Wake up, it’s gameday as the college football season has arrived. ESPN College Gameday has become a major part of the fabric of college football.
Fans all over the country start their Saturday mornings with Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, and the gang. Heavy had an opportunity to speak with Herbstreit on a variety of topics including the upcoming college football season, the 2018 NFL Draft and advice to those hoping to work in sports.
On the Gameday season preview, Herbstreit picked Alabama, Ohio State, USC and Florida State as his College Football Playoff teams. Herbstreit likes Ohio State to hold up the trophy in January.
Here’s a look at our in-depth interview with Herbstreit.
Heavy: Tell us about your partnership with All-State to promote positivity within college football.
Kirk Herbstreit: We have changed it up a little this year with All Hands In…On the field, each weekend during the Saturday Night Football coverage, I’ll be sharing my All-State All Hands In pick of the week. That will show the team that came together the strongest on the field.
On social, I am always answering questions and engaging with my followers on Twitter. I’m hoping fans will get involved by using the #SweetTalk. It’s kind of ironic that in this world of people saying negative things about each other, we’re asking fans to say something nice about an opponent.
If you do that by October, anyone who gets rid of all the nastiness on Twitter using the hashtag will be entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to the national championship.
Heavy: Every year during the off-season, the media tends to dub a handful of teams as sleeper teams. Are there any teams we are missing out on identifying as part of those under-the-radar teams?
KH: Every year there are those teams, and it depends on how you evaluate the term “off-the-radar.” There’s teams that are way off the radar, but Michigan is a team that lost 43 seniors. Not many people are expecting much from them. I would say they are a team that could retool and compete for a Big Ten championship.
You could say the same for UCLA. Another team that has a big brand name that not many people are expecting much from them. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Josh Rosen. If they can get off to a good start with a win against [Texas] A&M they could be one of those teams.
Louisville could be one of those teams with Lamar Jackson. So much talk this year about Florida State, and even Clemson and Miami. We’re forgetting about Louisville. I think Louisville is a team you’ll need to be aware of.
Another one is Kansas State with Bill Snyder. I think this is the traditional, Kansas State thorn-in-the side of the Big 12 type of team with a running quarterback and a pesky defense. I think Kansas State could be another team that is off-the-radar.
Heavy: You mentioned Louisville. Have you seen a Heisman Trophy winner have such a quiet off-season in terms of coverage like Lamar Jackson has had heading into this season?
KH: No, not that I can recall. Not to mention how he won the Heisman. In my opinion, because of the way they faded down the stretch those last three games. I think he probably won the Heisman the day he played Florida State because of what he did in that game and how explosive he was in that game.
I think if he would have had that game at the end of the year, it would have been a different deal. Because of the way they finished last year in their last three games. They didn’t just lose, they collapsed. I think that has as much to do with people forgetting not just Lamar Jackson, but forgetting about Louisville.
Never in my lifetime, that I can recall, has a Heisman Trophy winner come back the next year with so few people talking about him at all.
Heavy: The Pac-12 has been particularly difficult for me to assess who the favorite is between Washington and USC. Who has the edge between those two teams heading into the season?
KH: Isn’t it funny you sit around in August, and try to figure this stuff out? You get to certain conferences, and each day you can kind of talk yourself into something else.
I totally agree with you on the Pac-12. USC seems to be clearly the team to beat with the quarterback, and the skill that they have coming back. Yet, they have some serious concerns not to mention a brutal schedule.
UCLA, as I mentioned earlier, always have athletes and always a roster that could give them a chance if they can get out of their own way and try to stay healthy.
You have Utah that is always a factor. I think people nationally undervalue who Utah is, and how consistent that program has been with Kyle Whittingham. In the North, all signs point to Washington with the schedule they have, Jake Browning returning and everyone they have coming back.
Even before I saw them play Rice, there was a lot to like about Stanford. A lot to like. It almost feels like Stanford is due. After the way they played against Washington last year they have been out of the national spotlight for the last couple years.
My coin flip landed on Washington in the Pac-12, and it has everything to do with the majority of those guys coming back from last year. Even though they lost a couple guys in the secondary, but I think they will retool on the backend. I think that schedule is too nice. I think they will get to [Pac-12 Championship].
I’m going chalk with USC as well, despite their brutal schedule. I think USC will end up beating Washington in the Pac-12 championship game.
Heavy: Like you said, you spend your time agonizing over it, then you realize a team comes out of nowhere to win the conference.
KH: Exactly. Watch Washington State with Luke Falk or even Oregon. Their quarterback is outstanding. Watch, it happens every year. A team you didn’t even think about ends up getting hot and becoming the trendy team.
Heavy: For the casual college football fans who watch the sport with an eye on prospects for their NFL team, break down this current crop of quarterbacks. How do Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen stack up against each other?
KH: Josh Rosen was the guy that came out of high school and everyone thought, ‘Okay, three years [off to the NFL]. He is brought down from the NFL gods to be an NFL quarterback on Sunday.’ Things have not gone his way the first couple years with some injuries, and UCLA has not been able to be the program that people thought they might be.
He’s 6’4″ and about 212 pounds. He is what you like to see on Sundays, as far as sitting in the pocket, reading coverages and distributing the football. He can become a very hot name if he starts to play well, and their team starts to win. He could be the name everyone falls in love with just because of his skill set.
By the time Mel Kiper and the boys get done breaking him down next year, he could become that guy.
Sam Darnold [is rising] because of his performance in the second half of last year and the big game against Penn State. He’s more my type of quarterback. Yeah, he can sit in the pocket and he’s big at 6’4″, 225. But he has some athletic ability where he can move around, and get away from trouble while still making plays.
He’s as calm a guy as I have ever seen play this position. He’s a flat-liner emotionally, and has the propensity for making plays. It does not have to work perfect for him to be able to find a way to execute an offense.
Josh Allen is the wild card. Big, athletic guy at 6’5″. He’s playing in the Mountain West conference, so he is not always playing against the best competition. He’s another guy that can get away from trouble. He’s more of a Sam Darnold type, the way he can run and escape- make things happen.
I say that because I think it is so important. Not that you have to run all over the place in the NFL, but it does help with the pass rush in that league to have a guy that does not stand back there as a statue. Not everybody has Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s ability to read coverages and distribute the ball.
I think sometimes it does help to have that athletic ability, even to move around within the pocket. Both Darnold and Allen have that. I think Josh Allen is more of a guy you’re going to want to study and examine. Based on the level of competition, what talent he has physically. Is he the number one quarterback?
There are some people right now who say he is going to be the number one pick. Let’s see how these guys all play this year. As you know better than anybody, they get dissected between January and the draft in late April, early May. Their personal workouts and their work at the Combine, things like that.
All three of those guys along with Mason Rudolph, you could probably throw in there. It’s going to be a pretty good class if they all decide to come out and play.
Heavy: College Gameday has become The Today Show for college football fans to start their Saturday. It is difficult to have the kind of sustained success the show has enjoyed. What are some of the reasons the show has had success?
KH: I think there is a genuine commoraderie that does not have to be forced. If you stay in a meeting with us on a Friday and watched the silliness that goes on. Then it carries over onto the set. I think we all are unselfish, which is rare. Nobody really thinks he’s the man.
We all care about each other. We know about each other’s families. First and foremost, we make the story about the players, coaches and the storylines, not about us. As we have grown in popularity, we have gone to great extremes to always make that a priority. We are not egomaniacs and know the success of this show has everything to do with the sport that we cover.
If we were doing this for MLB, NFL, NBA or college basketball, we would not see the success that we see. I think it’s a combination of having guys that are unselfish and enjoy the sport immensely. Who enjoy each other immensely. We travel around to the biggest game of the week, and we get great crowds around us.
It has just been an incredible run. You’re right, I never thought it would continue all these years when I started in 1996. It has been incredible, and I don’t see it really changing. I think it has everything to do with our sport, and the passion of our fan base. The way they care about college football.
Heavy: If you were just starting out today in sports media, what advice would you give the younger version of yourself in light of the changing sports media landscape?
KH: What I tell people who are just starting in this industry, I put blinders up. I didn’t think about how much money I was making or what my long-term goals were. I just found a lane that I love. It worked for me, so I don’t know if it will work for everybody. I didn’t say, ‘Where am I going to be in five years? Where am I going to be in ten years?’
I got into local radio, and I absolutely loved it. I loved going to work and being at a job that I loved. I was only making $12,000 a year, but I thought I was rich. I didn’t care.
People today are very impatient. They want to be on top of the mountain today or tomorrow- not five years from now. I would just say put blinders on and find something you are passionate about that you love to do. Where you are not worried about a promotion. You are not worried about, ‘Well, he got this. How come I didn’t get that?’
You just find something you love, and you put your head down and enjoy it. I don’t care what line of work you are in. If you find something you love, and you love to go do it every single day. You are going to be successful and promotions and big opportunities are going to come.
I think people can really feel that, and genuinely respect somebody who enjoys what they do. That and get on camera. Work at your craft every single day to try to get better, because the more reps you take the better you are going to get. Especially when it comes to trying to be on TV.
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