• Image about Kirk Herbstreit
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit participates in a College Football Live round table.
John Atashian/ESPN

Can anybody dethrone the Southeastern Conference as the king of college football? ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit offers his picks.

Amid the offseason college-football cacophony — which found fans and pundits alike yelling on and at the Internet about recruiting victories and depth charts — one of the game’s savviest and most level-headed ?ambassadors, former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit, was strangely quiet. He rarely joined the network’s televised bull sessions and uttered nary a peep via social media. He had, for all intents and purposes, gone underground.

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As it turns out, he was firmly entrenched in Mr. Mom mode, carpooling his quartet of sons from home to school to practice and back. “Honestly, that consumes most of my offseason,” he says. “But then I start to get that itch in the summer and, well …” 

Clearly, Herbstreit is underplaying his involvement and interest in the offseason intrigue. To hear him tell it, he couldn’t go cold turkey if he tried, not even for a few months. “College football isn’t only my job — it’s my passion and my hobby,” he says. “I mean, my mom shows me pictures from when I’m 5 or 6 years old, and I’m just sitting on the floor by myself, watching some random game. If you knew then that I was doing this now for a living, you’d say, ‘Wow, did you get lucky.’ ”

Entering his 17th season on ESPN’s College ?GameDay, widely and justifiably seen as the Johnny Unitas of pregame extravaganzas, Herbstreit has settled in comfortably as the show’s go-to analyst. “I like to have fun along the way and not make everything so serious,” he says. “But I really, really work at this. I don’t have a shtick.” The best part of his week during the season? “Getting off the set after doing three hours of TV on Saturday and getting into the bus. There are five TVs inside it, and I just sit down in front of those TVs from noon all the way on, until I call my game at night with Brent [Musburger].”

All that game-watching leads him to believe that the 2012 season will pick up exactly where 2011 left off: with up-tempo offenses driving defensive coordinators insane. “The Oregons, the Oklahomas, the West Virginias of the world — they are literally never in a huddle,” ?Herbstreit says, the former quarterback in him slightly awed. “It’s a fast break. They’re trying to get to 85 or 90 snaps in a game.”