Chris Fowler is ESPN’s top college football play-by-play broadcaster, calling the sport’s biggest games each week alongside Kirk Herbstreit. The sport is making its way through the fall season, through one of the strangest years that any of us have experienced.
Last weekend’s broadcast of Miami vs. Florida State was quite a bit different than what we’re accustomed to. Due to contact tracing, Herbstreit was forced to call the game from his home in Nashville. Luckily, he has tested negative for COVID-19, but that precaution is just one example of how the sport, and everything around it, has had to adapt to the current situation.
Fowler is remaining optimistic though. As he told us this week, he’s just thrilled to have football to call this fall. In our quick chat, Fowler discussed the Miami Hurricanes, who look like the breakout team of the 2020 season through the first month, how this year’s altered schedules could change the College Football Playoff picture, and what it has been like to call games with largely empty stadiums, and last weekend, his broadcast partner of 25 years calling the game from home.
Chris Fowler joined us to talk college football courtesy of Dos Equis and the “Save Our Saturdays” campaign. This interview, conducted on Tuesday morning, has been edited for clarity.
Enjoying prep for a rare @SEC game for us @AuburnFootball @KirbySmartUGA between the hedges. Watching tape, grinding on the analytics and good phone visits with the Tigers’ team leaders. @KirkHerbstreit back in the booth Saturday night! ESPN 730ET pic.twitter.com/0rhPemipDV
— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) October 1, 2020
The Spun: Pretty much everything about college football has been turned on its head this fall, including the broadcasts. Last week, your partner Kirk Herbstreit had to call the Miami-Florida State game from home, and without a vast majority of fans in attendance, it has to be a very different experience. What is the most important thing you’ve taken away from calling games so far this season?
Chris Fowler: To be flexible, to adapt, to not complain, to focus on what you can do and not what you can’t do. I mean, I just think that’s a good message in life. Yeah. Kirk was in his basement, he tested negative, but as I just said it’s a social distancing kind of, um, you know, contact tracing protocol. We got to follow the rules, right. And so he was there in his basement, but he’s done it for a long time. We worked together for 25 years. So I think we kept it as seamless as you possibly can, but, you know, listen, the hits for all of us keep on coming and then you just sort of have to adapt and stay positive and realize how lucky you are. I’m grateful that we have games to call. So whatever curve balls we have to deal with along the way, we will.
The Spun: You’ve been on the call for the last two Miami games: the wins over Louisville and Florida State. It’s still early, but after seeing the Hurricanes in person twice already, do you think they have a chance to compete with Clemson and Notre Dame in the top tier of the ACC?
Fowler: Well, I think they are, and they expect to be there. Clemson’s the next challenge for them. They have a bye week, then they go to Death Valley on October the 10th in a primetime game that we’re going to get the chance to call, but they’ve shored up their weaknesses from a year ago. Quarterback play with D’Eriq King coming from Houston. He brought his right tackle with him. They have two great pass rushers from what I call the free agent grad transfer market. They have a kicker, they got the same way, who’s a weapon. So all of the weaknesses that they had as a team last year, offensive line play, those guys are much better this year. I don’t really see a glaring weakness for Miami. Are they good enough to be Clemson? Are they good enough to make the Playoff? That remains to be seen. But to me they are one of the stories so far the young season.
This season, @DosEquis is out to Save Our Saturdays. Just text SOS to 77000 for a chance to win a #TailgateAnything package featuring the gear in this video with commentary from yours truly. 21+ #NoPurNec Rules: https://t.co/QQT1z4bnbI #dosequispartner pic.twitter.com/Z12XTPFfuB
— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) September 29, 2020
The Spun: Last weekend felt like the true kickoff of the college football season in many ways, with the SEC starting up play. We had two huge upsets, with LSU falling to Mississippi State and Oklahoma losing to Kansas State. In years past, an early season loss might not end a team’s College Football Playoff aspirations. While we can’t know exactly how the selection committee will handle things this year, do you think there will be less leniency for teams with losses with that shorter schedule?
Chris Fowler: 1000-percent, Dan, you hit it. These games have more importance, which means losses carry greater weight, even an early season loss, and teams need to figure that out. You need to be spot on with your preparation. You can’t afford a let down. Look what Oklahoma did, it fell asleep on a lead. Kansas State was completely out of that game. Oklahoma gets a punt blocked and you see one of those things that is so beautiful about sports, momentum changes like that. And all of a sudden here come the purple ‘Cats, and Oklahoma is shocked at home, and now you have no margin for error. If you run the table in the Big 12, that might be enough, but you don’t control your destiny anymore. And the committee’s going to be more subjective than ever. The job was already pretty hard. Now, I think it’s gotten a lot harder.
How are you going to judge a Pac-12 champion? Let’s say Oregon out there, the favorite, runs through it, but they only have seven games and other teams are playing 10 games. The Big 10 gets a later start, but that’s a very tough schedule for teams in that conference. Man, it’s it’s going to be heated. It’s going to be controversial. And once the bracket is set and the Playoff gets going, to me, there’s no asterisk attached to the championship. You cannot put an asterisk on any team or individual that wins a trophy this year, not with what they’ve had to come through. The mental challenges, the physical challenges. To me, the champion this year is going to be as deserving as any other year because of what we’ve all had to go through, and I just think it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out. Will it be unpredictable throughout? Because right now everybody’s got, you know, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State… The computers say there’s a 67% chance that each one of those seeds are going to get in. I mean, I think there’s room for surprises and let’s see how it plays out. Based on the first weekend, as you said, it’s pretty, it’s pretty unpredictable.
The Spun: I think with the Playoff there’s been at least a slight groundswell of people saying that we should maybe expand the field, even if only for a year, because of how crazy everything is and it’s going to be impossible…
Fowler: I just don’t think that you can do it in the short term like that. Ideally, absolutely. An eight-team playoff this year would be good. I’ve been pretty impressed with how the four team works out, because I think you really have to earn your way in. If you expand it to eight teams, you’ll have a two loss team in there and you’re going to have… Not a bunch of different teams, you’ll have more opportunity, but you’re going to have the same seeds every year and an eight-team bracket to be impossible for me to see ‘Bama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State ever missing out on that, because they’re always, you know, one of the best teams in terms of personnel, but I wish we could have eight-teams this year. You’re right. That’d be fun. It would have been fun.
The Spun: We haven’t had every team in action yet, but if you were forced to predict four College Football Playoff teams today, who would they be?
Fowler: I haven’t seen half the teams yet! I mean, I’m not going to pick them a Playoff team based on paper. We’ve gotta get at least into November to see how Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, how the Big Ten teams look, let’s see Oregon out West and then we can start to talk about it.
Chris Fowler on Dos Equis’ “Save Our Saturdays” campaign:
Chris Fowler will be on the call for Saturday’s game between No. 4 Georgia and No. 7 Auburn in Athens. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.