Clemson, Alabama Face Off Live In College Football Championship Rematch Monday Night

Courtesy: ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

The stage is set for this season’s college football championship, and ESPN will carry full coverage of the rematch from last season’s title game between Clemson and Alabama.

ESPN will begin its coverage of the College Football Championship presented by AT&T tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET.  The game will be broadcast live from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Samantha Ponder and Tom Rinaldi will have the call for the showdown between the Tigers and Red Tide.

The worldwide leader in sports and its networks will offer extensive coverage of the game throughout the day leading up to kickoff.  That extensive coverage from ESPN’s networks includes Coaches Film Room on ESPNEWS, Finebaum Filmroom on SEC Network, Homers Telecast on ESPN2 and much more.

Additional coverage on the day will air on ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN Goal Line, and ESPN3.  Those that won’t be near a TV during Monday’s college football championship can still catch the game in full online via WatchESPN and on the radio via ESPN Radio.

The game will also be simulcast live in Spanish on ESPN Deportes and ESPN Deportes Radio and Eduardo Varela will have the call for ESPN Deportes.  Kenneth Garay and Sebastian M. Christensen will have the call for ESPN Deportes Radio.

Along with its broadcast on ESPN Deportes and ESPN Deportes Radio, Monday night’s game will also be broadcast worldwide.  ESPN International will carry the game for fans in more than 179 nations around the world through its networks and streaming services.

More information on the ESPN networks’ coverage of the 2017 college football championship is available online now along with all of the latest college football headlines at:

 

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/college-football

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/espncfb

 

 

 

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.

Folwer, Herbstreit Talk College Football Championship, Dynasties, More With Media

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN has released the transcript of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit’s recent discussion with the media about Monday’s college football championship.  The pair opened the discussion with a talk on Alabama’s domination in the college football realm.  From there, the discussion turned to talk of offensive coordinators, the Heisman vote, and players’ skills among much more.  The full transcript of the conference is included below.
The College Football Playoff National Championship title game will be once again be called by Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. The duo participated in a media conference call today to discuss the matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson, which will take place Mon, Jan. 9, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Transcript of the conference call is available below.

 

  1. Could both of you comment. Alabama is obviously extending their run to nearly a decade. We’ve seen dynasties come and go. How much is too much of one team dominating the conversation? Do you feel like people are getting bored with Alabama being here every year? Or does it make for more drama that someone has to try to knock them off?

 

CHRIS FOWLER: Maybe the answer is both. I think anytime any team rules the top of a sport, or any individual for that matter, a certain percentage are going to get fatigued. On the other hand you get an opportunity to frame something that is among the most incredible stories in the history of the sport.

You’re not supposed to be able to dominate at the top any more the way Alabama has done. They’ve defied conventional wisdom by doing that.

On the one hand you’re describing an incredible reign, sustained achievement. On the other hand, there are many people, even within the SEC, that would like to see a fresh story, new people at the top.

That’s what makes it so difficult to do what they’ve done. You wear a huge target and you wear it year after year and you manage that and you overcome that.

So in one respect you turn up to a game like this, one of the major plot lines is marvelling at what Alabama is continuing to do. Not that there has always been this many games, but nobody has ever gone 15-0 at the highest level of this sport. They have a chance to do it, as Clemson did last year. Five in eight years, that’s not supposed to happen.

On the other hand, you have this dynasty. Plenty of people I’m sure would love to see them toppled and love to see someone else take over. That happens throughout sports, throughout history.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: Speaking for myself, I enjoy it in sports, just being a fan of sports, whether it’s college basketball, even Chris following tennis with some of the individuals that get on like a Roger Federer type of run, a Tiger Woods in golf, what we used to see with maybe a team like Bobby Bowden and Florida State, now with what we’re seeing with Nick Saban, some of the Nebraska teams in the ’90s.

I can just speak for myself. I love it. I love when we have a program that raises the bar and that everybody is aiming for. We kind of mock it and tease it, Hey, we want ‘Bama kind of thing. Yet when I think you talk to the coaches and players in this sport, whether it’s in the SEC or around the country, they see that coach and they see that brand. That’s who they’re trying to bring down.

Whether the viewers at home get tired of Alabama, I guess it’s up to each individual. For me personally, I really enjoy it.

 

  1. With all the supposed drama over the OC, seems like at Clemson, a couple of names that people didn’t know, like Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have done a remarkable job these couple of seasons following Chad Morris, which Dabo could have gone out and gotten anybody to take that position. What do you think of the job they’ve done? And Dexter Lawrence, what has he brought to the line as such a young guy on Clemson’s side of the ball?

 

KIRK HERBSTREIT: I would just say I’m glad you brought that up because you’re right. Seems like the next few days, a lot of talk about Lane and Sark. Unless you’re really a diehard Clemson fan, what has gone on notice was initially Dabo Swinney looking around and bringing in Chad Morris.

If you looked at how their offense was evolving, they were okay, but they weren’t as consistent. I think that game against West Virginia was maybe a wake-up call for them in that bowl game.

When they brought in Chad Morris and that offensive style, they brought it to a whole different level. When it looked like they got things going, you’re right, he had an opportunity to become a head coach. A lot of us wondered what direction he might go.

The proof is in the pudding. What Tony and Jeff have been able to do, that offensive staff, they’ve been blessed to have Deshaun Watson to help them. They are cutting edge. They’re innovative. I thought the game they had against Ohio State is a classic example of what they’ve been able to do in attacking a team’s weaknesses, being innovative and creative, having a quarterback that understands it. They’re doing it at a very fast pace.

I think that’s the exciting matchup for me personally in this game, not just Deshaun Watson, but it’s going to be Tony Elliott, Jeff Scott and Deshaun in that offense.

After what they did to this defense a year ago, matched up now against Nick Saban, you’re already hearing the Alabama players come out saying, We were embarrassed, this time it’s going to be different, they’re going to get the real Alabama.

I think we all want to see the real Alabama defense against Deshaun Watson. Those coordinators have done a hell of a job.

CHRIS FOWLER: What’s interesting, too, they’re both ex-Clemson walk-ons. When they sit in a room together, they finish each other’s sentences. Very interesting dynamic. Sometimes the co-offensive coordinator thing, which has become a little bit en vogue, it’s difficult, problematic. But those guys’ personalities blend very well.

Obviously their styles during the week and on the day of the game blend very well. I’d echo what Kirk said about the creativity. When you have a month to prepare, Urban Meyer and his staff – rightfully so – have gotten a ton of credit. A lot of brainpower in that Ohio State defensive side of the ball, with Schiano helping out, Bill Davis as a consultant, Fickell, of course.

It was a mismatch in terms of creativity, innovation and preparation for that game on Clemson’s side. It was a masterful game plan, play calling. Of course the execution, but Watson really helps. I’m glad you brought it up as well. Those guys have gotten not nearly enough credit.

For Lawrence, I thought Dexter had a quiet game. You always expect to call his number a lot. We have done Clemson a bunch this year and marvelled at this guy. You can’t look at him and think this is actually a true freshman. What was he like in high school a year ago? How fearsome would it have been to carry the ball against that guy? He’s broken in.

I think the productivity, to use the scout’s phrase, which means just a whole bunch of tackles. You’re not supposed to have that many tackles at that position. You’re not supposed to have that many tackles as a true freshman.

You put those two together, it’s one of the most startling defensive seasons that I’ve ever seen because of the nature of the position and his youth and how well he’s played it.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: Fourth on the team in tackles, which again, you don’t see that for a defensive lineman. His personality for a young guy in this world of five-star recruits, high profile, kind of what’s in it for me, me, me, he just kind of has fit into that group seamlessly with Watkins up there, Wilkins, who is a high-profile guy a year ago. Ferrell is another freshman that’s playing well for them. Austin Bryant. They have a big-time, high-level group there they just keep rotating big bodies in there. You’d think he’s been there for three years the way his personality has been in there.

CHRIS FOWLER: They have a way to chart efficiency. The number of impact plays per snap. He’s number one on the team for that. That says a lot. They refer to tackles or pressured or batted balls. In that metric, he’s number one on the defense, which says a whole lot, given the quality of players they have over there.

 

  1. This game with Clemson’s offense versus this Alabama’s defense is almost the irresistible force paradox. Can Clemson move the ball on this Alabama team, and what are they going to have to do to be able to do that? Alabama, it’s so hard to score on them. Then we’ve seen so many teams kind of ascend to this height, but is Clemson one of the teams that is built for sustainability? Has Dabo built the kind of program where they might not win five of eight, but can they make multiple trips into the College Football Playoff?

 

KIRK HERBSTREIT: Number one, there’s so many things there. Clemson’s offense has an ability, because of the system and the quarterback, to score on anybody that they play, providing that Deshaun is kind of on. Last year he was, what, 30 of 47, for 405 yards and four touchdowns against them. They had ample amount of time to prepare for them.

When I watch ‘Bama, the one thing they’ve kind of been spoiled with, is they have an ability to stop the run, and keep two safeties deep to prevent any kind of deep passes downfield. That’s kind of an oxymoron in today’s college football, when you have an ability to keep two safeties back, and also at the same time stop the run. They did it against Washington. Did not have a quarterback run game.

If they do that against Clemson, you’ll see Deshaun Watson run it 20 to 25 times until they get out of that look, then they can start to throw the football.

That will be a little bit of a game within the game, is how Alabama is going to try to play with their safeties, and whether or not they can stop the run and take away the deep ball at the same time.

If they’re effective in doing that, Clemson will punt, like Washington did, almost every series. You got to make them pay for that would be the big thing.

Then just getting Deshaun Watson into his flow, which means to me running and throwing. I expect him to carry it at least 20 times in this game. I think the matchup on the perimeter against Humphrey and Averett, the other corner, will go a long way in determining how this game goes as well.

The ball is going to have to get out fast because of that pass-rush. That means the receivers have to work their tails off to get open and get separation.

CHRIS FOWLER: I don’t see why they wouldn’t move the ball and score points. Alabama came off a shutout in last year’s semifinal. Clemson lit them up. They didn’t have Mike Williams or Deon Cain in that game. When you look at Monday night, the two most dangerous receiving weapons potentially, Cain isn’t as productive or consistent as Leggett, but he certainly has the ability, those guys weren’t even out there last year, especially Williams, who is a complete difference maker.

Deshaun, as Kirk said, has to be sharp, pre-snap, post-snap, process things as quickly as he did against Ohio State, which is a serious challenge. At times they made it look really easy, but it isn’t easy to do what he did. His mind works very quickly. The execution is amazing, as good as we’ve seen in this sport.

He throws picks, that’s what he has to be worried about. You cannot get baited into interceptions. You cannot give Alabama a defensive touchdown. Every opponent goes into the game saying the same thing, yet they fall prey to it. Washington makes a bad decision, throws a ball out there in the flat. Anderson takes it back to the house. It’s a different game right before halftime. That’s the kind of mistake that teams make again and again with them.

Deshaun has made them pretty frequently. They overcame a couple of interceptions. That’s not a good formula to try to do against Alabama.

I think that there’s probably some sleepless nights and some anxious moments on the Alabama side as they get ready for this offense, knowing what happened last year.

Clemson’s program, you watch how Clemson is recruiting. You watch how they recruit in the region. Even to get into recruits somewhat nationally. They have a fertile recruiting area around there.

What they have to sell is a little bit different. They sell it in a different way than some programs. It really is this people first, family, loving environment. Yes, you can win a championship. Yes, you can get to the NFL. But you’re not going to come here and be a cog in the wheel. You’re not going to be a piece in the process. You’re going to be an individual that we look after and take care of and nurture.

I think that’s a message that seems to resonate really well to parents and players. Clemson has a whole lot to sell. I think he and his staff are recruiting as well as just about anybody. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be sustainable.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think they’ve reached that status of an elite program. It’s been five or six years now that they’ve been able to recruit consistently. They have a brand-new, multi-million dollar facility which they’re moving over to which will be great to kind of continue. You know how it is with facilities, kind of showing the commitment to the program.

The big thing will be just continuing to get quarterbacks, which they’ve done. They have some guys that already signed, a guy who is a junior, a verbal.

Dabo has a way about him. It’s very, very real. I think parents feel that when they talk to him. I think he has a pretty good track record of recruiting at a very high level, graduating kids, taking care of them.

For him, if you bust your tail, aren’t a five-star recruit, you’re a walk-on, you do everything right on and off the field, he’s going to play you. He does it. That word gets out. So it’s not just about the Deshaun Watsons. It’s about the entire roster. It’s hard to keep an entire roster happy and win at the same time.

I think because of his personality and appreciation for top to bottom on the roster, being a former walk-on, he has a really unique ability to relate to every single guy on the team. That to me, with the resources that they have, the facilities that they now have, there’s no reason that Clemson is going to go away anytime soon.

 

CHRIS FOWLER: That’s a great example. Look at this year’s team. I’ll give you a couple quick examples. Gallman, not highly recruited. Jordan Leggett, not highly recruited. Boulware, barely recruited. Renfrow, walk-on. Mike Williams wasn’t a six-star guy either. His talent is obvious. Deshaun, obviously everybody wanted.

The team is built around guys with different kind of backgrounds. Yeah, they have plenty of the five-star guys, they’ll continue to get them. They’ll also continue to get guys that maybe aren’t as heralded and just really developing. I think those guys will always have a place in Clemson’s program.

Then you look at what happened with Watson graduating in three years, Williams graduating, Leggett graduating all in December, all as juniors. You just throw that out there to parents and players and say, This isn’t spin, this is reality. It’s a very strong selling point.

 

  1. Nick sort of downplayed the change in offensive coordinator based on Alabama’s ability to game plan and script certain situations. How legitimate is that excuse or defense? As an offense, how do you expect Sarkisian and Jalen to respond when things don’t go necessarily as planned?

 

KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think the thing that at least I’ve heard him talk about is, he feels like it’s being blown out of proportion because it’s kind of business as usual as far as the workweek. The preparation for any college offense, I think sometimes we tend to lock in on who the coordinator is. When you get behind closed doors, you realize there’s five or six guys kind of watching film together, formulating a plan together, all that. Sark has been obviously around. That’s why I think he’s saying it’s business as usual.

I think the major difference that even Nick Saban can’t predict is going to be the four hours on Monday night. Steve Sarkisian hasn’t been the quarterback coach or the running back coach or kind of normal involvement as an assistant coach. He’s been an offensive analyst. I don’t even know what that means. But I know there are some limitations on Saturdays in the fall what he can and can’t do.

Now you go from that role to you’re standing on the sideline calling the plays in an up-tempo offense with a true freshman quarterback. To see that won’t be potentially a factor one way or the other is not right. Of course it is.

It might be better, by the way. We don’t know if it’s going to be better or worse. It’s without question going to be different. He hasn’t even called plays in a scrimmage. Now he’s calling plays in a national championship. I’m talking about this offense. Obviously he’s done it at Washington and USC. By the way, he’s more than capable of doing it.

In these circumstances with this offense, we’ve never seen it. So it’s definitely a big storyline during the game itself.

I think Mike Locksley’s role and what he’s allowed and not allowed to do, he’s been an integral part behind closed doors and dealing with a true freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts. With this system, where Alabama used to be more power football. Now it’s more up-tempo, quarterback run game, which is right where Mike Locksley has been most of his coaching career.

Both of them are going to be involved in a very unique way in this preparation without Lane Kiffin being there.

CHRIS FOWLER: Interesting, too, you mention the true freshman quarterback. It’s his 15th game, but it’s a championship game. Anybody that played them will say the feeling is different. Even though you’re poised and mature for your age, it’s a championship game against a very complicated defense, a defense that is known for throwing a whole bunch of stuff at people. They’ve confused far more experienced quarterbacks than Jalen Hurts in the past with what Venables does.

I think you can expect another aggressive, grab-bag approach that doesn’t make it easy on the quarterback. I think if they can’t line up and smash you, Scarbrough can’t make 120 yards after contact like he did the other day, it certainly makes the play-caller’s chore a little more difficult.

I think it’s fascinating. I really do. If Sarkisian hadn’t been on a big stage in a pressure situation you’d be more concerned. What Kirk said is right. There is rush when you call plays. There is unfamiliarity with the system when you jump into a system and do it for the first time and it’s in the ultimate game. I don’t care who you are. But at least he has been there in a big moment.

What’s interesting is we’ve seen plenty of circumstances where it’s almost play calling in the name of vanity. I don’t think Saban wants that. I think there was not much tolerance for that when a play-caller goes in there and tries to get ‘too cute,’ or call plays to show how smart you are. I don’t think that’s what Sark is going to be charged with doing, even though it’s his very first time doing it on a massive stage.

You have to call plays around what’s going to work best with the personnel you have on offense against that defense. That does require some discipline, it really does, because Clemson doesn’t make it easy on you.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: Your point about how do you call the game to the best of your ability. If you watched their game against Washington, as much as they struggled with continuity, self-destructing with penalties, they did a good job with the special teams of pinning Washington inside the 10 yard line a number of times.

As a play-caller in a game like this, as good as Clemson’s defense is, sometimes a punt is okay. Sometimes playing field position and relying on that Alabama defense to try to get a short field with a turnover, especially with Deshaun Watson sometimes turning the ball over through the air, that’s sometimes okay.

That will be a big message I would think to Jalen Hurts this week, is throwing it away, not taking sacks, not turning the ball over, punting the ball and playing field position. Worst case is not necessarily a bad thing for ‘Bama with the defense and special teams that they have.

CHRIS FOWLER: What’s so fascinating is we just don’t know how well they’re going to stop Clemson’s offense. The chore becomes different. If it doesn’t become a field position kind of game, you have to open it up. Then it becomes more interesting what they’re calling on offense.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: He’ll call the play, like any coordinator will, based on the flow of the game, how well their defense is holding up, field position, things like that.

 

  1. I’ve been banging this job for a couple years now. I’d like to ask you guys, why has there not been more public pressure for reform when it comes to the timing of the Heisman vote? A lot of people out there think that Deshaun Watson should have been back-to-back Heisman winner, let alone the winner this year with the way Lamar Jackson finished. It’s not just Watson. You have 2005 Reggie Bush against Vince Young. A lot of people thought that Vince Young might come out on top if the vote came out after that game. Baker Mayfield, the way he played against Auburn. Most coveted award in all of sports. Why can’t we have the vote after the most important game has been played?

 

CHRIS FOWLER: I mean, they’ve done it 82 years, and they’ve done it this way. It’s tradition. Obviously when the award was conceived, post-season play wasn’t what it is. I don’t think that they see any need to shift it.

Your argument is passionate. You definitely have a horse in the race in your mind. I think if you looked at year’s past, sure the winner might have been different had it been different after the bowls or the playoffs. That would have happened quite a lot over the years.

The voting is done at the end of the season. In some ways there’s a fairness to it in that you do have a chance to be involved in the award, even if your team isn’t in a major bowl or in the playoff.

Listen, I think you can have whatever opinion you want. I don’t reveal my vote. Obviously enough people felt that Lamar Jackson had done enough throughout the totality of the season to survive some turnovers and some losses down the stretch. Clemson fans obviously wouldn’t agree.

Having said that, as brilliantly as Deshaun plays, stats become a big part of evaluating a player. You could argue too much. But he threw a lot of interceptions, a lot of interceptions for someone who would have won the Heisman, regardless of how productive he is.

A few of the picks early in the season might have gotten in the way of people voting for him. Who knows what went into their decisions.

To your point, I don’t think that’s going to change. I think they’re going to continue to award the trophy at the end of the regular season.

 

  1. I would like to know what are some of the key matchups that you all believe can determine the outcome of Monday’s game? Also, do you think there are any experiences that Clemson can draw on so that they can possibly pull out an upset from last year?

 

KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think the biggest matchup is going to be Deshaun Watson against the defense in general, the coverage, the multiple coverages. Obviously the offensive line is going to have to help out, the receiver’s going to have to win. I think in general Nick Saban’s mind and angst after last year’s performance, how he decides to defend Deshaun Watson is going to be a great matchup.

I think if you’re looking for just one-on-one type of stuff, we talked about Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow who had a huge game last year against these guys. They match up favorably.

If you’re going to attack Alabama in any way, you’re going to do it through the air. These guys have the quarterback and receiver to give them a chance to be effective with some downfield passers. The receivers against the secondary. Deshaun against Nick Saban I think is going to be a great matchup. Then with all the talk about Sark coming in to take over, it’s not just going up against any defense, he’s going up against a defense right now of Brent Venables that’s coming out against a shutout against Ohio State and is probably playing with as much confidence if not more confidence than any defense in the country, including Alabama.

Specifically on that side of the ball, I would say, to me, the Alabama offensive line, which is not your traditional dominant offensive line, especially on the inside, how do they hold up against a really, really good defensive front from Clemson I think is another matchup that could go a long way in determining how the game goes.

CHRIS FOWLER: I like that matchup, too. I think you look at Alabama’s offensive line, it’s very left-handed. Robinson over there. Pierschbacher is a good guard. But Clemson’s guys, the rotation we talked about earlier, which is basically four sophomores, a couple freshman, one junior and one senior who keep each other fresh, all of them can make impact plays. All of them cannot just eat up blocks, but invade the backfield when they need to. It’s hard to do that against ‘Bama.

I think if you looked at this offensive line, the very high standards they have at that program would not rank as one of the great ones they had. Opponents would tell you that.

I think it’s a terrific matchup. If you can clog the middle, let the linebackers run, do what they do behind you, it forces Alabama into some uncomfortable situations.

I like that matchup, too.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think as far as experience, last year’s experience is the best experience that gives them confidence. I mean, in their minds they blew the on-side kick, they let a kickoff return get out from Kenyan Drake. But I think in their minds they probably gained more confidence in standing in the middle of the rain going toe-to-toe with Alabama for four quarters than anything else that they can look at on film.

They’ve been there, they’ve done that. They competed. They didn’t secure things in special teams. They ended up losing the game. But it wasn’t as if they got blown off the field and had to regroup and think, Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do this time. They were right there stride per stride, had a quarterback play out of his mind in that game. I think a lot of us left that stadium thinking Deshaun Watson is a bad man, including Nick Saban.

Alabama won the trophy, but Deshaun Watson won a lot of people’s hearts that night, for sure. If I’m a Clemson player, I’m looking at that film knowing that I can play with Alabama.

 

  1. With Deshaun’s propensity to throw interceptions, Alabama’s ball hawking defense, say Deshaun throws two or three interceptions, Alabama takes one back to the house, how much of an impact do you think that will have on the outcome of the game?

 

CHRIS FOWLER: I don’t know. Study the impact of pick-sixes in most games. It’s extremely favorable for the defense that can create one.

I don’t know. I’d defer to Kirk in how able Watson is able to change what has become a pretty frequent pattern. He trusts his guys to make plays to an extreme degree.

A lot of his picks aren’t necessarily awful decisions. They’re 50/50 balls that he has so much belief that a Leggett or a Williams can win that matchup, so he’ll put the ball up there. Against guys as good as Alabama has got, you’re not going to win all of them. They win their share.

Whether or not he regulates that, modulates that, the instinct to allow his guys to make plays, plays a little bit more cautiously.

It’s devastating to give up a pick-six, especially if the game is not a shootout. Clemson almost survived all the special teams issues that Kirk just described and they still had a chance at the end despite all that. But, boy, you’re living with a slim margin for error when you do that.

Alabama is hard enough to score on without letting their defense get in the end zone, so… I’m sure that’s going to be talked about a lot at Clemson. If you give up a turnover, you ask your defense to go out there as they did against Ohio State and minimize the damage or prevent the other team from getting in the end zone.

Remember Alabama’s offense had great field position throughout almost the entire game against Washington. Definitely in the first half. They only scored one touchdown. They had the ball at midfield or in plus territory a lot, and didn’t cash in. Even if you give up a turnover and don’t let them score, the defense has got to go out there and try to prevent the damage from happening.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, all of college football games are games of momentum swings, back and forth, sudden change, how your own defense responds to a turnover. If there’s a pick-six, I think in Clemson’s case, you’re very fortunate to have a quarterback that’s played a ton of football, has an ability to bounce back from mistakes. If you look at his track record, it’s not like he goes in the tank after he potentially throws a pick or a pick-six.

I’ve always been really impressed by him. We’ve called a lot of his games. Just when you think the average quarterback, Wow, he threw a pick in Tallahassee, what is he going to do? He gets the ball back the next series, it’s like it never happened.

Yes, it will obviously affect the game, momentum, energy in the stadium, score on the scoreboard. I don’t think it would lead to potential further damage just because he may throw a pick.

I think he needs the defense to step up, like Washington did last week, when they were put in some tough spots.

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

 

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/college-football

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/espncfb

 

 

 

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’s College Football Championship Preview Coverage Begins Today

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

 

The stage is officially set for the 2017 college football championship, and ESPN’s networks will have extensive preview coverage of the upcoming matchup today and tomorrow.

That coverage begins this afternoon at 1 p.m. on ESPN’s College Football Live.  ESPN will carry a special hour-long edition of its flagship college football program today and tomorrow on ESPN.  The broadcasts will air live from the campuses of Clemson and Alabama.

Adnan Virk will anchor the program’s broadcast live from Clemson, SC.  He will be joined by analysts Joey Galloway and Danny Kannell for additional commentary.  Reporter Marty Smith will also be on hand for additional news and insights.

Molly McGrath will head up the program’s broadcast live from Tuscaloosa, ALA.  She will be joined by analysts David Pollack and Booger McFarland for additional commentary.  Reporter Tom Rinaldi will also be on hand for additional news and interviews.

As an additional bonus, McGrath, Galloway, McFarland and Pollack will all be live on hand live in Tampa for Friday’s broadcast at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

College Football Live is just one of the ESPN networks’ programs that will offer extensive preview coverage of the college football championship.  ESPN’s flagship sports news broadcast SportsCenter will offer its own extensive coverage.

Jay Crawford will anchor tonight’s SportsCenter broadcast and Thursday’s 6 p.m. broadcast with Tom Rinaldi reporting live from Alabama and Marty Smith reporting live from South Carolina.  He will also anchor Friday’s broadcast live from Tampa.

Cari Champion will host the program’s 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. broadcast this morning from Clemson.  David Lloyd will host Thursday’s 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. broadcast Thursday from Alabama.

Sage Steele will anchor broadcasts on Friday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

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

 

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/college-football

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/espncfb

 

 

 

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 College Football Week 14 Broadcast Schedule

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

The ESPN networks’ coverage of college football’s regular season wraps up this weekend with a group of championship matchups on its schedule.

The weekend’s coverage begins live from Detroit Friday when No. 21 Western Michigan takes on Ohio for the MAC Championship.  Broadcast begins at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2.  Adam Amin will have the call for the game.  He will be joined by analyst Mack Brown for additional commentary.  Reporter Molly McGrath will be on the sidelines for all of the latest in-game news and interviews.

The action continues at 9 p.m. EST live from Santa Clara, CA where No. 9 Colorado will take on No. 5 Washington for the 2016 Pac-12 Conference Championship.  The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio.  Bill Rosinski will have the call for the game.  He will be joined by David Norrie for additional commentary.  Ian Fitzsimmons will have all of the latest in-game news and interviews.

No. 4 Clemson rounds out the weekend’s coverage as it takes on Virginia Tech for the ACC Championship Saturday night at 8 p.m. EST on ABC and ESPN Radio.  Clemson is in the College Football Playoff Top 4 right now.  Chris Fowler will have the call for the game on ABC.  He will be joined by Kirk Herbstreit for additional commentary.  Reporter Samantha Ponder will have all of the latest in-game news and interviews.  Bill Rosinski, David Norrie and Ian Fitzsimmons will have the call on ESPN Radio live.

In all, seven championships will be decided this weekend on the ESPN networks.  The season’s final rankings will be revealed Friday at noon.  One more ranking will be announced tonight at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.  The full schedule for the ESPN networks’ weekend conference championship matchup coverage is noted below.

 

ESPN Network’s Week 14 Slate of Games

Date Time (ET) Game Network
Fri, Dec. 2 7 p.m. 2016 Marathon MAC Football Championship from Detroit: No. 21 Western Michigan vs. Ohio
Adam Amin, Mack Brown, Molly McGrath
ESPN2
9 p.m. 2016 Pac-12 Championship from Santa Clara: No. 9 Colorado vs. No. 5 Washington
Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, Ian Fitzsimmons
ESPN Radio
Sat, Dec. 3 Noon 2016 American Athletic Conference Football Championship Game: Temple vs. No. 25 Navy
Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe
ABC
2016 Dynacraft Conference USA Championship Game: Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky
Dave Pasch, Tom Luginbill, Quint Kessenich
ESPN
Troy at Georgia Southern
Jason Benetti, Kelly Stouffer, Paul Carcaterra
ESPN2
1 p.m. New Mexico State at South Alabama ESPN3
3 p.m. Louisiana-Lafayette at Louisiana-Monroe ESPN3
4 p.m. 2016 SWAC Football Championship Presented by McDonald’s from Houston, Tex.:Grambling vs. Alcorn State
Eric Clemons, Jay Walker, Sherree Burruss
ESPNU
5 p.m. Georgia State at Idaho ESPN3
7:30 p.m. Arkansas State at Texas State
Allen Bestwick, Ahmad Brooks, Kris Budden
ESPN2
7:45 p.m. 2016 Mountain West Football Championship Game
San Diego State at Wyoming
Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Todd McShay
ESPN
8 p.m. 2016 Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game from Orlando, Fla.
No. 4 Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
TV: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Samantha PonderRadio: Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, Ian Fitzsimmons
ABC and ESPN Radio

Please note: Schedule does not include the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship which is carried exclusively by ESPN

 

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

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/college-football

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/espncfb

 

 

 

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’s ‘CGD’ To Air Live On Saturday From Tuscaloosa

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN’s College GameDay Built by The Home Depot returns to the campus of Alabama for its broadcast this weekend.

Rece Davis and company will be live on the campus of The University of Alabama on Saturday for ESPN’s weekly broadcast of College GameDay Built by The Home Depot.  The broadcast, live from Tuscaloosa, Ala., will be ahead of the No. 1 Crimson Tide’s matchup against No. 6 Texas.

Broadcast begins at 9 a.m. ET.  This week’s show marks the 13th time overall that College GameDay Built by The Home Depot has aired live from the university’s campus.  It will be live on site at the Walk of Champions outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Rece Davis will anchor the broadcast.  He will be joined at the desk by analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, and David Pollack as well as Chris Fallica, Jen Lada, Samantha Ponder, Tom Rinaldi, George Whitfield, and Gene Wojciechowski for additional commentary.

More information on this week’s edition of College GameDay Built by The Home Depot is available online now along with all of the latest college football headlines at:

 

 

 

Website: http://espn.go.com/college-football

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/CollegeGameDay

 

 

 

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’s ‘CGD’ To Broadcast Live From University of Tennesse Campus This Weekend

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN’s College GameDay Built by The Home Depot will be live in Tennessee this weekend.

The worldwide leader in sports’ flagship college football show will be live in Knoxville, TN for this weekend’s matchup between the Volunteers and Gators.  Broadcast begins at 9am ET.

Rece Davis will host the broadcast.  He will be joined at the desk by the team of analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack, and contributors Chris Fallica, Jen Lada, Samantha Ponder, Tom Rinaldi, George Whitfield and Gene Wojciechowski.

College GameDay Live will air live from the College GameDay set beginning at 1:30pm ET.  Samantha Ponder, Desmond Howard and David Pollack will be on hand for the broadcast.

More information on ESPN’s College GameDay built by The Home Depot is available online now along with all of the latest college football headlines at:

 

 

 

 

Website: http://www.espn.com/college-football

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/CollegeGameDay

 

 

 

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.

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.