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Ryan Leaf’s Rookie Season with ESPN Punctuated with Cheez-It Bowl Assignment

Calling his alma mater Washington State's game vs. Air Force Caps Perfect Ending to First Year with ESPN

ESPN College Football Analyst Ryan Leaf (Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Former NFL quarterback and 1997 Heisman Trophy finalist Ryan Leaf is closing out his first college football season at ESPN with a unique assignment. Leaf will provide analysis for the Cheez-It Bowl, featuring Air Force and his alma mater, Washington State, on Friday, Dec. 27 at 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN). Leaf is joined in Phoenix by Clay Matvick and Cole Cubelic.

Leaf has seen it all his debut season with ESPN, including major upsets and last-second victories, and he’s been frequenting ESPN’s Los Angeles studios with SportsCenter’s Stan Verrett, Neil Everett and Linda Cohn throughout the season to break down college football’s biggest moments.

With the season nearly behind him, Leaf took a breath from his bowl responsibilities and looked back at the biggest moments of his rookie season.

Is there a moment that stands out to you as you look back over the past four months?

Well, the whole season has been amazing. Wow, what a journey. I can’t tell you how grateful I’ve been for this opportunity this season. I’ve been really lucky to have veterans like Clay and [producer] Eric Posman helping me to get better each week. I had a lot of great moments. . . Georgia State’s upset of Tennessee in Week 1, BYU shocking highest-ranked Group of 5 Boise State in Provo, and getting to call the Sun Belt Championship. The biggest moment was probably in Oxford, Miss. when an undefeated Cal Bears team came to town and stopped Ole Miss on the final play of the game to preserve the victory. Really exciting on the field and definitely in the booth that day!

You’ve had the opportunity to call your alma mater’s games last year with a different network, how do you separate Ryan the Broadcaster from Ryan the alum?

I will say I was pretty anxious and excited to do well [last year] that I really focused on prep and the intangibles of the call, and I didn’t even realize that it was my alma mater’s game. I will say this, though. I’m really familiar with the Air Raid offense that Mike Leach runs, so that helps me truly stay analytical when I call one of their games. Just to have the opportunity to call a bowl game is super exciting and a great way to finish my first college football season with ESPN.

You were inducted into the WSU Hall of Fame this fall. What was it like being inducted into the WSU Hall of Fame this year?

I’m sure there were many years when my name was discussed [for WSU Hall of Fame] that the player may have been deserving, but the man just didn’t live up to it. That’s what makes it so much more special.

It was a really wonderful and humbling honor. . . In my acceptance speech, I really made a point to the committee that this was special, because I’m sure there were many years when my name was discussed that the player may have been deserving, but the man just didn’t live up to it. That’s what makes it so much more special. I had my family there and my two-year-old son McGyver got to be a part of the weekend, which for me, was the absolute cherry on top of it all. That was a special time in my life and the team I was a part of is the reason I’m in the HOF.

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