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TV Channel Review: Big Ten Network

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Less than a month into the college football season, I've been blessed to see my alma mater, Bowling Green, play two straight Big Ten opponents on the road and escape with a respectable 1-1 record. And I didn't need to follow along online with GameDay, GameCast, GameTracker, or any other little Java applet with a prefix of "Game."

I was able to watch on the newly launched Big Ten Network.

(Note: I know I should care about the ongoing feud between Comcast and BTN. It's pretty sad that BTN wants to force their niche channel upon all subscribers and not budging on their price, all the while both parties are calling upon fans of Big Ten football to call … well, the other guys and complain. Spare me the Martin Niemöller argument, that I did not speak out because my cable company provides the Big Ten Network. Niemöller was talking about Jews dying, we're talking about a sports channel. Not the same thing.)

For their football announcing crew, the Big Ten Network went out and signed some pretty solid broadcasters. Their lead play-by-play man is Thom Brennaman, who recently had the honor of calling some magnificent games, such as Game 4 of last year's ALCS and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The lead color commentator is Charles Davis, who was in the booth with Brennaman for that same Fiesta Bowl. He also worked the famous Michigan-Appalachian State game, which was aired on BTN.

I saw and heard Brennaman with BTN for the first time last weekend, as he broadcasted the Wisconsin-The Citadel game. The Citadel was another FCS (I-AA) school like Appalachian State, so the similarities were in place for another upset akin to Michigan-App State as the game was tied at halftime, 21-21. (And The Citadel was in the came conference as App State, but at this point I'm just reaching for parallels.) Alas, it didn't happen, but the broadcast went smoothly. Rating a play-by-play announcer is like evaluating the referees. The less one remembers about them, the better they did. Brennaman is — and has been — a solid, no-frills-or-gimmicks announcer, which is basically what you want in this day and age. All too often guys in the booth try a little too hard to connect with the audience, and it shows.

In the league's debut weekend, the Bowling Green-Minnesota thriller was announced by Jim Kelly (no, not the Bills quarterback) and analyzed by Richard Baldinger. Kelly currently anchors coverage on CNBC for the Senior PGA Tour. Baldinger, a former offensive lineman for Wake Forest and 12-year NFL veteran, did some NFL analysis with CBS. The BGSU-Minnesota game was played at HHH Metrodome, which is also where the Minnesota Twins play, so you could still see the infield dirt in the corner of the stadium. Kelly couldn't back away from the baseball references, such as when Nick Tow-Arnett caught a long reception and dove out of bounds in the infield. "And … safe at home!" Kelly muttered. While he lost points with me by saying that, it was probably because Tow-Arnett does not play for Bowling Green, and in all fairness, I probably would have made an equally similar smartass baseball remark.

The second weekend was the Bowling Green-Minnesota game. We viewers were given the team of Wayne Larrivee for play-by-play, and Chris Martin with the analysis. I haven't heard of either, but Larrivee is the PBP announcer for the Chicago Bulls and Green Bay Packers. Martin is a former cornerback for the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Bears, but I can't seem to find his broadcasting background, although his analysis did seem smooth, composed, and informed. Larrivee, too, was concise without being annoying, which is all I ever ask for. Not everyone's Keith Jackson, nor ought they attempt to be.

Before, during, and after games, the BTN studio booth is populated with former SportsCenter anchor Dave Revsine, former Indiana football coach Gerry DiNardo, and former Denver Broncos championship fullback Howard Griffith. Unlike most of the SportsCenter talking heads, Revsine was a straightforward highlights man and didn't rely too heavily on trite Booyah-style catch phrases. DiNardo has a very noticeable face — one that makes you wonder if you've seen him before, but you just can't place it. And if nothing else, it keeps you watching.

The full assembly of BTN came together to create a well-polished football TV product — especially for a network's rookie season. There weren't too many technical difficulties or errant cutaways to an unsuspecting Dave Revsine. In fact, it was a 20-second black screen during an ESPN game that triggered me to see what was on BTN last weekend.

Many college football games can be deathly boring, and later in the season the ESPNs will air some games that on paper in August looked like intriguing match-ups. BTN appears to offer, if nothing else, a solid alternative game, provided you own a satellite dish or a non-Comcast cable box. It certainly won't be my go-to channel for college football, but perhaps while Rutgers is whipping some low-tier Big East school in early November, BTN might be concurrently airing a riveting double-overtime game.

And from what I've seen, it will likely involve Minnesota, and they will lose.

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