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Kirk Herbstreit On His Closest Travel Shave, Embracing Competition, And a Very Good Ohio State

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23:  GameDay host Kirk Herbstreit is seen during ESPN's College GameDay show at Times Square on September 23, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kirk Herbstreit has been part of the College GameDay since 1996. He understands you'll occasionally disagree with his opinions, but believes that debate is part of what makes the college football so special. The Friends enthusiast sees himself as a Chandler, in case you were wondering. And that seems right.

Herbstreit took some time to talk to The Big Lead about competition, the Goodyear Blimp, intense travel, and learning to deal with criticism.

KK: We see you in the morning on GameDay and at night in the booth. Oftentimes that requires traveling thousands of miles in-between. What are the logistics like and has there ever been a close call where you were worried about not making it in time?

KH: This week, for example, I'm doing what you're describing. Usually out of 15 weeks, it's eight or nine times I'm traveling from one spot to another. This week we're in Gainesville for GameDay and then I'll fly to Columbus for the game. Basically, what they do is the show ends at noon ET, we get out of there as soon as possible. It's a wild scene around our set so they have security that gets me through the crowd and to a police escort. We get to the FBO, which is usually a 10-15 minute drive and then Disney has a plane for us and we fly to wherever we're going, land, and then typically we go right to the stadium where we have a bus and watch the games before we go on the field and eventually go call the game at night.

Usually it's pretty seamless. Last year is the closest call we ever had. They had me call a 3:30 game because there wasn't a big primetime game. We were in Baton Rouge for LSU-Alabama and they had me call Penn State-Michigan in the afternoon in Ann Arbor. The plane that they had didn't work so luckily there was a backup plane that happened to be there from the night before because I went back and watched my sons play high school football. That plane happened to still be there and we got up there, landed, got a police escort to the stadium. But then we had to get through the crowd and I got up into the box at 3:25.

KK: Fox Sports was pretty direct in its attempts to compete with GameDay. Did the addition of Big Noon Kickoff give your group a chance to reset, or was there anything different in your approach this year compared to previous ones?

KH: Not really , we just kind of do what we do. We kind of welcome competition from anybody because it's great for the sport, it brings more awareness to college football. We're comfortable doing what we do: promoting all the games around the entire country and focus on our world, have different debates and discussions. Competition is really good, for you, for me, for everybody because it makes you work that much harder. It keeps you focused and lets you try to raise the bar higher each week.

KK: There's a unique energy to a college football Saturday and you've been a part of hundreds of these mornings. Do you still get that tingle in your stomach?

KH: It's one of the reasons I'll never leave and go to the NFL or go anywhere else. I love all sports, but college football is different. The emotion, the passion, the subjective world that we argue and live in. It keeps you on the edge of your seat every week and it doesn't get old, at least for me. There's constantly new storylines, constantly new players that are emerging, there's conferences that are trying to pull up to be the best. I enjoy all the discussion. The NFL, I'm a fan of but until you get to the postseason it's good, but it's not great. That's just me. It's a personal preference. This sport does not get old, it just gets better. Every week we go on, I get that same exact feeling I got back in 1996.

KK: Do you think there will be a time when people on Twitter understand you're not personally deciding where the show goes each week?

KH: There's so much negativity out there you that I've become immune to it. I learned a long time ago not to take any of this stuff personally. People are just angry. If they're not angry at me, they're angry at you. If they're not angry at you, they're angry at someone else. I'll be honest with you, I'm a people-pleaser by nature. If someone gets sideways with me, I like to know why. But I had to learn through time, trials and tribulations that it's a world you can't have those feelings for. It is what it is. I'm going to do what I do. I'm going to prepare harder than anyone else, I'm going to try to be more informed than anyone else and I'm going to have my opinions. If you like them, great. If you don't, great. That's okay.

Like right now I think through five weeks of football Ohio State looks like the best team in the country. You're going to get people who say, 'oh, typical Ohio State homer.' Really? I'm the same guy who last year said Ohio State should not be in and a two-loss Georgia should be in ahead of them and two years ago I said Alabama should be in even though they lost in the SEC Championship Game. Once you learn you can't win, you just go, prepare and talk.

KK: I was watching the Buckeyes' game when you said that and tend to agree. Put them on a neutral field against Alabama or Clemson and I'm probably taking Ohio State. So is there any reason I should have hope Michigan State can beat them on Saturday night in Columbus? What's it going to take outside of a torrential rain storm or some other act of God?

KH: If you go back to 2015, if you and I were sitting here on Monday of that week, we probably would have said the same thing. Think of the talent. I would argue that might have been Urban Meyer's best team he ever had. It was a rainy game, Tyler O'Connor started for Connor Cook and led them to a victory on a last-second kick. You know, Mark Dantonio knows how to get his team ready to play in these kind of games. Ohio State's a different animal this year. The one thing I would tell you is you'd better stop J.K. Dobbins from running the football. Everyone's talking about Justin Fields but the offensive line and their running game is the difference for Ohio State right now.

That's where it starts. If I'm Michigan State, they have a great defensive line, you've got Joe Bachie right there, one of the best linebackers in the country, he's going to have to have a big game. They have to stop Dobbins and try to get Fields in those third-and-7s, third-and-9s. If they do that -- which no one's been able to do -- that's when we'll find out how good Ohio State really is.

KK: Tell me about what you're doing with Goodyear. Have you ever been up in it?

KH: I have not. Hopefully we're going to do it this year. Marty Smith did it at the Notre Dame-Louisville game and told me about it. The National Football Foundation, the Hall of Fame, put the Blimp into this year's class. It's a cool thing because it's the first non-player or coach to go in the Hall. To help celebrate, Goodyear is giving fans the chance to have the ultimate college football experience. Between now and November 7th, if they go to the website they can register up to 10 times to win different prizes. There's a private tour of the Hall of Fame, tickets to the Peach Bowl which is one of the playoff games, access to a suite at the game, a meet-and-great with some Hall of Famers and possibly a ride inside the blimp.