5) Will ESPN’s coverage and prevailing narratives have an impact on the selection committee?

Unlike any other sport in America, and maybe even the world, college football is driven more by perception than reality.  If your team and/or conference has a big reputation, you’ll be greatly helped in the polls, rankings, and now selection committees that decide the fate of the sport… no matter how good your team may actually turn out to be.  Florida, Wake Forest, Illinois, West Virginia, and Colorado all finished 4-8 last year.  Only one has the benefit of starting this season on the cusp of the preseason Top 25.  Florida.

In what universe is it fair that Florida gets to start this season with such a dramatic head start over teams that it had the same record as the previous season?

No conference has benefitted from the perception game like the SEC.  And before we get into ANOTHER year of the frustrating conference superiority debate, know that the rising regional tribalism of the last decade is making it less fun to be a college football fan.

The SEC won the race to the top and has now benefitted from years of overwhelmingly glowing coverage, mostly from ESPN and certainly CBS.  It’s a snowball effect.  More national media coverage -> increased prestige -> higher rankings in the polls -> more national media coverage ->…

Bart Doan from our partner site The Student Section explains why ESPN’s influence over college football is more important than you think…

I would never give out the guy’s name, but years ago I ran into an AP poll voter when I was in college as a part-time lackey somewhere. I asked him about his recent college football poll. He laughed and said he doesn’t have time to sit and watch 12 hours of college football and either watches ESPN for highlights or just gives it to an intern to fill out.

Later on, I ran into someone working for a program whose coach had a vote. He said the coach gave the poll to a secretary or student manager because the staff barely has time to do enough film on the teams that they play, let alone everyone else to vote on.

Personally, I couldn’t blame either of them. Voting is a privilege, but a time consuming and free one; normally, things that are time consuming and free aren’t privileges.

If you do nothing but turn on ESPN to find out who has been good, who has been bad, and who deserves to play for a title, you’ll come away thinking that unless it’s in the South, it’s probably not worthy of playing for a title.

In fact, ESPN’s Brad Edwards said last year that Auburn’s finish to the season was “incredible” and resume wise, the Tigers were better than Ohio State. He then laid out a percentage of voters that probably needed to swing Auburn over unbeaten Ohio State for the Tigers to have a legitimate chance.

And in college football, that opinion happens to matter.

You can raise the same ethical questions about Fox’s stake in BTN, but we all know they carry neither the power nor the influence that ESPN does.  We all have opinions about sports, but as Bart stated so well, only in college football do those opinions matter.  We can debate the Broncos vs Patriots or A’s vs Nationals until we’re blue in the face, but those sports happen to decide champions through actually playing the game.  Not by collecting a group of people to select who they think is the best.

Hopefully “The Narrative” won’t impact the selection committee and they can remove all the conference superiority noise and look at the teams contending for playoff spots impartially.  But do we really think the notable people on the committee are going to dedicate hours of time to film study and comparative work?  That seems like wishful thinking.

6) How will other conference networks respond to the SEC?

With so much attention focused on the launch of SEC Network, it’s easy to forget that BTN and Pac 12 Networks have been around for a while.  BTN is like Van Wilder when it comes to this whole network thing while the Pac 12 has a solid cast of talent and a very unique, compelling structure… but is lacking distribution.

The Big Ten sacrificed their on-field product to add lots and lots of east coast cash Rutgers and Maryland to the conference.  What will the network do with that newfound revenue flow worth tens of millions of dollars?

Can the Pac 12 finally overcome their impasse with DirecTV and build a nationwide audience?  Given the increasingly bitter rhetoric, hopes aren’t high.

The SEC Network has immediately jumped to the head of the field when it comes to distribution, talent, and influence.  The Big Ten and Pac 12 (and I guess you can throw the ACC and Big XII in here as well) need to step up their respective games to keep pace.

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7) Is ESPN grooming a future replacement for Lee Corso?

College GameDay is the unquestioned dynasty of the sport, and arguably the best studio show in existence at the moment.  Longtime mascot fanatic Lee Corso has been a mainstay on the show since its inception.  His work over almost three decades on ESPN speaks for itself.

In 2012, at 77 years of age, Corso signed a two-year contract extension with ESPN.  That would lead one to believe that this could be his last season with GameDay barring another new contract.  ESPN signed two former coaches this offseason in Butch Davis and Mack Brown.  Could one of them be taking a redshirt year before stepping into Corso’s chair?  Brown seems the most likely candidate given his name recognition and TV potential (if he can fully open up about Texas on the air, of course).

Whatever direction ESPN decides to move, there’s no replacing Corso directly. His personality and presence on the air is one of a kind.  But ESPN would be smart to begin to think about who’s going to follow him in that chair.  And whether or not they’d be comfortable wearing mascot heads.

8) Who will be this year’s breakout TV star?

As far as newcomers to the college football television landscape go, Tim Tebow is obviously the biggest name to make the transition to broadcasting.  But as we’ve stated on this blog many times before, there’s another former SEC quarterback working at the conference network that has a brighter future ahead of him – Greg McElroy.  The former Alabama signal caller has all the tools to be a future #1 analyst at a network and as the season progresses, it’ll be interesting to see if he can validate that potential.  For his part, Tebow has shown that he may have a TV future as well in spot duty and isn’t just another Joe Montana.

There’s other new faces in new places across the media landscape.  Adam Zucker takes over from Tim Brando in the SEC on CBS studio in what is the biggest role of his career so far.  Allie LaForce gained a promotion to the sidelines in the same package.  And as mentioned previously, Fox Sports 1 and ESPN have also restocked and reshuffled their lineups.  Even draftnik Todd McShay is joining the team of Chris Spielman and Sean McDonough as a “sideline analyst.”

The one analyst I’ll have my eye on this year with rising star potential is ESPN’s Brock Huard.  The former Washington quarterback has always impressed me with his analysis in the booth and his promotion to a primetime spot alongside Joe Tessitore (replacing Matt Millen) is well deserved.

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9) Will ESPN take another step forward with the BCS Megacast?

The BCS Megacast has been the most transformational broadcast innovation of 2014 thus far.  And although the vast majority of viewers stuck with ESPN for the game, the smorgasbord of live and alternate feeds for the National Championship Game was an unquestioned success.  ESPN used the fullness of its seemingly unlimited platforms to provide detailed coverage of a game in which we’ve never seen before.  And while some alternate feeds were much better than others, the idea created enough buzz and generated enough diverse viewing options to justify its return.

Chief among the positives from the Megacast was the Film Room show which was a dream come true for diehard football fans.  Breaking down plays in real-time with current coaches and ESPN analysts brought a dynamic never before seen.  I really can’t say enough about how great the BCS Film Room channel was – even Matt Millen did tremendous work!  It’d be awesome to see ESPN break out the film room and other Megacast elements for more big games this season to continue improving the way we watch college football.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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