The opening weekend of the college football season generated strong ratings across the ESPN family of networks. Clemson's 38-35 win over Georgia on ABC in primetime led the way with a 5.0 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated game of the weekend on any network. It is up 6% from a 4.7 overnight for the comparable Alabama-Michigan last year. Meanwhile, ESPN’s primetime telecast of Alabama-Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic posted a 3.1 overnight, the second-best mark on Saturday. ESPN's Rice-Texas A&M game, which had increased interest due to the first-half suspension of A&M QB Johnny Manziel, drew a 2.9 overnight in the 1:00pm ET window, while the LSU-TCU game from AT&T Stadium that started at 9:00pm got a 1.9 rating. ESPN2 averaged a 1.5 overnight for Buffalo-Ohio State at 12:00pm, up 150% from the Northwestern-Syracuse noon kickoff in '12. Monday night's Florida State-Pittsburgh broadcast, which featured the debut of highly touted FSU QB Jameis Winston, drew a 3.0 overnight, up slightly from a 2.9 for the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game in that same slot last year. Meanwhile, ESPN's season-opening games on Thursday night -- North Carolina-South Carolina and Ole Miss-Vanderbilt -- finished with a 2.1 U.S. rating and 3.1 million viewers. That audience marks the net's second-best rating and third-best viewership for a Thursday night season-opening slate since '99 (ESPN).
HELLO GOODBYE: SI.com's Richard Deitsch reported Craig James will "no longer appear" on FS Southwest after making multiple appearances on Saturday. Sources said that Fox Sports execs were "not happy with the hire by the regional network ... and the hire had not been fully vetted at the highest levels of Fox Sports management." A formal agreement "had not been finalized, even though James appeared on FSS on Saturday night." FS Southwest last week announced that the former ESPN analyst was being "brought on as a college football studio analyst to work FSS's college football postgame shows and appear on segments of Fox Sports Southwest's Big 12 wrap-up show" (SI.com, 9/3). In Houston, David Barron reported James will continue to do a "couple of hits weekly for the TexAgs Radio program" on KZNE-AM and TexAgs.com. He will do a "weekly call-in show" on those outlets at 10:05am CT on Mondays and "will contribute to the Friday 'Pick Express' prognostications feature." Both apparently were "in the works before his brief stint" with FS Southwest (CHRON.com, 9/3).
THE STANDARD BEARER: In Tampa, Tom Jones wrote ESPN's "College GameDay" "remains one of the truly outstanding shows in all of television." Chris Fowler "remains on top of his game," while Kirk Herbstreit is "among the top two or three sports analysts" on TV. Lee Corso "seems all the way back from the effects of the stroke he suffered" in '09. Analysts Desmond Howard and David Pollack are "fine," but the show is "at its best when it's Fowler, Herbstreit and Corso steering the ship." The program "needs to be careful not to stray too far from what it does best." When it lets ESPN personalities "become bigger than the sport ... the show stumbles" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/2). USA TODAY's Paul Myerberg in an all-access profile of "GameDay" wrote the production is "propelled by an orchestra of technicians, cameramen, producers, directors, set designers, stylists, crowd pumpers, handymen, drivers and security guards." The show "itself, so watertight in its execution, is built, developed and maintained during the course of several days of preparation." Saturday's show "lasted four hours; at least 72 hours went into its creation and execution" (USATODAY.com, 8/31).
THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: SB NATION's Steve Lepore analyzed FS1's new "Fox College Saturday," writing Erin Andrews "has improved a bit as a studio host." Andrews is "mixing it up a little bit better with her set of analysts and is clearly a competent broadcaster." The show is "helped along by analyst Joel Klatt's work as co-host." Meanwhile, Fox' analysts are "a bit of a mixed bag." Klatt is "notable for his ability to host the program as well as provide analysis as a former college QB." Petros Papadakis tends to "speak in short outbursts rather than reasoned sentences," while Eddie George "seems to be trying to mix it up, but still hasn't quite found his footing in his second season." Clay Travis was "opinionated without being obnoxious" and "brought information on a potential injury to Alabama QB A.J. McCarron." FS1's halftime show is a "winner," as the net focuses on host Rob Stone alongside Klatt and analyst Coy Wire. The three have an "easy chemistry, and Stone is an excellent host who's often quite funny" (SBNATION.com, 9/2). SI.com's Deitsch offered suggestions for "Fox College Saturday," writing Stanford football coach David Shaw should be "on as much as possible." The show "looked very good having him on its first week," as Shaw was "the best analyst on the set ... by a lot." Andrews is "at her best when she challenges her panelists and gets off script." The show's producers "should consider extending the length of its crowd shots merely to give viewers a flavor of what makes Saturdays great." The net should "seriously consider finding a national college football reporter with journalistic credibility and turn that person into a hybrid TV/print person." The move "would have immediate impact given there was scant reporting on the show" (SI.com, 9/2).
GOING ON TOUR: Fox will debut its "Fox College Saturday Tour" on Saturday for the Washington State-USC game. Fox and FS1 shows will feature live cut-ins from each tour stop throughout the day, with at least four on-air segments planned each weekend (Fox). In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand reports Fox Sports has "signed Ford, Academy Sports and Pizza Hut as charter sponsors" for the new element. Sideline reporter Kristina Pink "will be on-site during the pregame show." Fox' top college football broadcasting team, Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, "will make appearances" on Fridays. FS1's "Fox Football Daily" and the net's college pregame shows "will use look-ins from the on-site set" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/2 issue).
ONE FOR THE BLOOPER REEL: In L.A., Chris Foster noted Pac-12 Networks analyst Ronnie Lott on Saturday "was in the process of singing UCLA’s praises after the Bruins’ 58-20 victory over Nevada" when on live TV he "took a tumble while jokingly tossing his wallet to fellow commentator Rick Neuheisel" (LATIMES.com, 9/1).