If you're as big of a college football fan as I am, congratulations on surviving the offseason. This weekend provided a lot of great entertainment as well as a bevy of changes on the media front. Below are some notes from around the first week in college football...
- Thursday's opening slate of games was a bit of a step back compared to years past. Below are a list of games on the opening Thursday the last couple of years.
2008- NC State vs. South Carolina, Oregon State vs. Stanford, Wake Forrest vs. Baylor
2009- NC State vs. South Carolina, Oregon vs. Boise State
2010- Ohio State vs. Marshall, Utah vs. Pitt, USC vs. Hawaii
This year's slate featured Wisconsin vs. UNLV, Miss State vs. Memphis, and a mostly web only Syracuse vs. Wake Forest.
For most of the past decade there seemed to be a push to get quality games on the opening Thursday of the season. This year seemed like a pretty significant step back. Here's hoping we get some better action in 2012 to kickoff the season....
- Urban Meyer made his booth debut joining Chris Speilman and Dave Pasch in calling the Ohio State vs. Akron game. The general consensus was overall very positive for the former Florida coach. Meyer was quick on the draw noticing a lot of various schemes, formations, personnel, and play-calling caveats that often go unnoticed. He was very concise, to the point, and stayed focused through out, not allowing for tangents to go too far from the game itself.
Meyer seems like he could be a high quality, long-term color guy for ESPN if he chooses to stay out of coaching. That said, I found myself wondering if he had the personality and enthusiasm to be a quality color commentator in a two man booth. Along side Pasch and Spielman, Meyer was able to float in and out of conversations with quick jabs of information. He tended not to dive into longer talking points or commentary, leaving that to Pasch and Spielman. While Meyer was impressive in his debut, keep a watchful eye to see if he's able to become more active and personable as ESPN contemplates Meyer's future trajectory with the network.
- NBC and Versus (soon to be NBC Sports Network) made a run to acquire Pac 12 programming but ultimately fell short to a joint effort by ESPN and Fox/FX. While the network is eager to increase their college programming, it's going to be awhile before anything substantive goes to market.
Meanwhile, NBC's airing of the Notre Dame vs. USF game was the ultimate nightmare scenario. The Irish's preseason ranking served as a nice starting point for NBC and Versus, but Saturday's action was a reminder of why putting all your eggs in one basket isn't a good idea. The Irish lost, at home, to a slightly above average USF team. The game dragged on for 6-7 hours as two weather delays wreaked havoc on the network's planning. A replay of last year's Utah vs. ND game was played for hours while other networks carried live games. College Football Central, the network's new college highlight program, inexplicably got bumped from the lineup with no explanation as the game then moved over to Versus. It was messy, it was boring, and it was a nightmare for NBC. The worst part is that there doesn't seem to be an easy fix anytime soon.
- While NBC had a rough day, there was a lot of praise for FX's inaugural effort with Gus Johnson and Charles Davis calling Oklahoma vs. Tulsa. We asked Sooners fan and college football writer Allen Kenney from Crystal Ball Run about the FX broadcast:
"I think I'm in love.
Not with the ultra-smooth play-by-play from Gus Johnson. Not with the well-versed analysis of Charles Davis. Not with the crisp HD picture being piped into my home Saturday.
No, I've fallen head over heels for the complete package that is college football on FX.
As a longtime Big 12 fan, I've grown to accept piss poor production, grainy picture quality and inane commentary after years of suffering through regional broadcasts on Fox Sports. So to say FX's telecast of the Oklahoma-Tulsa game Saturday night blew away my expectations would be an understatement.
If FX can keep up what I saw this weekend, I think we will be looking at the new gold standard for college football broadcasts."
I tuned in for a handful of plays and was impressed, as well. Something to keep an eye on as FX begins to air more marquis games.
- Finally the controversial Longhorn Network made its debut... kind of. While Verizon Fios added the network, reportedly less than 300,000 households in Texas had the game. Per USA Today, the game "was not available in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin."
The word from the few folks who did watch the game was that LHN only had commercials promoting shows on the network and hadn't sold any advertising to external partners. The slow start is a bit unexpected but par for the course for any upstart channel.
The real test of viability will come in late October as LHN has added a conference game versus Kansas. Adding a high or higher profile game to a new sports channel often can compel distributors to add the channel to avoid the fury of their customers. UNC vs Duke was pushed to ESPN2 in the early 90's, which was instrumental to the channel getting mainstream traction early on. So far nobody is budging and while Texas fans seem confident things will resolve before then, the lack of real programming continues to loom over negotiations.