FOX Ramps Up College Football Battle Against ESPN Without Requisite Ammunition

Fox 'Big Noon Kickoff' College Football Show.
Fox 'Big Noon Kickoff' College Football Show. / Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Last year, FOX debuted its college football pregame show called Big Noon Kickoff. The idea was to have an hour of coverage leading into FOX's biggest college football game of the day at noon, usually a Big Ten showdown. They came up with a solid catchphrase, "Saturdays Start on FOX," and even made some headway cutting into ESPN's long-time monopoly over college football pregame ratings.

These were all wins and so FOX decided to add another hour to their pregame show, extending it from one hour to two this season, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. But while all this seems like good news for the new kids on the block, they face a major issue in their sophomore season that isn't going to be fixed until, it appears, at least 2021.

With the Big Ten and Pac-12 postponing their football seasons this year, which FOX built its pregame analyst crew around because they have TV deals with those conferences, FOX will rely instead on the Big 12 for their Big Noon Kickoff game. There are two major issues there:

1. FOX's current analyst lineup for their pregame show is devoid of any Big 12 connections. Urban Meyer is a Big Ten/SEC guy. Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart are Pac-12. Brady Quinn went to Notre Dame. Rob Stone is the host. Who there drives viewership among Big 12 fans?

2. The Big 12 is not a marquee conference nationally. They haven't sent a team to the national championship since the College Football Playoffs began in 2014 and outside of Texas and Oklahoma, their teams don't have a national following. Even the Sooners and Longhorns have limited reach.

Last year, Meyer was the star attraction for Big Noon Kickoff. His top talking point was Ohio State and the Big Ten. His top interview was Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. While it is interesting listening to Meyer break down plays, his biggest draw for viewers is his insight into the Big Ten and connections with players and coaches there. Not having that will be a big hit.

The same can be said about Bush and Leinart. Both struggled to generate added-value at times last year, and that was with all the ups and downs at USC. Without the Pac-12, what are they bringing to the table that separates them? Also, why would I listen to them talk about a conference they have no connection to -- outside of losing the national championship to Texas?

As for Quinn, he was good last year, just not great. He's a solid seat-filler, but doesn't move the needle.

Now, the argument could be made that you don't need to have played or coached in the conference you're discussing to be a successful analyst. Just look at Kirk Herbstreit (Ohio State) and Desmond Howard (Michigan). They're ESPN's top two analysts on College GameDay and they successfully comment on all the games of the day.

The big difference there is Herbstreit has long established himself as one of the most knowledgeable football analysts out there and Howard's energetic personality shines through on camera. ESPN has to deal with hosting their live show without fans this year, which will hurt the energy they always had previously. However, they still have better games to broadcast and more recognizable booth teams calling the games. Those are important elements to driving viewership, and quite frankly a lot of people will tune in to see what the vibe of College GameDay is without fans.

This isn't to say FOX can't put forward a quality pregame show this year. They can. Meyer is still a draw who delivers interesting talking points and their other analysts should take a step forward in Year 2. However, just because you produce a high-quality pregame show doesn't guarantee viewership, especially when you don't have the quality games featuring high-profile teams to back it up. FOX will be missing that in 2020 and it will be on them to drum up interest around a conference they didn't intend to build their pregame show around in the first place.