We’re less than two weeks away from the first games of the college football season kicking off and that typically means an endless series of watchlists, previews and so on. I’m guilty of it too, but hey it’s the offseason. I’m just as ready for the start of the season as everybody else.
But since the season hasn’t started yet, I thought we’d do something a little bit different and kind of fun. Today we’re going to rank the best college football commentators in the game. These will only include play by play voices on the national TV networks. Commentators will be ranked from lowest to highest and will include a video clip of them to help you put a voice to the name. Here are the top 5 college football commentators.
Just Missed the Cut
Adam Amin – ESPN
Mark Jones – ESPN
Dave Pasch – ESPN
Bob Wischusen – ESPN
Now on to the actual countdown.
5 – Chris Fowler – ESPN
ESPN’s lead play by play man since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Fowler is usually paired with Kirk Herbstreit for Saturday night games on ABC. Fowler is very good at what he does. There’s very few gaffes and you don’t ever sit there and think, “What the heck is he talking about?”
He and Herbstreit play very well off each other and Fowler has been known to play a prank or two on Herbie (think the Halloween game between Notre Dame and Temple in 2015). His delivery is usually solid. In short, he’s a good, solid, reliable commentator that nobody has to worry about doing wild or crazy things on the air.
The only thing keeping him from being higher on this list is that, while he has done a whole slew of memorable games, he doesn’t really have any memorable calls.
4 – Mike Tirico – NBC
NBC’s college football rights portfolio isn’t too vast but it’s got a big one: the rights to Notre Dame home games. Tirico joined NBC from ESPN prior to the 2016 season and has had a variety of duties at the network including Olympic coverage in Rio de Janeiro and Pyongchang, Thursday Night Football studio hosting and of course, Notre Dame football. He only called the first three Irish home games in 2016 (against Nevada, Michigan State, and Duke) but took over full-time in 2017, replacing Dan Hicks (who most Irish fans would agree was truly dreadful).
Tirico has a very distinct voice and is another dependable guy in the booth. On Notre Dame broadcasts he’s paired with Doug Flutie (another guy many Irish fans are eager to see replaced). He’s called a total of nine Irish games for NBC and prior to that he called a number of bowl games with ESPN. He does a good job of describing the action without being repetitive from game to game.
Here’s to hoping that there’s some stability in the NBC booth going forward (since 2009 a total of four different people have served as play by play commentators for Notre Dame games in addition to three different color commentators).
3 – Sean McDonough – ESPN
Welcome back to college football Sean! McDonough had spent the last two seasons calling Monday Night Football games for ESPN, an assignment that he said, “wasn’t a tremendous amount of fun.” And then he endeared himself the legions of college football fans by saying, “I love college football. For me, it’s more fun.”
He is being replaced in the MNF booth by Joe Tessitore (who would have definitely been on this list had he not been going to MNF).
McDonough is no stranger to the college football world, having called some the biggest games with some of the most memorable moments. He does such a good job of making the most exciting moments even more exciting that it’s clear why he prefers college football to the NFL. He’s so good that we’ll even give you multiple clips of his best calls.
2 – Gus Johnson – FOX
No college sports commentator list is complete without an appearance by Gus Johnson. Perhaps more famous for his calls during March Madness, Johnson has nonetheless built up quite an impressive array of memorable moments since his move to Fox Sports in 2013. He has the unique ability to take an extraordinary moment and put it into the Stratosphere.
When the game is good, he can take it from good to great. The only knock against him is that if the game isn’t good he doesn’t have much to work with and his call suffers for it. (Perhaps that’s why he struggled so mightily in his brief spell as a soccer commentator). His commentary booth pairing with Joel Klatt is also probably the best one-two punch in the business.
1 – Brad Nessler – CBS
Nessler has been around the game for quite some time, having called games for ESPN since 1997. But last year, with a move to CBS, came one of the profession’s toughest challenges: replacing a legend in Verne Lundquist (who had he not retired would be in this spot on this list without a doubt). Luckily, Nessler is a consummate professional and in CBS’ first game of 2017 paid tribute to Uncle Verne and acknowledged that he had big shoes to fill.
He did superbly filling those shoes. While broadcast partner Gary Danielson said that there was an adjustment period while they got used to each other in the booth, the commentary, insight and analysis was still top notch. He also had some memorable calls throughout his career. Add it all up and you get the number one spot.