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Kirk Herbstreit, college football’s most respected TV football analyst, was in town Monday night and I jumped at the chance to go talk to him.
Here’s why: Herbstreit is the best at what he does. He’s a coach’s son, a former Ohio State quarterback himself. He understands the sport as few others. He’s smart, glib, and, as a color guy, he tells you stuff you don’t already know. He advances the viewer’s cause. He doesn’t state the obvious. He gives insight, tells you what you need to know, and – this is important – he knows when to shut up.
OK, so Herbstreit picked Alabama to win when that renowned X’s and O’s football expert, Katy Perry, correctly picked Ole Miss. But Herbstreit will make jokes about that at his own expense, which differentiates him from so many of the other football talking heads.
In Ridgeland to speak at a reception for the C Spire cloud services division, Herbstreit opined on any number of subjects, including that the ESPN College GameDay experience in Oxford for the 2014 Alabama-Ole Miss game was “hands down” the best atmosphere in his 20 years with the program.
Yes, Herbstreit said, he believes GameDay could well make a return visit to Oxford Sept. 17 “if Ole Miss beats Florida State and Alabama beats USC.”
Said Herbstreit, “Frankly, I would love it.”
Herbstreit offered many other opinions including:
• On the ongoing Ole Miss-NCAA controversy: “I don’t know. I don’t think anybody ever knows on NCAA things like this, but I really respect Hugh Freeze. We’re good friends. I just can’t imagine this thing going to the extremes of Ole Miss losing a bunch of scholarships or a receiving bowl ban. I just don’t see it…. But honestly, I don’t know what will come of it and I don’t think anybody does.”
• On Dan Mullen as a coach and Mississippi State’s outlook this year: “I think a lot of people don’t give him the credit he deserves for developing and managing quarterbacks. This is a chance, an opportunity, for Mississippi State to show that they were more than just Dak Prescott these last couple years. They’ve got good players. Dak was outstanding but he had good people around him.”
• On Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly: “He’s a remarkable story. You would think that after all the trouble he had at Clemson, and then coming to Ole Miss, trouble might have followed him. But he has really turned not only his career, but his life, around. He has command of the offense and is the epitome of a dual threat quarterback. He can really throw it and he can run it. A lot of people were surprised at how well he ran the ball as the season went along last season, but those of us who had seen him at Clemson knew he could run it and were wondering when that was going to become more a part of his game at Ole Miss. He was really playing the game at a high, high level late last season. I know he lost (LaQuon) Treadwell so he’ll have to spread it around more but from what I have heard, he has the receivers to do that.”
• On Southern Miss and quarterback Nick Mullens: “I am not as familiar with Mullens as I am Kelly, but I know about him and I can’t wait to see the Southern Miss-Kentucky game that first weekend. That first weekend has so many great games. That Southern Miss-Kentucky game is one that you want to watch if you want to see an underdog go on the road with a really good chance to knock off a Power Five team.”
• On the most intense rivalries in college football: “Well, the one you have here in this state is up there. Ole Miss-Mississippi State is a great rivalry and now people around the country know more about it because of the success both teams have had in recent years. I grew up on Ohio State-Michigan and it’s still up there. I’ve always thought it wasn’t so much about hate as it is two teams that really want to win but also really respect one another. As far as rivalries with impact on college football and national championship implications, it’s hard to get better than Alabama-LSU. And I don’t know if anything is more intense than Alabama-Auburn.”
• On whether or not he buys into the new-found respect Tennessee is getting headed into the 2016 season: “I do. I think Tennessee is really going to be better. It would not be all that surprising to me if Tennessee beat Alabama at home and then Alabama beat Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. I really could see that happening.”
Rick Cleveland writes a weekly sports column running Fridays at Mississippitoday.org