Rounding up what’s new and different about college football on TV this season:
• Changes with ESPN game announcers. Two of the network’s four most recognizable college football play-by-play voices have moved on, with Brad Nessler taking a job at CBS (after his ESPN contract wasn’t renewed for financial reasons) and Sean McDonough promoted to Monday Night Football to replace Mike Tirico, who left for NBC.
That leaves Chris Fowler and Brent Musburger (who was demoted to SEC Network two years ago) as ESPN’s most familiar college play-by-play men. Fowler, competent on play-by-play but better in the studio, returns on the lead team with Kirk Herbstreit.
The turnover created a ripple effect of changes. Deep-piped Joe Tessitore replaces Nessler on ESPN’s Saturday night games, alongside Todd Blackledge. Nessler’s very good, but Tessitore warranted the promotion.
ESPN anchor Steve Levy essentially replaced McDonough, paired with Brian Griese. ESPN also promoted former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy to a prominent game analyst role, alongside Dave Pasch. And the capable Bob Wischusen/Brock Huard team will get a lot of attractive games.
Also new: Former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who once spent a month with the Dolphins and won ABC’s The Bachelorette this summer, will do studio work for SEC Network. Among off-limit topics: Why he and brother Aaron Rodgers don’t have a relationship.
• Nessler moves to CBS. It’s unusual to have designated successor named a year in advance in the TV business, but CBS already has announced that Nessler will succeed Verne Lundquist as its voice of Southeastern Conference football in 2017. Lundquist, 74, was ready to reduce his workload.
Nessler was the obvious choice; in a year, he will be reunited with former ESPN partner Gary Danielson. In the meantime, Nessler this fall will four CBS college games on days the network has double-headers, the Sun Bowl and a few NFL games.
• Tragedy resulting in change in ABC’s studio. John Saunders’ shocking recent death, at 61, was a huge personal loss; Saunders was universally liked and respected. Professionally, it also sent ABC scrambling to fill the college host job that Saunders held since 1992.
ESPN anchor Stan Verrett was chosen as Saunders’ successor, and Verrett – very good at narrating highlights – was the smart choice to pair alongside Mack Brown and Mark May in ABC’s studio.
“John Saunders was a mentor and friend who helped me navigate my career at ESPN and was always ready with a kind word and timely advice,” Verrett said. “…There’s a tremendous legacy there.”
• More ESPN studio changes. Jonathan Vilma’s hiring gives ESPN2 a pair of studio analysts with UM ties (Vilma and Butch Davis), though Vilma says they can’t make this into a "UM love-fest." … In ESPN’s studio, Adnan Virk returns with Danny Kanell and Joey Galloway, who replaced Lou Holtz and May a year ago.
• Fox lands two smart ESPN analysts: Robert Smith and Chris Spielman. Smith, one of the most erudite analysts on television, joins Rob Stone, Dave Wannstedt and Matt Leinart in Fox’s studio, while Spielman will primarily work NFL games with Dick Stockton.
• Finally, a decent game on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend! ABC filled that void, one of the few on the college schedule, with Notre Dame-Texas Sunday night.
• A few other things: UM’s first two games (Florida A&M on Saturday and FAU on Sept. 10) will be carried only on broadband (ESPN3). These are the types of games that would be aired by the ACC Network when its launches in 2019….
The FSU football season will be chronicled in a Showtime series, with 30-minute episodes every Tuesday at 10 p.m…. Fox gets one of the best early-season matchups (Ohio State-Oklahoma) in prime time on Sept. 17; it’s their first meeting since 1983… LSU-Texas A&M will be the Thanksgiving night game, opposite Steelers-Colts on NBC.
• For a look at this season's college football TV schedule, please click here.
AROUND THE DIAL
• WQAM hired former UM players KC Jones and Colin McCarthy as analysts on its pre-game and postgames shows, respectively. The postgame analyst job has been a revolving door in recent years, with Dan Sileo, Duane Starks and Bennie Blades preceding McCarthy.
• More personnel notes: Former Miami Herald Dolphins writer Jeff Darlington left NFL Network for a reporter job at ESPN… Former local personality Jorge Sedano, who co-hosts an evening ESPN Radio show with Israel Gutierrez, will now do a radio show (with Keyshawn Johnson) for ESPN Los Angeles and a weekly ESPN2 TV show at 5 p.m. Mondays.
• Tirico this week declined to discuss how he felt when he learned that he would not be calling Thursday night NFL games because the NFL insisted that NBC use the same team on Sunday night and Thursday nights (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth).
But besides hosting on-site in NBC's NFL studio on Sunday, Tirico will call three Notre Dame games and two late season NFL games (all with Doug Flutie).
• Skip Bayless’ new Fox Sports 1 show will air at 10 a.m. opposite his old ESPN program, beginning Tuesday. So viewers will have a choice of Bayless and Shannon Sharpe on Fox Sports 1 (with former 790 The Ticket personality Joy Taylor hosting) or Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman on ESPN2. Or viewers can avoid all the screaming altogether and use the time to clean their linen closet.
Fox, by the way, is promoting Bayless’ show on three billboards within five miles of ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. studios, as The Wall Street Journal noted.
• TNT has authorized a series titled "The Race Card" that will follow Charles Barkley as he explores and tries to explain why our country is divided. It’s expect to debut early next year.