Posted: 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013
By Connor Tapp
ESPN is a company populated by many divisive personalities, but few people in the world of sports broadcasting are more universally respected than Rece Davis, who football fans most likely recognize as the host of College Football Final and the play-by-play man for ESPN's Thursday night college football broadcasts. In addition to being an immensely talented broadcaster and possessing a gloriously thick head of hair, I think you'll find that our interview with Rece reveals him to be an incredibly genuine and engaging personality.
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.
Rece Davis: Connor, I just want to say to you that you are clearly ahead of the curve, being a South Carolina guy. Every baby born in the next year or so in the state of South Carolina is going to be name "Connor" -- as you are -- or "Shaw." Maybe they'll use "Shaw" as a girl's name. Anything to pay homage to what Connor Shaw did in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday night. So you're ahead of the curve, and your name is going to become increasingly more popular, I think.
It's been an interesting experience. For the longest time, "Connor" was a relatively unusual name, and now it's the name of the starting quarterback for my alma mater's team. You hear people criticizing him at times -- and, certainly not much of that was going on last Saturday -- and you're like, "Hey, what did I do?" But anyway, since you brought up the Gamecocks' thrilling double overtime win last weekend, what were your thoughts about South Carolina's performance in pulling out that improbable win and Shaw's performance, in particular?
I thought Shaw was unbelievable. But first of all, let me say this: I think the world of Dylan Thompson. I think he's as fine a young man as you'll run across, and I think he's a really good quarterback. He didn't play poorly. If you don't put the ball on the ground a couple of times and maybe you're not in that position to begin with. It's not as if Dylan played poorly, but sometimes if a guy is sort of the undisputed leader of the team and things haven't gone your way, like the fumble and the 96-yard touchdown -- although, I'm not taking any thing away from Missouri because that was a great play -- sometimes just changing things up just gives you a spark, especially if you're bringing your leader in under those circumstances. You're saying, "Hey, look. This guy is hurt. I know how badly he's hurt. I've seen him in the training room all week. And he's out here trying to help us win the game? Let me see if I've got a little extra in the tank, too." I think that that happened on Saturday night.
But, let's be honest, when you're down 17 in the 4th quarter, you can't come back without a little help from the other guy. And Missouri, I thought, got a little bit tight and missed a field goal, which obviously was huge, and gave up some key conversions. So it was a situation where South Carolina picked up a little energy because they got their leader back and everybody bears down a little bit, Mike Davis makes sure the ball is riveted to his rib cage, and all of the sudden everybody starts playing a little better. Missouri has a couple of things go against them, and before you know it you're in a classic, and then South Carolina then got the ultimate break at the end with the field goal that hit the upright.
It was certainly the high point in what has been an up-and-down season for South Carolina. One of the frustrations has been the coverage of Jadeveon Clowney's season. What are your impressions of his performance and how much of the criticism of him do you think is warranted?
I think some of the criticism has been over the top. Obviously, a lot of the criticism emanated from the game that I broadcast. And I think in that game against North Carolina -- I don't know the reasons for it, and I would be speculating -- there were times, and it was on tape for everybody to see, and if people think it's not fair, I would differ with them on that. There were times when, later in the game when Jadeveon -- sick, gassed, whatever the problem was -- he made impact, if the ball didn't come toward him, he just sorta stood there and sorta trotted toward the ball.
Defensive line is a hard place to play, and that's why you rotate guys. I understand that it was a hot night. My theory on what happened on opening night is this: Jadeveon's all jacked up. They haven't let him practice a whole lot because they can't practice their offense when he's on the field because he wrecks everything. He's all jacked up. He's ready to make 4 sacks in the first night. Here we go, undisputed number one overall pick, OK? North Carolina runs away from him. He chases a few plays down, and all of the sudden - a little bit surprisingly to him - he's gassed. He hits bottom on the tank. And I think he had a tough time coming back from that.
Now, onto the coverage of it. When you get the amount of attention and accolades that Jadeveon Clowney got in the preseason, then to whom much is given, much is expected. And you have to understand that the camera and the microscope is going to be on you every play. Our gameplan on that telecast was -- not to call him out, but to highlight one of the great players in the recent era of college football -- to have a camera on him every play. That's life. That's life in 2013 in major sports, college football or anything else. You enjoy it when you get the praise, so you have to be prepared for it on the other side. So I think, from that standpoint, maybe that surprised him.
Now, since that point, I think some people saying that he's not the number one pick or he's not what everyone thought are sadly mistaken. I think he's actually played very well. He's very disruptive, and he forces every team he plays to gameplan with him in mind because there's not anyone that I've seen in college football this year who can shut him down. Tiny Richardson did a pretty good job against him, but Jadeveon still had some terrific plays in the game against Tennessee. Hurst from North Carolina did a pretty good job against him, but still North Carolina gameplanned everything with Jadeveon in mind. So I think that he's played pretty well.
The coverage has been, I think, for the most part fair. Certainly there have been some exceptions to that. The internal thing that happened with Jadeveon and Steve was mishandled certainly, probably on all fronts. And perhaps Steve didn't mean it this way, but the tone in which it came out when Jadeveon sat out the game and Steve, I guess, wasn't clear on the injury -- the tone of that sound bite really resonated, and I think it's something that Steve understood and subsequently handled. I think a lot of it is just the product of him being such a huge star and so talented and so impactful that he warrants that type of attention. And it's rare that you find a defensive lineman that warrants that type of attention.
And I actually thought y'all did a great job during that North Carolina broadcast of trying to sort of point out that defensive line is sort of a weird position if you're evaluating it in terms of a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and that teams are going to be running away from him.
But you know the thing is I have a guy in the booth who understands that better than anybody. And Pollack was on it early because of the difference in the season between that in which he broke out and the next season. The next season it was more difficult to get those types of numbers. Because you know how it is; when coaches look at game tape and they formulate their gameplan, they look at the match-ups they can win. You're foolish if you go into a matchup with South Carolina and you don't account for Jadeveon Clowney and say, "You know what, if they beat us somewhere else, fine. I'm not letting Seven beat me because I know he can. He's better than anybody we've got." That's going to happen because coaches are going to try to scheme around him. If you ignore him and treat him like Joe Schmoe from Podunk State, he's going to wreck your offensive plan. That would be poor coaching, so it doesn't happen that way.
Jadeveon Clowney is no longer a contender in the Heisman race, but we've got a very fascinating year of Heisman candidates. Guys like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota seem to be absolutely plowing through the competition, even as we get into the meat of the conference schedules. In your estimation, as we hit the back stretch of the season, what is one of these guys going to need to do in order to create some separation in this race?
It's going to be tough. It's like just about any other Heisman race, in my judgment; you need the signature moment. You have to have the foundation of numbers and productivity and winning and having value to your team and all those types of things. But when you have a close race with no clear cut favorite at the moment, you need the wow moment as Johnny Manziel had last year at Alabama. Manziel was a fabulous player before he got to Tuscaloosa and a fabulous player after, but the thing that sort of sent him over the top was the being able to go in there and make the butt fumble play that he made -- the antithesis to the butt fumble that Mark Sanchez had -- when Johnny had it knock off his lineman's rear end or wherever it hit close by, it popped up into his hands and he threw a touchdown pass. And then he threw a couple of lasers late after an Alabama turnover that really seized the game for Texas A&M and were real seminal moments in a season where people could grab onto, and then you watch the highlights. I think what those guys need -- whether it's Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota or anyone else who's in the race -- a moment like that, seizing an opportunity in which they can show America that they are capable of lifting their team in a crucial situation. Often, that carries the day with a lot of Heisman voters, I think, if things are equal or close to equal.
Not only do you follow college football and basketball very closely, but you're also entering your fourth year as a member of the advisory board for the Capital One Cup, which takes a broader landscape of men's and women's Division I athletics and gives out a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships to the best programs. Can you just tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved in that and what your role is as a member of the advisory board?
Connor, it's something I'm very proud of. We have a great group on the advisory board that seeks to promote Capital One's efforts in the Capital One Cup. We talk about things that we think are important in terms of intercollegiate athletics and how best to get that message out and how best to reward those those who exemplify excellence in those fields. The Capital One Cup rewards the best overall men's and women's athletics programs. All 39 sports in which the NCAA awards championships factor into the standings at the end. We release updates on the standings at the end of the fall, the winter, and the spring seasons. Football is obviously carrying a great deal of weight right now in what people are following.
I think one of the neat things about this is that it's not something that sort of happens in a back room and you tabulate it at the end. We want fans to get involved with this right now. They can follow us on Facebook. We're on Twitter, if that's the way you prefer to follow. And you can sort of keep up as we go along. We have sponsored chats where you get an opportunity to talk to people like Barry Larkin or Doug Flutie or Lisa Leslie or Clark Kellog.
It's important to me because, as much as I love the games on the field -- and that's certainly my primary interest -- as I've become older and more mature, you understand that this is not only great opportunity for the young people who compete in the arenas, it's an opportunity for them once they get off the field or out of the arena. And for Capital One to put its money where its mouth is I think is a great step in the right direction because if we want athletics to provide opportunity, then there has to be some financing for that opportunity. And Capital One does that, and I'm honored and pleased to be a part of it.
The other part of it, just in terms of being fun -- I would imagine that you would like to say that South Carolina is better than Clemson in just about everything they attempt to do. Am I accurate in saying that, Connor?
We certainly aspire to that, yeah.
And every fan aspires to that. So it's a really good way for fans to engage in the opportunity for overall bragging rights -- to say, "My school is better than yours." And you guys in South Carolina, you get really upset with me when I sort of lean toward calling North Carolina "Carolina" and I don't think of you guys as being just being plain "Carolina." I always put the "South" on the beginning. Well, I just have to tell you that the North Carolina women won the Capital One Cup last year. So, if you want to change that, you've got to get in there and win the Capital One Cup. That's just all there is to it.
Well, we'll certainly make sure we have all of the links available for our readers to get involved and right that wrong.
That would be great. That would be awesome.
Before I let you go, I just want to get your thoughts on next weekend's game between LSU and your alma mater, the Alabama Crimson Tide. What do you see happening when Les Miles and his Tigers head in to Tuscaloosa next weekend?
I think these two have become the premier rivalry in the SEC and perhaps the premier rivalry in college football right now. And it's because the stakes have been so high when they've played, and of course there's the juicy subplot of Nick Saban having coached at LSU previously. I think what you'll see -- Alabama is a better team than LSU this year. However, the game -- meaning, in a general sense, college football -- these days is largely about match-ups. LSU has the one match-up that I think that can really give Alabama trouble. They have big, physical wide receivers who can make catches in traffic and a quarterback that can make every throw known to man. Because of that, I think LSU has a tremendous opportunity. I think it's as difficult a challenge as Alabama would face against anybody. Florida State certainly has that matchup between quarterback and receiver that would give them a matchup edge. And don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting that Alabama can't lose to anyone else. I'm just saying that if you identify matchup areas where you would suspect that Alabama could be vulnerable, potentially, in my judgment, that's where it would be: quarterback who can make the throws, big-time wide receivers who are play-makers. And I think that's something that we saw in the Texas A&M game. Alabama's defense has certainly changed since then, personnel and otherwise. But I think that it's an area where LSU can have some success.
The flip side of that is that Alabama's offensive line has really matured, and I think that LSU will have to have the best game they've had defensively this year in order to slow down Alabama's offense. They lost a boatload of guys to the NFL last year. So LSU has very talented players playing on defense, but they have some guys who don't have quite the experience of Eric Reid or Kevin Minter or of Montgomery and Mingo. Their defensive tackles -- Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson --- are guys who have played a lot, but just as we were talking about Clowney earlier, Johnson and Ferguson played relief snaps last year, and now they're getting the bulk of the snaps, and it's a little bit different sometimes.
I think LSU's got a great opportunity. I think it's going to be a classic game. I think they certainly have an opportunity in their matchups outside when they have the ball, and they'll have to play as good a game as they've played this year if not the best game they've played this year to slow down AJ McCarron and company because Alabama's offense is extraordinarily balanced right now. I know it seems odd to people to talk about Alabama's offense, but I think over the last several weeks that has been perhaps one of the undersold stories in college football.