Now he’s a linebacker with a potential of advancing to the NFL.|
|Penn State @ Illinois: Justin Kutcher, DeMarco Murray, Petros Papadakis||First thing I noticed was the half-empty stadium–the theme of the weekend. I’ve heard Kutcher before and liked him somewhat. This time he reminded me somehow of the thin voiced Ted Robinson. Kutcher is a little too verbose for a 3 man booth. As the exceptional Don Criqui said on these pages, a 3 man booth can work but the play-by-player has to do constant and immediate bookkeeping; cutting back on his own time – to give his two teammates time to engage.|
|Washington State @ USC: Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill||Pasch is impeccable. He’s been an ESPN mainstay for years and deservedly so. He’s showed that he can even put up with the garrulous and over-the-top Bill Walton. Dave is one of these guys who moves seamlessly from one sport to another and flawlessly from TV to radio .
|Georgia @ Missouri: Steve Levy, Brian Giese||Levy, another versatile on-air talent, is equally comfortable in studio or calling play-by-play. His first goal in life was to be a hockey announcer. Saturday, he handled tongue-twisting names smoothly. Steve brings a warm personality to the booth. Most broadcasters spend time with assistant coaches, take copious notes and then spew what they hear. But it’s analysis by spontaneity that measures a commentators keenness. Griese instinctively breaks down quarterbacks. No surprise. Levy was quick on a questionable marking to immediately point out that there’s no replay review of forward progress.|
|Navy@SMU: Bill Roth, Mike Golic, Jr.||I liked Roth a lot. He was the longtime radio voice of Virginia Tech who made a nice transition to TV. In some ways, he reminded me of the great Ray Scott. He had no diarrhea of the mouth. His words were measured. He captioned didn’t describe. Golic on the other hand was way too talkative. It was much. I can only remember one thing of substance that he said in the stretch of time I watched. “There’s nothing more demoralizing for the defense than giving up a big play right up the middle.” ESPN had a nice clip of former president George W. Bush addressing the Navy team in the locker room prior to the game.|
|Ohio @ Cincinnati: Mike Corey, Rene Ingoglia||Corey was good. Nothing distinct. It will be tough for him to advance without a signature style in this day of ubiquitous broadcasts. The enthusiastic Ingoglia repeated the obvious. I didn’t watch the entire game but I didn’t feel I would learn anything from this duo. For the viewer, it’s all about learning something while not detracting from the game.|
|Minnesota @ Maryland: Lisa Byington, Jeremy Leman||This broadcast made me cringe. I rooted hard for Lisa to do well. She played hoops at Northwestern and was so well prepared for the broadcast. She’s an excellent feature reporter and accordingly shared some nice anecdotes. But her play-by-play lacked firmness. I came away thinking she’s miscast in a play-by-play role. I was neutral on Leman. He was put in a tough spot, like on his own island, not really getting any help from his partner.|
|Buffalo @ Rutgers: Joe Beninati, James Laurinaitis||I felt for these guys, trying to keep this ugly game interesting. The stadium looked three quarters empty. Little Buffalo beats the Big Ten’s Rutgers 42-13. Found Beninati to be an acquired taste. He’s well liked in DC, calling Capitals hockey on television.|
|Clemson @ Georgia Tech: Mark Jones, Dusty Dvoracek||Always liked Mark Jones, a Canadian. His brother Paul calls Raptors games on radio. Mark is a wordsmith. On a pass caught by a streaking receiver who was immediately spotted on the screen to be wide open, Jones’ words were economical and apt, “Room service!” Dusty did something different. During a stoppage, the camera focused on the broadcasters in the booth where he demonstrated a stance using Jones as his foil.|
|Louisville @ Virginia: Wes Durham, James Bates||Always loved Durham and his late dad, the legendary North Carolina voice, Woody Durham. Wes might have an even stronger voice. It’s a sound that’s very inviting, ear-catching and luring. He engages his color commentator in a conversational format. Bates wasn’t afraid to make a strong comment late in the game as the Cardinals were blitzed. He said their defense did a “terrible job.”|
|Texas A&M @ Alabama: Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson||Nessler is always on it. He’s a dependable and reliable play-by-play broadcaster who’s earned one of the top two or three TV jobs in college football. Ness also gives his color man space. In this case, in Danielson, he has a partner who was interchangeable with longtime CBS/SEC voice Verne Lundquist. So far, so good. Danielson brims with infectious enthusiasm and Brad gives him a long leash.|
|Kansas State @ West Virginia: Clay Matvick, Dan Orlovsky||Like Nessler, Matvick is a Minnesotan. At first blush, listening to his speech cadence, Matvick reminded me of Joe Buck. Both broadcasters are somewhat matter of fact like in style|
|Connecticut @ Syracuse: Shawn Kenney, Dustin Fox||Kenney is an Iowa based radio man. He impressed. He didn’t scream and provided all pertinent information in measured intervals. Both guys called the school ‘Sericuse.’ instead of ‘Syracuse.’ Fox went off on the new kickoff rule. He likes it.|
|Northern Illinois @ Florida State: Mark Neely, John Congemi||Neely has bounced around. He also called Padres games for a while. Mark pointed out that in some poll, FSU fans were identified as the most stressed in America. Why not? It’s been a rocky start. Congemi sounded pretty natural with his analysis.|
|Florida @ Tennessee; Adam Amin, Rod Gilmore||Amin is real good. Exceptionally prepared. Generally underscores dramatic developments, modulating his voice perfectly. But occasionally he screams too and it becomes a bit tough on the ears. Early in the game when a helmet came off, Amin was right on it with the rule ramifications. Have always been a fan of Rod Gilmore, an alum of Stanford’s law school. He’s natural, smart and helps guide viewers through games. Isn’t that what an analyst is hired to do?|
|South Carolina @ Vanderbilt; Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb||Wanted to see this. I knew Zarzour as a radio talk guy who’s moved around through a few markets. But just as I turned on the game, it was stopped by lightning. That was that. Weather has really played havoc with football this season. More lightning stops that I can remember in years passed.|
|Tulane @ Ohio State; Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen||Kugler is bright. He’s essentially a radio guy who’s good at it, if, a big if, you can deal with the fact that he emerged from the school of strident screaming . Kevin does make a nice adjustment, rotating every weekend from radio to TV. Millen is in a difficult place with his health. He’s awaiting a heart transplant. As Millen says, somewhat sardonically, it’s tough waiting for someone to die. It’s hard not to root for Matt. Professionally, he was once the #2 man on the Fox NFL depth chart. He left for the Lions to be the team’s general manager. He failed and was fired. He returned to TV, worked for ESPN and was not renewed. Now he does some games for the Big Ten Network. Yesterday, an observation resonated, “The offensive line needs to communicate well. It needs good eyes and should show a mean streak.” Hope all works out for Matt.|
|Wisconsin @ Iowa; Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt||Oh, Gus! Blessed in so many ways, a turn off in so many others! No one can hype a game like Gus. He’ll turn a soporific into an epic. He brings a welcoming energy to the booth and a big-time tone. When he worked in New York, there were colleagues who said that he would sit down in front of the microphone not fully prepared. He also talks excessively, dwarfing what the commentator has to say. Johnson rarely engages his analyst and he breaks fundamental rules. When Joe Ferguson scored a Wisconsin touchdown, he should have deferred to the crowd’s vocal reaction. Give the listener a breather. Instead, he emoted without taking a deep breath about how Barry Alvarez, Ferguson’s grandpa, is the happiest man in the stadium. That comment could have waited a few precious seconds. Hey, Gus is liked by many. Announcers are like food. Tastes differ.|
|Louisiana Tech at LSU; Mike Couzens, Kirk Morrison||Going from Johnson to these guys was like taking a quaalude. I enjoyed them. They were both understated and underrated . They recognized that the viewer is there to watch the game, not to listen to them ramble.|
|Eastern Michigan @ San Diego State; Dave Ryan, Corey Chavous||Ryan, 51, once worked at ESPN. Another Syracuse man, he has gotten much better through the years. Now at CBS Sports Network (cable), he’s assigned hoops, football and more. Chevous, a former Vandy star who played in the NFL, sounded very intelligent but had the need to talk after every play, spewing anything that comes to mind, insightful or trite. Wish he would would be more selective. Someone once told me that silence is golden. It beats, “Eastern Michigan needs fire, needs a sting.” What does that add?|
|Stanford @ Oregon: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit||Fowler is good, even-tempered and not overbearing. He took over several years ago from the larger than life Brent Musburger. It’s like going from a coach who’s a disciplinarian to one with a soft touch. In some ways, the broadcasts have lost its entertaining edge. Brent wouldn’t let Herbstreit ramble freely. Mus challenged him. Brent would call him Herbie and the two would engage in polemics. Fowler is an excellent setup man. He defers to Kirk, unlike Brent. With more runway, Kirk spews more inanities. In a pulsating finish last night, Kirk said something to the effect that a coach not only has to coach, he has to exude confidence. Really, I never knew it. For all his insightful remarks, he’s guilty of also bellowing too many inanities.|
|East Carolina @ South Florida: Dave Lamont, Ray Bentley||Lamont’s voice fills the room. He gets emotionally engaged in the broadcast. It’s evident in the tenor of his voice. Dave also opines quite a bit and is not afraid to digress. Last night, he brought up the Boston Red Sox quest for a baseball championship. Bentley, the former linebacker, is spontaneous. When there was an unclear pass interference, he immediately said, “If it’s a question, the call will be against the defense.” He was right.|
|TCU @ Texas: Joe Davis, Brady Quinn||Davis is the man with the impossible challenge. Yes, he’s the one given the incomparable chair of Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium. Truth is, he’s survived a couple seasons and he’s still there. And truth is that his football isn’t bad. In fact, it’s quite good. He talks deliberately, fondles his words, punctuates big moments and is quick-witted. When the truck took a shot of the TCU band placed in the nosebleeds of the stadium’s upper reaches, Davis said something like, “I hope they can see the game.” Quinn, the Notre Damer, as expected provided analysis from a quarterback’s lens. I’ll say this for Davis. He has a better chance of being the next Jim Nantz than the next Scully. First, no one will ever be another Scully, not in this century. Yet, Davis is very good and very relaxed at any sport he’s assigned. What I don’t like is the fact that he’s developing bad habits; missing baseball games to advance his own personal career. Last time I looked, the Dodgers were in a pennant race and he was in Texas covering a football game. Not good.|
|Kent State @ Ole Miss: Dave Neal, DJ Shockley||Dave is the son of ex-longtime Turner announcer, Bob Neal. The offspring is solid. Just wish he brought more of his dad’s warmth to the telecast. Still, Dave’s work is sound and he has gotten much better through the years. All I can remember of this telecast is the number of empty seats. There were plenty. Weather was pretty nasty too. Shockley was okay.|
|FIU @ Miami: Kevin Brown, Andre Ware||Brown was the most refreshing new voice I heard. He was well prepared, upbeat, spot-on and engaging. He’s a Syracuse U alum. The stadium where the Dolphins and Canes play has been renamed half a dozen times or so through the years. Brown, who also calls Syracuse Chiefs baseball, used a stoppage to list all its past names and then cutely added, “Today it might as well be called N’Kosi Perry Stadium.” Perry is the Canes’ QB who had a dominant game yesterday. I liked Ware too. He was glib, lively and spontaneous.|
|Kansas @ Baylor: Eric Collins, Evan Moore||Eric has been around. He was first thought of as the eventual successor to Vin Scully before the Dodgers cut him loose. He had been backing up Vin in the icon’s final years. Collins is now the TV Voice of the Charlotte Hornets. He has a deep voice but shouts a bit. Eric uses some poignant language: “He was brought down rudely” or when a receiver was stopped cold, “He is stoned.” Moore, the former tight end, said something that was telling to me and others who might have just tuned in. With Baylor up big, he said that the key to the big lead was Baylor’s “unpredictable play calling.” It painted a quick summary. Good stuff. All these voices should recognize that with so many televised games, there’s lots of channel switching. Summaries become critical.|
|Virginia Tech @ Old Dominion: Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor||Wish I would have seen the end of this one. As Jim Nantz would have said, “It was one for the ages.” Little ODU knocked off perennial power Tech. Still, I saw enough to confirm that Blackburn is solid. He’s done bigger events for his network, CBS, including the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. He’s another talented play caller spawned by Syracuse. The sepulchral voiced Taylor spiced in some some instructional comments too. The two men made a good team. Yesterday, they covered some history, likely ODU’s biggest football win ever.|
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