Tessitore, Blackledge Talk 2016 College Football Season In Media Conference Call

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN Sunday College Football Broadcast Team: L – R: Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe, Joe Tessitore. Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN’s Joe Tessitore and analyst Todd Blackledge sat down with members of the media this week to talk about the 2016 college football season and all things college football.  The pair talked with the media about their thoughts on the season’s major Heisman candidates, coaches’ QB choices, and what they think are some of the season’s most anticipated matchups.  The in-depth conversation is noted in full below.  Tessitore and Blackledge will join fellow reporter Holly Rowe this  Sunday, September 4th as Texas and Notre Dame face off live on ABC.  Coverage of the game is expected to begin at 7:30pm ET.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining today’s call, and welcome to the start of the college football season. As mentioned, today we have Joe Tessitore and Todd Blackledge and John Moline, who will be working together this season. Holly Rowe will join them throughout the season as their reporter. Joe and Todd will be in Austin on Sunday night for Notre Dame and Texas on ABC. As a heads up, we will have a transcript of today’s call so we will be sending that out this afternoon. We’ll get things started by tossing it over to Todd who will give some opening thoughts on the season. Joe will do the same and then we’ll get right into questions. Todd, why don’t you take it away.

TODD BLACKLEDGE: All right, well, it’s good to be with everybody here this morning, and obviously looking forward to the start of another great college football season. I think the thing that I’m most excited about, and I think everybody at ESPN is, just the magnitude of the opening weekend, the games that are making up the opening weekend spanning over a couple days is it pretty impressive and worth getting excited about, and I just can’t think of any better way to kick off college football than to have this type of a presentation right out of the gate.

I think the College Football Playoffs and the excitement around that and the importance of strength of schedule has had an impact, and certainly this first weekend of games, we’re going to find out a lot about teams.

I think it’s great as a team to play a high-caliber opponent early. I think it motivates you and it adds energy and juice to your preseason practice and your training camp, and a loss in a game this early against a high-quality opponent does not remove you from the championship picture. So I think it’s a win-win for everybody, particularly the fans, and for Joe and Holly and I, we’re thrilled to be in Austin on Sunday to call the Notre Dame-Texas game. A lot of intrigue around that game and probably as much as any one particular spot at the quarterback position on both sides of the field.

You know, we’re probably going to see four guys in the game. I don’t know how much we’ll see of each guy or what the rotations are going to be, but I think both head coaches have talked about playing two guys, and in the case of Texas, I wouldn’t be shocked if we don’t see a third guy in there in a wildcat type situation in special situations.

First games there’s a lot of intrigue, a lot of mystery, a lot of wondering how guys are going to respond on a big stage, and we’re excited and thrilled to be there to cover it.

THE MODERATOR: Joe, why don’t you give your thoughts on the opening of the season.

JOE TESSITORE: Good morning, everybody. This is Joe Tessitore. Thanks for your time. I think Todd brings up a great point in talking about the opening weekend and the influence of the College Football Playoff now that we’re a couple years in and realizing what it’s done scheduling-wise. I think everybody realizes it’s the best opening weekend the sport’s ever had. But when I look through, and Derek, you asked for season overall thoughts here, I look at the schedule even beyond opening weekend, and I feel like everywhere you turn, you see these potential College Football Playoff eliminators or games that will help us decide some things. I think the season is filled with them, it’s just that we have this overflow in week one that makes it so exciting, but whether it’s Bama-LSU, Clemson-Florida State, Michigan-Ohio State, I feel like we have that everywhere you turn.

I also think the sport is really blessed and it continues to be this way, and we know some of the ways college basketball is panned, but the returning established stars, when you have Fournette, McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield and Dalvin Cook, I was just doing a Heisman special the other day, and I started putting this list together and everywhere you look, you have these established stars and these known qualities, and I think that’s good for the sport and really good for the fans.

I can’t get away from what Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh have been up to this off-season, and the fact that we have these two huge names in coaching with all the other big names, but with Saban, does the legacy and the dynasty grow even bigger would be one of the big headlines I’m looking forward to this season, does Harbaugh deliver on the hype.

As for the hype for our game, on a personal note, I’m absolutely honored and thrilled to work with Todd and Holly, and I think I speak for Todd in saying that with what Holly has been through this year and this off-season and the fight and the courage and what she’s shown, and I know her battle has been a little public, to see Holly on Sunday night in primetime on ABC, a game like this, Todd, I know we’re all going to be just so thrilled to have that group together, and she’s the absolute best in the business, as is Todd, at what he does. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team now.

I think the Notre Dame-Texas game personally, more could be revealed in this game than perhaps any other opening weekend game out there because I think Notre Dame, of course, top-10 team but very much perceived as a team with enough new talent to reload in spots where they need it and a team capable of putting it all together for a run to the playoff, but yet there’s still a lot that has to be decided.

Todd talked about the quarterback battle. I want to see who emerges at wide receiver and fills some of that void at tight end, who steps up on the defensive line where they do have some players that are back again and others need to step up.

And for Texas, you feel this buzz this off-season as this is the point of the breakthrough and the true freshman quarterback, but yet Swoopes is still there and the big dominating tandem in the backfield. But there are still the issues from last year that you want to see resolved, the run defense. Yeah, they’re a year older. Yeah, there’s a new offense, an exciting young new offensive coordinator, but is it too big of a leap to go from where they were to now what’s expected, and I think very early on on Sunday, we may start to get some of those answers, and if we do in a positive direction, this is going to be a thriller on Sunday night.

I’m very excited, and with that, Derek, I guess we can open it up for some questions.

Q. Question for Todd: Coach Strong is still not really releasing who he’s going to start as a quarterback in the game on Sunday, and Coach Kelly said he’s going to play both guys. What’s kind of the strategy behind do you think coaches trying to keep some of that stuff mum until the last possible second?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, you know, I mean, I guess if you can do that, what you can do in college football a little differently than you can in the NFL, (inaudible) preparation. Now, the positives of Notre Dame is they’ve had all off-season. It’s not like it’s (inaudible) week where they’ve only had four or five days to do preparation work for two quarterbacks or two different styles of quarterbacks. So they’ve had extra time. I think just as (inaudible) quarterback is going to be is I would imagine Notre Dame’s defensive staff led by Brian VanGorder has probably spend as much time studying and dissecting film from a year ago to get familiar with the offensive plan and system that they might see from Sterlin Gilbert’s offense in the ballgame. More so than which guy is taking the snaps, I think they’ll spend more time being concerned about the style of offense and maybe the tempo of the offense that they’re going to face.

Q. Todd or Joe, when is the last time that you actually saw a two-quarterback system be effective and actually work, keeping both guys happy?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I mean, I think you have to look at what Ohio State was able to do. I mean, last year was not great (inaudible).

THE MODERATOR: Todd, your phone is breaking up a little bit here. Why don’t we go to Joe.

JOE TESSITORE: It’s funny, Todd and I got on a conference call last week, and one of the things we started discussing was Brian Kelly’s success at Cincinnati, and we really started focusing in on that, where Coach was very comfortable in having two talented guys and guys that in the circumstances created that, but still, they did have success at times when they were using a two-quarterback system. It can be done. The reason why it’s being done may not be the same, but obviously they’re blessed with the talent that’s there.

But I don’t know, I think one of the great curiosities of this game and opening weekend is to see how this will play out. But there have been spots of success, and Brian is a coach who has been one of those guys in recent years of college football who’s actually done it.

THE MODERATOR: Todd, let’s try to go back to you and see if we can hear you a little bit better.

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, I mean, I’m not — as a former quarterback, obviously I’m not a huge fan of playing two quarterbacks. But by the same token, I’m not necessarily all in with the idea that if you — the adage if you have two quarterbacks then you really have no quarterbacks, because again, in today’s world of college football, I think you have to have at least two guys ready to take first-team reps and ready to play at a high level because of the effectiveness of quarterback run game in offenses today.

You know, the offenses that are really prolific, you either have an NFL-type quarterback who can make every throw, or you have an element of quarterback run, and when you do that, you put the guy at risk. So again, I live in Ohio, and watching what Ohio State did on their way to a National Championship, you know, they ended up going through three quarterbacks because of injury, but the key was that each one of them was ready to step up and play at a high level when their number was called.

So early in the season you start out by saying, okay, look, we’re going to play two guys. But eventually I think they’ll work into one guy as a starter, but you want to make sure that other guy is not only happy but ready to play at a high level when his number is called, because you are one play away from being a starting quarterback if you’re a backup.

Q. I kind of want to go along those same lines but take it a step further with the SEC specifically. It seems like the conference kind of has a rep of we’ve got talent coming out of the ears at every position, developing players except for quarterback. Is that kind of a fair analogy, and if you think it’s true, why do you think it’s true?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I don’t know if it’s a fair analogy or not. Certainly maybe other positions have developed quicker or they’ve put more guys in the league that are playing at a high level, but I think quarterback play is kind of cyclical. I think there are times when it may be down in a league like the SEC, but there’s other times when it’s pretty good. I just think that that league, one of the things that’s different is the defenses are very good in that league, and the type of defensive talent that you face week in and week out is a little bit different for a quarterback than playing in some other leagues across the country.

I think that has something to do with it, but I just think overall it’s cyclical. I don’t think they do a bad job of developing quarterbacks. I just think it might be a little bit more difficult to play week in and week out at that position, as well.

JOE TESSITORE: I think Todd is right when he points to the defense as being part of the explanation. I also think that every conference takes on a certain offensive identity as to what’s the norm, and we know what that’s been in the Big 12 in recent years, and you’ve seen certain coaches who were holding out on that now give way and conform. Gary Patterson finding great success with what he did at changing offensive coordinators in recent years, Texas now going down that same road. Some of those same things aren’t asked of quarterbacks in the SEC. It’s not the same conforming culture of offenses in the SEC.

Yes, for some quarterbacks you’ll see those stats, be it with what you see out of Chad Kelly or perhaps even Trevor Knight at Texas A&M this year, knowing what they are going to ask of him in that offense, but with others managing the game, playing two back play action with the emphasis on power run, you’re not going to see some of the same stuff. But undoubtedly what Todd said with the level of defense and the front sevens that they’re facing every week, it’s a different beast.

Q. Todd, if you don’t mind momentarily skipping ahead to week two, Pitt-Penn State, first time in 16 years, renewal of a rivalry, two things: Number one, do you think this game should be played every year? Number two, can you share some of your memories from whether this likely or definitely may be the best Penn State (inaudible) in the history of the series in 1981?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, in answering your first question, I wish they would play every year. I know logistically they may not be feasible, but to me one of the greatest things about college football and the thing that sets it apart from the NFL is rivalries. When I was at Penn State, the Pitt-Penn State game was as good a rivalry game as there was in college football, and it had its own niche, that Friday after Thanksgiving, the battle of route 322, a lot of the in-state competition, even though I was an Ohio guy, I found out pretty quickly how important that game was.

Also, when I was at Penn State at that time in the early ’80s, the talent on both of those teams, the NFL caliber talent was unbelievable. It was a great rivalry to be a part of. I wish that they played every year.

The memories I have of the ’81 game, and I’ve done a few interviews about it already this year, this summer, I have very distinct and fond memories of that game. It was a bizarre game. They were ranked No. 1. We came in with two losses, but we were a really, really good football team, and we were ranked No. 1 earlier in the year and got beat by Miami and then lost again to Alabama. But we knew we were capable of playing with Pitt even though they had a great team. And yet it didn’t look like that early on. We were down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, and I think I’m correct in saying we had minus one yard of total offense in the first quarter and just showed no signs of being able to stay on the field.

And Pitt was driving again early in the second quarter, and we got an interception on a beautiful play by our safety Mark Robinson down by the goal line, and that just kind of stopped the avalanche for a minute, and we were able to tie it up before halftime 14-14 and then it was a completely different game in the second half.

Our defense forced turnovers and our offense came up with big plays in the passing game, and we ended up scoring 48 unanswered points to win 48-14.

It was a crazy game, a great game for Penn State. Yeah, I have great memories of that because we also — we didn’t have to go back to school right away because it was Thanksgiving break, and I remember going with my family and Kurt Warner and some other guys to Klein’s Restaurant downtown Pittsburgh, and just an incredible weekend capped off by that game.

Q. Rightfully Clemson and Florida State get most of the media attention that comes out of the ACC but I’d like to get North Carolina’s week one matchup with Georgia and the effect that that game will have on the Tar Heels’ season.

JOE TESSITORE: I broadcast last year’s opener for North Carolina, which I think we look back and shake our head at now, but this is actually a team that I like a lot, and I think obviously with what they’re facing week one, that would be a signature win non-conference-wise that could really propel them to something special. But I just look at their offense, and there is so much talent on that side of the ball, and I think Trubisky could be even better for them than what we’ve seen in recent years. I think Hood is one of the most underrated running backs in the country, and Hollins on the outside is a big-bodied receiver. Switzer is as dangerous in the slot in the return game as anybody is in the country. Any time he touches the ball, he could really go. They’ve got returning guys on the offensive line, so they’re going to be very consistent and dangerous offensively.

Defensively, need to step up. Need to keep developing. Didn’t see much defense last year, but you’ve got to hope that year two under Chizik, guys having more experience, they’re just better. But I think North Carolina is sneaky good and very capable week one against the Dawgs, especially if the Dawgs are finding their identity offensively a little bit, depending on what we see at quarterback.

I think nobody should be fooled thinking that Georgia is lacking talent. That roster and that recruiting has never turned itself off.

But I actually think, and we were talking about this, as good as this opening week is, if you were to tell me what games do you feel like are undoubtedly final-possession games, that’s very high on the list. I think that’s going to be a highly competitive game that is played to the wire on Saturday.

Todd and I having a Sunday game, God, I feel like this is a great luxury for us. On Saturday we get to watch football and enjoy this thing. That’s definitely the game I’m going to be locked in on Saturday afternoon. I’m looking forward to it.

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, I would just echo that I think that that’s a great opportunity game for North Carolina. They finished with a lot of confidence. They had a really solid season last year, and they’re going against a team that a lot of people are going to go in and well, think, Georgia is more talent, SEC, blah blah blah, but Georgia has a lot of answers — they have a lot of questions to figure out on both sides of the ball. If anybody has been around Alabama at Nick Saban’s defense and Kirby Smart’s defense, it’s not a simple system, and it doesn’t happen right away, and so it’s — I think it’s going to take them a little bit of time to get real comfortable in some of the things he wants done defensively. They’ve got questions an offense, and as Joe mentioned, a lot of talent, but I see North Carolina going into that game as a very confident football team and looking at that game as a chance to really kick this season off in a positive way.

Q. You guys were talking a little bit about big name quarterbacks. Obviously with the Auburn-Clemson matchup, Deshaun Watson is a player that everybody is going to be watching. What are you looking to see out of players whose names are already in the Heisman conversation?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, my biggest thing, when I think of a guy coming off the kind of year that Watson had last year, and he was fun to watch. I had him in the semifinal game and he was spectacular, he was great in the final. You know, the biggest thing is, okay, how does he take the next step in his development, and really the thing that’s really impressive about him beyond his skill set is his poise. His poise for a young player was pretty impressive, very unshakeable. And so the biggest thing now is, okay, how does he progress, how does he take the next step in decision making, in how quickly he sees and recognizes things on the field, taking a little bit more command of things.

And the only thing I would worry about with a guy like that is that he doesn’t try to do too much, that he doesn’t try to get outside of himself and do too much and try to make every play, but that doesn’t really fit his personality. I wouldn’t expect that to be a problem for him. But can he get better? Yeah, he can get better, and that’s pretty scary for people that are going to play him.

I just like everything about him. I like his skill. I like his athleticism, and I really like his poise and his demeanor playing that position.

JOE TESSITORE: Was your question specifically Watson in terms of expectations with the Heisman hype, or did you want me to go beyond Watson?

Q. Watson, but also beyond Watson.

JOE TESSITORE: Todd is going to give you a far better breakdown on the field and he just did and what to look for from him personally, but just as somebody who tracks the Heisman voting through the years and Heisman campaigns through the years, the thing with Deshaun is he comes into the season in a very unique position because we always have the candidates who in advance of the season come in with a certain level of status, where if they do what’s expected of them, if their teams and the individual have similar seasons to what they just had, undoubtedly they’ll be in the front row in New York.

This year it’s Watson with two running backs. It’s Watson, Fournette and McCaffrey who carry that status going into the season. Deliver on what you’re supposed to do and what you’ve already done, and you’ll be in the front row in New York.

What we’ve been noticing when we track the Heisman in recent years is with the internet voting and everybody voting online after the championship games, he who moves last moves best. You don’t want to be out in front of the Heisman race early. You want to make your move in November and surge. His biggest Heisman defining moment will come on October 29th at Florida State against another Heisman candidate just a notch below him in terms of perception in tears, against Dalvin Cook. And then in the month of November, up until he plays in the ACC Championship game, Deshaun is going to have a lot of games where he’s expected to win easily, to put up stats, but nothing that’s going to grab everybody’s attention. It’s Syracuse and Pitt and Wake Forest and South Carolina. So come the week after that, it’s Leonard Fournette and the question of can he finally get over the Alabama mountaintop on November 5th in a game that’s very similar in my eyes to the Florida State-Clemson game in sort of a de facto in-conference playoff eliminator.

So I think Deshaun is going to be just fine, but October 29th will define whether he’s in that lead seat heading into November of the Heisman race, but then Leonard Fournette is going to have an opportunity, as he did a year ago but then was overtaken by Derrick Henry, to then take the next step back and surge ahead.

But he’s in phenomenal shape, and he’s a young man that I had the chance to broadcast last year, and I can remember broadcasting the Orange Bowl a few years ago with Clemson and Ohio State, and the coaching staff, because he was an early enrollee, being able to talk about him, and sitting there telling all of us, oh, no, the best guy is coming in in a week. Well, we get the best guy in about a week and a half, and boy, he’s delivered on every bit of that. I’m just excited to see him play.

It’s another game Saturday night we’ll be dialing up late when we’re down there prepping this Texas-Notre Dame game that comes out of the chute at Auburn. But I look through the person of how the Heisman can be won, and that’s the way I see it for Deshaun.

Q. I want to go back to the Notre Dame-Texas game. What stands out to you about both Kizer and Zaire, and secondly, we’ve talked a lot about the offensive side of the ball, but defensively, who are a couple guys on both teams that you’re looking at to kind of keep your eye on for the game?

TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I’ll talk about the quarterbacks a little bit. I went out and watched Notre Dame practice last week, and they’re both impressive guys. I think that — I don’t think Brian Kelly is trying to play any games by saying, you know, what he said about the quarterbacks and playing two guys. Both guys are competitors, and they want to be the guy, but they’re two of Brian’s best playmakers. And not only best playmakers but most experienced playmakers. He’s got a lot of youth at wide receiver, and so those two guys have proven that they can play winning football for Notre Dame.

The idea of playing one and keeping the other one on the bench for 60 minutes, that’s not the best thing for that team. They’re both talented. It’s unique to me that one is right-handed and one is left-handed. If I had to distinguish between the two, I think Zaire is going to impact a game and affect a game more with his feet, and Kizer is going to affect a game and impact a game maybe more with his recognition of what the defense is, staying in the pocket, seeing over the rush and making throws down the field. Not that he’s not a good runner or a capable runner because he proved that, but I think he’s more comfortable staying in there and seeing the field and beating you that way.

They’re both very talented. They’re both bright. They both have proven themselves, and the question is now how do they break up the playing time between them on Sunday night, and at what point in the game do they decide or will they decide, hey, one of them gives us the best chance of going ahead and winning this football game. That will be the real interesting thing to see how they manage.

JOE TESSITORE: Defensively, I’m looking forward to getting your thoughts on the guys I’m going to mention when we go to practice down in Austin later this week, but I know Jefferson is going to get a lot of attention for Texas, but just even this weekend in doing some of my prep, I look at the five defensive backs that can be on the field for Texas, and I see size and athleticism, and I think Devante Davis is a guy as a corner with his size and his range and his physicality who NFL scouts are going to be drooling over in the coming years, but I look at Hall and Haines and all that talent in the defensive backfield, but then I ask myself, is the front seven, and really the guys up front, are they going to be capable of stopping the run against Notre Dame and putting the defensive backfield in position to have a big impact on this game, or is Notre Dame going to have their way in running the ball against Texas.

If I’m a Texas fan, whether it’s Poona Ford or somebody, Nelson or Boyette, I need to hear one of their names a lot on Sunday night. I need somebody there to just be flat-out better than they were. I know what that defensive backfield is going to give me with Texas, but I’m not quite sure what the big guys up front are going to deliver.

And then for Notre Dame, obviously there’s talent to replace both with the situation off the field at safety but also at linebacker with the talent that departed. But I think having Jones 94 and Rochell 90 up front, those could be some special players for them this year.

But the question marks for me would be defensively, the defensive line for Texas, and are they capable and can they step up in a spot like this.

Q. On the candidates for Heisman, are there any dark horse candidates you guys would consider? I know Fournette, McCaffrey, Watson, a lot of those guys are getting a lot of the main attention. Are there any dark horse candidates for Heisman that you guys might suggest?


TODD BLACKLEDGE: I’m going to let Joe talk about this, because I’ve told Joe before and I tell people, I personally — I don’t like talking about the Heisman until we get to the month of November. Just like I don’t like talking about who’s the top five or two whatever until we get to the month of October. But obviously I know that’s part of it, and people want to hear about it, and Joe specializes in it, so I’m going to let him throw out some names for you.

JOE TESSITORE: To Todd’s point, Todd obviously has more college football in his pinky than all of us combined on this call and years and years of seeing it, and he knows very well that you don’t win the Heisman in September or October, you only win it in November, and all you can do in September is really get into the starting gate of the Heisman, to then have the race be won.

But if you’re looking for names out there of guys that could potentially at least get into the starting gate that aren’t the obvious choices, and I would consider the obvious choices in the guys who are going to have those post positions already set for them to be Watson, Fournette, McCaffrey, and then J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield and Chad Kelly and Dalvin Cook and potentially Josh Rosen and Nick Chubb, depending on what happens opening weekend with both playing two very difficult non-conference games, UCLA and Georgia.

The longshot guys I would throw in there are the fact that the Baylor quarterback is going to be the Baylor quarterback, and there’s a certain status that comes along with that. So Seth Russell is back healthy. Luke Falk at Washington State should put up ridiculous stats. Royce Freeman at Oregon is one of these guys that’s grossly underrated and outstanding and talented. Barkley at Penn State is going to put up great stats at running back and out of the backfield and potentially could get a good upset win. If Tennessee is an SEC Championship contender, Josh Dobbs is going to get consideration depending on what they look like offensively. The two intriguing ones, quarterbacks for me, would be Greg Ward at Houston and Lamar Jackson at Louisville, the reason being is they’re both dynamic dual-threat guys who have the opportunity in Houston to have signature non-conference wins right out of the gate against Oklahoma, and for Louisville, the chance to either upset Florida State or Clemson and have really gaudy stats.

There’s always going to be a Alabama playmaker. There’s been a recent voting trend in the Heisman of a default vote of best player on best team. Somebody from Alabama, whether it’s the quarterback, the featured running back, Calvin Ridley or even a defensive star will get consideration to at least get votes to get to New York.

And then real, real extreme longshots, I would tell you Trubisky at North Carolina; Brad Kaaya if Miami has a good year and makes it to the ACC title game. Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech may be the most purely talented stat gatherer in the country; JuJu Smith-Schuster at USC, but they would have to find team success; Mike Weber at Ohio State now getting the ball and taking the reins from Zeke Elliott if they have great team success. And the outlier candidate that could make it to New York would be a guy like Jabrill Peppers at Michigan if they are national title contenders and he’s the showcase of what they do defensively.

But that would be the list that I put together preseason for some of our ESPN work that we’ve already done for the Heisman.

ESPN Adds Woodson To Its NFL Broadcast Team

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Earlier this week ESPN announced a major addition to its NBA broadcast team. Now an announcement has come down about another big name joining the worldwide leader in sports.

Charles Woodson has joined ESPN as the network’s latest addition to its NFL broadcast team. Woodson, a Super Bowl Champion and nine-time Pro Bowl defensive back, recently announced his retirement from the NFL. Now he will continue his NFL career on the other side of the game as an analyst for ESPN. He will now be part of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown. He will also make appearances on other ESPN studio shows and platforms. A firm date for his on-air debut has not yet been announced. However it is known that he will make his debut in July.

Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for NFL shows noted Woodson’s accomplishments over the course of his career and the respect that he earned during his career as major reasons for his addition to ESPN’s NFL staff. “Charles is one of the most accomplished players of his era and he is held in such high regard by players, coaches and fans for the way he played the game and led his teams, he said. He will be a tremendous addition to ESPN and to our Sunday and Monday Countdown teams,” said Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer, NFL studio shows.

Woodson was humble in discussing his new appointment noting the reputation that Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown have helped build for ESPN. “I would like to thank ESPN for this incredible opportunity to join their Sunday and Monday Night Countdown shows. I look forward to carrying on their strong tradition and gaining the respect of those who came before me and those who will follow me,” he said. I’m extremely honored and can’t wait to get started.”

Woodson’s list of accomplishments during his career reads like a who’s who of the sport. He is one of one of very fe players in NFL history to play in a Pro Bowl in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, and 2010s). He played with the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII and earned a Super Bowl Championship as a member of the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1997 and a National Championship as a member of the Michigan Wolverines. He went on from there to be drafted fourth overall by the Raiders in the 1998 NFL Draft and tapped as the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year that same year.

During his NFL career, Woodson was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team (2000s). He is tied for fifth place on the league’s all-time interceptions list (65), and most career defensive touchdowns (13). He is second all-time for interceptions returned for touchdowns (11) and amassed 1,003 tackles, 20 sacks and 28 forced fumbles over 254 regular-season games. That is the second-most games of any defensive back in NFL history. He also twice led the NFL in Interceptions—9 in 2009 and seven in 2011.

Adding to his accomplishments and accolades, Woodson was awarded the league’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship award as he finished his NFL career.

More information on Woodson’s addition to ESPN’s NFL staff is available online now along with all of the latest NFL news at:

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/nfl

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NFLonESPN

 

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN Kicks Off Its 2015 College Football Post Season Coverage This Weekend

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

College football’s post season is officially here. And ESPN kicks off coverage this weekend with a broadcast of the annual awarding of the Heisman Trophy.

ESPN kicks off coverage of the 2015 college football bowl season this Saturday, December 12th with the broadcast of the annual Heisman Trophy Award ceremony. The ceremony will be carried live at 8pm ET on ESPN. The finalists in the running for the award were announced this past Monday December 7th. They are: Derrick Henry (RB – Alabama), Christian McCaffrey (RB – Stanford), and Deshaun Watson (QB – Clemson). Chris Fowler and Joe Tessitore will co-anchor Saturday night’s broadcast. They will be joined at the desk by analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Tim Tebow and Lee Corso. This year’s broadcast of the Heisman Trophy presentation has been extended to ninety minutes.

Saturday’s broadcast of the Heisman Trophy presentation is just one small part of the ESPN networks’ college football post season coverage. Beginning next Saturday, December 19th ESPN Events and the ESPN networks will carry all thirteen bowl games that are owned and operated by ESPN Events. The networks’ coverage runs right up to December 30th with the Birmingham Bowl.  That’s not where the games end, though.  ESPN and its networks will carry full coverage of the college football post season right up to the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on January 2nd. Details on each ESPN Events game are noted below along with the other games that will be presented via the ESPN networks.

2015-16 ESPN/ABC Bowl Coverage Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game, Matchup and Commentators Network(s)
Sat, Dec. 19 Noon Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl:
Alcorn State at North Carolina A&T
Mark Neely, Jay Walker, Tiffany Greene
ABC
2 p.m. Gildan New Mexico Bowl:

Arizona vs. New Mexico
TV: Eamon McAnaney, Rocky Boiman, Laura Rutledge
Radio: Drew Goodman and TBD

ESPN and ESPN Radio
3:30 p.m. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl:

BYU vs. No. 22 Utah
Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, Maria Taylor

ABC and ESPN Deportes
5:30 p.m. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl:

Ohio vs. Appalachian State
TV: Dave Neal, Anthony Becht, Paul Carcaterra

Radio: TBD, Cole Cubelic, Dawn Davenport

ESPN and ESPN Radio
9 p.m. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl:
Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech
TV: Adam Amin, Kelly Stouffer, Dr. Jerry Punch
Radio:  Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, Joe Schad
ESPN and ESPN Radio
Mon, Dec. 21 2:30 p.m. Miami Beach Bowl:

Western Kentucky vs. South Florida
Dave Lamont, Desmond Howard, Quint Kessenich

ESPN
Tue, Dec. 22 3:30 p.m. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl:

Akron vs. Utah State
TV: Mark Neely, Mike Bellotti, Kevin Weidl
Radio: TBD

ESPN and ESPN Radio
7 p.m. Marmot Boca Raton Bowl:

Toledo vs. No. 24 Temple
TV: Allen Bestwick, Dan Hawkins, Tiffany Greene
Radio: Dave Lamont, John Congemi, Brett McMurphy

ESPN and ESPN Radio
Wed, Dec. 23 4:30 p.m. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl:

Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
TV: Beth Mowins, David Diaz-Infante, Shelley Smith
Radio: Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, Joe Schad

ESPN and ESPN Radio
8 p.m. GoDaddy Bowl:

Georgia Southern vs. Bowling Green
Tom Hart, Andre Ware, Laura Rutledge

ESPN
Thu, Dec. 24 Noon Popeyes Bahamas Bowl:

Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan
Steve Levy, Mack Brown, Mark May, Kaylee Hartung

ESPN
8 p.m. Hawai’i Bowl:

San Diego State vs. Cincinnati
TV: Adam Amin, Greg McElroy, Holly Rowe
Radio: TBD, Mike Golic Sr., Mike Golic, Jr.

ESPN and ESPN Radio
Sat, Dec. 26 11 a.m. St. Petersburg Bowl:
Connecticut vs. Marshall
TV: Tom Hart, Anthony Becht, Tiffany Greene
Radio: TBD, Rene Ingoglia, Brett McMurphy
ESPN and ESPN Radio
2:20 p.m. Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl:
Washington vs. Southern Mississippi
Mike Corey, Ahmad Brooks, Kayce Smith
ESPN
3:30 p.m. New Era Pinstripe Bowl:

Indiana vs. Duke
TV: Rece Davis, Danny Kanell, Joey Galloway, Paul Carcaterra

Radio: TBD

ABC and ESPN Radio
5:45 p.m. Camping World Independence Bowl:
Tulsa vs. Virginia Tech
Dave Lamont, Ray Bentley, Jane Slater
ESPN and ESPN Deportes
9:15 p.m. Foster Farms Bowl:

UCLA vs. Nebraska
TV: Jason Benetti, Rod Gilmore, Shelley Smith

Radio:  Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, Joe Schad

ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio
Mon, Dec. 28 2:30 p.m. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman:
Pittsburgh vs. No. 21 Navy
TV: Eamon McAnaney,Rocky Boiman, Quint Kessenich Radio:  TBD, Mike Golic Sr., Mike Golic, Jr.
ESPN, ESPN Deportes & ESPN Radio
5 p.m. Quick Lane Bowl:
Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
Dave Neal, Matt Stinchcomb, Kayce Smith
ESPN2
Tue, Dec. 29 2 p.m. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl:
California vs. Air Force
Dave Flemming, Mike Bellotti, Allison Williams
ESPN
5:30 p.m. Russell Athletic Bowl:
No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 17 Baylor
TV: Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, Dr. Jerry PunchRadio:  Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, Joe Schad
ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio
9 p.m. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl:
No. 20 LSU vs. Texas Tech
TV: Joe Tessitore, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack, Maria Taylor
Radio: Bob Wischusen, Brock Huard, Shannon Spake
ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio
Wed, Dec. 30 Noon Birmingham Bowl:
Auburn vs. Memphis
TV: Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht, Paul Carcaterra
Radio: Allen Bestwick, Dan Hawkins, Tiffany Greene
ESPN and ESPN Radio
3:30 p.m. Belk Bowl:
NC State vs. Mississippi State
TV: Clay Matvick, John Congemi, Dawn Davenport
Radio: Taylor Zarzour, Charles Arbuckle, and Quint Kessenich
ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Radio
7 p.m. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl:
Texas A&M vs. LouisvilleTV: Tom Hart, Andre Ware, Laura Rutledge
Radio: Mike Corey, Rene Ingoglia
ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Radio
10:30 p.m. Holiday Bowl:
No. 25 USC vs. Wisconsin
TV: Adam Amin, Kelly Stouffer, Olivia Harlan
Radio: Drew Goodman and TBD
ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Radio
Fri, Jan 1 Noon Outback Bowl:
No. 13 Northwestern vs. No. 23 Tennessee
TV: Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich
ESPN2
1 p.m. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl:
No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 19 Florida
TV: Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, Dr. Jerry Punch
Radio: Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht, Paul Carcaterra
ABC and ESPN Radio
Sat, Jan 2 Noon TaxSlayer Bowl:
Penn State vs. Georgia
TV: Allen Bestwick, Dan Hawkins, Tiffany Greene
Radio: Eamon McAnaney, John Congemi,
ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio
3:20 p.m. AutoZone Liberty Bowl:
Kansas State vs. Arkansas
TV: Anish Shroff, Ahmad Brooks, Dawn Davenport
Radio: Mark Neely, Jay Walker, Kevin Weidl
ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio
6:45 p.m. Valero Alamo Bowl:

No. 15 Oregon vs. No. 11 TCU
TV: Dave Flemming, Mack Brown, Allison Williams
Radio: Tom Hart, Andre Ware, Laura Rutledge

ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio
10:15 p.m. Motel 6 Cactus Bowl:

West Virginia vs. Arizona State
TV: Dave Neal, Matt Stinchcomb, Kayce Smith
Radio: Drew Goodman, David Diaz-Infante, Olivia Harlan

ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio

 

*For those not near a television, ESPN and its networks will simulcast each game online via WatchESPN.

More information on the ESPN networks’ college football post season coverage is available online now along with all of the latest college football headlines at:

Website: http://espn.go.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CFBonESPN

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Jon Gruden’s Quarterback Camp Returns This Spring

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

Jon Gruden’s “Quarterback Camp” will return this Spring.

Gruden’s series of SportsCenter specials will return this spring for its fifth season.  Gruden mentors a handful of college football’s top quarterbacks in the series, as they prepare to take the next step in their careers.  This year’s installment of Gruden’s “Quarterback Camp” will see nine of college football’s top quarterback prospects.  Those names include the likes of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, two-time BCS National Champion A.J. McCarron of Alabama, and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.  The complete list of this year’s “QB Camp” participants is noted below.

2014 Gruden’s QB Camp participants:

Quarterback

School

Blake Bortles

Central Florida

Tajh Boyd

Clemson

Teddy Bridgewater

Louisville

Derek Carr

Fresno

Jimmy Garoppolo

Eastern Illinois

Jordan Lynch

Northern Illinois

A.J. McCarron

Alabama

Johnny Manziel

Texas A&M

Aaron Murray

Georgia

 

Gruden prepares a specialized lesson plan of sorts for each of the participants in his “QB Camp.”  Through his specialized plan, he points out to each prospect, a balanced look at both their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to see where they need to improve in order to be successful NFL talent.  Over the past four seasons of his “QB Camp” Gruden has mentored no fewer than twenty-nine quarterbacks from twenty-seven schools.  Fourteen of those QBs went on to be NFL regular season starters.  Among the names that Gruden has mentored through his series are: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and current NFL Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson, of the Seattle Seahawks.

Gruden’s “QB Camp” moves this year to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Arena at Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando.  It replaces Gruden’s Tampa office, where the “QB Camp” was previously held.  The new set will replicate his Tampa office, playfully dubbed the “Fired Football Coaches Association.”  The 220-acre facility also includes athletic fields, which will be used for quarterback workouts.

More information on Jon Gruden’s “Quarterback Camp” and all things NFL is available online now at http://espn.go.com/nfl and http://www.facebook.com/NFLonESPN.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN Announces Special Addition To 30 For 30 Series

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN has announced that thanks to the success of its most recent “season” of 30 for 30, the worldwide leader in sports will debut another brand new addition to its Peabody award winning series next month.  On Saturday, December 14th, ESPN will debut Youngstown Boys.  The film, directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Youngstown Boys is a study on class and power dynamics in the world of college sports.  It studies the subject by following former elite running back Maurice Clarett and former star head coach Jim Tressel.  Both figures came from the city of Youngstown, Ohio.  Tressel rose to fame when he turned around the struggling football program at Youngstown State University.  And then in 2002, Tressel was coaching the Ohio State University football team.  Clarett happened to be on the team that season.  The pairing helped lead the Buckeyes to the university’s first national championship in over thirty years.

Things didn’t stay well long for Clarett.  Clarett would end up being suspended from college football soon thereafter, and would eventually end up behind bars.  Tressel would go on to serve another eight years at OSU before his career there ended in scandal.  Both men were interviewed for this film, as were Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown and former OSU standout QB Craig Krenzel.

Co-director Jeff Zimbalist shared his thoughts on the movie in a recent interview, explaining that “at its core, the story of Maurice Clarett and Jim Tressel is about fathers and sons.”  He added that “in addition to their record-breaking exploits on the playing field and involvement in two of college football’s biggest backroom scandals, we were drawn to the layered saga of ‘The Senator’ and ‘The Beast’ because it transcends sport.  In examining the interconnected rise and downfall of these two men from opposite sides of the Youngstown tracks, we discovered the deep role that family plays in any quest for greatness.”

Youngstown Boys will premiere Saturday, December 14th at 9pm ET on ESPN.  More information on this and other films from ESPN’s 30 for 30 is available online at http://www.facebook.com/espn30for30, http://twitter.com/30for30 and http://espn.go.com/30for30.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.