Sunday, September 7, 2008

Around the Nation Week 3

Does ESPN have too much influence?

That question has come up before, and expect it to continue as a hot topic among college football fans ... especially those who believe the “worldwide leader in sports” and its analysts hold excess power to shape national rankings (thus bowl matchups worth millions of dollars).

Another potential issue is whether the analysts at ESPN and ABC push an agenda.

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Back to our topic.

ESPN debuted in 1979, and grew from showing small-time events (roller derby, wrestling, etc) to providing coverage of national juggernauts like the NFL, MLB, and of course, college football.

Controversy has come with the growth.

ESPN, sister network ABC, and the highly successful Saturday morning College Gameday show have catapulted college football analysts and announcers like Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler, and others to near rock-star status, and made glib former coaches like Lee Corso and Dick Vitale (in basketball) wealthy media stars.

That lofty status brings clout, but apparently not always impartiality.

Two years ago, Herbstreit spent much of the latter part of the season promoting Ohio State and Michigan as the nation’s two best football teams. When State beat the Wolverines, the former Buckeye QB consistently called for a rematch between the two for the national title. It took Florida blowing out the Bucks to show the folly of his judgment.

Last year, Herby and veteran ABC announcer Brent Musburger petitioned on the air for USC (instead of LSU or Georgia) to meet Ohio State in the title game immediately following the Trojans win over UCLA. LSU’s trouncing of Ohio State shows the duo had at least one of the teams wrong again.

This season might bring more of the same.

In the season's first week, ABC analyst Craig James commented disparagingly about the offense of then #1-ranked Georgia, a team he obviously had not seen play that Saturday.

Going strictly by a score, James declared that the Bulldogs offense struggled against Georgia Southern in the season opener.

In that game, the starters led 38-0 before being pulled just after halftime. The Dogs rolled up over 500 yards of offense, and star tailback Knowshon Moreno ran the ball only 8 times scoring three touchdowns. Georgia could easily have put up more than 50 points (as they did yesterday against Central Michigan), but head coach Mark Richt chose not to run up the score.

Had James done even a minimal amount of research into the game, he would have known the Dog offense did not struggle at all.

When polls came out a couple days later, Georgia fell from the preseason #1 ranking to the second spot … behind media darling USC.

At least do your homework guys.

You have influence and are either misusing it or not realizing how significant your statements can be.

This week USC and Ohio State play. The loser will not be out of the title race and calls for a rematch may echo through the halls of the "campus" in Bristol.

Think you will hear anybody at ESPN or ABC calling for a rematch of the Florida-Georgia or Auburn-LSU games? Didn't think so.

Below is a quick mention of some of the week's best contests ... check back for Professor's Picks and the SEC Game of the Week on Tuesday and Thursday.

Enjoy the games.

Around the Nation

After two lackluster weekends, the college football season really gets rolling.

Out West, USC welcomes the Buckeyes in a September Rose Bowl. The health of Ohio State tailback Chris Wells will be significant. The winner of the game holds the inside track to the BCS championship game, and the loser (see above) is certainly still in the running.

There are other big games beyond the Rockies. Unheralded and unbeaten Wisconsin plays a tough and undefeated Fresno State team on the road, and UCLA tries to stop the nation’s longest winning streak in a game at BYU.

Elsewhere, the Big East hosts a nice Friday intersectional game when Kansas travels to South Florida. Arkansas goes to play at Texas in a battle of old Southwest Conference foes.

Michigan travels to South Bend for a matchup with Notre Dame, a game pairing the nation's two winningest programs. Both are off to uneasy starts in 2008.

Around the South

2nd-ranked Georgia typically struggles with South Carolina, so a road game with the Gamecocks is big. The Bulldogs looked awfully strong in crushing Central Michigan … think the Dogs will jump back over idle USC this week? Fat chance.

Mississippi State tries to keep its winning streak against Alabama schools going when the Bulldogs welcome Auburn to the Junction.

In the ACC, Georgia Tech suddenly looks like a contender (if not the favorite), and the Yellow Jackets can keep it going at Virginia Tech.

The Campus Game Team of the Week:

East Carolina Pirates

See you at kickoff!