For ESPN, Notre Dame-Alabama stands as a dream matchup, partly because many viewers don’t like either school.
ESPN is convinced that dislike won’t translate to disinterest because, well, that typically doesn’t happen with polarizing brands such as Notre Dame, the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys.
“There are a lot of people who will have to make a tough decision on who to pull for,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said, acknowledging many fans ardently root against both when they’re not playing each other.
“Because the SEC has won six straight national championships, as much as that region claims all 14 teams when they get to this point, every other conference and every other fan base outside of those 14 teams is passionately rooting against Alabama,” Herbstreit said.
“What’s interesting in this case is everyone, no matter where you grew up, either loved Notre Dame or you just couldn’t stand Notre Dame. I believe outside of the SEC, most of the people will be pulling for Notre Dame to try to end that streak” of six consecutive SEC national titles.
Herbstreit doesn’t believe that some fans won’t watch because they don’t like either team.
“Anybody who makes a comment like that will clearly be watching the game, and watching the pregame and blogging,” he said.
“For me, it’s like Tiger Woods and golf. I couldn’t care less about golf, but if Tiger Woods accidentally stumbles into a Sunday [in contention], I’m that guy who’s watching. If you’re a fringe college football fan, and you have Notre Dame and Alabama playing on a Monday night, no matter if you despise both these teams, you’ll be watching these teams.”
How giddy is ESPN about getting Notre Dame in this game?
Consider this: Every network’s college football ratings declined this season, except NBC’s Notre Dame package, which rose 67.4 percent. What’s more, four of the eight highest-rated prime-time games in 2012 involved Notre Dame, topped by the 9.4 for Notre Dame-USC on ABC. And USC-Oklahoma on ABC was third at 5.2.
Notre Dame-Alabama on Monday has a good chance to top the 14.0 for last year’s Alabama-LSU title game, but it will be difficult for ESPN to surpass ABC’s record for the highest-rated BCS title game: a 21.7 for USC-Texas in 2005.
“The story here is definitely Notre Dame,” ESPN’s Brent Musburger said. “In preseason, no one was mentioning Notre Dame would be in [the mix] for a national championship.”
But if Alabama wins, “we may be talking about one of the great dynasties in the history of college football.”
THIS AND THAT• Ratings for the BCS bowls are up this year, even though the Orange and Sugar lacked attractive matchups, on paper. The 6.5 major-market rating for the FSU-Northern Illinois Orange Bowl topped the 4.5 for West Virginia’s blowout of Clemson last season.
The 6.4 for the Florida-Louisville Sugar edged last year’s Michigan-Virginia Tech rating.
Musburger and Herbstreit will be calling their sixth BCS title game together, and Musburger, at 73, has no intention of putting down his microphone any time soon.
Asked how long he wants to continue broadcasting, Musburger said: “As long as they’ll have me. I don’t do retirement very well.”
He said he still gets the same emotional charge working big events as he did earlier in his career. “The best event that I am ever going to cover is the next one.”• Musburger, on Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: “He’s the son of an Irish politician, and no one works a room any better than Brian Kelly. He loves to have your company, and then pretends he’s telling you everything that’s going to happen. And he always keeps something in the saddle bags. A very, very savvy coach.”
• Musburger appreciates that Kelly and Alabama coach Nick Saban “like to have us come to practice, unlike [LSU coach] Les Miles, who locked us out for 30 minutes” before last year’s BCS championship. During that game, when LSU was being dominated by Alabama, Musburger cracked, “Miles locked us out for this?”
• ESPN producer Bill Bonnell said a network executive “challenged us” to improve audio for this year’s BCS bowls, and promises it “will be a big upgrade.”
He also said ESPN will “hold back a little on replays” to make sure no live action is missed.