College football returned this month and, once again, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) looks like the most powerful force in the game.
Six of the 14 SEC schools started the season in the national Top 25 rankings. Eight of the past 10 national champions hail from the SEC. And, according to the National Football Foundation, combined attendance at SEC games reached 7.8 million in 2015. The conference led all of its peers in attendance for the 18th straight year, according to the foundation.
Few have had a better vantage point than Verne Lundquist when it comes to the top college conference. Mr. Lundquist has been the play-by-play voice of CBS Sports’ coverage of SEC games since 2000. They’re No. 1 in TV, too: CBS has had the highest-rated college football TV package for the past seven years. Lundquist, who is retiring after the 2016 season, spent many of his 53 years in sports radio and TV calling National Football League (NFL) games. Even so, he said it’s impossible to match the rowdy fans and tradition-heavy settings at campuses in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Oxford, Miss., and across the rest of the SEC each weekend.
What has changed most since he began a life of traveling from press box to press box? Lundquist told the Monitor the difference in size and speed of the players is what stands out most. Early in his career, while working in Austin, Texas, Lundquist recalled watching a Longhorns team that won the national championship in 1963. “And the offensive line averaged 220 pounds per man,” he said. “Well, now, you know, all the safeties weigh more than that. And I think the speed is just enormous. We see that, especially in the SEC.”
Lundquist soon realized he had made the right move in taking the SEC job. At halftime of an Alabama-Auburn game, “the place was just awash in color,” he said. Lundquist asked his wife, “Would you rather be here or would you rather be doing Cincinnati at Tampa Bay [in the NFL]?” He went on to answer his rhetorical question: “I’d much rather be doing the SEC.”