It’s college football time — again. And nobody’s more excited about that than announcer Brent Musburger.Brent Musburger is, in a word, giddy. ABC/ESPN’s lead college-football announcer is talking about the 2011 college-football season and how he’ll be front and center for its first marquee moment: a Labor Day-weekend prime-time broadcast of the Oregon–LSU game (both consensus preseason top-five teams) from the spaceship with hash marks that is Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Twenty minutes into a conference-by-conference rundown, during which he sounds more like a face-painted college sophomore than a broadcast veteran with 50 years of sports-journalism credits to his name, he says as much: “It’s a wonderful sport to follow — the passion of it, the fans. I can’t wait for the games to start.”
Now You Know: Yale (yes, Yale) has won the most college-football national championships with 18. Its last title came in 1927.
At 72, Musburger remains fully invested in his craft, disdaining the things-were-better-way-back-when mindset espoused by many of his peers. (“There are many more advantages than there are disadvantages to the information universe we have today. We have more and better sources of information than ever before,” he says.) As a result, his play-by-play voice remains both compelling and comforting; he’s the sports equivalent of a trusted, grizzled barkeep. Here’s how he sees the season ahead:
The top five Musburger goes the conservative route with his picks: Oklahoma, LSU, Alabama, Oregon and Florida State. However, he adds a caveat: that the rankings will fluctuate wildly following early-season matchups between four teams in that grouping (Oregon–LSU on Sept. 3 and Oklahoma–Florida State on Sept. 17). All things considered, Musburger considers Oklahoma a notch above — for now. “They’ve got the most skill players coming back. They’ve got the quarterback [Landry Jones], they’ve got the big wide receiver [Ryan Broyles] and they’ve got depth at running back, even though they lost DeMarco Murray.”
The contenders Musburger fills out his top 15 with a gaggle of the usual suspects. In no particular order, he likes Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arizona State, TCU, Boise State, Auburn, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State and Georgia. Other teams he’s eyeing include Miami (“The ACC really needs them or the [Florida State] ’Noles to make some sort of run and put the conference back in the mix for a national championship”), Missouri (“They have to rebuild with a new quarterback”) and Texas (“Can they bounce back? They’ve got to prove they can do it with all the new coaches [head coach] Mack Brown brought in”).
Now You Know: Since 1980, only two schools have won back-to-back national titles: Nebraska (1994 and 1995) and USC (2003 and 2004).
The disappointment Though he qualifies his selection with a sympathetic “please mention that I hope I’m wrong,” Musburger sees Oregon falling short of expectations. “Oregon has that hellacious opener with LSU, plus they have to get a grip on the offensive line. I had great regard for [recently graduated wide receiver] Jeff Maehl; they have to find someone to replace him as a guy [quarterback Darron] Thomas relies on at crunch time.”
The surprises Musburger likes Illinois as a candidate for a top-20 finish, citing a favorable schedule and improved depth. He thinks the doom-and-gloom prophesies for Southern Cal, in the wake of NCAA sanctions, have been overstated: “I’d expect them to struggle two or three years down the road, when the absence of scholarships starts to weigh on them.” But he’s most bullish about Notre Dame. “I have enormous respect for Brian Kelly as a head coach. Because of their schedule, it’s hard to put them in the running for a national championship, but I think Kelly really understands all three sides of the ball.”