Kirk Herbstreit’s analysis was so-so; ESPN’s mainstream broadcast of college football title game gets a B


ESPN’s#A team of Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler had the call of college football’s national championship between two undefeated teams, Alabama and Ohio State. The Crimson Tide blew out the Buckeyes 52-24 to win their 3rd CFP title.

  • Herbstreit underdelivered at times but was adequate. Bottom line, he didn’t perform at a level you’d expect of a top analyst. The former OSU QB often explained what happened on previous plays but not why and how.  The average viewer might have found his performance satisfactory but as an avid and curious fan, I found him lacking depth at times.
  • Kirk did make note of team characteristics very early in the game, those that were big factors throughout the night. The first was how the tackling of Ohio State’s corners will be a massive point of emphasis in this game because they played off and mostly zone coverage. Not only were the corners unable to make tackles but the entire defense struggled to bring down the Crimson Tide playmakers. The second point Herbstreit raised was a corollary of the first. The red-zone would be critical. Kirk projected Alabama getting all the yards it wants. Thus, he said, Ohio State needs to force field goals in the red-zone to stay competitive. They did not.
  • Herbstreit suggested another thing for viewers to watch, Ohio State’s offense would go no-huddle to confuse the Alabama defense and keep its players out of position. Ohio State did just that in the first half including on its first touchdown of the game. The Buckeyes snapped the ball so quickly that ‘Bama wasn’t set up correctly. There was no one on the outside and it allowed running back Master Teague to walk into the end-zone.
  • Herbstreit said that Ohio State lacked serious depth in its secondary, which would make matching up with ‘Bama’s receivers extremely tough. He told the audience that many teams play with four or five corners against Bama, but Ohio State will have to play with only two and use three linebackers throughout the game. The Buckeyes actually ended up using four linebackers most of the night. But the strategy did not help OSU stop QB Mac Jones and the Crimson’s passing game.
  • As great as Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith is, Ohio State did not come into the title game with a plan to slow him down. This was something I hoped to hear Herbstreit address, but he never did. The Buckeyes played zone and let Smith catch the ball short and turn up field for big yards. Herbstreit did express early in the game that Smith’s acceleration is what makes him so dangerous after the catch. But what was OSU’s strategy to stop him?
  • On Smith’s third touchdown of the first half, it was blatantly obvious that Ohio State did not focus on the Heisman winner. They ran zone and let a linebacker try to keep up with Smith over the middle of the field. As an avid fan I was expecting Herbstreit to suggest what Ohio State needs to do differently. He never did. Should Ohio State bracket Smith or play man and put a safety over the top? (Bracketing is a version of help defense.) What Ohio State was doing at the time clearly didn’t work. Herbstreit failed to spell out options that Ohio State could consider.
  • Fans want to hear from a former player like Herbstreit what he thinks of decisions on the field, whether right or wrong. Herbstreit did not deliver in that area. I hoped to hear Herbstreit’s thoughts on why Ohio State kicked a field goal when it was down by seven in the second quarter on fourth and goal at the five. He never addressed the decision. Kirk needs to take a stand!
  • Chris Fowler was functional. But he never set up Herbstreit for a response, certainly not the way his predecessor Brent Musburger did. Then again Herbstreit jumps right in at the end of a play, giving Fowler little room to set him up. Also, after Smith scored his first touchdown Fowler made a point of saying that it was Smith’s 44th TD which is 6th all-time. But he didn’t elaborate. All-time what? Be precise. Was it in Alabama history, SEC history, FBS, or NCAA? Fowler also failed to mention that Smith moved up to 5th all-time after his third touchdown of the game. When records are broken, particularly major ones, the play-by-play broadcaster should concisely tell the audience. Joe Buck is great at it.
  • Most of the meat and potatoes of this broadcast came in the first half. The best broadcasters show their wares in blowouts when they keep viewers engaged. Chris and Kirk had some good moments but weren’t blessed with a competitive game in the second half.

We’ll give Fowler and Herbie a B grade for their work on the title game.

Meanwhile those who wanted choices, ESPN’s Megacast had no shortage of them. From hometown radio broadcasts to coaches and refs chiming in, it was quite a smorgasbord!


Per Sports Media Watch, the rating was awful: “Monday’s Alabama-Ohio State College Football Playoff National Championship averaged a Nielsen-estimated a 10.3 rating and 18.65 million viewers across the ESPN family of networks, easily the lowest rated and least-watched national title game in the history of the CFP or its predecessor, the Bowl Championship Series.”



Brian Seitz

Brian Seitz is a student at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and hopes to pursue a career as a sportswriter.

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