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Shooting from the lip: ESPN's College GameDay excels again

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best show

Great to see the return of the best sports show on television — ESPN's College GameDay. Saturday's season debut didn't disappoint.

There was a "Mean Tweets'' segment. Taken from a Jimmy Kimmel idea, college coaches such as Florida's Will Muschamp and Alabama's Nick Saban read mean tweets about themselves.

Host Chris Fowler did a solid job, as you would expect, asking all the pertinent questions of embattled Southern Cal coach Steve Sarkisian. Reporter Tom Rinaldi broke down the new college playoff system as well as hosting a feature on Saban and his offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

And Kirk Herbstreit, maybe the finest sports broadcaster out there right now, did good work profiling and interviewing FSU quarterback Jameis Winston.

The panel for the first hour of the three-hour show has Fowler, Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack. Lee Corso, who has been a part of GameDay since the beginning in 1987, replaces Pollack for the second and third hours. I hate to say this because of my respect and admiration of Corso, but the first hour with Pollack is a bit better. Then again, GameDay wouldn't be GameDay without Corso wearing the headgear to pick the game of the day.

The show is like brushing your teeth or drinking your morning coffee. You can't start your college Saturday without it.

Strangest broadcast

Longtime broadcaster Brent Musburger can still be heard calling games on the SEC Network, but it was strange not hearing him calling the big Saturday night game on ABC. Viewers are divided on Musburger. Is he perfect? No. Call me a creature of habit, but I like Musburger. Whenever I heard him, I knew it was a big game and I thought his enthusiasm never wavered, even after more than 40 years in the business. Even now, he calls every game like there is no place he'd rather be.

So now, Chris Fowler has replaced Musburger. Fowler called Saturday night's game between FSU and Oklahoma State along with Kirk Herbstreit. Fowler is a pro and will do a superb job with his good friend, Herbstreit. The two were just fine Saturday night.

But not hearing Musburger on the big game will still take some getting used to.

Biggest story

During its NASCAR coverage at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, ESPN did not ignore the reason why Tony Stewart sat out the past three races after the incident in which his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a race Aug. 9 in upstate New York. ESPN spent a lot of time talking about how all of this impacted Stewart and how hard this has been on him and his healing. Ask yourself this: If Ward's family was watching, what do you think it thought about ESPN talking about Stewart's pain and his chances of winning and whether NASCAR should be giving him an exemption for the playoffs?

Most analysts did mention the Ward family, but only in passing and no one dared suggest that Stewart was returning too early. No surprise. The NASCAR community is a tight-knit group and it would've been shocking if any of the analysts questioned Stewart's decision.

Best moment

ESPN's College Football Scoreboard is always fun when analysts Lou Holtz and Mark May get into it. Give Holtz the knockout victory on the first Saturday of the season. On Saturday's show, May was talking about Ohio State and Alabama, both of whom won but struggled at times.

"If we were picking the final four (for the playoff) today, I would be reluctant to put either team in (with) the way they played today,'' May said.

My goodness, it wasn't even September yet! Fortunately, Holtz didn't let May's silly line pass.

"I think it's foolish to evaluate a team after one week,'' Holtz said. "You don't know what you have. It's like a baby being born. Is it going to be a doctor? I don't know. It's a baby.''

Best analysis

Baseball broadcasts seem to work better when there are only two main voices and I've never been a fan of anyone joining Sun Sports' Dwayne Staats and Brian Anderson on Rays games. But give Orestes Destrade credit. He seems to have found his place on the games when he is the third voice while sitting near the dugout.

He was really good Saturday when he talked about coming up to the plate during his playing days knowing he was probably going to get hit by a pitch as retaliation for his pitcher hitting an opponent. Destrade said it's part of the game and never minded as long as the opposing pitcher hit him where there was "some meat,'' such as the rear end or thigh. He mentioned how a pitcher should never throw behind a hitter's head and how, once, a pitcher named Allen Watson did that to him. "I took a little bit of offense to that,'' Destrade said.

Staats deserves an assist for prompting the story, but Destrade did a nice job relaying some informative and entertaining information. I still prefer a two-man booth, but Destrade made the best of the three-man effort Saturday.

Favorite line

Here's why I love listening to Sun Sports' Brian Anderson on Rays games: He says something that all of us are thinking but probably would be fearful of saying on television.

On Saturday, sideline reporter Todd Kalas gave a long explanation of a complicated rule for why the umpires did not go to video review on whether or not a player was hit by a pitch.

Anderson cracked, "(Through) no fault of Todd Kalas', I'm actually dumber for having listened to that explanation.''

Best event

There was plenty going on over the weekend with college football getting started, baseball's pennant races heating up and some entertaining English Premier League games. But the most enjoyable broadcasts were CBS's coverage of the U.S. Open.

Enjoy it while you can.

After 46 years on CBS, the U.S. Open will switch over exclusively to ESPN next year. Of course ESPN will do a splendid job, but it will seem sad and weird not to have the U.S. Open on CBS.

This past weekend's highlight was John McEnroe and Mary Carillo, along with Bill Macatee, calling Sunday's three-set thriller between Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova. Can we just make a rule that McEnroe and Carillo call all tennis matches from now on?

Three things that popped into my head

1. Marlon Mack (above) rushes for 275 yards and four touchdowns to save USF from losing to a Division I-AA team and coach Willie Taggart won't let Mack talk to the media because he has a silly rule of freshmen not being allowed to talk to the media? So let's see, he's old enough to help save your job, but not old enough to talk to the media. Do I have that about right?

2. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is a special player, but I think Georgia running back Todd Gurley is the best football player in the country.

3. How cool was it to see the Kansas City Royals on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball? Not the Dodgers or Yankees or Red Sox or Cardinals. The Royals!

tom jones' two cents

Shooting from the lip: ESPN's College GameDay excels again 08/31/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 31, 2014 10:38pm]
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