ESPN broadcasters and executives met with the media in anticipation of Monday’s night broadcast of the BCS Championship Game. John Saunders moderated a panel discussion Sunday morning that featured broadcasters Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit, senior coordinating producer for college football Ed Placey and senior vice president of college programming Burke Magnus. Here are some of their shared thoughts on various issues regarding this game and the college football landscape.
On the playoff system starting in the 2014 season
“The known part right now is that the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl were done as separate agreements, and so will be part of the rotation,” Magnus said. “As I understand it from Bill Hancock (executive director of the BCS as well as the future playoff system), the commissioners are working starting Tuesday to finalize some of the other details in terms of the other three sites, the national championship game site, how the rotation is going to work.”
Magnus also said that of the six games associated with the new playoff, the three so-called “access” bowl games would be played on New Year’s Eve with three more “contract” games, including the two semifinal games, on New Year’s Day. The national championship game, he said, “would take place on a Monday night, “seven to twelve days later.”
“You’re going to have these six games play out over two days in a new tradition, in a way reclaiming some of the glory of New Year’s Day, but also establishing a really strong tradition of three games on New Year’s Eve,” Magnus said.
Herbstreit expressed excitement for the new four-team format, which he considers to be a definitive upgrade over the system that began in the 1998 season.
“I don’t know if we’re ever going to have the perfect answer to how to crown champion, but I think we’re getting closer,” Herbstreit said. “And I think we’re all getting excited about two years from now. “
“Imagine after watching Oregon play their game, getting excited about this game and then next week all getting together somewhere and watching the winner of this game play Oregon.”
Magnus added, “I’ve been sort of referring to it as the last great championship in American sports.”
On the Notre Dame-Alabama Matchup
Herbstreit and Musburger offered their perspective on some of the major storylines surrounding the game. Herbstreit said he felt that weather could play a major role in determining the outcome.
“Watching these Alabama guys practice, and I’ve watched them practice, they’re laboring to fight through this (heat), to get through it,” Herbstreit said. “Now they’re doing it, but it reminds me of watching a two-a-day practice. You go to the game, I know it’s at night, but it’s still humid. I really think conditioning and who does a better job of getting their team to have fresh legs…I think in the second part that’s going to be a big key to this game.”
Herbstreit also discussed the highly anticipated matchup between Alabama’s vaunted offensive line and Notre Dame’s equally lauded defensive front.
“While (Notre Dame linebacker) Manti (Te’o) gets most of the attention,” Herbstreit said, “I’ve been to four Notre Dame games and I’ve watched every game they’ve played. Their defensive line is really why they’re in the national championship.
“What I want to see is can that defensive line and those linebackers stop this running game without having to get their safeties down to help out,” he continued. “See Notre Dame has been spoiled this year because they’ve defended the run, which is unusual without using their safeties. Their safeties are back there helping their corners.”
Musburger thought the ability of the Notre Dame secondary contain Alabama’s passing game would become a major factor.
“The question of the Irish defense is going to be the secondary because the Irish are going to find out that (Alabama quarterback AJ) McCarron is a much better deep passer than he gets credit for,” Musburger said.
Musburger hesitated to draw comparisons between this game and the celebrated Sugar and Orange Bowl matchups between the schools in the 1970s, saying today’s players are a different breed.
“I think because athletes are bigger, faster, stronger than they were then, it’s a little bit different,” Musburger said. “When you walk and see the size of these youngsters, I’m amazed at how well these kids move. The kids today are built and play more like the NFL players back in the 70s when you go watch them. It’s a different universe, and first downs are going to be hard the come by.“
On fans rooting against a particular side.
Musburger noted that while much of the talk has centered on the great tradition of the two programs, there are also a lot of people who’ll be watching the game to root against one particular side. Musburger pointed out that within just the city of Miami alone, there’s plenty of local fans who strongly dislike Alabama head coach Nick Saban for leaving the Miami Dolphins to take the Alabama job and also plenty of fans whose disdain for Notre Dame stems back to the 80s rivalry between the Fighting Irish and the University of Miami.
“What we have coming into this game is not only this great passion, this great love, this great feeling for the SEC and for Notre Dame, but we’ve got people that are just begging that the other side wins,” Musburger said. “You have probably the ultimate matchup in college football coming together here with these two.”
“There are many people in the Northwest and the Northeast and the Southwest who can’t wait for the SEC to lose one of these games. And there’s other people who say that’s a fluke that we’ve got Notre Dame in this, they’ve got special rules, they’ve got their own television network.”
Herbstreit also touched on this issue of fans from outside the Southeast tiring of the SEC’s continued success. He said that he’s received a lot of criticism from fans for his perceived bias towards the conference.
“My style as a broadcaster and an analyst is to just be objective,” Herbstreit said. “And sometimes when you’re being objective, people outside the SEC think that you’re an SEC homer. If the SEC lost all their games, we’d be talking about how bad the SEC is, but when they play well, we talk about how great they are.”
“If Alabama were to lose this game, I think it would create some momentum going into the offseason that the mighty SEC isn’t what it once was,” he added. “Whether it’s true or not, I think that’s what fans outside of the region are hoping for.”