Rece Davis of ESPN was kind enough to speak with us again (read our previous interviews with the esteemed TV personality here and here), this time sharing his thoughts on the end of the SEC's historic run of BCS Championships, the ESPN Megacast, and how Jadeveon Clowney will be remembered years from now.
If you would like to listen to an audio version of this interview, click here for the iTunes link, click here to directly download the conversation, or use the media player embedded at the bottom of this page.
I started out with the most S-E-C! S-E-C! question I could possibly ask.
Garnet And Black Attack: It seems like every single weekend of college football has turned into a referendum on the strength of the SEC. What does Florida State ending the SEC's streak of consecutive national championships at seven mean for the strength of the conference. Do you think we'll ever see another conference, SEC or otherwise, make a similar run again?
Rece Davis: I sort of doubt it, Connor, that you'd see a streak like that. Look, it's hard to win every year with the same group of teams. One thing that happens when you win as often as the SEC has is that you set the standard for everybody else to reach for.
Take a look at Florida State. Look at its coaching staff. Look at its head coach's pedigree. Look at who the head coach considers his mentor to be. Look at how that team is built. It's built like Alabama. And the reason is that Alabama has been the dominant program in recent years in the BCS. That happens in any sport; you pattern your self after the standard, and Florida State did that. I know ACC fans or other conferences' fans become infuriated, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The teams that aspire to win championships are patterning themselves after SEC programs.
Urban Meyer has said that the Big Ten powers need to recruit the way the SEC does and be involved in recruiting the nation's best players the way many of the SEC schools are. Urban has said that, until recently, he would go out on the recruiting trail after he got Ohio State and he would see Alabma and he would see LSU and he would see South Carolina and Georgia and Auburn--but he wouldn't see other Big Ten schools, save Michigan occasionally. So championship programs--or teams that aspire to be championship programs--are going to model themselves after the group of schools who set the standard. At one time, that was USC. In recent years, that has been the SEC generally and Alabama specifically. You're always going to have teams striving to topple the programs that are on top.
I think it's pretty remarkable that they won seven in a row. People are saying that the conference is done. If you define "done" as not winning every single year, then yes--it probably is done. But if you define conference excellence by year in, year out having the most contenders and having the best opportunities to win championships, then I would say the SEC is still on top.
GABA: Regardless of the outcome, we certainly had a great championship game on Monday. One of the highlights for me was the the Megacast, which I thought was just such a cool and interesting risk for ESPN to take. I was able to catch your appearance with Jesse Palmer on ESPN2. How did it feel to be in such a different role during the broadcast, and as a fan of college football, what were your thoughts on the experiment as a whole?
RD: Well, I think it gives people a glimpse behind the curtain into how we watch games when we're not necessarily calling that game. The thing that I got on my Twitter feed was, "Boy, Rece Davis looks angry." I don't know--I guess I must have a really serious look on my face when I'm just sitting there watching. At the time I recall what I was watching was Timmy Jernigan and Reese Dismukes in the middle of the line. It was a matchup I thought was important for the game. It was a matchup some of the Florida State coaches had tole me they thought they could win. They told me it could help their linebackers, and I wanted to see if they were winning it early.
We're all TV guys in varying degrees of expertise on football, obviously ranging from the very top with coaches and players and the guys who love it the way I do--I'm never going to sit here and tell you that I have the X's and O's expertise of a Jesse Palmer, a David Pollack, or a Nick Saban when he's with us or whatever, but I enjoy that aspect of it. And I like talking to those guys about it. And I think it gives a glimpse into how it is when Mark and Lou and I are sitting around watching games on Saturday. We're talking about stuff like that. "Did you see that? Did you see this matchup? This is what I think they ought to do."
I wish I had been involved in the Megacast right before Florida State returned the kickoff for a touchdown. I was standing on the sidelines by our GameDay producer Lee Fitting--I think Coach Saban was close by, too--and I know I told Fitting, and Fitting has vouched for me. I said, "This one's going back." I said, "That kid's the fastest guy on the team. He was the 100- and 200-meter sprint champion in Florida. Plus, he almost cracked the last one. There's a crease there, and he'll hit it this time." I wish I had been on the Megacast to get credit for that because all of those guys got credit for calling the fake punt on the Megacast. If I had called the kickoff return? Aw man, I would have been the king of the Megacast. I mean, what other title could you want? I mean, other than maybe than winning the Capital One Cup, what title would you want more than "King of the Megacast"?
GABA: If it makes you feel better as a play-by-play guy, I was watching most of the game on ESPN News broadcast, really nerding out on listening to the coaches talk about Xs and Os and watching the All-22 cam, but I found myself really wanting Brent and Herbie to give me the cinematic presentation in the final moments.
RD: Of course you do. And you know what? That's a great way to look at it because we're not presenting the Megacast in the traditional way. I mean, we want people to watch one of our channels as long as possible, but we know that people aren't going to watch the whole game watching ESPNU Film Room--or they're not likely to--or the Megacast with Michael [Smith] and Jemele [Hill]. We just want them to be able to surf over and sample a different view for a while if they want to. But the main show is what it is. It's always going to be there, and it's always going to be the most pleasurable and entertaining and traditional way to watch a game.
But viewing habits have changed, and people want to look at different aspects of how games are covered or what people are thinking about them and have that response be instantaneous. And that's what we're trying to accomplish by trying to provide a variety of ways to enjoy the game as we head into the College Football Playoff era.
GABA: Rece, we've talked to you before about your involvement in the Capital One Cup, which awards $400,000 in combined scholarships to the best men's and women's athletics programs in Division I of the NCAA. I was going through the standings updated as of Jan. 17 and was of course quite thrilled to the South Carolina men checking in at No. 10 on the strength of the football team's best-ever finish in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. I was quite surprised, however, that the Gamecock women haven't registered so much as a single point for their efforts in the fall because they have a number of strong programs. And I noticed that equestrian, a sport in which the Gamecocks are currently ranked No. 1 in the country, is not represented. So I guess this is my long-winded way of lobbying to have equestrian added to the formula.
RD: This is the race to determine the best in college sports. There are 39 sports involved--20 on the women's side, 19 on the men's side. I've done some work on this, but correct me if I'm wrong. Does equestrian fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA? I don't think it does.
GABA: Oh, I see. Yeah, I think you're right about that.
RD: I'll have to double check because I don't want to be wrong, but it's my impression that if they're giving out a championship from the NCAA then it's considered. So you may have to take your complaint to a higher source. But the best finish in school history for South Carolina football has given them 24 points in the race to determine the best in college sports with the Capital One Cup. You mentioned a lot of the key things in terms of the scholarship money that's available. It's very important, and I'm very proud to be part of it.
And, you know, just the difference in Kelvin Benjamin making that catch for a touchdown against Auburn gave Florida State 60 points in the race for the Capital One Cup and Auburn is sitting at 36. So that's a good start there. South Carolina is certainly in it on the men's side. And baseball is coming in the spring season for South Carolina, which is always beneficial for them. So we're excited to see this race unfold over the next few months to determine which men's and women's programs are the best and to hand out that scholarship money, which is really the ultimate goal.
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GABA: Jadeveon Clowney's college football career is obviously over now, and something I've been turning over in my head is how he'll be remembered by the average college football fan ten years from now. Do you think he'll be remembered as a once-in-a-generation athlete who recorded 13.5 sacks his sophomore year or do you think he'll be more remembered for some of the acrimony that surrounded his 2013 season.
RD: I think it will be a mixture of both. But as time goes on--given the fact that South Carolina ultimately had its greatest success while Jadeveon was there--I think the highs will far outweigh the lows. Things like The Hit against Michigan or the 17,000 sacks of Tajh Boyd will probably be the things that South Carolina fans choose to remember rather than the other things. And hopefully Jadeveon will think that way also and he'll have a close relationship with the university and always be remembered as one of their great players--because, certainly, that's what he is.
I agreed with Steve when he said that a smart thing would be to thank Jadeveon for coming because had he chosen to go to Alabama or Clemson I don't know that South Carolina would have had the same level of success. Would they have still won games and been a good program? Of course they would have been. But he was able to raise the profile. He made opposing offenses scheme differently because he was on the field, and I dare say that let to victories that might not have been gotten otherwise or certainly would have been much more difficult to get. So I think he'll be remembered in a very positive light when people reflect on his South Carolina career, which they'll have a long time to think about because he's going to have a very, very long and productive NFL career.
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