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Monday, August 29, 2011

College Football TV Roundtable - NFL Top 10 Players

College Football TV Roundtable
Richard Deitsch
With Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples and George Schroeder

Good article from si.com on all of the college football tv announcers. I have to go with Herby as the best. Craig James is a negative piece of garbage and of course Erin Andrews would brighten any sidelines!

Few televised sports inspire more passion than college football, especially when it comes to opinions on announcers and the networks that employ them. With kickoff less than a week away, I asked college football writers Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples and George Schroeder to join me for a roundtable on a number of television-related topics:

1. Which college football announcers and announcing teams are must-watches for you and why?

Stewart Mandel: Now that Gus Johnson is joining the college football realm (for Fox), he will be my first real "must tune in." (i.e.: I might turn on a game I otherwise wouldn't.) Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit have earned their role as the Saturday primetime crew. You know it's a big game when you hear Brent's voice, and Herbstreit has consistently gotten better as an analyst. Gary Danielson (when he's not relentlessly shilling for the SEC) is hands-down the best game analyst in terms of breaking down action in real time. Todd Blackledge is not far behind. And Mike Mayock really emerged as a star on Notre Dame games last year. Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore may be the best pairing on television; it's a shame they're buried doing the Friday night late game. Sean McDonough also does a great job with play-by-play.

Andy Staples: I'm thrilled that Gus Johnson is going to be calling college football. When he calls an Oregon game and tracks that offense ripping up and down the field, his head might actually explode. I think Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit provide the right gravitas for what is often the most hyped game of each week. I also love the Musburger drinking game, which I unfortunately can never partake in because I work Saturdays. I like Rece Davis as the play-by-play guy on Thursday nights. He's also great in the studio on Saturdays. Davis is the best college football ringmaster working, because it's clear he knows the sport and loves the sport. As for analysts, I'm a big fan of Ed Cunningham -- and not only because of The King of Kong. Cunningham consistently offers the most intelligent analysis in a language viewers can understand.

George Schroeder: It's probably in large part because of the matchups -- one of the biggest games of the week, and in primetime -- but Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit have become a fun pairing for me. Musburger can overdo it, but how can you not get excited when he does? Herbstreit has become really good, too, in expanding far beyond his College GameDay role. I'm really looking forward to Gus Johnson on Fox. Not for technical expertise. For insane fun. At the Pac-12's media day in L.A. last month, you knew he was there before you saw him. ("We're at FOX! STUDIOS!" -- or something like that.) Anticipating when Gus happens is half the fun, the potential energy. When it goes kinetic: MADNESS!

Richard Deitsch: Agree with much of what's been said above. Herbstreit is simply terrific as an analyst, and his chemistry with Musburger (even with Brent's tendency to overhype an event) is really enjoyable. College GameDay ranks with TNT's Inside The NBA as the best in class for a studio show and that's in large part because of Chris Fowler, who treats his role like a professional. Staples is right. Ed Cunningham is underexposed. I still like Verne Lundquist on college football and he and Danielson are an enjoyable pair, even with Danielson's sis-boom-bah-ness for all things SEC. What else? Sean McDonough is a terrific game caller and I'd like to see more Tessitore and Gillmore, too. If you read me, you already know what I think about Mayock: He's the best football analyst working today. I'm not part of the cult of Gus when it comes to football. He'll be fine, but the sport doesn't lend itself to frenzy outside of end-of-game situations.

2. Which college football announcer/s are the least appealing for you and why?

Mandel: Craig James and Jesse Palmer. James' glaring conflict of interest (more on that later) aside, it's still two ex-jocks glad-handing each other and spewing clich├ęs for three-and-a-half hours. I feel bad for Rece Davis, a true pro, who spends Thursday nights wedged between those two and Saturdays moderating the Mark May-Lou Holtz circus act.

Staples: Craig James, because he adds very little to the broadcast, and ESPN has sacrificed much of its journalistic integrity to protect him in the wake of his campaign to get Mike Leach fired at Texas Tech. If ESPN replaced James with any random ex-jock, viewers wouldn't complain a bit. Yet for some reason the network has bent over backward to protect James. It makes no sense.

Schroeder: Other than Craig James? Even aside from the helicopter-dad/Mike Leach/Texas Tech stuff, I'm not a big fan. And how can we leave aside that stuff? Since he is still employed, can we at least eliminate the weekly weird-workout feature with James (and Jesse Palmer) and the home team's strength coach on those Thursday night games? We get it, James was a big-time athlete and he's still able to toss around big tires.There are a lot of forgettable announcers out there. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. As much as I enjoy listening to him, Musburger walks a fine line. When he crosses it, he can override the game. I'll take a dialed-back, who-was-that-announcer broadcast and be more than satisfied.

Deitsch: That Craig James gets such prominent assignments remains a mystery on the D.B. Cooper scale. He is unpopular by any fan metric you choose, including performance and likeability. The fact that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is suing James merely adds noise here. ESPN management says it values James for his relationships with coaches but what that ultimately leads to for viewers is little more than backslapping commentary. The network deserves to get crushed for keeping him on the air. I'm not as bothered by Palmer as some of the other guys but I agree with everyone on Holtz, whose act wore thin around the time Ron Powlus graduated from Notre Dame. Again, Holtz is an example of Bristol management having a tin ear with a broadcaster whose name far exceeds his value. Same with James.

3. If you could change anything about ESPN's college football coverage, what would you change and why?

Mandel: It's far too late to stop, but ideally there'd be more separation of church and state between the programming and journalism sides. The Bruce Feldman incident and the Longhorn Network have shown that horse has left the stable for good.

Staples: Lately, it seems as if ESPN has tried to set the agenda for college coverage. This is a bad idea. The big story is what it is, and people will seek coverage of it even if it happens to be SEC coaches "Car Wash" day. There will be days when I turn on College Football Live and I wonder if I even cover the same sport. The fact that ESPN is in bed financially with all the conferences shouldn't affect its journalism choices. Really, ESPN is so massive that the business relationships don't have to affect journalism choices. At this point, the conferences need ESPN more than it needs the conferences. So it shouldn't kowtow.

Schroeder: See my answer to No. 2, and the weekly workout feature. But I'd also like to see more Rece Davis and less Dr. Lou. Rece Davis is really good. He's a big reason why, aside from the actual games, College Football Final is my favorite TV on fall Saturdays (although to be fair, I don't see as much of College GameDay as I'd like; out here in the Pacific time zone, the pre-dawn start interferes with my sleeping habits). With Holtz, it's not so much that I want less of the former coach, but less of the caricature he plays. Or maybe it's not a caricature? His interplay with Mark May often feels really forced.

On the subject of GameDay, I wish we could rewind a few years. I'm really glad Lee Corso has recovered so well from the stroke. The GameDay guys -- talent, producers, everyone -- have done a great job helping him. Against the odds, his weekly headgear choice turned into and remains must-see TV -- it's cheesy silliness, but it's somehow so right. If this is possible for a segment on a preview show, it has become iconic. I just wish we could have the old Lee back (wait, I guess I mean the younger Lee; ah, you know what I mean). When Corso finally retires, the show is going to take a huge hit.

Deitsch: This won't happen but I'd like to see the hiring ethos change from former college coaches to information gathers. There's value in hiring ex-coaches but not if they provide vanilla commentary as they bide time for their next job. The Holtz-May shtick is bad television and the truth is the segments make May, who is a bright guy, look silly and less credible. If you want me to believe that Jenn Brown was the best candidate in America for such a high-profile gig, I'm going to have to see something resembling journalistic instincts soon.

Are regional networks (Big Ten Network, Pac-12 Network) good for the sport?
Mandel: Absolutely. I don't know why it's taken so long, but major media companies are finally realizing that A) college football is huge and B) fans can't get enough coverage of it. The major networks can only show so many games, talk about so many teams. If you're a Purdue fan and you can watch a network that shows all your games and talks about your team every night of the week, that's a dream come true.

Staples: Of course. Variety for the consumer is always a great thing. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott points out frequently that college football has been undervalued and underleveraged for years. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany probably figured that out before anyone. That's why the creation of the Big Ten Network might be one of the most important things to happen in college sports in decades. The appetite for college football is huge. The conference networks give viewers more of what they obviously want.

Schroeder: To paraphrase a lot of coaches, no question! Let's see what the Pac-12 Network actually becomes, especially with the regional network components, but in terms of showing games -- what's not to like about every football and men's basketball game for a league being televised? It's good for the fans, and good for the sport. All of this assumes widespread distribution. The Big Ten had issues but has them mostly resolved. What's the Pac-12 Network going to do with satellite providers and cable systems that aren't Comcast, Cox, Time Warner or Brighthouse? Also, what pricing tier will the network be on? But in general, I think the conference networks are a big positive for college football (and hoops, too).

Deitsch: It's fantastic programming for the diehard conference fan, and I love the auxiliary benefit of non-revenue sports such as women's basketball and track and field getting added exposure on football's back. Here's the big downside: Regional networks, in general, are not a great place to find journalism. No matter how ESPN spins it, The Longhorn Network is a PR arm of Texas. The network's existence also creates an impossible situation for ESPN's college football producers and reporters (plenty of whom care about reporting). For every story ESPN does on Texas and its opponents, they'll be skeptics wondering what the motivation was for the story. As one longtime ESPNer told me, the LHN will be the worst decision in the company's history regarding its newsgathering arm.

5. ESPN's Beth Mowins was given a fulltime slate of games this season, joining Pam Ward as a fulltime play-by-play announcer on college football. Does gender matter to you when it comes to a college football game-caller?

Mandel: Not if the person is good. Pam Ward has taken a lot of criticism -- probably too much so -- and I'm sure much of it was gender-based. But for me it was more that she just wasn't very good. Beth Mowins has been exceptional in everything she's done and I look forward to hearing her call football.

Staples: No. Ability matters.

Schroeder: No. I'll admit it used to be a bit jarring, as though something was out of place, because it was so unusual. Not anymore. Either way, I just want competence. But I don't think we're going to see too much deviation from the standard formula -- all-male booths -- in the near future.

Deitsch: Not for me. I've been touting Mowins for a long time, and I appreciate ESPN management finally catching up with me. She'll be great. I think gender still matters for some viewers when it comes to announcing football, but the more women get an opportunity as game-callers, the less that will be an issue.

6. How big of an advantage is the Longhorn Network for Texas?

Mandel: It depends on what's ultimately allowed. Showing high-school games would be a game-changer, but I think there's so much pressure on Texas and the NCAA right now to block it. Otherwise, it's a slight advantage financially but not that much exposure-wise, because no one that's not a Texas fan is going to watch it.

Staples: It's huge. Besides Notre Dame, no other school has the combination of marketing muscle and huge fan base to make this work. Texas is the dominant school in a state of 25 million people. That fact alone guarantees wide distribution. If they ever are allowed to broadcast high school games on The Longhorn Network, it will give Texas an almost prohibitive recruiting advantage.

Schroeder: Will they be showing Dillon High's games? Even without high school games, it's a giant advantage in a lot of ways. Think of the potential just considering the 'Inside Texas football' type of programming -- carefully sanitized Hard Knocks meant to present the football program, in this case, in nothing but the most positive light. Never mind the high school games, recruits will be promised serious exposure -- and then they'll get it. Fans will lap it up. The kids will love it. How could it not help? That said, Texas already gets almost every player it wants from in-state, and rarely even ventures beyond the borders (you might have heard, but it's a whole other country). It's not like there are a bunch of kids who've been getting away from the 'Horns -- but figure fewer get away now.

Deitsch: Huge advantage. For starters, it's a direct message that Texas is linked to the biggest television brand in sports. Obviously, as the guys mentioned above, showing high school games in the future would be a killer ap for recruiting.

How valuable are sideline reporters on a college football broadcast?
Mandel: I respect many of them (Erin Andrews, Tracy Wolfson, Holly Rowe) and the hard work they do, but it's hard to argue game coverage would be worse off without the 30-second coach interview on the way into the locker room. They do prove valuable on occasion when major injuries arise, or other unexpected behind-the-scenes developments come up. Case in point: When Erin Andrews described the "mass confusion" on the West Virginia sideline when the coaches botched a late-game situation during one of Bill Stewart's first games as head coach.

Staples: Very valuable. Go back to the West Virginia-Colorado game a few years ago. In 30 seconds, Erin Andrews encapsulated what would be the entire Bill Stewart era at West Virginia.

Schroeder: It depends. The best reporters give us a sense for the mood on the sidelines, and provide really useful nuggets. But that's the best of them. I see most sideline reporting largely these days as a series of pre-packaged sidebars, and the quality of that coverage varies with the reporter.

Deitsch: The value for me comes in reporting things the viewer can't see (injuries, the emotion of the crowd). The best of the lot ask pointed questions of coaches, especially at end of a game when emotions run raw and high. There's tons of value there. The worst are merely part of the school's PR apparatus and value relationships with the coaches and players more than informing the viewers

The Scouts Inc. NFL Top 10 Players

1Tom Brady95AGE: 34DOB: 8/3/77HT: 6-4WT: 225POS: QBAtt 492Comp 324Yds 3,900TD 36Int 4QBR 76.0Player AnalysisBrady has an excellent combination of size, intelligence, instincts and arm strength. He is just an above-average athlete but shows enough foot quickness and agility to slide in the pocket and deliver the ball effectively downfield. His poise enables him to find his second and third options.
Brady has excellent vision and reads coverages and pressure packages as well as anyone. He can power the ball into tight spots or use touch on delicate throws. Brady can improvise and deliver the ball from different angles, but isn't an outstanding creator when plays break down. He is excellent at getting rid of the ball to avoid the sack.

2Peyton Manning95AGE: 35DOB: 3/24/76HT: 6-5WT: 230POS: QBAtt 679Comp 450Yds 4,700TD 33Int 17QBR 69.5Player Analysis
Manning is primarily a pocket passer and has just enough agility and quickness to step up or to side-step the pass rush. He is not going to extend the pocket with speed or agility very often.
He has a very strong arm and has shown the ability to throw from various angles and launch points while still maintaining his accuracy. Manning understands the offensive scheme and is given a lot of freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage. He is an elite quarterback and still playing at a very high level.

3Darrelle Revis95AGE: 26DOB: 7/14/85HT: 5-11WT: 198POS: CB
Tkl 32 Solo 42Sack 0Int 3FF 0TD 2
Player Analysis
Revis has outstanding quickness, agility and speed to challenge the top receivers in the league. He is at his best in press man coverage, in which he can use his long arms to get an effective jam on his opponent off the line of scrimmage.
He has good vision and instincts. Revis is a solid run-support player who shows decent pop as a tackler. He doesn't have outstanding pure speed on the perimeter but understands angles and leverage. He can be dangerous with the ball in his hands after a turnover.

4Adrian Peterson95AGE: 26DOB: 3/21/85HT: 6-1WT: 217POS: RBAtt 283Yds 1,298Avg 4.6Long 80TD 12Fum 1Player AnalysisAdrian Peterson continued to be one of the most productive ball carriers in the league in 2010. He was banged up and missed some time for the first time in his short four-year career but has been extremely durable since he entered the league.
Peterson is an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism. He has impressive power on contact but tends to carry his pads too high at times. He can break tackles or move the pile. Peterson is an instinctive inline runner with excellent lateral agility to find creases between the tackles. He has deceptive burst and speed to pick up chunks of yards and rip off long touchdown runs. He is a reliable receiver out of the backfield but isn't outstanding in this phase of the game. Look for Peterson to be even a larger part of the Vikings' offense with a new quarterback at the helm in 2011.

5Aaron Rodgers94AGE: 27DOB: 12/2/83HT: 6-2WT: 225POS: QBAtt 475Comp 312Yds 3,922TD 28Int 11QBR 67.9Player AnalysisRodgers has size, strength and athleticism. He makes good decisions and puts the Packers in position to win almost every game. He shows good vision and the ability to read defenses.
Rodgers can power the ball into tight windows with his arm, and he can improvise when plays break down. He is effective in the pocket or off play-action, and while he doesn't have great speed he can pull the ball down and move the chains with his legs.

6Drew Brees94AGE: 32DOB: 1/15/79HT: 6-0WT: 209POS: QBAtt 658Comp 448Yds 4,620TD 33Int 22QBR 65.9Player AnalysisBrees has missed just one game in the past five seasons and is consistently one of the leading passers when it comes to completions, completion percentage and quarterback rating. He can make plays from the pocket and has the foot quickness and speed to extend the pocket and make plays from the perimeter.
Brees has a great working knowledge of the passing game and excels when it comes to reading coverages and adjusting on the move. He knows how to game plan and sees possibilities as they develop. Brees brings a great combination of a physical skill set as well as the mental skills to attack a defense.

7Andre Johnson93AGE: 30DOB: 7/11/81HT: 6-3WT: 225POS: WRRec 86Yds 1,216Avg 14.1Long 60TD 8Player Analysis
Johnson brings a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism. He is a good route runner who has the speed to challenge the secondary down the seam yet can run combination routes with excellent foot quickness, agility and acceleration.
Johnson can get in and out of his breaks with foot quickness and a burst to separate from defenders and has a wide receiving radius that allows him to extend to make difficult catches. He can go up and high point the ball in a crowd and has the strength to overpower most cornerbacks when challenged.

8Ben Roethlisberger93AGE: 29DOB: 3/2/82HT: 6-5WT: 241POS: QBAtt 389Comp 240Yds 3,200TD 17Int 5QBR 59.8Player Analysis
Roethlisberger is a big, strong-armed quarterback with above average athleticism. He has quick feet for his size and can slide and improvise to make effective throws downfield.
Roethlisberger is the toughest quarterback in the league to get on the ground, with great instincts to avoid pressure and natural body strength to break tackles. He has great vision and patience to find his second and third options but can be a bit of a gambler.

9Joe Thomas93AGE: 26DOB: 12/4/84HT: 6-6WT: 312POS: TGP 16GS 16Player AnalysisThomas is an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism. He has great instincts and reactions. His technique is strong for such a young player, and he obviously takes his craft seriously.
Thomas can get to the second level as a run blocker and is adept at hitting a moving target downfield. Thomas could stand to add more strength. He is a physical lineman that can set the tone in the running game.

10Larry Fitzgerald92AGE: 27DOB: 8/31/83HT: 6-3WT: 218POS: WRRec 90Yds 1,137Avg 12.6Long 41TD 6Player Analysis
Fitzgerald has quickly risen to arguably the most electric receiver in the NFL. He brings a rare combination of size, speed, athleticism and receiving skills. He is a good route runner who can sink his hips to get in and out of his breaks with good foot quickness and a burst to separate from defenders and has a gear coming out to maintain the separation.

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