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Q&A: College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit goes ‘bowling’

Kirk Herbstreit is his generation’s Keith Jackson.

The broadcasting face of college football will wrap up more than four months of keeping up with the sport’s frenetic news cycle by analyzing Monday night’s Bowl Championship Series title game on ESPN at New Orleans Superdome.

The former Ohio State quarterback and current “College GameDay” analyst with Lee Corso traversed the nation weekly along with host Chris Fowler and co-analyst Desmond Howard to the country’s best games.

In the last week, Herbstreit, 42, called the Rose Bowl with Brent Musburger last Monday, provided postgame commentary Tuesday night at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and has been stationed on a French Quarter television set providing daylong bursts of information on ESPN’s SportsCenter in between attending team practices and studying the BCS matchup.

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Are you “bowled” out?

“It’s what I do. For four months of the year, I turn on a switch and look forward to every week. This week is a culmination of the adrenaline. I’ll be honest, you have moments of being run down. Loving the game is what gets me through. And starting Jan. 10, I go back to taking the kids to school — back underground.”

How prepared are you to cover for the offensive lulls if this is another 9-6 game?

“It’s up to each individual fan as to what’s exciting. I can watch a game with a lot of points like Oregon-Wisconsin, where whoever scores last wins, and I can also watch and enjoy a game between two awesome defenses. The difference now in this game is preparation time. Alabama’s had six weeks to prepare for LSU and LSU has had five weeks. That gives these coordinators and quarterbacks time to evaluate those defenses. I’ll be surprised if we don’t have more points because the offenses have a better feel as to what to anticipate. And whereas they might’ve been playing that first game not to lose, they’re calling their plays to win.”

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What do you see as the key matchups?

"[LSU quarterback] Jordan Jefferson’s mobility and decision making is very important. In the first game, Jarrett Lee started and had two interceptions. But Jefferson took over in that game and has become the leader he was supposed to be. Now you’re watching: Can he create on his feet? Make the big throws? He has 6-4 receiver Rueben Randle. Jefferson has to buy time, scramble for first downs and let Randle make plays. For Alabama, I’d point to [running back] Trent Richardson. He carried the ball 23 times for 89 yards the first time, but he had just three carries inside the LSU 40. There should be a much bigger emphasis on getting him the football. He’s a load with a low center of gravity. He’s the key, and not just for them to settle for field goals, but to power the ball into the end zone.”

For us who don’t reside in Southeastern Conference country, how can you as an analyst do justice in conveying the intensity of this rivalry and how crazed the SEC football world is?

“This conference has won every national title since 2006, and with that spotlight, I believe the West Coast and Midwest have come to appreciate — and maybe resent — the success. Beyond that, [Alabama Coach] Nick Saban was at LSU when it won a national championship. At this stadium. He leaves them for the NFL, then not only comes back to college, but to LSU’s biggest rival. He’s the No. 1 villain on a very long list. To put that and these two teams in that stadium with a national championship on the line . . . we’ve never seen anything like that. I have to tell you one more thing: In 1996, my first year on the show, Florida and Danny Wuerffel blew out Florida State for the national title. The most important thing for those Florida fans to chant was ‘SEC! SEC!’ You don’t hear Ohio State yell ‘Big Ten!’ or Oregon shout ‘Pac-12!’ That shows you the pride. It’s not just that LSU, Auburn or Alabama beat you, it’s ‘SEC!’”

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College football’s showcase game arrives in a year with major scandals at Penn State, Ohio State on probation, with Auburn and Oregon under scrutiny. How do you strike a balance and make sure you’re entertaining, with detailed analysis while addressing hard news?

“You’ll have critics no matter what you do. I thought I was hired to talk football — the cover 2, inverted safeties. It’s been an amazing blessing in disguise to sit next to Lee Corso, to watch . . . one of the greatest entertainers in sports television. I’m still kind of the Xs and O’s, over-prepared guy, but if all we did was talk football, we’d just be any other football show. They roll the ball out and we talk, and we’re prepared to be serious with a certain tone and vibe if it’s about Penn State, coaching changes, the NCAA being clearly outmanned in its policing of the sport. When it’s time to respond, we do that.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire


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