Behind The ScenesNCAAF

ESPN’s on-camera ‘Bama, Clemson alumni on school ties

Coping with a CFP loss

SEC Network anchor Dari Nowkhah (Oklahoma ’98) and His & Hers co-host and ESPN.com national columnist Jemele Hill (Michigan State ’97) endured the disappointment of a College Football Playoff loss in the semifinals last month – Alabama defeated Michigan State and Clemson downed Oklahoma. They kindly offer advice to fans of the losing school tonight.
Hill: “Pray the Alabama team bus breaks down on the way to Glendale, or pray for an enormous chicken pox outbreak. Kidding. In all seriousness, dare to dream. Even though I’m still piecing together bits of my soul after we were crushed by Alabama, I loved the feeling – even if it was fleeting by the possibility that we could achieve something that future Spartans may not ever see in their lifetime. So keep your expectations high!”
Nowkhah: “As an Oklahoma fan, I realize the possibility of losing in a huge game is real. So, that helps deal with the eventual reality that our season ended just shy of our goal! Thus, Alabama and Clemson fans, at least brace yourself for a loss. Keep your expectations low, that way the loss will be easier to take!”

Front Row presents some College Football Playoff National Championship Game presented by AT&T perspectives from commentators and analysts who are alumni of Alabama and Clemson, who duel for the title tonight on ESPN (8:30 p.m. ET). In addition, alumni from the schools eliminated in the semifinals – Michigan State and Oklahoma – weigh in with concise advice on how to cope with bittersweet defeat.

College GameDay host Rece Davis (Alabama ’88)
How do you balance your job and allegiance?
First of all, I’ve had a lot of experience in TV being fair and covering Alabama in championships. It’s not as hard as people think. My No. 1 charge as a TV announcer is being fair for people watching. [Our alma maters] are not important in our coverage because it’s not about us or where we went. We make it about the game, players and coaches. It’s about the television, too.
That being said, what are some memorable reactions you’ve gotten from fans?
Just last week, I was on a plane from the Orange Bowl to the Rose Bowl and we were watching the Cotton Bowl called by [play-by-play commentator] Chris Fowler and [analyst] Kirk Herbstreit. After one of the Alabama plays, I started getting bombed on Twitter “Homer, you couldn’t be more biased!” and I wasn’t even calling the game. That rush to judgment, you can’t counter because people are going to believe what they’re going to believe. Still, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t want people to love you, and like everything you do, you just have to live with it.

SEC Network analyst, former ‘Bama QB Greg McElroy (Alabama, ’10)
How do you balance your job and allegiance?
Even if I was playing in the game, I would recognize things the other team does well, what they don’t do as well and vulnerabilities. The way I would prepare for the game as a player is the same as I prepare as analyst. I love Alabama; I’m grateful for my time there, but I have to recognize the strengths of the Clemson Tigers as a team and some of the strengths of their individual players as well.
On trash talk leading up to the game
It has been pretty light; the teams don’t know each other. They haven’t played since 2008, so it’s not a heated rivalry. If anything, there is mutual admiration and appreciation considering the ties between Clemson and Alabama.
What would it mean to you if Alabama wins?
It means a lot, of course. You always want to see your team play well and win no matter what. I will always root for Alabama regardless of who they are playing, when they are playing but if they have flaws or problems, I will recognize those; the same way I would as a player, as a member of the team. There are things I recognize in 2009, even us as National Champions, there are things we did better than other things. You have to be open-minded when being an analyst and recognize the strengths and weakness of the teams you are evaluating.

ESPN NFL analyst and former Clemson DB Brian Dawkins (Clemson ’95)
Dawkins shares his thoughts on Clemson’s journey to the National Championship Game via Twitter @BrianDawkins. Here’s his reaction after Clemson’s CFP semifinal victory over Oklahoma on Dec. 31:

Derek Volner contributed to this post.

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