The first week of the college football season was also the first week on the job for three big names in the media world: Urban Meyer, Pat McAfee and Jac Collinsworth. 

By Jacob Feldman
September 03, 2019

Some college football programs are powerhouses. Others rely on newcomers and transfers, in the hopes of establishing a winning culture. The same is true for those covering the sport. Here’s how a trio of TV debuts went during the first week of the season.

BIG NOON KICKOFF DEBUTS QUIETLY BUT CONFIDENTLY

FOX’s answer to College GameDay—led by Rob Stone, Urban Meyer and a trio of ex-college stars—premiered Saturday, earning a 0.6 rating to ESPN’s 1.6 during the 11 a.m. eastern hour. 

While FOX isn’t known for wonky offerings, its new pregame show leaned erudite, with discussion of Oregon’s offensive line and an extensive demonstration of the run pass option’s evolution. That segment, QB’d by Meyer while Matt Leinart humbly played linebacker, stood out for its crispness.

Executive producer Brad Zager said the crew rehearsed the walkthrough Thursday and Friday, giving it the air of one of Meyer’s well-scripted Ohio State practices.

The former coach also sat down with his successor, Ryan Day, and generally handled talking about his former players well. Meyer will face a different test next week when the show leads into Army-Michigan. In general, Big Noon Kickoff’s focus on the FOX game of the day will feel more appropriate later in the season when the games start living up to their ‘big’ moniker. 

In the meantime, the show should find a way to spotlight Reggie Bush. Highlighting Meyer in his first show made sense, but Bush ended up getting a bit lost in the shuffle. Given how impressed Zager has been with the way Bush resonates with current athletes, maybe the former running back can get a turn conducting a sitdown interview (though sending Meyer to Ann Arbor this week obviously comes with its own intrigue).

PAT McAFEE’S FIRST THURSDAY NIGHT GOOD ‘FOR THE BRAND’

Be 100% yourself, ESPN executives told former Colts punter Pat McAfee before he joined Adam Amin, Matt Hasselbeck, and Molly McGrath for his first college football assignment as part of ESPN’s Thursday night team. McAfee listened.

McAfee gushed over the Aussie legs booting for Cincinnati and UCLA, though otherwise his commentary left a bit to be desired. The catchphrases did fall off as the game progressed, but some of his comments were either cliché (a turnover was, in fact, critical) or overly self-referential as he jokingly discussed his limited experience at QB. That said, his hype was contagious and I am curious to hear what he has to say in some other college towns. His diverting style should serve as solid counter programming once the NFL kicks off. 

Hasselbeck and Amin did well incorporating the “loose cannon” into their show, even going overboard to show a clip of McAfee’s visit to Cincinnati while he played for West Virginia. “There’s never been so much anticipation in my football viewing career for a punt,” Hasselbeck said in the first half. It’ll be fun watching the group mesh over the season.

McAfee clearly prepared heavily for the assignment, and his enthusiasm was infectious. The way he handled a couple outros and set up Hasselbeck on other occasions made me wonder how he’d do in a play-by-play role. Him and another multi-talented analyst (Todd McShay? Dan Orlovsky?) could provide an interesting secondary option in the College Football playoff, for instance. It’d be good for the brand, of course.

JAC COLLINSWORTH BURSTS ONTO THE SCENE (AND CRASHES INTO A WALL)

His father Cris has his trademark Sunday Night Football slide-in. Jac Collinsworth went for a more aggressive on-screen entrance, leaping into former Clemson lineman Eric Mac Lain on The Huddle Friday. The big man sent Collinsworth flying into the back wall of the ACC Network’s Studio G set. 

One of the college football season’s first casualties played the moment perfectly, showing up on set the next day with a bandage on his gashed left hand—Hi Mom!, it read—and receiving a first aid kit from his analyst. Collinsworth has been receiving more time on NFL programming, but the recent Notre Dame grad should only grow faster leading ACCN’s football show. Between him and Noah Eagle, son if Ian, sports media’s next generation is here. 

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