College Football 2011: Ranking the Best College Football Analysts on TV
The college football analyst, whether he resides in the booth or in the studio, serves as the interpreter between the fan and the field.
The play-by-play announcer keeps us abreast of the action, and then the analyst breaks down, dissects and explains what just transpired.
Usually this individual (in the booth, he is sometimes referred to as the “color commentator”) has some actual playing or coaching experience and not only does he enlighten us, he also injects his professional opinion about the in-game events.
The studio counterpart to the booth analyst tackles wider subject matter, and whether in the full program, half time, pregame or post game format, these guys participate in ongoing issues affecting the game as well as the normal fare of predicting and reviewing actual on-field play.
As fans, we all know that some analysts are better than others and we all have our personal favorites.
Some of these guys make us want to mute the sound on the TV (and throw crap at it), while other personalities are guys we make a point of listening to, and other personalities we are just stuck with because they are assigned to cover huge games we aren’t going to miss (regardless of who is covering it).
Rating the analysts is certainly a subjective task, but the following slideshow attempts to rank the best of the best of the current crop of TV college football color men.
They inform, entertain, enrage, annoy, educate, amuse and instruct us on a weekly basis, and sometimes, they are as much a part of the game viewing experience as the on field heroes themselves.
17. Spencer Tillman
Spencer Tillman currently serves as the studio analyst for the SEC on CBS, where he is paired with the very festive Tim Brando.
Tillman played running back at Oklahoma in the 1980’s and went on to enjoy an NFL career that included a long stop with the Houston Oilers.
I’m not sure who produces CBS’ college football studio show but it almost looks like a poorly run political campaign: lots of make-up, perfect hair and questionable discourse.
Both Brando and Tillman speak like they are trying to sell you a car, and I just can’t help but think these guys are going to come on air wearing gold sports blazers with “CBS” patches on the chest.
The lighting on this show doesn’t do anyone in America any favors, and overall, it’s a college football program that’s difficult to watch (which almost seems like an impossible thing to say).
16. Gary Danielson
Gary Danielson is currently paired with long time play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist on CBS’s SEC coverage.
Danielson played QB at Purdue (graduated in 1973) and then played two seasons in the WFL before landing a spot at the Detroit Lions in 1976, where he stayed until 1984. His career eventually ended in Cleveland.
CBS’ coverage of the SEC often seems like a respite from a sport that is dominated by ESPN, but Danielson and Lundquist manage to make some great SEC match-ups difficult to watch.
It is confusion, clichés and outright crazy opinion, and it combines to make the SEC game of the week still must see TV, but highly, highly mutable.
15. Matt Millen
Matt Millen spent last season providing color for the Saturday afternoon game on ESPN, where he was paired with play-by-play man Sean McDonough.
Millen played linebacker at Penn State and was selected in the second round of the 1980 NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders; he went on to win Super Bowl rings at each of the three teams he played for (Oakland, Washington and San Francisco).
Millen is a decent analyst, and you can’t argue his in-depth knowledge of the game, but he is a guy who is difficult to warm to (for me, at least).
Is it just me, or does he seem repetitive?
14. Bob Davie
Bob Davie spent 2010 teamed up with Mark Jones for Saturday night games on ESPN2.
After playing tight end at Youngstown State from 1973-75, Davie spent over two decades as a college football assistant, ultimately landing the head job at Notre Dame from 1997-2001, where he went 35-25.
Davie is downright colorful as an announcer, and though he provides some decent information, he borders on annoying (and mildly condescending) and talks a lot (I realize that is what he gets paid to do, but I feel like I’m listening to one of my friends talk about the people she works with).
You gotta love Davie’s unbridled enthusiasm, but he’s definitely not one of my favorite on screen personalities.
What remains to be seen is if Davie will ever get back into the coaching game.
13. Craig James
Craig James teamed up last season with Mike Patrick for ESPN’s (or ABC’s) Saturday afternoon game, was a part of the trio (along with Rece Davis and Jesse Palmer) that covered ESPN’s Thursday night game and is well represented throughout the year on ESPN’s in studio coverage of college football.
James grew up in Houston Texas and played running back at SMU during its pre death penalty hey day before enjoying a half decade pro career that included stops in both the USFL and NFL.
Well, I’m going to admit that as a Texas Tech fan, I’m no Craig James enthusiast, but in an attempt to be objective, I will say that I wasn’t much of a James fan prior to the “Leach incident.”
I personally liked James as a straight studio guy, but never have been a big fan of his in game work, especially with giggly Mike Patrick as his play-by-play sidekick.
The guy obviously knows football, and he actually still does some respectable work in the studio, but what sealed the deal for me was when Mike Patrick droned about how brave he was in the Alamo Bowl (Texas Tech vs. Michigan State, 2009) immediately after Leach was fired.
I know I’m totally subjective (and bitter, and a homer and really indignant), but Craig James comes across as a pompous guy who’s trying to be funny but he’s not.
12. Rod Gilmore
Rod Gilmore was paired with Joe Tessitore last season for ESPN’s Friday Night game and also did a show called ESPN Goal Line.
Gilmore played defensive back at Stanford and graduated in 1982; after Stanford, he went on to earn a law degree from Cal-Berkley and still practices law.
A fun fact about Gilmore is that he was on the field during “the Play” when Cal infamously beat Stanford on a final second kick-off that involved most of the Stanford band.
Gilmore is an intelligent and opinionated guy who does a decent job with the Friday night package, which normally features less than stellar match-ups.
I like Gilmore, but he’s more difficult to watch when his play-by-play partner Joe Tessitore gets all worked up and starts waving his arms around.
ESPN might be better served to place Gilmore in a different time slot with a more suitable partner (maybe E Harmony could help).
11. Mike Mayock
Mike Mayock is currently paired with Tom Hammond to cover Notre Dame home games on NBC; Hammond provides the play-by-play while Mayock serves as the color guy.
Mayock took the job for the 2010 season and also does work for the NFL Network, where he previously did a draft show, and has recently been named as the analyst for NFL Network’s Thursday night games.
A native of Philadelphia, Mayock played safety at Boston College in the late 70’s thru early 80’s and had a short NFL career with the NY Giants.
Mayock is a very knowledgeable guy as far as the NFL draft is concerned, and I personally thought he made the NBC Notre Dame broadcasts less cheesy and more bearable. He seems a good fit for the post moving forward.
Jesse Palmer was part of the ESPN Friday night crew last season, which included Rece Davis as the play-by-play announcer and Craig James as the other color guy.
Palmer also teams up with host John Saunders on ABC’s College Football show on game day and does a fair amount of work during the off season on ESPN.
A Canadian by birth, Palmer played QB at Florida and was selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft and played at the NY Giants from 2001-03.
Palmer also served as The Bachelor on the TV reality show of the same name in 2004.
Palmer is definitely a bit of a pretty boy, but he isn’t afraid to express his opinions and obviously is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about college football.
Palmer may be the ladies version of Erin Andrews as far as providing the opposite sex something attractive to look at (who also knows what they’re talking about) during college football coverage.
I think Palmer is the strongest part of the Friday night package and brings a lot to the table when he appears on ESPN’s studio shows.
9. Andre Ware
Andre Ware teamed up with Dave Neal last season to do the ESPN SEC Network game of the week and is often seen on ESPN’s College Football Live program during the off season.
Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy as a QB for Houston and went on to a rocky professional career that ultimately ended in the CFL.
I like Andre Ware’s commentary on the College Football Live program and especially enjoy listening to his comments regarding current QB talent at the college level.
I am not sure where Ware fits into ESPN’s plans for the 2011 schedule, but this is a guy I hope we see more often in the upcoming season.
Todd Blackledge was teamed with Brad Nessler last season on ESPN’s Saturday night game package.
Blackledge is from Canton, Ohio and played QB for Penn State, where he was part of the 1982 National Championship team. Blackledge went on to play at the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Pittsburgh Steelers, where his career ended in 1989.
Blackledge does a bit every week called “Taste of the Town,” where he reviews a local eatery in the area of the game.
I personally like Todd Blackledge’s color work and think he’s one of the better guys on ESPN, and it’s great that he usually works a game that is highly viewable.
7. Chris Spielman
Chris Spielman teamed up with Dave Pasch and Bob Griese last season for ESPN’s Saturday afternoon game.
Speilman grew up in the football haven that is Massillon, Ohio and played linebacker for Ohio State before becoming the 29th overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft. He went on to an NFL career that was predominately spent in Detroit, but made late whistle stops in Buffalo and Cleveland.
Chris Spielman is as easy to like on screen as he was when he was one of the hardest hitters on the field. This is a guy that I personally like and respect, and though I don’t agree with everything he says, you have to be impressed with the amount of candor he displayed during the recent Ohio State debacle.
The Saturday afternoon game on ESPN is a classic time slot, and though the 8 p.m. EST game gets more hype, I like Spielman and company just as well.
6. Desmond Howard
Desmond Howard is currently a member of the ESPN College Gameday team, and, along with host Chris Fowler and fellow analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso, he travels the country each week in search of college football’s biggest game.
Howard hails from Cleveland, Ohio and won the 1991 Heisman Trophy as a wide receiver and return man at Michigan. He went on to enjoy a decade long career in the pros, including earning Super Bowl MVP honors at Green Bay in 1996.
Howard joined the Gameday crew in 2005, and though he’s a spirited analyst, he doesn’t seem to enjoy the huge following of Herbstreit or Corso.
I think Howard provides a good sparring partner for the cast, especially for Herbstreit who went to Ohio State. These guys are both professionals, but it would be awesome if they took the gloves off and got into a staged altercation over a Big Ten issue.
One of the more entertaining issues of the current offseason is when Phil Simms threatened Howard during a Super Bowl outing due to comments he made regarding Simm’s son Matt, who plays QB at Tennessee; personally, I applaud Howard’s honesty regardless of the parent in question.
5. Mark May
Mark May does the ESPN College Football Final and Scoreboard programs with partner Lou Holtz and host Rece Davis or John Saunders.
May played offensive tackle for Pitt where he won the 1980 Outland Trophy before enjoying a fruitful career for the Washington Redskins, with who he won two Super Bowl Rings.
I used to dislike Mark May in a fairly aggressive fashion, but over the last couple of seasons, he’s grown on me.
Yes, he’s still overtly arrogant, but (and even though I almost hate to admit it), I agree with a lot of what has to say, and I respect the fact he’s willing to stick his neck out and say what he thinks (intelligently).
May is the perfect partner for the wise and sage Lou Holtz, and the fact that they disagree on most things makes their show one of the best on TV.
4. Lee Corso
Lee Corso is a member of ESPN’s College Gameday crew, where he travels to a different campus every week with fellow cast members Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and host Chris Fowler.
Corso played QB at Florida State from 1953-57 and served as the head coach of Louisville (1969-72), Indiana (1973-82) and Northern Illinois (1994) before becoming a part of the ESPN Gameday program in 1987.
Corso is definitely the entertainer of the Gameday crew, but that and his “not so fast my friend” and headgear predictions shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this guy knows a ton about college football.
Lee Corso is an important part of our nation’s greatest team sport, and I personally like the way that he passionately presents his predictions and opinions regardless of their popularity.
3. Bob Griese
Bob Griese most recently joined forces with Brad Nessler (play-by-play) and Chris Spielman (fellow color commentator) to cover ESPN’s 2010 Saturday afternoon game.
Griese’s resume is impressive and includes playing time at Purdue, a first round draft pick in 1967, two Super Bowl rings with the Miami Dolphins and induction into both the College and Professional Football Halls of Fame.
Griese’s voice is a classic element of college football broadcasting and spells shades of past greats like Keith Jackson.
Griese announced his retirement from broadcasting this past February and will be sorely missed by the many college football enthusiasts who he has both educated and entertained over his long career.
2. Kirk Herbstreit
Kirk Herbstreit completes the trio of analysts on ESPN College Football Gameday and also serves alongside play-by-play man Brent Musburger on ABC’s coverage of the Saturday night game of the week, which is many times among the most critical (and highly touted) match-ups of the season.
Herbstreit is a native of Centerville, Ohio and played QB at Ohio State from 1989-1993.
Herbstreit has always been a solid broadcaster, and his flat obsession with the college game is evident in his above average coverage.
Among the many things I like about “Herbie” are the fact that he manages to control or subdue Musburger in the booth (no small task) and his high level of preparation.
I was also absolutely impressed with the way he has handled the Ohio State debacle, where he was so honest about the situation that he eventually opted to move his family away from Columbus.
Speaking out against (even delicately) your beloved alma mater is no simple affair; kudos to Herbstreit for conducting himself so well.
1. Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz is currently paired with Mark May on the ESPN College Football Scoreboard and College Football Final programs, which are hosted either by Rece Davis or Joe Saunders.
Holtz played linebacker at Kent State before making seven stops as a head football coach (William & Mary, NC State, NY Jets, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina).
Holtz’s association with Notre Dame sometimes brings the haters out of their closets, but he is one of the most knowledgeable, insightful commentators in college football.
Though his mocked up pre-game pep talks and “Dr. Lou” segments might be considered cheesy, I watch every one of them I can.
Lou Holtz has been a part of college football since 1956 and brings a wealth of experience to the table week in and week out.