Kirk Herbstreit is one of the analysts for ESPN’s College Gameday and a color commentator for some of the biggest college football games throughout the season. GameDay is in Eugene this weekend, as is Herbstreit, who’s been preparing to cover Saturday’s matchup between the third-ranked Oregon Ducks and the 12th-ranked UCLA Bruins.
On Friday morning, Herbstreit took some time to talk with the media about the game, GameDay and where the Ducks rank among the best teams in the country.
Q — How tough is traveling for GameDay throughout the year?
Kirk Herbstreit — To me, it’s not too bad. I get to a point in August where I just get into auto-pilot and I just go. I’ve left here before and flown to Boston. One time, I called a Florida State-Boston College game after I had to leave Eugene. Just recently, I think I was in Seattle for the Oregon game and I flew somewhere in the SEC (Southeastern Conference). It was like a four hour flight. Oh, it was at Ole Miss. You just set your mind and, I mean, I’m talking about college football for a living, so I’m not going to complain. Is there a lot of wear and tear? Absolutely. But am I blessed and fortunate to be able to do something that I actually look forward to doing every day? Yeah. So, you’re not going to hear me complain a whole lot.
Q — What are you expecting from the game on Saturday?
KH — I can’t remember the last time we came here when a team was favored by this much. My thought is, UCLA’s offensive line, they’ve got a bunch of freshman starting. With this crowd and with this team they’re facing, I just wonder how they’re going to handle that environment. If they can handle that, their quarterback’s outstanding, and they have a chance to score. To me, that’s the whole story of the game. It’s how UCLA’s offensive line handles the crowd and a very athletic Oregon defense.
Q — What makes Marcus Mariota such a special quarterback?
KH — Marcus has the physical dimensions to be outstanding at 6’4″. He’s athletic, he can run, which fit’s perfectly into this offense. And the thing that probably separates him from some of the previous Ducks quarterbacks is his ability to throw the football at a very high level. So if you load up to stop him and the running game, you’re going to pay for it because of the way he throws the ball and the great wide receivers Oregon has. He’s just multi-faceted.
Q — Is Mariota the front-runner for the Heisman trophy?
KH — To me, he is. I’ve said all year I think he’s the best player in college football. I think Johnny Manziel has a very unique skillset. I think Johnny’s having a better year this year than he had last year. And I think Jameis Winston’s become a big story after what he did last week at Clemson. He’s got an aura about him, as well. So, those three are the top three guys, but this is where you really win the Heisman. You get into late October, these last four-five weeks are when you’re going to have an opportunity to show what you can do. To me, for Marcus, part of it is just being seen. A lot of times, people that live east of the Rockies are asleep or they don’t see Oregon beating someone by 50 on Fox Sports 1. They don’t see it, they see highlights of it. So this is a great opportunity for him and Oregon on a big stage to show America how good they really are.
Q — What’s it like when everyone at GameDay is standing around you going crazy?
KH — Awesome. There’s really an appreciation for us as a show. We come all the way out here. Before we came out here, people were wondering on our show, could people follow college football as passionately as they do in the SEC, the Big 10 and the Big 12? And then we started to come out here. We would come on and it would be dark and as far as you could see were Ducks fans. Just that neon, and even though it was dark out, you could see that. Sometimes, there’s a fog here early in the morning and you can’t really see the people, you can just hear them. The first couple of times I saw that I just was blown away. Everywhere I would go, and I would be asked about this by people from Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, “Where’s your favorite place to go?” I would always say, “Eugene, Oregon.” People would be like, “Eugene, Oregon? What are you talking about?” Now, people are starting to catch on. This is a very passionate place about college football, and I’m looking forward to seeing a great turnout this weekend, hopefully people screaming and showing America that this is one of the best fan bases in the country.
Q — What have been your favorite signs or just overall moments from past GameDays?
KH — Favorite moments are every Saturday sitting next to [fellow GameDay analyst] Lee [Corso] just because you don’t ever know what he’s going to do. With the signs, every week there’s something different. We just recently did a feature on our show about the signs and it seems like it’s kind of raised the ante a little bit on what people are trying to do and wanting to do. Miley Cyrus seems to be a big theme right now that people are having fun with. I guess she was holding a chain on a ball and people were having some fun with that. So they’ve been doing that a lot. But I just get so locked in on the show. All I know is I feel the energy from the crowd.
Q — Where is Oregon in your BCS rankings?
KH — I think they’re top two right now. It just remains to be seen. They’ve got some great games against UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, I think a trip to Arizona could be tough, the Pac-12 Championship. There are plenty of opportunities to show how good they are. Hopefully, they take care of business and matchup in the national title.