A day after releasing its broadcast schedule for the greatest opening weekend in the sport's history, ESPN has unveiled the roster of talent who will call those games.
This off-season has been a costly one for the Worldwide Leader after Brad Nessler left for CBS to become Verne Lundquist's eventual replacement, Sean McDonough moved up to the Monday Night Football chair following Mike Tirico's departure for NBC, and Chris Spielman left to join Fox Sports's coverage.
Off the top, Joe Tessitore will move from Thursday nights to ESPN's Saturday night games, working alongside Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe. Tessitore is a natural choice to replace Nessler and, really, the only in-house voice with the requisite gravitas to serve as a network-level play-by-play man. Joe Tess rose the ranks as a boxing announcer, and that blow-by-blow training is evident in how he adds the proper, uh, punch to football's grandest moments.
Tesstiore will join ESPN's No. 2 crew, which called the College Football Playoff semifinal opposite the Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit booth.
“Our new assignments demonstrate the depth of our roster and the new growth opportunities that exist within ESPN,” ESPN senior vice president Mark Gross said in a statement. “We are all anxiously awaiting the start of the 2016 college football season, one we know will be filled with great moments across ESPN networks.”
Speaking of Fowler and Herbie, Samantha Ponder has completed her ascension up the network's college football reporting ladder and will now pair her College GameDay work on Saturday mornings by pacing the sidelines for ESPN's top game that night. ESPN offered no word on whether Ponder was replacing Heather Cox or simply joining her.
With McDonough and Spielman's booth open, ESPN has paired Steve Levy with Brian Griese and Todd McShay to handle the top Saturday afternoon games on the network (either ABC or ESPN, depending on how that week's schedule falls.) Levy has been with the network for eons, mostly either as a SportsCenter anchor or on the network's hockey coverage, but has upped his college football assignments in recent seasons -- though he did cover the sport weekly from 1999-02. Levy was re-introduced to the college football public as a whole through the classic ending of the 2014 Bahamas Bowl.
McShay is a holdover from the McDonough/Spielman booth, while Griese worked with Dave Pasch on ESPN's noon time slot up through 2015, so we'll have to await word what that means for Pasch.
ESPN said additional roles and teams will be revealed "in the coming weeks."