College Football Retakes The Field

The band's playing and the mascots are duking it out on the field, so you know what that means — college football is back. And it looks like the University of Miami Hurricanes are, too. Host Scott Simon talks with Weekend Edition sports guru Howard Bryant about the start of the college football season and the U.S. womens Olympic hockey team.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: College football is back, and maybe the University of Miami Hurricanes too. We're joined now by Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Morning, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (ESPN): Morning, Scott. Are you still the scarecrow? I don't think you were acting back then anyway.

SIMON: Well, there's still great debate. You know, a lot of people around here finish this sentence: if you only had a brain, you might understand that, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Hurricanes have started their season with two victories against ranked opponents - Florida State and Georgia Tech. Haven't done that for 20 years. Are they back?

Mr. BRYANT: It's a new year. Well, it seemed like over the last couple of years they were making progress into coming back into the limelight. And I think that it's a very interesting dynamic because the University of Miami put so many players into the pros that the program at the college level hadn't been as good over the past couple of years.

But (unintelligible) you beat Georgia Tech after being humiliated by them last year, you beat Florida State, which is always the big rivalry game. And at 2-0, people are starting to think, now they're ranked, they're number 20 in the country. And it's one of those programs where college football becomes college football again when Miami is good. So I think this is actually very good for the sport.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another college football brand, and that's Notre Dame.

Mr. BRYANT: On the other hand…

SIMON: You know, and look, Charlie Weis, their head coach, being Notre Dame's head coach must be only slightly less hazardous than working on a bomb disposal unit. A lot of fingers pointing at Charlie Weis. The knock on him seems to be that he recruits good talent but he makes coaching mistakes in the middle of games.

Mr. BRYANT: Well, if you watch the Michigan game, that loss, which was a devastating loss - to me, I watched the whole game, it falls clearly on the shoulders of Charlie Weis, because he did not manage the game very well. And when you're at that school, there's no margin for error.

It's like being the coach at North Carolina or UCLA or any of the big programs. It's a great deal of pressure. And Charlie Weis came in with this reputation of being with the Patriots and having a pro system, and he's not the most humble of guys in the first place. And so when you watch the games and you watch his coaching decisions, especially against Michigan, the way he ran the final two minutes of that game, you watch it and you say, well, how does he survive, especially when you look at all the pressure that was on his predecessor, Tyrone Willingham - not a good coach, in my opinion.

SIMON: You're getting ready to cover the Olympic Games this winter in Vancouver. You've been on the lookout for some teams to watch. Tell us what you've discovered about the U.S. women's hockey team.

Mr. BRYANT: It was fun. We had an Olympic media summit in Chicago last week, and the different Olympic hopefuls were there. And it was great to get to meet the U.S. ice hockey team, because the women are actually in a much better position to win a gold than the men. The women have overcome, since 2008, their bitter rivalry with Canada, they've had the better of it.

They beat the Canadians on their ice up in Vancouver in the Canada Cup. They had beaten them already in the Four Nations Cup. And it's great to get to talk to some of the athletes because I deal so much in professional sports, it was very refreshing to talk to a lot of the young women who got into this sport. And it was great during the summit to ask them how they got into it and how all of their parents - some of the stories were so similar that their parents wanted them to go into tap dancing, go into figure skating, and suddenly they end up playing hockey.

And it was a great, refreshing contrast and change from dealing with professional sports. And I think it's also very good for the women's team as well because this is their moment. There is no pro league after this. So they look at the Olympics the way that the old Olympians used to, that this is their time and I think it's going to be great fun watching them and Canada, come Vancouver.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com…

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

SIMON: …forgive me, and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

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