By Randy York
Here’s a tip for Nebraska football fans, most of whom are likely to have their TVs tuned into the Fox FX network 3½ hours before Nebraska’s season opener against Southern Miss on ABC that same Saturday. Husker followers everywhere will be checking out a familiar face making his debut as a national college football analyst, and they undoubtedly will be pulling for Eric Crouch to perform well as he describes Marshall’s visit to West Virginia for the Mountaineers’ Big 12 Conference debut in Morgantown.
Who would have thought that Crouch would be calling games this fall for the same league that catapulted him to a Heisman Trophy? Who would have guessed that Crouch would be the color analyst when Miami visits Kansas State the following week for a nationally televised game that will kick off 7½ hours before Nebraska plays at UCLA in another nationally televised game? You can bet Husker fans will be watching that one, too, wondering what insight Crouch will bring to an important rematch that will be played on the same field he dug his cleats into twice.
Here’s one prediction: Eric Crouch will immerse himself into his new role as a color commentator. He will attack the challenge with the same energy he used to bowl over a Hawkeye defender on his way to the end zone in Iowa City. Crouch has the face, the voice, the humility, the analytics and the intuition to become an incisive analyst while sitting next to Charlotte-based play-by-play partner Justin Kutcher
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I’m very excited to call a game rather than be in a studio or interviewed on a pre-game or post-game show,” Crouch said. “Actually being at a game, in the booth and with a crowd is going to be a lot different. It’s a job, and I have a lot to learn, but this is a great opportunity because I get to watch college football. I get to enjoy it, study it and be a part of it. I love analyzing offenses, defenses and even special teams. For me, this will be every bit as fun as it will be challenging.”
In June, Crouch got a call from Doak Ostergaard, NU’s outreach director who said Fox had called Nebraska’s Athletic Department for information on how to contact the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner. The Fox rep wondered if Crouch might be interested in coming to Los Angeles to audition for a job.
The father of a 13-year-old 8th-grade daughter and an 8-year-old 3rd-grade son, Crouch checked with his wife, who manages the family’s recreational playground business while he’s branched out over the last four years as a sales rep covering five states for a national medical supply company.
Once Crouch discovered that the job entailed interviewing home-team coaches and players on Thursdays, interviewing the visiting coaches and players on Fridays and then calling mostly early games on Saturdays before flying back to Omaha that night, Crouch was ready to give the tryout his best shot.
“They had enough tape of work I did with Versus, Fox Midwest, Cox, Pay-Per-View and a local ABC affiliate to be interested in me, and I auditioned well,” Crouch said. “They offered the analyst job a week later. I appreciate all the good advice I received from announcers and broadcast coaches. They’ve taught me how to do it right and explained why you have to put in the time and educate yourself on the latest trends and players in college football.”
Crouch sees college football offenses being generally ahead of defenses. The spread, the speed and a fast tempo of play make it difficult for defenses to catch up. “When you see what some schools are doing right now, you understand why linebackers and defensive backs are getting smaller and faster,” Crouch said. “In the defensive line, you’re also seeing 295-pounders who are more athletic and can run instead of the 350-pounders.”
Offensively, Crouch is fascinated with coaches calling plays and then communicating an audible from the sideline. “I’m from the old school where I studied all week long, so I knew what the defense is going to give you, and I’d be the one changing the play at the line of scrimmage without ever looking at the sideline,” he said. “Looking to the sideline is an evolving, differentiating trend that’s happening all over the country, and I think we’re going to see it around for a while.”
Somehow, Crouch thinks the voluminous time he spent studying defenses on film will enable him to succeed as a color analyst. “I think intuition is an important part of what they’re asking me to do,” he said. “Just being aware of what may happen in a game is important. I think people really like to know why something happened. But sometimes they like to know before something happens and maybe even predict some things. I think being able to predict some things before they happen might be one of my strengths.”
Crouch has no doubt about one of his weaknesses. “I do believe learning who all the players are will be difficult for someone who’s never done that,” he said. “When you’re the color guy on nationally televised games, you better know the coaches and the players, and you better know how to pronounce their names and everything the team wants to get done. I want to meet as many coaches and players as possible, plus their SIDS (Sports Information Directors). We’re there to promote their schools and their teams, and I’m looking forward to every college town we visit. I want to see what the quarterback is seeing, and I want to help our viewers get excited.”
On his third weekend as a color analyst this fall, Crouch will provide commentary for TCU at Kansas, a third straight 11 a.m. game that will kick off within seconds of the Arkansas State at Nebraska game on ESPN2. You know, of course, what that might mean for some fans. As much as the Huskers love their Heisman heroes, they might be forced to tape that particular game on FX unless they relish bouncing back and forth between games.
Former Notre Dame running back Darius Walker will be the FX sideline analyst who will support the Kutcher-Crouch broadcast team.
“I know we’re also doing Baylor at Oklahoma in November, but we only have half of our 12 or 13-game schedule confirmed,” Crouch said. “We’ll also be working some Pac-12 Conference games and some Conference USA games as well.”
Crouch will have one bye week in his inaugural season as a national analyst … the last Saturday in October. “That’s Michigan at Nebraska,” he said. “Good timing.”
It will give a first-year color analyst an opportunity to see where his alma mater might fit into the national picture. Who knows? Maybe Nebraska will have asserted itself enough by then to be considered one of those “trends” that Crouch will be getting paid to analyze.
“You never know what will happen when you do something for the first time,” Crouch said. “I think things happen for a reason, and I’m going to give Fox everything I have in me. I’m kind of a stoic person, so I’ll have to rely on feeling more comfortable in my surroundings. Everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve felt a little uncomfortable first. Until you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, you never know how good you can be.”
Here’s hoping that Eric Crouch, Justin Kutcher and Darius Walker mesh well together, and here’s betting that the broadcast team’s color analyst will bring more loyal viewers into the ratings mix than most, if not all commentators at the same level.
Editor’s note: This weekend, the N-Sider will focus on Crouch’s preseason analysis of the Huskers.
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