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College football TV analysts weigh in on upcoming season and more

Which teams will make the College Football Playoff? Who will win the Heisman? TV analysts make their picks and more in this SI roundtable.

With Montana’s win over North Dakota Statekicking off the national television college football schedule, this column empaneled the lead analysts at each of college football airing networks—Gary Danielson of CBS, Doug Flutie of NBC, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Joel Klatt of Fox Sports—for a roundtable discussion on a variety of football topics and issues. The interviews were conducted last week by phone separately with each of the analysts (NBC Sports PR sat in on their talent’s call). You’ll be hearing these gentlemen quite a bit this season if you are a college football fan.

​ Whether this person wins the Heisman Trophy or not, who would be your answer to this question: Who is the most talented college football player in the country?

Danielson: One of my pet peeves with college football is we talk too much about the Heisman Trophy too early in the season. We don’t do the same thing about the MVP in baseball or football. I think we do a bit of a disservice by focusing on it too much. However, I get asked the question and I always try to give an answer. I think one of the most talented players I have come across is Leonard Fournette at LSU. He’s going to be a tremendous pro football player. I’ve been a bit dismayed that the Heisman now goes to best spread quarterback in college football. That’s who wins it almost every year. I wouldn't mind seeing a running back or wide receiver win it this year.

Flutie: I am such a quarterback guy. I get excited about Trevone Boykin at TCU and the things that he has done.

Herbstreit: I would say Joey Bosa of Ohio State because of how physical and how athletic he is. You don’t see guys like that often anymore—dominant against the run and the pass.

Klatt: The most talented is Trevone Boykin. I don’t think we have seen a player who can dominate at the quarterback position and has also played several other positions in college football. He’s been a pretty good wide receiver and played slot back and a little running back. That’s remarkable versatility.

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Do you consider yourself the top analyst at your network. If yes, why? If no, why?

Danielson: I suppose so since we only really do one game a week and I am doing it every week. 

Flutie: That’s not for me to say. Right now I am the lead analyst at our top profile game so it can be assumed that by others. But I am not going to sit here and say I’m better than someone else. I take my job very seriously and I put everything I have into it.

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 ​Herbstreit: I challenge myself to be. Anyone who is in this business wants to be the best that they can be, I don’t ever sit there with an ego and say, “Boy, I am the best analyst we have at this network.” I think we have a lot of talented guys and I’ll leave that up to people to evaluate. I definitely push myself and challenge to not be just the best at our network, but the best in our sport. That has always been a goal of mine.

Klatt: Yes. It’s simply because when we have a marquee game I will be out there with Gus [Johnson] doing it. But I’ll say this: I like to think of it somewhat as a team atmosphere and I will talk with the other analysts at our network weekly and discuss meetings that they have had, and games that they have had so I can get different opinions. So I think it is much more of a collaborative effort, But, yes, when the rubber meets the road, Gus and I will be calling those games.

What team would be your preseason No. 2 behind Ohio State?

Danielson: I don’t want to have a cop-out but I would take the champion of the SEC. They would have the leverage to be in the playoff and have earned it for their past records and overall excellence of play. The odds are they [the SEC] will get a team in there [the playoffs] this year. If you wanted me to name a team I could but the SEC Is really difficult this year. You could take three teams [in the SEC] and I’d be happy to take the field. Or if you wanted me to take three teams and you have the field, I would take either side of the bet.

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Flutie: You have to give TCU credit and I think with Boykin at quarterback they are explosive. So much is schedule and opportunity and weaving your way through a schedule. There are some strong teams such as Alabama or Auburn but their chances of going undefeated are not as good, potentially, as TCU’s.

Herbstreit: I’d probably lean toward TCU. Asking me who I think a preseason No. 2 should be and who I think will end up in the final four is different. The momentum that is created by the way you performed late in the year and then how many people you have back in key positions has a lot to do with some of the preseason thoughts. TCU, with the way they performed especially late in the year and the way they performed in their bowl game against a very talented team in Ole Miss, and to return Trevone Boykin among others, I think it is fair to put them at No. 2.

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Klatt: TCU. I am a huge believer in the quarterback position. It goes without saying a lot of times that it is the engine to everything in our sport whether it's the college game or the NFL game. Trevone Boykin reminds me a lot of Marcus Mariota in the following areas: He seems to be a perfect fit for his system and I think it is the best fit in all of college football. Because of that, you have a team with a very defensive-oriented head coach that always finds a way to always play quality defense and an offense that has the capability of scoring 80 points which they did against Texas Tech last year. TCU is a very clear No. 2 to me behind Ohio State.

How much of a coach’s decision-making off the field such as Art Briles bringing in former Boise State player Sam Ukwuachu or Steve Sarkisian’s actions at USC should be discussed during a game broadcast?

Danielson: Obviously you have to spend the preponderance of your time talking about the game. People watch the pregame shows, listen to sports talk radio, read the blogs and have followed the story. Now you do have a duty to bring it up in the game but I think we also have a duty to bring up what it means to this football game or what it means to the bigger picture of college football. Verne [Lundquist] and I and our producer [Craig Silver] will figure out a way to make sure that if it is newsworthy, it will be brought up in the game. But my challenge as a football analyst is how it fits into affecting the game of football and the bigger picture of college football.

Flutie: I think you cannot avoid it. I think it needs to be discussed but not be a high priority in the broadcast. You can’t exclude it. It should be a part of it. But don’t make it the focal point.

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Herbstreit: I think if it is relevant to the broadcast and there is a place for it adding to a story you are telling, then I am okay with it. I don’t go out of my way to bring up off-the-field stories just to bring them up. But if it helps build a story or put some perspective in a story, then I think that would be the only time I would feel comfortable bringing up some of the stuff that programs have been through off the field. The Steve Sarkisian’s stuff, you almost have to believe that will be brought up their first few games and it's not to smear USC, but it just puts some things in perspective. I think it will be relevant to what he will have faced and also what their program has faced. I’m not one who likes to dance around with those kind of stories but if it helps advance a story, I have no problem dealing with that.

Klatt: I understand that those stories need to be addressed but as far as a discussion goes, I would absolutely steer clear and the reason is that it's not what the game is for. The game is for the kids that are playing in it. Especially since I was a player, I want to make sure I am giving those kids and their families their due and respect. So I think going into stories at length that are for another day and another time is disrespectful to the players who work really hard and are not involved in those decisions or incidents or behavior. I want to make sure we are respecting the guys out there giving their all. I understand they need to be touched on but addressing them any further, I would vehemently stay away from.

Is there another CFB analyst whose schedule you would want to trade with and why?

Danielson: Nope, I have the best job in the business.

Flutie: I did the Thursday night package at ESPN and I was excited about doing that but I am just thrilled to be doing the package I am doing now. This is a very prestigious package to me and I am excited about it.

Herbstreit: No. When I first started in the business in 1996, my dream and my goal was to try and become the Dick Vitale of college football. When I think of Dick Vitale, I think of college basketball. When I first started at ESPN they would ask me to do shows that had nothing to do with college football and I intentionally declined because I wanted my face and voice and my name to be always associated with just college football because I loved the sport so much. ESPN has allowed me to stay in that lane and grow every single year and that is still my goal—to be the Dick Vitale of college football. I would not want to change places with anyone and not just the schedule. To be on College GameDay—a huge show for this sport—and then to call Saturday Night games with Chris Fowler and Heather Cox, and then the playoffs and championship, I’m exactly where I want to be and very thankful for it.

Klatt: That’s a great question. I’ll have to hedge a little bit because I have not called a full season of this package as of yet. That being said, I think Kirk’s game is always—and in particular the way his network has branded that game—something you are envious of. Now at the same time we are going to have amazing games on our air as well. So I don’t think I would trade but there are times when you can get a little envious of the environments when you are watching Kirk do a game.

How often do you hear from athletic directors about something you said on-air?

Danielson: Not very often. I’d say one out of 10 or 20 games. I had a very famous one in the past when I was doing a big football game for ABC, a Nebraska-Colorado game and Nebraska was losing. I said even though they had a great season, you can’t lose your last game. That ended up being a big statement and it ended up getting back to my bosses. It wasn’t a tough issue for me. I thought I was doing my job.

Flutie: I can’t think of a specific instance but they would be vocal when trying to influence you.


Herbstreit: Not very often. The only time I might have heard something from an athletic director is from GameDay. As you know, GameDay is driven by opinions and having strong opinions. Who you are as an analyst when you work on GameDay is very different than who you are as an analyst when you work on a game because of the amount of time afforded to you. So the times I have heard from athletic directors is almost always after a GameDay experience. How often? You are probably talking maybe once or twice throughout the entire year. I do try to pride myself on doing a ton of homework, and then just kind of taking off the gloves and speaking the truth or saying whatever it is you think.

Sometimes people like what you say, something they don’t. The way I have always been able to cope with this is if the individual I am speaking about was sitting on the GameDay set, he might not agree with what I am saying but he will not feel disrespected with the tone I am talking. I always feel like if I stay in that area, we will cover some topics and get into some things that won’t make people happy, but if I can at least speak in a way that is factual and if my opinions are derived off of those facts, then I feel a lot better about what I am saying.

Klatt: Very rarely. I would probably say three or four times a year and it is generally 50–50. Guys that are contacting you for something nice you said or guys that are contacting you to clarify something or give you more information on the process of a decision.

How often do you hear from head coaches about something you have said on-air?

Danielson: Maybe one in 10 and I think the strongest part of your job as an analyst is there will be uncomfortable moments. When I give advice to people about being an analyst, you have to understand that there is fine line and you can’t be friends. You have to have a genuine respect for each other but you have to be prepared to have uncomfortable moments. The next time you get together, you might have to let them get off a little steam and let them know it was not personal—you were calling it as I see it. It’s just my opinion; it doesn’t mean I’m right 100% of the time.

Flutie: Never. But I have had officials who said thanks for giving us the benefit of the doubt on an instant replay call.

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