The 2022 college football season is upon us and everything seems up for grabs this year after the craziness of last year. And ESPN's Desmond Howard will have a front seat to all of it.
Not many people have found the kind of success before, during and after professional football that Desmond Howard has. The former Michigan star was a Heisman Trophy winner in college, a Super Bowl MVP in the NFL and is now one of the top college football analysts at ESPN as well as one of the co-hosts on College GameDay.
We caught up with Desmond to discuss the new college football season, his hopes for his beloved Michigan Wolverines, his recent partnership with Modelo, his picks for the College Football Playoff and his career on ESPN College GameDay.
This interview with Desmond Howard is made possible by Modelo:
TheSpun: You’ve teamed with Modelo for their Fighting Spirit campaign. What made you want to get on board with them now?
Desmond Howard: We did a campaign together last year and they helped me celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the punt return against Ohio State which obviously led to sealing the deal for me to win the Heisman.
The partnership went so well that we decided to run it back. It’s a celebration of the fans. I appreciate the fans and what they bring to college football - not just the game, but to College GameDay too. So I really appreciate fans and we’re gonna try to find the best “full-time fan” - the No. 1 full-time fan and reward them with a six-figure salary, and give them a chance to fly them out to the national championship game in LA. I think it’s going to be a wonderful campaign. We had a great time last year and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the great fans.
College football is just around the corner. Get the games, get the fans - who bring such a unique energy - and Modelo is all about “the fighting spirit” so nothing speaks to that quite like the fans do.
TheSpun: Week 1 of the 2022 college football season is almost here. Which games are you looking forward to the most this September?
DH: I’m glad you said this September because that gives me a wide range of games. We have some great games early. What was missing for quite some time was not having these big games early. Now we’re starting to have more and more of those, and I’m very appreciative of that. When I was in college, that’s what we did. Our non-conference schedule was against teams you’d recognize. We played Notre Dame, UCLA, Maryland, Boston College. We played schools that you’d recognize so it’s good to see some of these marquee matchups.
Obviously the big one - the monster game - is Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in Columbus. That’s gonna be a huge matchup, not just because their brands but because they don’t play often. They don’t see each other on the gridiron that often, so that’s a monster matchup.
[Then we have] Alabama traveling to Austin, Texas to take on the Longhorns. You’ve got former Alabama coach Steve Sarkisian, now he’s the head man up there (at Texas) and we’re gonna see if the “grasshopper can snatch the pebble from the master.” That’ll be a good one.
But I’m down here in Florida and there is so much hype and so much excitement about the (U of Miami) Canes. They’ve got Mario Cristobal, he’s a local guy, they love him here, and they opened up the checkbook to give him a great coaching staff. They got three guys on their staff with head coaching experience. Plus they got Josh Gattis, the OC at Michigan a year ago who won the Assistant Coach of the Year award. Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. Ed Reed is a part of their program. You go to the Canes practice and it’s like a who’s-who of football. They’re gonna go College Station and take on Texas A&M - that’s a big game.
Those three we can talk for hours on.
TheSpun: How does Michigan take that next step in 2022 and do you predict they will?
DH: As an analyst you would think that Michigan is gonna be in the position where you want to wait and see just because they lost so much. You don’t take steps just because (of what you did last year). You have to keep things intact and they weren’t able to keep a lot intact.
Josh Gattis, he got those bags from the Miami boosters… he was able to take advantage of that. He migrated from Ann Arbor down to Coral Gables. They also lost (Mike) Macdonald, the defensive coordinator. He went back to Baltimore to become the play-caller for the Baltimore Ravens defense - which is a step up, so you can’t fault him for doing that.
They lost both coordinators, three first-rounders on defense… so you can’t just say that just because they went to the Playoff last year’s they’re going to take the next step. Now you’ve got to look for addition by subtraction when you look at the big picture.
I’m excited for them. They look good on offense, but defense is going to be the question mark and we’re going to see how they replace all of that talent on defense that they lost.
TheSpun: “WHO’S IN” this year?
DH: What is it August? (laughs) My thing is, last year at this time all of the experts had Michigan to finish fourth in their division - not the conference - just in their division. I don’t think anyone picked Cincy (maybe me since I like to go out on a limb like that every now and then). We had some surprises…
Oh man, let me see… I think Alabama will make a surprise appearance (laughs).
I don’t feel strongly about any other teams so I don’t really want to name anyone else since people will hold you to it.
I wanna see what happens with Clemson. The interesting thing about Miami is this is a prime time for them to rise to another level. I believe the ACC is wide open and I think Dabo is going to have a slight quarterback competition during the regular season. I’m just not sold on Clemson. They’re not the team they used to be. We’re talking about a guy who lost both of his coordinators. So the simple fact that he lost these longtime assistants on offense and defense, I’m really curious to see what they’re going to look like.
There are a lot of question marks for a lot of teams. I’m not really ready to pull the trigger and say “This team is gonna be in the Playoff. That team is gonna be in the Playoff.”
I think it’ll be easier to say Alabama.
Ohio State - we’ve gotta see what happens with their defenses. They’ve got a new defensive coordinator. You hear the right things coming out of Columbus.
But I don’t feel strongly about any teams. I wish I had a dark horse like Cincinnati a year ago, or a Group of Five team that I could just throw out there. As of now, today, I don’t have that.
As I start to do my research and we approach Week Zero, I may have some answers.
TheSpun: Is Desmond Howard on the Mt. Rushmore of Michigan Football?
DH: That’s one of those questions that I’ll leave up to the fans and the experts. I’ve done what I can do and I’m really honored that my name is ever mentioned with those greats. This is a storied program, the winningest program percentage-wise in the history of college football. And I got my number retired - my number’s in the rafters.
When I first went to Michigan, Michigan was a running school. We ran the ball - three yards and a cloud of dust. So to be able to accomplish what I did was a surprise from that standpoint and I’m just honored to be in the conversation when people talk about the Mt. Rushmore of Michigan Football Players.
To be able to accomplish what I did was a surprise from that standpoint.
TheSpun: What has changed about College GameDay the most from when you started until now?
DH: What’s changed the most (laughs) has been the time. It used to be a 90 minute show when I first started. The fan support has grown which is just fantastic. But other than that I think we’ve been able to keep the same type of passion for the sport. I think that’s why it’s been so consistent. Not only the passion for the sport, but the passion for our product.
I was so amazed with the first time I sat down in my first College GameDy meeting, with Chris Fowler being the host, and being with those guys for 40-45 minutes on one topic because they cared that much - and about a topic I thought was trivial - about how the information got across to the viewers, and how the viewers would see what the discussion was about or what the topic was about.
I remember coming home to my wife and talking to my daughter, telling them that I was blown away by the detail being paid to things that don’t seem important because the whole thing is so important.
We’ve (also) gone from one great host in Chris Fowler to another amazing host with Rece Davis. It’s like the Packers going from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers.
TheSpun: What's the best non-Michigan Stadium atmosphere you've ever witnessed?
DH: I’ll tell you what: I was thoroughly impressed with Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon (for the Oregon Ducks). It’s really small and quaint, but they get loud as hell. It’s crazy how loud they get in Eugene, Oregon. It’s one of the few places that when GameDay travels to the West Coast that I’m excited about because it’s a 6 a.m. start for us out there - but even at 6 a.m., it’s like a 9 a.m. start in the SEC because they bring that kind of energy early in the morning.
Not many people have as much passion for the game of college football as Desmond Howard. We'll be seeing him a lot on Saturdays this season, and when he's on break, he'll probably be enjoying the action with a nice Modelo.