Last Tuesday, as host Rece Davis and analysts Joey Galloway, Kirk Herbstreit (remotely), Danny Kanell, and David Pollack were settling into their chairs in Studio G on the ESPN campus, they were all hypothesizing how the next few minutes would unfold.
– Producer Aaron Katzman
The selection committee’s first rankings were minutes away from being announced on College Football Playoff: Top 25 (Tuesdays, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Like the rest of the college football community, Davis and the analysts were in the dark.
“It is all about authenticity,” explained producer Aaron Katzman. “It was decided in Year 1 that the commentators would find out the rankings as everyone watching at home did. Now in Year 3, we see no reason to change it. We want to hear their genuine, honest reaction on the air. It makes for the best TV.”
A few minutes into the show, when then one-loss Texas A&M was ranked in the coveted No. 4 spot, notably higher than undefeated Washington, the benefits of this approach were immediately reinforced.
“Before the show, I get a sense of how each of our analysts feels about specific teams and the circumstances that surround those teams,” explains Katzman, one of the few people who does see the rankings before air time. “When something unexpected arises, I will direct Rece to go to an analyst based on those prior conversations I have had as I anticipate that person’s reaction.”
What was unfolding around the country among fans was simultaneously happening on the air – initial surprise and then justification and forward thinking.
“All around the country we had that collective eyebrow raise,” said Herbstreit on air. “It is shocking to see an undefeated Washington. . . sitting behind a team with one loss.”
“This tells me the committee is looking at the nonconference schedule,” said Kanell, who pointed out that Washington’s slate was relatively weak this season.
After the initial reactions had been given, Galloway was able to take a step back and provide a big picture perspective.
“If I am Washington, I am like ‘We are fine, we are good,’” said Galloway. He and the group acknowledge that if the Huskies remain undefeated, they are certain to be a top 4 team come Dec. 4 when the final rankings are announced.
Over the next four Tuesdays, and then again on Dec. 4, there are surely going to be more surprises. As the fan bases anticipate how the committee will judge their teams’ latest win or loss across the larger college football landscape, inside the ESPN campus, ESPN analysts will be doing the same. And when they find out, you will, too.