With college bowl season fast approaching, ESPN has announced which announcers will be announcing which games this year. Who gets what games says a lot about what ESPN thinks of their announcers or, at the very least, what the head honchos think the viewers think of certain announcers.
Before we run down the highlights—you can read the full list here—it's important to point out that with the addition of the BCS, ESPN now owns virtually the entire college football bowl season.
Did you know that of the 35 bowl games this season—yes, 70 of the 120 FBS teams qualify for bowl games—ESPN will produce all but two of them? The Hyundai Sun Bowl will be on CBS on December 31 and the AT&T Cotton Bowl will be on FOX on January 6.
Every other bowl game is now produced and disseminated by ESPN. In fact, of the remaining 33 bowl games that ESPN will broadcast, all but five are on the mothership.
ABC will air the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on December 31 and the Outback Bowl on January 2. ESPN2 has the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl on December 26 (I truly love hearing the ridiculous corporate tie-ins to these games) and the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl (the names never disappoint), while ESPNU has the TicketCity Bowl on January 2.
The other 28 bowl games are all on ESPN. Amazing.
For those of us who hate the BCS and want to see a playoff determine the national champion, there's really only one place left to complain. The college football bowl season is like playing a game of Monopoly, and ESPN has systematically collected every property except St. James Place and Marvin Gardens. Should fans quit the game and start playing Yahtzee? Are we stuck rounding the board every year paying insane fees to ESPN in a perpetual cycle with no way out until we become bankrupt? Eh, there's always jail.
The BCS Games
The team of Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews will be calling the Rose Bowl (presented by Vizio) and the BCS title game. Tom Rinaldi will join the crew for the title game after working the Rose Bowl sideline for radio. Important note: Rinaldi's tie-and-pocket-square combo will surely depend on which teams make the title game. My guess is he'll pick a color based on the sideline he covers. Look for Crimson, folks.
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will go to Sean McDonough, Matt Millen and Heather Cox. With the Allstate Sugar Bowl going to Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe.
The Discover Orange Bowl gets the ESPN gimmick treatment we all knew was going to happen. Mike Tirico (who has called a million college games and is great) gets the game with his Monday Night Football counterparts Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden (not as many college games and not as great). Lisa Salters will be on the sidelines.
Presumably this is an indication that ESPN is afraid of the Orange Bowl ratings with the likelihood of the game being between Virginia Tech and whoever sneaks out of the Big East. At least if Houston or Boise State get put into this game, Jaws and Gruden can ignore the play on the field and talk about Case Keenum or Kellen Moore transitioning to the pros. Get ready for a lot of Geno Smith talk, folks.
Putting the Monday Night crew into a BCS game is also a clear message to the other ESPN college announcers—most notably Craig James—that they aren't exactly considered championship-level football announcers at the Worldwide Leader.
Speaking of Craig James…
James is calling three games this bowl season and none of them are particularly high profile.
He has the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl on Tuesday, December 20, working with Mike Patrick and Jeannine Edwards. He gets the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl with Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and Jenn Brown on Wednesday, December 28, before concluding his bowl season on January 2 at the aforementioned TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl with Patrick and Edwards.
One might wonder if that's the last time we see James on ESPN calling football games.
Think about it: those aren't exactly BCS caliber games. The Gator Bowl used to be a big deal and now it's relegated to ESPN2 with a clash between the SEC's sixth-best team and the Big Ten's fourth-best. If that's not bad enough, it's on against the Outback Bowl on ABC, called by Tirico, Gruden and Salters, and the Capital One Bowl, called by Joe Tessitore, Rod Gilmore and Quint Kessenich, two games that showcase higher-ranked SEC and Big Ten schools.
From Studio to Booth…
In addition to hosting all the BCS pregame festivities, Chris Fowler will call two bowl games in the booth, teaming up with Herbstreit and Rinaldi at the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl on December 22 before calling the New Era Pinstripe Bowl with Jesse Palmer and Rinaldi on December 30. If Rinaldi is not wearing a pinstripe suit AND pinstripe tie with matching pocket square, I want my money back.
Is it odd that Palmer is only calling two games and isn't involved in any of the bigger bowl contests? Sure, ESPN will use Palmer as one of their prominent studio analysts—expect him breaking down halftime highlights throughout the January bowls—but the guy is actually very good in the booth. I question if he's being underutilized.
Rece Davis is calling just one bowl game this year, so obviously expect him to be anchoring a lot of the coverage in studio as well. He'll likely be doing so with Lou Holtz and Mark May, who are on the road calling a game this year, getting the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl with Tessitore.
Wednesday, December 21 just became appointment television with Dr. Lou in the booth.
The Busiest Bowl Season Goes To…
Not including the crew hosting pregame and highlight shows, the busiest ESPN talent this bowl season will mostly be on the sidelines.
Jeannine Edwards will work four games between December 20 and January 2. Edwards is fortunate that all her games are on the East Coast, calling games in St. Petersburg, Washington, D.C., Nashville and Jacksonville.
Cox also has four games, but she gets the luxury of working two BCS matchups. Cox has the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise on December 17, the Insight Bowl in Tempe on December 30, the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale on January 2 and the Sugar Bowl, on radio, the following night in New Orleans.
Rowe gets four too, including the Champs Sports Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Allstate Sugar Bowl and the BCS title game on radio. Rowe will work four games in 11 days, three of which come in the span of four days over New Years, but she gets big games and works in Orlando, Atlanta and New Orleans twice. She may not even have to take a flight (some roads have tolls).
Rinaldi will work four games as well, with one on radio—does he still pull out the pocket squares for radio gigs? Probably, the guy's a pro—and has to travel back and forth across the country to do so. Rinaldi will work in Las Vegas on December 22, New York City on December 30, then back to Pasadena on January 2 before ending his bowl season in New Orleans for the championship game on January 9.
Tessitore has four games as well, calling play-by-play for each. He gets the Poinsettia Bowl on December 21, the Champs Sports Bowl on December 29, the Capitol One Bowl on January 2 before calling the Orange Bowl on radio on January 4. His journey does take him from San Diego to Florida, but Tessitore gets two games in the same stadium just five days apart. He can probably leave his stuff in the press box.
Interestingly enough, the busiest crew for ESPN during the bowl calendar won't be on TV at all.
The ESPN Radio crew of Bill Rosinski, David Norrie and Joe Schad have five assignments this bowl season, starting in Boise (Dec. 17) before heading down to San Diego for two games (Dec. 21 and Dec. 28…Merry Christmas to you), swinging over to Tempe (Dec. 30) before finishing the West Coast tour in Glendale for the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2). At least, once they leave Boise, there isn't a snowflake in sight for miles.
In total, ESPN has 64 on-air commentators for this bowl season, including two women doing play-by-play, with Beth Mowins calling the Little Ceasars Bowl on TV and Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas while Pam Ward gets the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman on TV and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Radio.
For the full list of bowls, locations and TV times, click here.