Kirk Herbstreit dishes on the inevitable Clemson vs. Alabama rematch, what to expect from Ryan Day and Justin Fields at Ohio State, his love for Sam Ehlinger, the team he thinks is being slept-on and his favorite stops on College GameDay.
Veteran ESPN college football analyst and broadcaster, Kirk Herbstreit has lofty expectations for Clemson and Alabama who look destined to meet in another National Championship Game. That’s the prediction for Herbstreit who thinks Trevor Lawrence is the closest thing he’s seen since Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning. After speaking with the Alabama team this offseason, he sees an angry team, a team that’s on a message to make up for the humbling loss they suffered at the hands of Clemson last year.
At Ohio State, Herbie thinks Ohio State will look a lot different from Urban Meyer’s teams offensively, but the relationship between Day and Justin Fields will be one that Buckeye fans fall in love with. And speaking of love, Herbie is a big believer in Sam Ehlinger and what he means to Texas, comparing him to Tim Tebow, as his reasoning for picking the Longhorns to win the Big 12 and get to the playoff.
I also asked Herbie about a team that’s being slept-on this preseason and his favorite places to visit as part of College GameDay.
Schmidt: This is the best time of the year. College football is officially back.
Herbstreit: Yes, it’s exciting. Bring the energy, bring the passion back. It’s been a long summer. I’m excited to have it back.
Schmidt: Let’s start with the number one team in the country, the reigning national champions. What are your expectations for Trevor Lawrence in his sophomore year after a fantastic record-breaking freshman season at Clemson?
Herbstreit: More of the same. This kid is as good as advertised. He’s going to become one of those guys you just start to kind of run out of adjectives to describe him. The only guy that I’ve covered that would even be close to him would be Andrew Luck, maybe going back to Peyton Manning. When I first started, Peyton Manning was kind of a guy that was kind of unique, obviously. But what this guy accomplished when he was just a true freshman, to lead them to a championship is one thing, but it was just really the way he did it. It’s hard to do that. I mean, Jamelle Holieway was the last time we saw something like that happen, and if you watched him play closely it was just the poise that he played with it.
The moment was never too big for him. In the national championship yard, he played his best game of the year. His teammates love him, which says a lot about his character. So we’re going to continue to fine-tune him, his game gets stronger. He’s put weight on, and I think he’s very confident with the players he has around him. Think about what he has. Travis Etienne, you could argue it’s one of the top backs, if not the top back in the country. He’s got, Tee Higgins. He’s got Justyn Ross as back. They’ve got freshmen receivers that they think could be eventually first-rounders to go along with what they already have.
The one area I guess as a team you could say as well. They lost some great leadership from a year ago with Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins and Kendall Joseph, Dexter Lawrence. So even though they’ve replaced over half players, you always wonder, Again, the intangibles of a team are the secret sauce of being a great team, to being a championship team. So if there’s one area you can just kind of wonder about it’s where will they be from a leadership standpoint after where they were last year? We had an entire defensive line come back for one thing, to win a title, and those guys just pushed that team all the way to the top of the mountain.
So that’s the one area I guess we’ll sit here, and we’ll have to wait and see. But my expectations for them are to make it back with ACC championship, win it, after the playoff back to the national championship. So I expect them to have a monster year.
Schmidt: And the team they met last year in the championship, it’s kind of almost becoming an annual tradition now, but Alabama last year was humbled considerably against Clemson, but Tua is back, Jerry Jeudy’s back, Dylan Moses is back. Do you expect to see Alabama back in the national championship game?
Herbstreit: I visited them a couple of weeks ago, and coach [Nick Saban] asked me to talk to the team, just kind of about football in general, among other things, and what I sensed in being around them is you’ve kind of got an angry football team on your hands. I think they were, they didn’t just lose to Clemson, as you said. They were humiliated on a big stage, which is not normal for a Nick Saban team. He has been pushing them. Scott Cochran, the strength and conditioning coach has been pushing them. They are about fed up. I think they just want to play football, play against some different colored jerseys.
And so Steve Sarkisian comes in as your offensive coordinator. I think Tua is, much like Trevor Lawrence, is going to have a huge year. They’ve got some new faces. That’s typically exciting to watch. All the receivers you mentioned, but I think this kid Najee Harris and Brian Robertson in the backfield are giving a nice one-two punch.
But to me, it’s going to really be about attitude, and that’s sort of what my messages to their team were. You got these great Alabama teams and they have leaders, and they are on a mission. Like if you take a look at some of the national championship teams that they’ve had, it’s almost like they’re made out of iron. Like they just don’t show weakness emotionally.
I think last year, was the first time I’ve ever seen an Alabama defense play as erratic as they played, not just in the championship, but really throughout the year. So we know what their offense is going to do. I mean, they’re going to score 40-45 a game. It’s where will they be defensively, to me, is going to tell you what kind of year that they’ll end up having, and I’m banking on Nick Saban. I think they get back to the championship against Clemson, and I think they end up winning it.
Schmidt: Let’s head over to Columbus where Ryan Day is taking over full time for Urban Meyer. What are your expectations for Day as he tries to fill the big shoes of Urban Meyer? And how do you think the marriage of Day and Justin Fields will play out?
Herbstreit: Well again I think this is the team that hears the noise outside of their program, and it’s very natural to wonder why they replace a guy like Urban Meyer as their head coach, and such a hands-on leader, did such a good job of affecting a team, whether he’s at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, getting 18 to 22-year-old kids to kind of play angry. He’s the king of that, not to mention his X’s and O’s. So you lose that. You lose Dwayne Haskins and almost every passing record. And here comes Ryan Day and he’s very different. I think it’s important for Ryan Day to be Ryan Day, not try to be Urban Meyer. He’s inheriting a quarterback in Justin Fields that’s a monster of an athlete.
He can throw the ball, make every throw. What he’s still developing as far as the ability to read coverage and be patient in a pocket. So because of that, it’s going to be a very, very different approach initially from who they were a year ago with Dwayne Haskins who wasn’t going to run, strictly a passer and now Justin Fields who’s kind of a dual guy, run it, throw it, kind of guy. And so I think people are going to fall in love with Ryan Day and Justin Fields, but I think it’s going to be a very, very different offensive philosophy and approach from where it was last year with Haskins. He’s going to show his ability to be diversified with the quarterback play and how he calls his plays based on the quarterback strengths.
Patrick: So I watched The Herbie’s on ESPN, and I see you have Texas winning the Big 12 and going to the College Football Playoff. What is it about Sam Ehlinger and Tom Herman and Texas that you liked them over Oklahoma?
Herbstreit: Well, I mean both, it’s really a coin flip with Oklahoma and Texas. I just feel the difference to me is this being the third year with Tom Herman, there’s a clear understanding of schemes and clear understanding of expectation in the offseason. He’s recruited at a very high level, and I think now you’re going to a see a level of athlete, bit different level of depth all over the field. So yeah. But I think if there’s one thing gives Texas the nod for me, it’s Sam Ehlinger. Kid played with a banged-up shoulder most of last year, still had a great year. It’s the way he played. He runs through tackles. He gets into the red zone. He’s like a fullback. And when quarterbacks play like that in the college game, it has a way of impacting the rest of the team.
They get fired up to see their quarterback playing like a tough guy. Think of Tim Tebow at Florida. Make a big run, get up. You got blood coming off his elbows, just dirt everywhere, and he’s not your typical quarterback. And that’s Sam Ehlinger. Grew up his whole life wanting to be the quarterback in Austin for the Texas Longhorns. And now he’s been that for the last few years. I think the game will really slow down for him. And so they’ve got a huge game as you know against LSU in a couple of weeks, and that could be if they win that game, that can be some serious momentum to get them into the rest of the season. If they lose it, it’s a non-conference game and they’ve got to kind of regroup and get ready for Big 12 play. But yeah, just kind of a gut feeling. We’ll see. OU’s obviously a great team, but I’m going to go with Texas.
Patrick: Who is the team that isn’t getting a lot of attention right now, isn’t being talked about as much as Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State, but think can make some serious noise this fall?
Herbstreit: A bigger brand team, I would say maybe Penn State. I know that they’re somewhat forgotten. I think that the Big Ten East this year is loaded, and I think Penn State and Michigan State are two teams that seem to be a little bit forgotten even though they are ranked. But a lot of these preseason shows, people are talking about mostly who’s gonna win a championship. And it just seems like you’re not hearing a lot of talk about those two teams. So those would probably be the first two to jump up.
Patrick: I love watching you guys on College GameDay. Over the years that you’ve been on there, and over the years working as a broadcaster, do you have a favorite campus or two or three that when they’re on the schedule, you just perk up a little bit more?
Herbstreit: Oh man, last year we went to Pullman, Washington and had an incredible experience there. That was one of the top GameDays we’ve ever had. So that was a great one. I love to go to Eugene, Oregon just because I love the beauty of the area up in the Pacific Northwest. So that’s always a beautiful place to go. Let’s see, love to go to Austin, Texas, because of the food and the city itself. It’s always a fun spot for us to go. I love to go to Penn State, just because typically when we’re there it’s a huge game. And typically a whiteout. And to me, I think that’s the best atmosphere of a game, of any atmosphere that I’ve ever been to. And I love going to Death Valley at LSU, any place that starts tailgating on Thursday, I’m a fan of, and they do not mess around when it comes to their smokers and getting their priorities right.
Herbstreit joined me to talk about his work with Allstate. Every Tuesday during the season, he will pick his Allstate Mayhem Moment.
“The unpredictable nature of college football makes this sport so exciting and full of mayhem,” said Herbstreit. “But that never stops us from making the predictions and being thrilled when they come to fruition. I look forward to having some fun with my predictions for the Allstate Mayhem Moment each week this season.”
On Saturday, Herbstreit will announce the singular moment that wins the “Allstate Mayhem Moment” live on ESPN during the prime-time game.