ESPNU's game plan for the 2012 college football season is grounded in three main programming precepts -- more, live and consistent.
Beginning Aug. 27, the network, now in its seventh year, is increasing its original weekly programming output by 16 hours to 47, highlighted by a pair of new daily shows, including its first entry into late-night.
Coupled with some 15 returning shows in its camp, ESPNU is nearly doubling its total of live weekly hours, while providing schedule continuity that extends across daytime on Monday through Friday, and as a information-laden prelude to its Thursday night and Saturday game windows. Those numbers do not include the network's typical Saturday slate of four top-conference, live football games, plus HBCU Thursday night gridiron games and Friday night high school pigskin fare.
If ‘college football lives on ESPN,' what has been the internal mantra at its collegiate-athletics-focused sibling is now firmly out in the open. "College football lives here, every day on ESPNU," said Dan Margulis, senior director, ESPNU programming and acquisitions, in an interview, pointing out that the service can keep pigskin fans up to speed across all dayparts.
Kicking off Monday, ESPNU will be live every day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (ET), starting with a simulcast of ESPN Radio's The Herd with Colin Cowherd from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. "Everybody that listens or watches knows that Colin is a big college sports guy," said Margulis.
New show CFB Daily follows from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. from the network's studios in Charlotte. Hosted by Dari Nowkhah, the show will showcase rotating college football analysts and sports business reporter, Darren Rovell. (The Experts will air from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays throughout the season.)
"It's not quite a radio show format, it will include Dari, analysts and interviews with coaches," Margulis noted.
At 4 p.m., ESPNU takes a handoff with College Football Live, which starts on the flagship service at 3:30 p.m. Margulis said the second-half-hour timing is good for the network from "a news perspective because it enables us to pick up news and tidbits from press conferences."
Margulis is also excited about the prospects for the network's other new show: live, late-night arrival Unite. ESPN college football analyst Danny Kanell, comedian Reese Waters and television host "Marianela" Pereyra (Fuse, MTV, ESPNU Road Trip) will sit on Unite's couch, while DJ Rob Swift provides the musical accompaniment to the show's spin of sports news, humor, pop culture and social media.
"This is ESPNU's first attempt at late-night. It will be driven by humor, news and info and informed by social media, what's trending on Twitter," Margulis explained. "The thought is we're going to reach younger fans, who now may be dipping in and out of the network."
Of course, games drive the biggest audiences for ESPNU, which became rated a little over a year ago. Margulis said college football fans tend to skew a bit younger than college basketball devotees.
Like last year, ESPNU's schedule will approach 65 contests, anchored by games from the SEC, at least one weekly ACC contest, and action from the Big East, Big 10, WAC and HBCU schools (Thursday in primetime) For the first time, ESPNU, as part of the worldwide leader's new 12-year pact that augmented its overall package, will televise Pac-12 contests.
Margulis said on a weekly basis ESPNU will typically feature four Saturday windows: noon; 3:30 p.m., primetime helmed by an SEC contest, including the opener between LSU-North Texas State on Sept. 1; and late-night at 10:30 p.m. There, the network will air either a live or taped Pac-12, WAC or BYU contest, starting with Toledo visiting Arizona on Sept. 1.
In addition to the four daily live shows - The Herd, CFB Daily, College Football Live and Unite, ESPNU's weekly original programming is as follows:
Day of the Week Time (ET) ESPNU Show
Monday 4:30 - 5 p.m. Final Verdict
5 - 6 p.m. Crunch Time
6 - 7 p.m. ESPNU BCS Countdown
Tuesday 2:30 - 4 p.m. The Experts
4:30 - 5 p.m. College Football Featured
7-7:30 p.m. ESPNU All-Access
7:30 - 8 p.m. ESPNU Road Trip
Wednesday 4:30 - 5 p.m. Big 12 This Week
Thursday 4:30 - 5 p.m. ESPNU Film Room
5 -6 p.m. ESPN Recruiting Nation
10:30 p.m. - midnight SportsCenterU
Friday 5:30 - 6 p.m. First Take: College Football
Saturday 9 - 10 a.m. ESPN College GameDay Built by the Home Depot
10 a.m. - 11 a.m. SportsNation: College Football
11 a.m. - noon College Football Whiparound
ESPNU College Football Show Descriptors
• Final Verdict (Mon., 4:30-5 p.m.): a half-hour spin-off of the weekly segment on CFB Final with Lou Holtz, Mark May, and Rece Davis. Holtz and a variety of contributors cast judgments on the weekend's football action.
• Crunch Time (Mon., 5-6 p.m.): each show looks back at the last minutes of the best college football games from the previous week, packaged into a one-hour program.
• ESPNU BCS Countdown (Mon., 6-7 p.m.): the hour-long live studio show, hosted by Nowkhah, discusses the ever-changing college football standings. ESPN's Mike Bellotti, Tom Luginbill and Kevin Carter will share analyst responsibilities.
• The Experts (Tue. 2:30-4 p.m.): the weekly 90-minute studio show rotates in top college football guests, bringing fans intelligent conversation and debate every Tuesday.
• College Football Featured (Tue., 4:30 -5 p.m.): looks back at the week's most compelling features with clips from College GameDay, SportsCenter and other ESPN shows surrounding the game of college football.
• ESPNU All-Access (Tue., 7-7:30 p.m.): takes fans inside the nation's leading college football programs each week for an all-access pass to practices, player meetings and tours of the campus.
• ESPNU Road Trip (Tue., 7:30- 8 p.m.): a 30-minute weekly series which taps into the tradition, rivalry and revelry from college campuses that are synonymous with the college football experience.
• ESPNU Film Room (Thu., 4:30- 5 p.m.): goes inside the gameplan of the week's top matchups, with ESPN's own leading playmakers walking you through the Xs & Os.
• ESPN Recruiting Nation (Thu,. 5-6 p.m.): a weekly hour-long studio show to discuss high school football players and their future impact on the college scene, as well as provide inside information and recruiting news. The show will include analysis from Luginbill and Craig Haubert, in addition to information from ESPN.com‘s 14 school sites.