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Whoa, Nellie, it doesn’t get any bigger than this

Times Staff Writer

“There will be a lot of money, marbles and chalk on the table,” Keith Jackson said Thursday from his home in Sherman Oaks, where on Saturday he will be glued to his television set, joining college football fans across the nation.

You may have heard that there are a couple of significant games on ABC that day. At 12:30 p.m., No. 1 Ohio State plays host to No. 2 Michigan. Then at 5 p.m., No. 4 USC plays host to No. 17 California, which could knock the Trojans out of the national championship picture.

Jackson, who before retiring after last season had been announcing college football games almost since the inception of the forward pass, says he can’t remember a bigger regular-season day.

“It’s got it all,” he said. “One game is for a national championship berth, the other for at least a conference championship and the Rose Bowl.”

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Interestingly, Jackson, the longtime voice of college football for ABC, will be honored by NBC Saturday. Part of an interview he taped at his home with Jim Lampley will be shown during halftime of Notre Dame’s home game against Army, which will be on NBC at 11:30 a.m.

“I don’t think I’ll see it,” Jackson said. “I’ll be watching Michigan-Ohio State.”

So will a lot of other people.

No worries. The entire interview will be available on NBCSports.com after the edited portion airs.

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The announcing team for Michigan-Ohio State team will be Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Bob Davie. Announcing the Cal-USC game will be Brad Nessler, Bob Griese and Paul Maguire.

Maguire, who this season has broken from tradition and worked from places outside the broadcast booth, will call Saturday’s game from the sidelines on the cart that carries the camera up and down the field.

As for Michigan-Ohio State, Herbstreit is pretty familiar with that rivalry.

He is from Centerville, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, and played quarterback for Ohio State from 1989 to ’93. His senior year, he was co-captain. His father Jim was a co-captain in 1960 and also coached at Ohio State under Woody Hayes.

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In 1993, the younger Herbstreit passed for 271 yards in a 13-13 tie with Michigan.

“I have been a fan of the rivalry my entire life, since I was breathing,” he said. “It sounds sick, but all I’ve lived for my entire life is watching that game.”

If that doesn’t sound sick, this might:

“I used to go to bed at night when I was in high school, when I started to realize I was going to play at a pretty high level of football in college, and it was the middle of the Cold War when nuclear bombs were a serious threat. I used to go to bed praying to hold off on nuclear bombs until I got a chance to play in the Ohio State-Michigan game.”

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Herbstreit also said, “To now see this season come down to this -- the winner going to the championship game -- is beyond exciting for the fans of the two teams. I can’t remember a game this big, with this much at stake, and with the whole college football community on the edge of their seats waiting to see who wins the game.”

But don’t think Herbstreit will be rooting for his alma mater.

“When I get up in the booth, I’m there to evaluate the game,” he said. “I’m looking at how two teams are trying to move the ball down the field. I’m not looking at what school I happened to attend.”

Besides, he said, he has ties to Michigan. His father coached under Bo Schembechler at Miami of Ohio before Schembechler moved to Michigan in 1969. Herbstreit calls Schembechler a family friend.

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As for the Cal-USC game, Herbstreit sees that as possibly the other national championship semifinal.

“Without question, if USC beats Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA -- done. USC goes to the national championship, in my mind,” he said.

Fox having

second thoughts

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Fox has experimented with doing its NFL studio show at game sites this season, but it might turn out to be a one-year experiment.

A source said the final two regular-season shows would originate from the Fox studios in Los Angeles, with Joe Buck serving as host. Dick Stockton will take Buck’s play-by-play spot on the No. 1 announcing team with Troy Aikman.

Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell would confirm only that such a scenario is being considered.

The expense of taking the show on the road, plus dealing with security issues, apparently hasn’t paid off. The average rating of 3.9 for the pregame show is even with last year’s, while the average rating of 2.7 for CBS’ “The NFL Today” is 17% higher than the 2.3 at this point last year.

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And twice this season, most recently Nov. 5, the CBS show beat the Fox show in the ratings.

It appears the loss of host James Brown to CBS was more of a blow than Fox thought it would be.

larry.stewart@latimes.com


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