Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ranking the College Football Announce & Studio Teams

(Note: We're not finished with the 50 Best Vol Games list, with six to go, it's just been a scattered week here and I don't want to try and speed through it before Saturday. As soon as more time frees up for me, we'll finish it off, no worries.)

As Keith Jackson leaves the announce booth (for real this time), the role of the marquee voice of college football is now up for grabs. Almost all of the announce teams that were in place two years ago have been reshuffled on both ABC/ESPN and CBS. And there are always some guys who bring out the essence of the moment during each game, and some guys that make you want to toss the remote.

As a point of emphasis, I did play-by-play broadcasting for Alcoa High School football in Tennessee for three years during college, which has helped shape my opinions about announce teams in general. And so as the season of my favorite sport is now underway (anybody catch that hit the BC defense put on the Central Michigan QB on the third play of the season? good grief, keep your head down!), here are my thoughts on the best and worst of college football announcing, plus some thoughts on the studio teams.

ANNOUNCE TEAMS
ESPN Thursday Night - Chris Fowler & Kirk Herbstreit
A new combination, and the first opportunity for Fowler as a play by play man. This is addition and subtraction from last year's crew: Mike Tirico is excellent at some events, especially golf, but I was always on the fence about him in college football. Fowler replaces him, but Lee Corso apparently won't be a part of the Thursday night broadcasts this year, and he had excellent chemistry with Herbstreit. If Fowler - who's one of the faces of the entire network and excellent on GameDay - can keep up with Kirk and the two of them have chemistry without Corso, this duo will work.
Grade: Incomplete (Fowler is brand new - Herbstreit gets an A- as an analyst)

ESPN2 Thursday Night - John Saunders, Craig James & Doug Flutie
Saunders is like Tirico, great at some things, but college football just isn't one of them. Lacks the excitement needed from the PBP man in college football. Craig James hasn't been the same since he left GameDay (and created Kirk Herbstreit). Listening to Flutie tonight, with some experience he can work and seems to enjoy calling the game, but this trio together may not work.
Grade: C-

ESPN 12:00 Telecast - Sean McDonough & Chris Spielman
Sean McDonough is my second favorite play by play man in football, college or pro, behind Ron Franklin. I'm not sure what happened to him - he went from being the main PBP man for CBS' SEC telecasts in the late 90s, to ESPN2's Saturday Night games, and now he's in the noon slot. If McDonough gets an A+, Spielman gets a D+. With lots of these crews, you find one really good announcer, and one guy who shouldn't be in the conversation.
Grade: C+

Lincoln Financial Sports - Dave Neal & Dave Rowe
These guys used to be the butt of lots of jokes, but they've grown on me over the years. I think Dave Neal has earned his keep as an announcer, plus the Dave, Dave & Dave combo when Dave Baker is on the sideline is always slightly humorous. Dave Neal earns points for being an all-around man, doing solid basketball work as well. The games they're calling are usually less important, but they still bring energy to the conversation. Maybe it's time to give the old JP its due...
Grade: B-

CBS SEC Game of the Week - Verne Lundquist & Gary Danielson
Big Verne is money, and is a great fit for SEC football. He trades Todd Blackledge to ABC/ESPN for Danielson, and that's even money. Danielson is above average, and will have a chance to shine getting some bigger games. We'll break these guys in on Saturday Night in two weeks with the Vols and the Gators. Great tandem.
Grade: A

ABC 3:30 Regional Telecast - Gary Thorne & Andre Ware
Gary Thorne made the most of the NHL Lockout, and became a solid announcer in more than one sport. He did a great job during the World Cup, makes baseball more exciting than most, and can do the same in college football. And yet again, you have a solid PBP man with a terrible ex-athlete. Andre Ware? Really?
Grade: C

ABC 3:30 Regional Telecast - Mark Jones & David Norrie
I think Mark Jones is one of the most underrated PBP men in any sport, though he doesn't quite capture the enthusiasm of a game the way that the very best tend to do. David Norrie is adequate, thus this is an adequate team.
Grade: B-

ABC 3:30 Regional Telecast - Dan Fouts & Tim Brant
Dan Fouts has been around the block a time or two, in college and the NFL. He's not good unless he's got somebody great with him, and while Tim Brant isn't terrible, he's not good enough to help Fouts carry this tandem.
Grade: C-

ESPN Midday Telecast - Dave Barnett & Bill Curry
You can catch these guys on Sunday this week, during Ole Miss & Memphis. Dave Barnett is underrated, and Bill Curry is knowledgeable, but his drawl and lack of speed and emotion takes away from the broadcast. Average, with room for improvement.
Grade: C+

ESPN2 Midday Telecast - Pam Ward & Mike Gottfried
Alright, now I like Mike Gottfried. And I think Pam Ward did a great job with the ESPN 12:00 games the last couple of years. But the two of them together? Not sure how that's going to work...we'll reserve judgement...
Grade: Incomplete

ESPN PrimeTime Saturday Night - Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire
(This is the team that will call the Tennessee-Cal game) Mr. EA NCAA, Brad Nessler, is just one of those guys who's good at most everything he does. Bob Griese was good with Ketih Jackson. Paul Maguire - though most people disagree with this opinion - I thought had good chemistry on ESPN's old NFL Sunday Night games, and if he can get in with these two, this will be an experienced, solid team. Are they better than Ron Franklin and Mike Gottfried? Absolutely not, but if anyone has to replace that tandem, these guys can.
Grade: B+

ESPN2 Saturday Night - Ron Franklin & Ed Cunningham
Ron Franklin is THE man. Ed Cunningham is good enough. The only problem here? That it's the ESPN2 Saturday Night contest, which will give you such contests as Washington State at Auburn, and Arizona at LSU. Unless it's an absolutely loaded week of football, these guys won't get near the quality of game that they deserve, especially Franklin. I know that most people, nationally, know Nessler better than Franklin...but there's still no one better.
Grade: A-

ABC Saturday Night PrimeTime - Brent Musberger, Bob Davie & Kirk Herbstreit
Musberger, love him or hate him, is probably the most famous voice on this list. And though he can seem to favor one side over another ("The BUCKEYES!"), he gets it done. Herbstreit, as stated above, is great. Bob Davie is an idiot. He's bringing the ballclub down.
Grade: B

ESPN/2 Late Night - Mike Patrick & Todd Blackledge
Blackledge - who will also serve as an analyst for ESPN in studio - leaves CBS and comes over to join Patrick in a decent crew. These guys will serve double duty on opening weekend, doing Southern Cal-Arkansas on Saturday, and FSU-Miami on Monday Night. Capable tandem that may see some good games throughout the year.
Grade: B

STUDIO TEAMS
ESPN GameDay - Chris Fowler, Lee Corso & Kirk Herbstreit
Simply. The. Best. Ever. Nobody gets you ready on Saturday like these guys, live from wherever. They are college football.
Grade: A+

CBS - Tim Brando and a player(s) to be named later
Might be Spencer Tillman, I'm not sure and couldn't find it. These guys are good and do a nice job emphasizing the SEC and the nation, they're just not GameDay. Tim Brando is great.
Grade: B+

STUDIO ANALYSTS
ESPN - Lou Holtz & Mark May
Wait, where's Trev Alberts? Exactly. You can never, ever get enough Lou Holtz - who'll be picking South Carolina tonight but is very worried about Mississippi State - and Mark May has grown on me, though he'll have to work harder now that people aren't glad to hear him talk over Alberts anymore. These guys are good at what they do.
Grade: A-

As a bonus...here are some of the ex-players and interesting faces you can find in smaller market games...
- Charles Davis (former Tennessee DB) is back as an analyst for the TBS games, and has been picked up by FOX - the new official home of the BCS - to join baseball's Thom Brennaman to call the National Championship Game.
- On weeks where TBS has a late telecast, the one and only Chip Carey will call the game. Hopefully he'll be delayed by a Braves playoff run.
- The announce team for the CSS Replays of Tennessee games will include Pat Ryan - hands down the most entertaining color man in the history of radio when he was with Mike Keith
- The Alabama announce team for CSS Replays will inclue Tyler Watts (ree-ree!)
- John Ward is still one of the most awesome human beings to ever walk the earth. Actually, I'm not even sure if he's human. He might be something higher, up there with Tom Cruise or something. Except without the jumping on couches and general insanity, plus I'm pretty sure he could take him in a fight. If they ever released "John Ward Reads the Bible", there would no longer be any need for evangelism. I'm pretty sure Jesus would just go ahead and come back.

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