I remember a time, about 15 or so years ago, when Ohio State had to go on the road to play Minnesota. This was when Minnesota was not good, and played their games in the Metrodome, so we're pretty far back on the timeline here. The game was, more or less, unmemorable -- the Buckeyes won convincingly, and I'm pretty sure lost to Michigan that year because John Cooper was the coach and that was what happened back then.
The one memorable part of the game, however, for those many Buckeye fans who did not trek to the Twin Cities for the game, was the fact that it was in no way, shape, or form, broadcast on television in Central Ohio. Think about that -- a Buckeye game not on in the 614. As I recall, all the local news stations sent their sports reporters up to the Metrodome to literally report on the game. I'm pretty sure one of the local stations actually interrupted other college football games to give score updates.
But not in 2015, where every game is available in some way, shape, or form. Be it on a live-streaming channel (WatchESPN, BTN2Go) or a different app (someone will Periscope a game this year, guaranteed). If your team is on, there's a more than fair chance you'll be able to watch and follow the game in real time. What a time to be alive!
As the consensus #1 team in all the land, Ohio State won't suffer from a local blackout of a Minnesota game, not only because of the aforementioned reasons, but also because they're the nation's #1 team. There's demand to see the Buckeyes as they steamroll opponents, or become a victim of a potential upset. The eyes of the country will be on the Buckeyes. This also means that, when we watch Ohio State on television, we'll get to see and hear a few different announcer pairings #talkinboutthebucks. Some are great! Some are not! But they're all rank-able. So let's do that.
Note: the majroity of these pairings are projected by me, based on when the game is, other games that are on in that time slot, and importance of the game in general. They are subject to change.
1. Brad Nessler (PxP), Todd Blackledge (color), Holly Rowe (sideline); ESPN
Potential games: Minnesota; Penn State, CFP Game*
Not the obvious first choice here, based on the fact that ESPN's top announcer pairing has an Ohio State alum in it, but Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge have been, and continue to be, fantastic in the booth. Theirs were the voices that called the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, and elevated that game to another level. They have great chemistry together, and anticipate the other very well in the booth, something that is sorely missed when it isn't there. They could easily be the #1 team at any other network. Holly Rowe gets credit for asking good questions and doing great digging when reporting on the sideline, which is what the sideline job should be about.
2. Chris Fowler (PxP), Kirk Herbstreit (color), Heather Cox (sideline); ESPN
Potential games: @ Virginia Tech; Michigan State; CFP Game*; CFP National Championship Game*
Here's the #1 team at ESPN, but they're #2 on this list. This is not an original statement, but there's just something missing without good ol' Brent Musburger telling us we're "looking live" at a venue before a big game. Fowler's presence, at least until now, just doesn't have the same gravitas that Musburger's did (and you can still catch him with Jesse Palmer calling SEC Network games, for some reason). Fowler will likely come into his own this season wihtout having to worry about College GameDay, and should continue to gel with Herbie, who is a very competent and effective color guy. Some may call him a homer, others a hater, but Herbie knows football, his audience, and is always 130% prepared for any game. Heather Cox is another sideline reporter who gets good information, especially on injuries, to the viewer, and occasionally gets good bytes from coaches at the half.
3. Paul Keels (PxP), Jim Lachey (color), Marty Bannister (sideline); Ohio State IMG Sports Network
Games: All of them
Home cooking! Paul Keels is a fantastic play-by-play announcer, and has been great at calling the Buckeyes for years (Keels also does basketball, and is very good there, too). Most Buckeye fans can't imagine an Ohio State game without at least thinking about how Big Daddy Paul Keels would call it. He never misses a beat, despite his partner, Lachey, who clangs the homer bell frequently, sprinkling a "we" in there a little too often. Lachey counters by offering great insight on the offensive and defensive lines (the former his bailiwick in the NFL), despite the aforementioned homerism. Bannister is also insightful, tagging in on anything going on at field level, usually with better access than the national network reporters.
4. Sean McDonough (PxP), Chris Spielman (color), Todd McShay (sideline); ESPN
Potential games: Northern Illinois; @ Michigan
I think McDonough does a great job of telling the game story, and that former Buckeye Spielman and he get along very well in the booth. Because of their "ranking" at ESPN, they usually don't get the biggest games on the docket for the day, so they do get to have some fun with their broadcast. If this booth calls the Michigan game this year, however, that will be a big deal for all three. McShay peppers his reporting with draft-friendly analysis, which sometimes goes over the top if he forgets that not every viewer is Mel Kiper, or that viewers don't care about draft stock as much as he thinks they do. Spiels has come a long way as an analyst, and knows the defensive line positions better than most other analysts on this list.
5. Gus Johnson (PxP), Joel Klatt (color), Molly McGrath (sideline); Fox Sports
Potential games: Big Ten Championship*
It really shows how deep ESPN is at announcer, when the #1 team for another network is #5 on this list. With Gus Johnson, you either love him or you hate him - very little middle ground - but you listen nonetheless. Joel Klatt adds decent insight, and Johnson lets him pontificate, but we're all waiting for Gus to explode on live television when he's in the booth. Gus gets a bit coloquial from time to time ("That's Cardale Jones, Baby!" he mused against Wisconsin) but you can't really blame him too much considering how much of a blowout that game was. Molly McGrath is a big upgrade from Chris Myers on the sideline.
6. Joe Tessitore (PxP), David Pollack (color), Jesse Palmer (color), Kaylee Hartung (sideline); ESPN
Potential games: Mid-season ESPN(2) also-ran game
ESPN pulled the trigger on a quick turnaround, allowing Fowler and Herbie to go to Blacksburg for the Labor Day tilt between the Hokies and Buckeyes. So, somewhat thankfully, we don't have to worry about this booth for this big game. Joe Tessitore is more up and coming, no longer doing early ESPN2 games with Rod Gilmore, but gets teamed up with the former Bachelor and the former Bulldog/Bengal, who try way too hard to make their presence felt in the booth, and on social media. Stick to sports, guys. Kaylee Hartung comes to ESPN from their own farm system (i.e. the Longhorn Network) and will probably have to play nice with the two color guys' jokes every Thursday. Sorry, Kaylee.
7. Dave Pasch (PxP), Brian Griese (color), Tom Luginbill (sideline); ESPN
We may actually luck out, and not have to sit through a few hours of Brian Griese's utter contempt for the Buckeyes, as ESPN might put this team in Ann Arbor on October 10th. But if they get stuck in Columbus, at least Pasch can do his best to keep fans motivated through what should be a walkover against the Terrapins. Again, an also-ran booth that gets big negative marks because of Griese, despite Pasch's obvious skill in the booth (though I think Pasch is better calling basketball, and better at a football radio call).
8. Kevin Kugler (PxP), Matt Millen (color), Lisa Byington (sideline); BTN
Potential games: Hawai'i, maybe @ Indiana
Here's the sad thing: Kevin Kugler is a great play-by-play announcer, befitting the roll of a network #1 guy. Lisa Byington is decent working the sidelines. But this year, the Big Ten Network took a hated ESPN castoff and signed him onto their best booth. Matt Freaking Millen is employed, and will be heard on a BTN broadcast near you. My guess is BTN puts that team in Columbus for a 3:30 kick against Hawai'i, and if they have any other games, you'll hear them there, too. But Matt Millen was an awful GM in Detroit, an unreliable analyst in Bristol, and he'll be a thorn in your craw on your television this year. Thankfully, he'll also be relegated to calling Iowa and Rutgers for the majority of his year. Hopefully.
With the television schedule still a bit TBA, there could be other broadcast teams calling the Buckeyes, but we'll leave this list at eight. Did I miss a team that you like? Do you hate my rankings? Yours in the comments.
*I'm optimistic about these three games because this is a Buckeye blog, and I'm more of a homer than Jim Lachey from time to time.