Behind the Mic: ESPN Commentary Packs a Punch for 150th College Football Season; Ryan Leaf Joins ESPN Ranks

Behind the Mic provides a roundup of recent news regarding on-air talent, including new deals, departures, and assignments compiled from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, 150th college football season brings the best on-air talent for ESPN, a former NFL quarterback joins ESPN, the network finalize plans for their NFL pregame shows, the SEC Network announces their season lineup, and ESPNLA 710 signs two members to multiyear extensions.

ESPN has solidified its commentator teams for the 2019-20 college football season, the network’s most comprehensive college football season to date with the addition of CFB150 programming, to its already robust slate of approximately 1,000 regular season games, 35 bowl games, and the complete College Football Playoff. The nearly 30 commentating teams are comprised of respected voices, accomplished former players and intrepid reporters, which together form the deepest commentator roster in the sport. Fans this season will see ESPN unveil new commentator groups for Thursday and Friday games, while Saturdays will see several booths reunite from past seasons.

Two trios — Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Maria Taylor as well as Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe — return this season, calling ESPN’s marquee games each week of the season. Most weeks, Fowler, Herbstreit, and Taylor will be onsite for ABC’s Saturday Night Football, while McDonough, Blackledge, and Rowe will call ESPN’s primetime game. The two highly accomplished commentating groups will again call the College Football Playoff Semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 28. Tom Rinaldi will join Fowler, Herbstreit, and Taylor for select games throughout the season, as he has done in past years

Analysts Dusty Dvoracek, Tom Luginbill, and Dan Orlovsky are joining the fun this year. Dvoracek will team up with Mark Jones for the second consecutive year; this season, Olivia Dekker joins their crew. Luginbill joins Dave Pasch and Greg McElroy again this season, the trio’s fourth year working together. As part of the new deal, Luginbill will also have a role on ACC Network in addition to appearing on other ESPN shows and platforms. Luginbill has been with ESPN for more than 15 years. Orlovsky will join Bob Wischusen and Allison Williams this season, his second calling games for ESPN. Orlovsky will also continue to appear across a number of shows, including Get Up! and NFL Live. All three teams will call Saturday games on ESPN and ABC.

ESPN’s Thursday night game slate will have a new commentating team this season, as Matt Hasselbeck adds a regular college football game assignment to his studio work. The former Boston College quarterback will join Adam Amin and Molly McGrath on Thursday nights, while also continuing his prominent role on ESPN’s NFL studio programming.

Fans on Friday nights will hear analysts Louis Riddick, Gene Chizik, or Jim Mora, as the three will rotate appearances throughout the season, teaming with Dave Flemming and Paul Carcaterra this season. All three analysts will continue to appear in studio for ESPN, with Riddick remaining prominently on NFL programming and Chizik and Mora mainly on college football. In addition to his college football game assignments, Riddick will be part of the crew with Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Laura Rutledge calling the late game of ESPN’s Monday Night Football doubleheader on September 9. Jason Benetti, who called Friday games last year, now moves to Saturday, teaming up with Rod Gilmore and Quint Kessenich on ESPN and ABC.

Levy, Griese, and Todd McShay will once again work together this season, their fourth, and will welcome in McGrath on most weeks as a fourth member of the squad. Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht, and Rocky Boiman team up for their third consecutive season together. Both of these groups will continue to call Saturday games airing on ESPN or ABC. Tiffany Greene and Jay Walker return as a duo this year and will call ESPNU’s HBCU telecasts.

Additional Broadcaster Teams Highlights:

New commentating teams also include:

  • Roy Philpott, Kelly Stouffer, and Lauren Sisler (ESPN and ESPN2)
  • Anish Shroff and Ahmad Brooks team up again and welcome Kris Budden, who was part of the SEC Network crew last season (ESPN and ESPN2)

And returning broadcasting teams also include:

  • Kevin Brown and Andre Ware (ESPN2 and ESPNU)
  • Mike Corey and Rene Ingoglia (ESPN2 and ESPNU)
  • Mike Couzens and Kirk Morrison (ESPN2 and ESPNU)…

… ESPN has signed former Heisman Trophy Finalist first-team All-American Ryan Leaf as a college football analyst. The former Washington State quarterback will appear on ESPN2 and ESPNU game telecasts and on College Football Live during the season. Leaf will team up with Clay Matvick in the booth.

Leaf led the Cougars to their first then-Pac-10 Championship in 1997 earning the school its first Rose Bowl Game appearance since 1931. The Montana native was the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. His story, both on and off the field, was recently documented by ESPN’s E:60…

…In anticipation of the 2019 NFL season, ESPN announces new commentator lineups for its Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown pregame shows in addition to a new programming lineup leading into Monday Night Football.

Veteran NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi, a three-time Super Bowl champion who joined ESPN in 2009, will join Sunday NFL Countdown in 2019. Third-year host Sam Ponder, analysts Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Rex Ryan, and Riddick, as well as insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, all return for the three-hour weekly show (10 a.m. – 1 p.m. ET).

Countdown’s stadium reporters will regularly include Josina Anderson, Jeff Darlington, Dan Graziano, Sal PaolantonioDianna Russini, and Jac Collinsworth will continue to contribute features.

As for Monday Night Countdown, Riddick will now join the main set, beginning in Week 2. Also new this year, Schefter will now travel to MNF games each week where he will be part of Countdown.

In her third year as solo host, Suzy Kolber will continue to lead the Monday Night Football pregame show (6-8 p.m.) with Moss, Riddick, and Steve Young, as well as halftime and postgame coverage with Riddick and Young. Michelle Beisner-Buck also returns, contributing weekly Monday Night Countdown features…

…For the fifth consecutive year, SEC Network is turning the keys over to the network, but in its fifth anniversary year, SEC Network programming has put a twist on the SEC Network Takeover. For 2019, SEC Network on-air personalities, as well as alums of the network and ESPN commentators with SEC ties, chose the programming for the 17-day stretch.

In addition to current SEC Network on-air personalities, guest programmers for this year’s SEC Network Takeover include SEC Network alumni and Monday Night Football commentators Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland, original SEC Network studio host Maria Taylor, SportsCenter anchor John Anderson and Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey

…ESPNLA 710 has reached a multiyear agreement extension with local radio icons Steve Mason and John Ireland to continue as co-hosts of the weekday show Mason & Ireland (noon-3:30 p.m. PT). The midday show has been the highest-rated sports talk radio show in Los Angeles the last three years.