Because college football is such a wonderfully massive world — literally hundreds of games every weekend, separated by thousands of miles — most of us experience the game primarily through the television.
So, as a distraction from the endless team ranking arguments raging right now, it seems appropriate to take a break and focus some attention on the personalities who bring us this great game each week.
First, a word on the criteria for inclusion. Like the BCS, our criteria used to rank television personalities here is nebulous, but here are the general parameters:
- Knowledge of the game, but more importantly, knowledge of the culture. I’m sure they could get some NFL robot-type to break down, for example, Florida’s spread option. However, I’d rather listen to somebody break down the impact of LSU coach Les Miles’ hat size on his team’s win-loss record.
- Enthusiasm. On many, many occasions this season, such as the end of the Texas-Texas Tech game, I’ve said to whoever would listen, “if you don’t like this, then you must not have a pulse.” I like the NFL, but Joe Buck’s call of the Eli Manning-to-David Tyree connection sounded a little like the “Now Serving” announcement lady at the DMV. Just contrast that with this:
- Unpredictability. There’s nothing better than getting a little something unexpected during a broadcast.
- Voice. Even with the studio people, it’s much more important to have a good voice than a good look.
Top 10 NCAA TV Personalities
1. Rece Davis
ESPN’s lead studio guy is the ultimate college football television personality. More than anybody else, he truly “gets it.” When he speaks about the game, he sounds like a fan, from referring to Houston Nutt as “The Right Reverend” to jumping all over Lou Holtz when Holtz starts (literally) spewing indefensible garbage all over the place.
Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to our top guy is that, to my knowledge, there isn’t a single fan base that hates him, which in the world of college football is a remarkable achievement. He’s universally respected, which makes him a unique figure/institution in our game.
2. Uncle Verne Lundquist
Clearly, Verne has fun broadcasting the primary SEC game on CBS. Though he’s been around for a long time, he continues to be amused by the game, which is an endearing trait for a broadcaster to have. He’s jolly, in a “play tricks on the grandkids” kind of way, and he has a cool catch phrase — “How. Do. You. Do!”
However, as safe of a choice at No. 2 as Uncle Verne may seem to be, this selection’s sure to inflame the passions of many around the South. There’s a curious strain of Verne-hatred among various SEC fans that, frankly, I’ve never understood. Yes, he routinely butchers the names of the players, but other than that I’ve never heard any criticism of him I’ve bought in to, and honestly, I think the predictable name butchery is endearing (I know the players’ names; what do I care if the guy calling the game can’t pronounce them?). Also, Verne-haters, check the online fan communities around the SEC — every school thinks Verne’s out to get them. He can’t be biased toward everybody, can he?
3. Ron Franklin
If ESPN hadn’t exiled Franklin from the national Saturday night game a few years ago, he may have been even higher on this list. However, for the last few years, he’s mostly been calling the Big XII regional afternoon games on ABC, which is a total shame, because his talents deserve a larger stage. He has the best voice in football since the retirement of Keith Jackson, he calls the snap on field goals/PATs a “pass” - which is anachronistically awesome - and he has an excellent sense of when to call the action and when to let it speak for itself. No offense intended to Mike “What’s Britney doing with her life, and my my my, Todd, I could just die for your metabolism” Patrick, but Franklin belongs back on the ESPN Saturday night game full time.
4. Kirk Herbstreit
First, it’s important to get this out of the way … he’s soooo dreamy! He’s got the best highlights in football, and I’m not talking about game footage! Yummy!
Herbie’s proof, though, that pretty boy quarterbacks can make for great TV. He’s not afraid to call out players or coaches or teams, which is always entertaining, but it’s not just bluster. He’s exceptionally well informed, with one gigantic, hulking exception (see below), and his position as the lead analyst on GameDay affords him more access than almost anyone on television. Also, to Herbie’s credit, he’s as good providing color for the ABC Saturday night game as he is analyzing them on GameDay.
5. Brent Musburger
“You’re looking liiiivvve at No. 5 on the list …”
Herbie’s partner on the ABC Saturday night game is a part of my generation’s Mount Rushmore of sports television personalities. He’s called just about every sport on the American sports scene over the last few decades, but he’s really seemed to find his niche in college football. For one, he’s been doing this for so long his comfort level with being on air is off the charts. As a result, he has less of a filter than most on television, which gives any game Brent calls excellent trainwreck potential.
To be clear, there’s a lot not to like about Brent, with his shameless loafer-polishing of Jim Tressel and the Buckeyyyyyyes being examples No. 1-13. However, there’s nothing like Brent getting really wound up about a huge play at the end of a game, and there’s really nothing like Brent speaking his mind … dirty hippies!
6. Lee Corso
Corso’s our Dick Vitale, only imminently more palatable. He’s also completely nuts:
7. Dave “Buzz” Baker
While Buzz Baker, otherwise known as Sideline Dave of the famous Three Daves of Raycom, may be the most anonymous choice on this list, he’s also going to be among the most hated. Certainly any fan who’s had the crankiness born of an 11:30am central time kickoff exacerbated by some kind of Raycom buffoonery can sympathize with hating Raycom/Lincoln Financial/Jefferson-Pilot and everything attached to it, including the most jovial of the Daves. But I’m standing up for Buzz.
First, there’s the nickname itself; a middle-aged man named “Buzz” is aces in my book. Then there are the consistently awkward handoffs from one of the Daves in the booth to our Dave on the field — it never, ever goes smoothly. Yet Buzz is the model of professionalism, and he continues to churn out quality work in the face of the obvious limitation of trying to be a sideline reporter without being a hot chick.
8. Chris Fowler
Sure, Fowler can be smarmy, and he can take himself way too seriously at times, but it would be unfair to have a list like this without acknowledging the host of the most influential show in college football. Fowler runs a tight ship, and he’s become so much a part of football Saturday, it’s very difficult to picture anybody else occupying his seat.
9. Todd Blackledge
Not only is Blackledge really, really good on television, but he’s remained so even after spending a couple of years parked next to Mike Patrick. His telestrator skills are laudable, and there’s even something kind of entertaining about Todd’s Taste of the Town, the turbo-cheesy feature on out-of-the-way dining stops Todd bravely soldiers through each Saturday.
10. Honorable Mention: Keith Jackson
Quite simply, he’s the greatest there ever was.
- Erin Andrews – Is she attractive? Sure. Does she warrant 10,000 words across 217 different blog posts per day? No. That kind of blogivation should be reserved for real A-listers, like President-elect Obama and Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody.
- Lou Holtz – On the thurface, thith theemth like thuch a thrinkingly large thnub — afthter all, Holtth ith tho vithible on televithion eacth Thaturday. But thomebody hath to thit on the thidelineth, and we’re thure coach Holth hath the thrength to thurvive.
- Anybody on FOX – Sure, there’s much about the BCS that defies logic and strains credulity. No need to rehash the whole list here (though if you look really closely this week, you’ll see none other than James Madison University received BCS points this week), but perhaps the most bizarre part of the BCS is its current television partner. FOX broadcasts exactly zero games on its flagship network during the season, and the games on Fox Sports Net affiliates across the country aren’t exactly top shelf. Yet, the game of the year is broadcast on FOX, complete with unseasoned studio guys, bizarre cameos and its completely annoying habit of showing overly long close-ups of really important things, like, you know, the Kansas band.
By Jack Bonden
Love of Sports Correspondent