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The Jackson shuffle continues


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 27, 1999

It was a topic of debate in the television industry for months. Once Keith Jackson said 1998 would be his last season with ABC, the banter began about who would take his place as college football's preeminent voice.

When Jackson un-retired to handle ABC's Pac-10 games and the Rose Bowl, the subject was laid to rest -- sort of.

Jackson is back with analyst Bob Griese, but the duo is no longer considered the network's top broadcast team. In fact, no one holds the torch. It was thought ABC would bump up either Brent Musburger or Brad Nessler into the lofty spot left vacant by Jackson, but the network decided not to have a No. 1 team.

Musburger will again team with analyst Dan Fouts and Nessler will work with Gary Danielson, and each will hope to get good games every week.

"I envision it working out well," producer John Filippelli said. "Keith made the decision to return to ABC, and that rendered all the speculation moot. One of the hallmarks of ABC Sports has been its commitment and coverage of college football. The quality and depth of this talent roster are unmatched.

"I think we would be silly to try to figure out in the pecking order who goes exactly where. We're extremely fortunate to have this talent roster. Leave it to other people to over-analyze."

Okay, I will.

With Jackson staying on the west coast, Musburger and Nessler are going to split many of the Big Ten and ACC games of interest. Jackson hasn't retired, but he has abdicated the throne.

But ABC is smart not to designate a replacement, because really, they can't. Like Jackson, whoever takes his place has to earn the spot. He was never gifted the title, he earned it by being a presence on some of college football's greatest games. Like Fox's John Madden and Pat Summerall or ABC's Monday Night Football crew, it meant something when Jackson came to town to do your team's game.

Maybe it's best just to treat the job as a loose ball. Whoever picks up the fummmmblle can begin racing toward the end zone. Not only will ABC not have a designated No. 1, but midway through the season, it will try some different combinations with analysts and play-by-play commentators switching roles.

It could be Musburger, but I have mixed feelings. He still occasionally slips into too much hyperbole. Who can forget how much he gushed over Ron Powlus after the freshman quarterback led Notre Dame to one victory over lowly Northwestern? On other occasions, his calls are excellent. Get some film of Ricky Williams' record-breaking run if you don't believe me.

Nessler has done nothing to hurt his image, but he still is somewhat of an unknown. The potential is there, however, and unlike Musburger, Nessler is willing to admit he wants the throne.

"I was disappointed because I'm probably Keith Jackson's biggest admirer," Nessler said. "Keith knows how I feel about him. It's not a competition among the three of us, but we're pretty competitive, and I would like to think if you've reached the top, you're crazy not to want to take that mantle, take that torch and keep it burning."

Nessler's got moxy. Let's keep an eye on him. Also, don't forget ESPN's Ron Franklin, who teams with Mike Gottfried on the network's primetime college football games. His style and delivery most closely resembles Jackson.

In time, someone will emerge. We just don't know who.

CHANGES: At ABC, former Auburn coach Terry Bowden steps into the studio analyst role vacated by Todd Blackledge.

Blackledge moves to CBS to become that network's No. 1 analyst. He's taking over for Terry Donahue who has taken a front office job with the San Francisco 49ers.

ESPN will give its studio analysts -- Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso -- a chance to work games on Thursday night.

NBC continues with Notre Dame football. Dick Enberg and Pat Haden will handle the on-air duties.

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