With another college football regular season over and another bowl season about to begin, it’s time to go hand out the college football TV awards once again.
As Fox increases its presence in college football thanks to its new contracts with the Big 12 and Pac-12, we have a bigger pool to choose from. And there’s always the usual stalwarts of ESPN and CBS as well. Let’s see who got which award for the 2012 season.
The College GameDay Award for Best Pregame Show – College GameDay, ESPN. This show is the standard for all pregame shows in any sport. Other shows have tried to match the energy of College GameDay’s live remotes and failed. Even the college basketball version of College GameDay pales in comparison to the football edition. The show picked up from the loss of Erin Andrews to Fox, brought in Samantha Steele to host the first hour on ESPNU and did not miss a beat. With host Chris Fowler handing off to Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso, College GameDay has one of the stronger casts for any studio show. Tom Rinaldi’s heartstring-tugging stories provides College GameDay with some of the strongest features in any year. There have been some bizarre moments, but we’ll get to those later. CBS’ College Football Today is also good, but doesn’t come close to GameDay.
Best Studio Show – A new category. I decided to reward a non-pregame show and for this year, I’ll go with College Football Final, ESPN2. Manned by ESPN’s other college football studio crew, Rece Davis, Lou Holtz and Mark May, this show also has very good chemistry. Holtz and May Day appear to barely tolerate each other, but they work off one another quite well. In addition, the show wraps up the day in college football in a very neat package. This season, I purposely stayed up each week to watch the program and was very impressed. And the Final Verdict segment that could be over the top never strays thanks to Davis keeping control. College Football Final is the first winner of this category.
Best Debut – Scott Van Pelt and Samantha Steele (tie). Two very good moves by ESPN. One was to give Scott Van Pelt a role on its college football coverage and the other was bringing in Samantha Steele to replace Erin Andrews on College GameDay. SVP hosted Thursday nights in the studio and also traveled to selected College GameDay sites to provide features and interviews. And by having the SVP & Russillo radio show at the GameDay site, ESPN got some extra promotion and synergy.
By bringing Samantha Steele over from Longhorn Network to host the first hour of College GameDay on ESPNU, it made many fans forget about Erin Andrews who left for Fox. There was no awkward transition and by the end of the season, Steele gave viewers something to look forward to every week. Michelle Beadle tweeted me that Steele would crush on College GameDay and she ended up being right.
The Keith Jackson Award for Best Play-by-Play – Tom Hammond, NBC. Tom has called Notre Dame football for the Peacock annually except for one year dating back to 1994. He’s a very good nuts-and-bolts announcer and with Mike Mayock has formed one of college football’s best announcing teams. Unfortunately, Tom did not get to call the Fighting Irish’s biggest games this season as Oklahoma and USC were aired on ABC and the Pittsburgh game at home was called by Dan Hicks. However, Hammond remains as one of the best announcers and calls a very good game.
Honorable mentions – Kevin Calabro, Pac-12 Network; Gus Johnson, Fox; Sean McDonough, ESPN/ABC; Verne Lundquist, CBS; Brad Nessler, ESPN/ABC, Dave Pasch, ESPN/ABC; Joe Tessitore, ESPN/ABC
The Frank Broyles Award for Best Game Analyst – Chris Spielman, ESPN/ABC. I seemed to get a lot of games that Spielman and Sean McDonough called on ABC this season. Whether it was the luck of the draw or the region where I live, they seemed to be on every Saturday afternoon game. I was impressed by Spielman’s calm on-air demeanor. He didn’t yell nor did he call attention to himself. He spotted trends and did not come off as condescending to the viewer. Spielman impressed me throughout the season.
Honorable mentions – Todd Blackledge, ESPN/ABC; Gary Danielson, CBS; Charles Davis, Fox; Brian Griese, ESPN/ABC; Glenn Mason, Big Ten Network; Mike Mayock, NBC
Best Announcing Team – Dave Pasch/Brian Griese/Jenn Brown, ESPN/ABC. They were assigned to the noon ET game that often involved the Big Ten. Dave Pasch who also calls the Arizona Cardinals on radio is very good. Pasch also is involved with college basketball for ESPN. He and the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bob Griese have formed a strong team in the booth. In fact, the younger Griese often sounds a lot like his dad. Dave and Brian mesh well and are on top of trends. They let the game breathe and allow the action to come to them. We know that Jenn Brown is eye candy, but she does a decent job. I admit I haven’t been a fan of hers over the years, but as long as ESPN keeps her from being flashy, she’s fine.
Honorable mentions – Tom Hammond/Mike Mayock, NBC; Gus Johnson/Charles Davis, Fox; Verne Lundquist/Gary Danielson, CBS; Brad Nessler/Todd Blackledge, ESPN/ABC
The Jim Lampley Award for Best Studio Host – Liam McHugh, NBC. One of the best young hosts on sports television, McHugh has had a very good year. He’s proving to be quite versatile whether he’s hosting the NHL, Olympics or college football. McHugh does a good job with the highlights, meshes with analysts Hines Ward and Doug Flutie and has a very good camera presence. I like his work.
Honorable mentions – Tim Brando, CBS; Rece Davis, ESPN; Chris Fowler, ESPN; Adam Zucker, CBS/CBS Sports Network
Best Studio Analyst – Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN College GameDay. I’m not a fan of Herbstreit’s work in the booth, but there’s no doubt that his strength is on GameDay where he has made his fame. Kirk works well with the entire GameDay crew and is the best analyst on the set. Unlike his picks where he’s not allowed to choose winners for the game he’s calling, Herbstreit is not afraid to take a stand and offers strong opinions. Of course, those opinions have led him to move from his native Columbus to Tennessee as Ohio State fans have vented their anger at him, but Herbie is one of the best analysts in the studio.
Honorable mentions – Doug Flutie, NBC; Mark May, ESPN; Jesse Palmer, ABC; Spencer Tillman, CBS
The Jack Arute Award for Sideline Reporting – Heather Cox, ESPN/ABC. Replacing Erin Andrews on Saturday Night Football and joining the “A” team with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit, Heather received a high profile assignment and she handled it swimmingly. Coming off another high-profile assignment at the Olympics for NBC at the Beach Volleyball venue, Heather handled halftime coach’s interview very well. I heard that Heather got a raise from ESPN going into this season and it’s well deserved. Very good reporter.
Honorable mentions – Alex Flanagan, NBC; Quint Kessenich, ESPN/ABC; Holly Rowe, ESPN/ABC; Tracy “The Wolf” Wolfson, CBS
Most Valuable Network – NBC. Thanks to Notre Dame’s resurgence, it led to its best ratings for the Fighting Irish package dating back to 2005. The seven games on NBC saw a 67% increase in ratings from a year ago and if Notre Dame wins the BCS National Championship Game in January, NBC will be in prime position for another ratings increase in 2013.
Honorable mentions – CBS; ESPN
Best Overall Coverage – This is always a controversial choice because this is very subjective. ESPN. College Football is a sport where it steps up and provides good coverage. It blankets Saturdays from 9 a.m. ET until 3 a.m. on Sunday. What other network can do this? Maybe CBS Sports Network, but you can start with College GameDay on ESPNU at 9 a.m. ET, watch games starting at noon and flip around to as many as five games spanning to 1:30 a.m. and then watch College Football Final ending your day at 3 a.m. ET. You shouldn’t be up that long, but if you love college football you can.
Honorable mentions – CBS/CBS Sports Network, NBC
Best Move – Fox College Football in primetime. Fox entered the primetime mix with Big 12 and Pac-12 games this season. Having Gus Johnson, Charles Davis and Julie Alexandria on most of the games, they helped to give Fox a big game feel on its college football package. Most of the time, ABC beat Fox in the ratings, but Fox had some decent games this season. We’ll probably see primetime college football on Fox Sports 1 in the next couple of years, but let’s enjoy the games on the Fox mothership for as long as we can.
The Pam Ward Award for Worst Play-by-Play – Craig Bolerjack, Fox. He gets it for the second straight year. Read last year’s post for my reasoning.
Worst Analyst (Game or Studio) – Eddie George and Joey Harrington, Fox (tie). Both on Fox College Saturday, George and Harrington were extremely shaky. They had trouble doing highlights and stumbled a lot. They improved as the season progressed, but it was not enough to wipe away their failing grades from the beginning. I hope to see some major improvement next season.
Worst Debut – Fox College Saturday. This show had potential, but got off to a rough start when a baseball game ran over and wiped out its premiere to most of the country. And it happened again in following weeks when Fox Saturday Baseball would run long. And the show with Erin Andrews, George and Harrington never clicked. The chemistry among the cast never jelled. Here’s hoping with one year under its belt, the show will get better in 2013.
Worst Studio Host – Erin Andrews, Fox. The studio is not Erin Andrews’ strength. She’s best on the sidelines. Erin was shaky in the studio and there was the moment when Stanford beat USC where she said students would not be going to school the following day. Technically that was correct as school would be closed on the following Sunday. Anyway, I hope that she will improve next year, we’ll be watching.
Most Bizarre Lee Corso Moment – We have a couple, but I have to cull this down to one. Lee Corso remains an American treasure and his mascot head picks remain high comedy. However, they can become extremely bizarre like this one in November when Corso almost strangled a duck at the University of Oregon by holding its head under his arm. Luckily, the duck turned out ok, but the ASPCA almost had to be summoned.
Truly one of the most bizarre moments this year.
Honorable mention – Lee fires off guns in Oklahoma once again scaring off Kirk Herbstreit.
And that’s going to complete the Awards for 2012.