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From the couch: Announcers amp up hype

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Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>
 
   
 

Football play-by-play guys and analysts are obviously supposed to try making the games they’re calling exciting, even when they aren’t. But in doing that, do they have to, you know, lie?

The college football season’s opening weekend produced many thrilling plays, including a few overtime finishes. And it also inspired more claims about someone being the “the best (fill in the blank) in America” than a month of action ought to yield.

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In some precincts, football analysis has turned into the Olympics of Hyperbole. And while that happens everywhere, it’s perhaps most prevalent in college football and basketball, given the vast number of games that are televised, the diluted level of hoops talent by NBA defections and the desire to make early-season games sound like a titanic showdown between Oklahoma and Nebraska in days of yore.

Take Joel Meyers, who was announcing the Illinois-Missouri game for FOX Sports Network. Meyers pronounced the Fighting Illini’s 3-0 lead a “stunning start” and minutes later its 10-3 advantage a “shocking start.”

First, Missouri was only a 12-point favorite — in the season opener, when such guesses don’t mean all that much — and second, the game was early in the second quarter when Meyers began hyperventilating. (Missouri wound up winning by 10, so the outcome wasn’t “stunning” at all.)

Meyers, in fact, kept overstating little details to heighten the excitement. Illinois began a drive with “great” field position (on its own 35). Several tackles were a “huge stop,” since the runner “could have been gone.” Then again, color guy Dave Lapham called a missed 37-yard field goal “unreal,” so maybe Meyers was just trying to keep pace in terms of exaggeration.

To some announcers, the best players in the country inevitably appear to be in whatever game it is they’re watching.

For all I know, USC receiver Ronald Johnson genuinely is a superstar. But I’m skeptical that returning a punt for a touchdown against overmatched Hawaii places him among college football’s premier wide-outs, as color guy Bob Davie was quick to proclaim him.

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Now, as you might recall (and Notre Dame fans are probably still trying to forget), Davie was the Fighting Irish’s head coach, so presumably, he knows a little something about talent — and ought to be familiar with the sight of USC guys racing down the sidelines for scores.

Of course, Davie’s analysis would have more credibility if he hadn’t kept insisting Hawaii was a couple of defensive stops away from a miraculous upset, when it seemed clear the Warriors couldn’t slow the Trojans offense (which amassed 524 yards) with hand grenades and bazookas. But, hey, the game started at 11 p.m. Eastern time, and the broadcast team had to try something to prevent people from sensibly going to bed.

Among other premature exclamations Saturday, ESPN’s Brad Nessler stated that Oregon State QB Ryan Katz possessed an “NFL arm” after the sophomore threw a first-quarter TD pass. Maybe so, but is it too much to let the guy finish his first start before leaping to that conclusion?

Fans, moreover, can now register disapproval toward such analysts in real time, venting in Web chat rooms and via avenues like Twitter — the disclaimer being that those following tweets, presumably, aren’t devoting their undivided attention to the games.

To be fair, some announcers exercise laudable restraint. While ABC/ESPN’s Brock Huard and Mike Bellotti praised Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas — who ran for more than 200 yards against UCLA — they emphasized those heroics came against a Bruins defense with a slew of new starters. Thomas is talented, in other words, but don’t start engraving the Heisman Trophy just yet.

Too often, however, the rhetorical norm is to go for broke — a la ESPN College Football Final host Rece Davis, who promised that this weekend’s matchups portend another “Monster Saturday.”

If you say so, Rece — and somehow, I suspect you will, whether or not the game-day reality fulfills the hype.

Tagged: USC, Kansas State

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