Fox Sports tried to take an existing giant head-on when it rolled out Big Noon Kickoff to compete against ESPN's College GameDay. The Herculean task began with some promise and the show made genuine in-roads by leveraging the unique talents of Urban Meyer.
Then a confluence of events killed all momentum. A global pandemic moved the college football world into disarray and no major conference was more chaotic than the Big Ten, which called an audible and began the season later than most. Then the Ohio State-Michigan game was cancelled due to COVID. In the offseason, Meyer bolted for the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Oklahoma and Texas, the two crown jewels of the existing Big XII, bound for the SEC and other networks, it feels a bit like starting all over again.
While it remains to see what the addition of Bob Stoops can do this year, it bears mentioning that Fox has managed to triangulate some relatively uncharted waters in these sports-media times by putting together a halftime show that adds value. Viewers watching Saturday's season-opening tilt between Nebraska and Illinois were treated to the trifecta of Rob Stone, Matt Leinart, and Reggie Bush at the midway point — and the more savvy ones should have been able to pick up on some smart choices.
First, it's abundantly clear that the desk has palpable on-air chemistry. They interact as opposed to taking turns speaking. They take the piss out of each other. Bush was needled for getting his Trojans flagged for a celebration penalty back in 2019 when he celebrated a score with Markese Stepp. There was the fun animation and comforting studio show chucklefest millions turn to as comfort food on Saturdays. After the final whistle, the crew pulled out a file photo of Fox teammate Brady Quinn shirtless and throwing a ball from the ocean.
Secondly, the producers and other braintrust operating the bridge programming seem to understand that college football previews and halftimes have the requisite time to build personalities and build communities. The windows are nowhere near as tight as, say, during the NBA Finals where talent had to cook in 10-second intervals. There's time to stretch legs and go to places slightly off the beaten path, something that's been perfected by the industry standard: Inside the NBA.
And to be clear and not hyperbolic, the Fox college football shows are nowhere near that standard right now. But they clearly understand the model and seem to be pointed in a direction that will allow them to succeed — by whatever metric one can judge these shows fairly.
Aggressively attacking the early window has its benefits and its drawbacks. One positive is that a 1:30 p.m. ET halftime has more of a puncher's chance than one at 5 p.m. or any other time there are more compelling games available distract.
It was one afternoon and it's a long climb, but the early returns should delight execs. Or at the very least, prove they're driving in the right direction.