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The view from the ESPN booth

Todd Blackledge will serve as the color analyst for ESPN’s telecast of the South Carolina-Tennessee game on Saturday night. I caught up with him Thursday as he was driving – yes, driving – from his home in Canton, Ohio to Knoxville. He estimated his trek at about seven hours.

During our conversation, Blackledge took the inevitable question about his Friday night food feature, talked about Stephen Garcia and Lane Kiffin, and patiently dealt with a reporter who forgot that Penn State wasn’t in the Big 10 when he played there.

How often do you get asked where you ate the night before?

Just a ton. I mean I get asked a lot. It’s cool. The segment is still really popular in year 3. I’m actually not doing one this week since this is my third trip to Knoxville this season. … It’s to the point now where I get asked more where I ate, what did I eat, more than who do I think is going is win, what do I think of the game. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing.

How’d it start?

It was my idea a few years ago. I was at a meeting in Bristol and they talked to us about (not being) afraid to try new things. … And I left the meeting and talked to my producer, Bo Garrett, and said I’d had this idea for a little bit. … We started it Labor Day game in Clemson. We did a little place there called Mack’s.

Do you get a lot of suggestions from restaurants in advance of your trips?

I do. Probably more this year than the first two years. But not as bad as I maybe thought it might be. So far it’s been pretty good as far as me being able to slip into town and maybe figure it out. Sometimes I have to try a couple places. Because I won’t go someplace that I haven’t been and have to see if I like it. I won’t just show up the first time and do it.

Now, as for the actual game …(Laughing) Thanks.

As a former QB, how do you evaluate Stephen Garcia? Does it seem like Spurrier may finally have his guy?You know, I think he’s getting close to being that kind of a guy for Steve. I think two things, I think Stephen Garcia is getting more comfortable with staying in the pocket and reading, and trusting the reads, trusting the plays, and playing within the system to a degree. And I think Steve Spurrier is also more comfortable with recognizing that in today’s world of college football to have a quarterback who can make plays with his legs when a play breaks down is a good things too.

What do you think of South Carolina’s offense in general?

I certainly don’t think (Spurrier is) content with what they’re doing on offense. I think he feels they can be much better. He’s probably right. I don’t think we’ll ever see a day when an offense can completely dominate in this league the way it did in the period of time when he was at Florida. I think ultimately because the defenses are so good in this league, you’ve really got to be strong up front. It all starts with that. Then you’ve got to be the right trigger man, which he hopes he has in Stephen Garcia.

What’s your opinion of Lane Kiffin?

I kind of like him. I think he’s obviously got a brashness to him and a confidence about him that has rubbed some people the wrong way. But I kind of like it. He’s been a breath of fresh air at Tennessee. He’s put together a really good staff. Obviously his dad is a really great defensive coach and has done a good job with the defense. I mean it was a good defense last year with John Chavis. He’s got a great staff of recruiters that is relentless. And in a short amount of time they will get filled with a lot of talent, and will be a force in the SEC East again.

You were a Big 10 guy. If Iowa runs the table, do you think they will – or should – play the SEC champ in the BCS title game? Of course you’ve still got Texas unbeaten, Cincinnati, Boise State, TCU and one-loss Southern Cal .

Well, first of all I’m not really a Big 10 guy. Penn State wasn’t really in the Big 10 when I was there. I do live in Ohio, but I don’t consider myself a Big 10 guy. I’m impressed with Iowa. I don’t think the Big 10 is real strong. So if you were looking at an undefeated Iowa over an undefeated Texas, I would say probably not. I would say the Big 12 should carry the day on that. The next issue would be whether an undefeated Iowa would be looked at over an undefeated Cincinnati or an undefeated TCU. Boise, I don’t know if people look at that, even though they beat Oregon … I don’t know if they look at the schedule they play week in and week out.

It could be the year that it just calls for a four-team or eight-team playoff, or it all could end up working itself out again.

It seems like this time of year is when we always said that. Everybody look at all the Armageddon scenarios. For some reason it hasn’t really happened that way. It doesn’t mean it still can’t.

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