Keith Jackson has seen too many great college football games in 29 years of coverage to place unnecessary importance on any single contest, but he thinks you can believe the hype about Saturday's Penn State-Michigan clash from Ann Arbor.
"The highest quality game of the season will be played in Michigan Stadium Saturday. You've got two of the top four teams in the country, in my mind, playing here, with Florida and Colorado being the other two," Jackson said yesterday before hopping a flight to call the 3:30 p.m. game for ABC.
Jackson doesn't expect Penn State, which joined the Big Ten last year and is making its first visit to Ann Arbor, to be intimidated by the expected 106,000-plus crowd.
"I don't think the sound at Michigan Stadium is that big a concern. It's about as hospitable a visiting place as you can go," said Jackson. "The only thing is that it's loaded with tradition. I took my wife in once around 9 at night. There was a little mist there and it was eerie. You can almost sense the history."
Jackson also has opinions on the Auburn-Florida meeting at high noon in Gainesville, where the top-ranked Gators try to end the Tigers' 18-game winning streak.
"Auburn's not exactly chopped liver. The Gators haven't been tested and they've got to prove they can hunker down with the big boys," said Jackson. "Florida's got to convince me. I remember that Sugar Bowl a couple of years ago where [Florida coach] Steve Spurrier was talking about his new offense and Notre Dame just kicked their [butts]. Steve's folks have something to prove."
Both games Saturday can be seen on Channel 13.
Talk show fodder
Gird your loins, wrestlin' fans: "Nasty" Nestor Aparicio is shifting his weekly look inside the squared circle to Thursday, but only for this week, to accommodate the in-studio visit of Ta-Tonka and Alundra Blayze. The time is 7 p.m. and the
place is WWLG (1360 AM).
WBAL's Josh Lewin, who has been most impressive in the early going, misstepped badly Tuesday in an attempt to be funny.
While relating the travails of Kevin Kennedy, who was fired yesterday as the Texas Rangers' manager, Lewin said, "Of course, as you history buffs would point out, Dallas is not a great place for Kennedys."
And assassinations are not a great topic for humor.
Saturday night's Miami-Florida State contest continued a ratings upswing for college football on ESPN this year. The game drew a 7.7 cable rating and was seen in 4.86 million homes, making it the most watched non-NFL program in the network's history.
Overall, ESPN's ratings for its Thursday night and Saturday college games are up 40 percent from last year.
Thursday night special
Don't forget TNT's midweek NFL offering tonight, Cleveland-Houston from the Astrodome at 8 p.m. And at 11 p.m., HBO airs "Inside the NFL," which features an Andrea Joyce interview with Philadelphia's Randall Cunningham.
Grab 'em while they're young
Fox, which pledged to deliver a younger audience to the NFL, starts following through on that promise with "Grunt & Punt", a live action/animated Saturday morning series, beginning Oct. 29.
According to a network release, Grunt is "an emotionally charged pig" who calls play-by-play, and Punt, his partner, is "a somewhat solemn boar."
The pair calls the show from a broadcast booth, and NFL personalities such as Emmitt Smith, Reggie White, Barry Sanders, Raghib Ismail and Steve Young will make appearances.
For the record, "Grunt & Punt" is not related to the Roseanne and Tom Arnold docu-drama movie.