Tuesday, August 30, 2011

CFB: What to watch, 9/1 - 9/5

Opening week of college football is great, especially because it falls over Labor Day weekend.  Many parts of the country still have great weather, so its perfect for a barbecue or tailgate.  Unfortunately the quality of the games don't always measure up.  But there's a few out there to peek in on...

All times Eastern. 

...but opening night is not one of those nights.  UNLV-Wisconsin (ESPN, 8pm) and Mississippi St.-Memphis (FSN, 8pm) are there for your football fix, but no one will judge you if you decide to watch MLB or preseason NFL football.

TCU at Baylor (8pm, ESPN) provides a nice start to the weekend.  Baylor made its 1st bowl game as a Big 12 member last year, when the conference name numerically matched the number of schools.  Robert Griffin III doesn't always get the publicity he deserves as a dual threat QB.  TCU lost key players like quarterback Andy Dalton and receivers James Young and Jeremy Kerley, so the offense will be learning on the fly.

No one will be upset if you want to bypass the early afternoon games.  Sleep in, get some chores done, get some groceries, stock the fridge.  You'll thank me later.

USF at Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC) is a great starter to the day.  Notre Dame is an improving team, but USF is too and will likely have a say in the Big East's title race.  QB BJ Daniels will begin his 3rd year as a starting QB and he needs to improve on his passing awareness, improving his completion percentage, but throwing more INTs than TDs and seeing his rushing stats decline, though Skip Holtz's offense goal was to try to limit Daniels' improvisation skills.  For the Irish, Dayne Crist was named the starter over Tommy Rees through training camp competition, though Rees finished last year 4-0.  Key stat, though somewhat irrelevant due to USF's change in coaches is that Brian Kelly went 3-0 vs. USF as head coach at Cincinnati.

Last year, I thought Houston's visit to UCLA would result in a pretty severe beating for the Bruins, but Case Keenum ended up being injured for the rest of the season and took a fair amount of steam from the rest of the Cougars rematch.  Keenum returns for the somewhat rare 6th season of eligibility in the rematch in Houston (3:30pm, FSN).

BYU replaced Boise St. in this visit to Ole Miss (4:45pm, ESPN) so that the Broncos could participate in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff vs. Georgia, but the degree of difficulty on Ole Miss's part didn't change.  Problem for the Rebels is that their challenges have been self-inflicted with starting QB Randall Mackey suspended for a bar fight.  In BYU's case, they'll enter this season with a clear #1 QB in Jake Heaps vs. the in-season competition with Riley Nelson that hampered the Cougars early in the year.

ABC and ESPN have dueling 8pm games that are the best of the day, particularly the Oregon-LSU game from Dallas on ABC.  LSU will be down a starting QB in Jordan Jefferson, but some Tigers fans aren't exactly thrilled with his ability at times.  Still, when #3 meets #4 on a neutral field to open the year, its must see.  ESPN's contribution is Boise St.'s matchup with Georgia in "neutral" Atlanta.  Don't kid yourself, this is a Boise St. road game with the number of tickets sold to Georgia fans and proximity to campus.  But this is not the same as the Broncos' visit to Athens when they were looking for national respect and received a beating at the hands of the eventual SEC champs.  The tables have turned, the men in blue are a top five team and Georgia is the team trying to (re)gain a measure of national respect.

Sunday & Monday
On Sunday, we'll get to see how well West Virginia's personnel matches up with Dana Holgorsen's "mad scientist"-like offense (3:30pm, ESPN).  After that, SMU will visit Texas A&M (7:30pm, FSN).  Maybe we'll find out which conference the Aggies will belong to in 2012 at that point.  Same with SMU possibly...

And on Monday, find out who is left from Miami (FL) that will be able to take the field vs. Maryland (8pm, ESPN).  Nothing has been set regarding when Miami has to sit the players that the NCAA has ruled to be ineligible, if they can stagger the suspensions or if they must be taken all at once, particularly when your opener is a conference game.  I suspect that if Bethune-Cookman were the opener, everyone with a one game suspension would be sidelined, but if they can stagger them, you might see a mostly full squad suit up.

The entire schedule

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What's New for college football on TV in 2011?

What's new in broadcasting:

ACC - A brand new rights agreement with ESPN should allow for more games to air on TV.  Not necessarily on ESPN or ABC though.  Raycom will manage a pair of syndication packages, one for over-the-air networks and one for regional cable networks.  Fox Sports South (including the Carolina subfeed) & Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports will carry games from the regional cable package.  Also appears Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic will have some games.  It is unknown who would be an affiliate in New England, but NESN was part of FSN's affiliate group for ACC games, so they may be in the mix again.

C-USA - Also starting a pair of new rights agreements, one with CBS Sports Network (formerly CBS College Sports) and one with Fox Sports Media Group.  C-USA will increase its national game coverage by over 60%, not to mention their right fee revenue, by moving to FSMG from ESPN.  The FSMG deal has not been without controversy, as ESPN has sued the conference, believing that C-USA did not negotiate in good faith.  Most of the FSMG games will air on FSN and the conference's championship game will air on F/X or on FOX's broadcast network.

F/X - FOX decided to take some of its inventory and place it on F/X.  Games from the Big 12, Pac-12 and C-USA will air on the network with Gus Johnson signed to the network to be the primary voice of the package of games.

Big Ten - Besides negotiating their championship game rights with FOX, the conference also was able to strike a deal with ESPN that would allow ABC telecasts to coexist with BTN games (BTW, the Big Ten Network is now officially going by the acronym of BTN).  This will lighten the load of 3-4 games in the same time slot on BTN, plus allow the Big Ten to retain its stance of no night games in November.

Pac-12 - FOX signed up the Pac-12's championship for 2011 in a one-year deal that will also provide an additional six games for FSN & F/X to air this season.  Their package of pay-TV games increased from 18 games to 24.  None of the added games are being sublicensed to Versus, who will retain their seven game package of games sublicensed from FSMG.

With the Pac-12 Network and regional nets starting up next year, Utah (KJZZ) and Colorado (rumored to be Fox College Sports) will make agreements to have their 3rd tier games aired.

BYU - Armed with their own TV deal with ESPN, plus at least one game on BYUtv, the Cougars start life as a football independent.  They'll have at least four home games on ESPN/ESPN2 (including the "neutral" site game vs. TCU in Arlington), plus possibly three games on ESPNU (San Jose St., Idaho & New Mexico St.) with the Idaho St. game on BYUtv.

WAC - The biggest casualty in realignment, the conference will see its exposure cut at least in half, while their rights fee with ESPN may have been cut even more.  Won't get any easier for the conference next year.

Versus - After the season, the network's name will change to NBC Sports Network as Comcast is now the primary stakeholder of NBC Universal.  No word as to whether there will be more college sports programming besides the package of games they have from the Ivy League, Mountain West and Pac-12.

ESPN - Per ESPN PR's Mike Humes, both halves of a Reverse Mirror game should be available in HD to all viewers.  Sadly, it appears that the Game Plan package will remain HD-less and ESPN3.com will not carry ESPNU games live, though users of the WatchESPN app & ESPN's authenticated services will be able to watch ESPNU on their PCs and mobile devices.

Longhorn Network - Saving the most controversial for last, the ESPN-owned and University of Texas-centric network struck a deal with FOX to allow for games from the ABC inventory of Big 12 games to appear on the network in 2011.  At least the opener vs. Rice will appear on the networks, plus the possibility of a conference game as long as the competing schools and the conference grant approval.  I'm not going to go into the messy situation regarding the possibility of high school games airing on the network.