What if ‘Hard Knocks’ on HBO followed College Football?

HBO’s Hard Knocks has been giving football fans a look inside the inner workings of NFL teams for a few seasons now, and it has become pretty popular. But what if the series went in an entirely new direction by giving us a look inside one of college football’s top college football programs?

Nick Saban may not want to pull back the curtain too much for a glimpse at the Alabama football program, but it certainly could make for some terrific insight. Or maybe you’d be more entertained with a look at South Carolina with Steve Spurrier and Jadeveon Clowney? Or how about a fall with the Sooners or Buckeyes? Maybe a taste of impending doom at USC is more your cup of tea? So let’s make the staff at Crystal Ball Run the new director and producer for Hard Knocks. HBO gives you a call and wants you to choose where you will be filming the next season, so where are you sending them?

Well, we already got the “Hard Knocks” treatment out of the way last year in Columbus (thanks ESPN All-Access or whatever they called it), which was my first choice… So, if it’s up to me I’m making the trip to Lexington, KY. That may sound a bit crazy as the Wildcats aren’t a household name (yet), but they sure are pulling in some amazing recruits and they sure have created a massive buzz amongst the fan base.

Add in a Stoops brother as a first time, first year head coach and a team desperate for results on the field NOW and you have the chance for some TV gold. Besides, who doesn’t want a peak inside a rebuilding program and a look at how it could all get turned around. Lastly, when’s the last time a Stoops brother shied away from a camera or microphone to pimp his team?

The ESPN “All-Access: Ohio State” was tame. It was also a half hour, with commercials, on ESPNU, a channel that most people don’t even know exists. Think about how much more fun online betting would be after having followed a team for an entire season of Hard Knocks!

Urban Meyer, as great as he is, isn’t as exciting as his teams normally are. He lacks the charisma of Kliff Kingsbury and Les Miles, while also lacking the ability to cause outright fear, like Nick Saban. If there is one dynamic program, a program that is the new kid on the block, with a high profile quarterback who is never one to avoid media coverage, it’s Texas A&M.

The HBO “School of Hard Knocks: Texas A&M” would be an opportunity to see how the young upstart team of the SEC handles the pressure of expectations. They lost their offensive coordinating savant, Kingsbury, to his alma mater, Texas Tech. They lost their best offensive lineman, Luke Joeckel, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the hopes of bringing a national championship to College Station reside with their court-side sitting, Pebble Beach playing, online classes taking, current Heisman trophy winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel. The same Manziel who can leave for the NFL after this season, and could be the first repeat Heisman trophy winner since Archie Griffin.

Kevin Sumlin seems like a nice enough guy, but this show would be about Manziel. The only hang-up with producing this show would be the expenses of hiring a camera crew to follow Manziel around to Los Angeles and Miami and wherever he happens to be that week. Also, for a not-as-high-profile team like Texas A&M, the HBO series could introduce America to some of the unsung heroes of the team, just like Hard Knocks does with players who usually get cut. The next Ryan Swope, perhaps.

This could be a series that follows the Aggies from fall practice up to their Sept. 14 matchup with Alabama, sort of like the NHL Winter Classic 24/7 series on HBO. Make it happen, HBO, or Showtime. I’d settle for Showtime.

When this question was posed, my first answer, unequivocally was Texas A&M. Newbie program on the national scene, dealing with expectations for the first time pretty much ever, plus Sumlin and Manziel equals reality TV gold as far as I’m concerned. However, since Jonathan threw out the idea first, I will head in another direction.

Looking at the national scene, I think a case could be made for just about any program in the SEC West being interesting (anyone see Bret Bielema is a Rex Ryan-ish-with-the-New-York-Jets kinda role?), but for me, I say why not Ole Miss? They’re a program on the rise, that, to a smaller scale than A&M will be dealing with expectations for the first time, pretty much ever. Factor in the big-name recruits adjusting to campus life and the fact that you know Hugh Freeze will be entertaining, and it’s a no-brainer.

As secondary options I love the idea of Lane Kiffin at USC (self-evident), Michigan (like Bielema, Hoke is going to say what’s on his mind… plus it’s another program dealing with real expectations for the first time), Oregon (new coach…although I’m not sure they have “star power” that will appeal nationally) and Georgia as well.

Hold up a minute… Two things…. 1) Since when is Texas A&M a “newbie” on the national scene here folks? I get that they haven’t competed at the very top of the national discussion for awhile until 2010 and all, but I don’t know a single college football fan who doesn’t know aTm as a household name.

To those growing up in the 90’s this was one of the biggest programs in the country. To that end then Michigan is a “newbie”… after all they haven’t been relevant on the national stage in over a decade until two years ago. Guess I’m just curious as what you are using as the definition of “national scene?”

2) As for Bielema, he’s far from a straight shooter – sorry, he tells you what you want to hear and not what he really thinks (see his waffling SEC vs. Big Ten comments) more often than not. He is a master at using the media to get what he wants as a story across though – I will give him that – so it could be compelling TV in that regards, but he is no Rex Ryan at all.

Sorry, couldn’t let the Bielema comments pass – having dealt with him personally for a few years and such.

Texas A&M is absolutely a “newbie” when we are talking this stage of college football. Sure, the Aggies have had the national expectations in the past couple of years but before Manziel and Sumlin came to town last season the Aggies always managed to fall well short of the hype while Texas, Baylor and even TCU have seen a better share of the national attention. But that is a debate for another day and time.

The question at hand is which program would make for the best documentary style behind the scenes look for TV in college football this season. For my money, while Texas A&M would be fantastic, I’ll stick to the other side of the SEC and go with Tennessee. What? Yeah, this may be a bit of a reach but hear me out. Tennessee is a program that is not really all that far away removed from being one of the national powers. The program is looking to restore their image. They have a new head coach in Butch Jones looking to breathe new life in to the program. They play in the SEC East so we’ll get some good story lines with match-ups against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. You also get the behind the scenes look as the Vols prepare for a road game at Oregon and another at Alabama. Perhaps it would be more fun to follow along a team we think might contend for a BCS title, but I think there could be some intrigue to watching a fallen power try to hit the road back to the promise land. Tennessee could be as good a place to start as any in my book.


The answer here is so obvious:


For starters, imagine the chance to eavesdrop on Les Miles dishing out nonsensical pearls of pseudo-wisdom on his players during pep talks. Think about what strategy sessions with coaches must be like with Miles in charge. What about following him to a booster event? Taking the team out to see some rom com the night before the big game. The possibilities are endless.

Then there’s the fact that you’d be filming in Louisiana. Reality television is the state’s chief export for a reason. That Pelican State is full of, ahem, characters who making for great gawking.

Plus, if the last few years have been any indication, there’s always the chance for some off-the-field drama. This is a program where even the punter found himself in hot water recently.

Add in the Baton Rouge food porn, and going behind the scenes with the Bayou Bengals is ratings gold.

Starting with A&M, I undoubtedly, in arguably think they’re a newbie on the national scene. Yes, they’ve been somewhat relevant through the years….but there are 35 programs a year who are “relevant.” Still, there is a difference between relevant, and what A&M is right now, which is on the front of every magazine cover and the lead story in every pregame show. And it’s something that nobody in this program has ever dealt with. Not Johnny Manziel. Not Kevin Sumlin. And not even any of the players who suffered through the disastrous 2011 season. Sure that team started in the preseason Top 10. Still, nobody was paying attention to them as they are  now.

In terms of Bielema, sure he says what’s on his mind.,. which is well and good when you’re winning 11 games a year in the Big Ten. It’s quite another thing when you’re inheriting a team that went 4-8, 1-7 in the SEC and has lost virtually all of its talent.  Personally, I’m tired of Bielema, and frankly don’t really care what his thoughts are on Nick Saban, the Big Ten or the latest episode of Mad Men are; I’d much prefer to see him win an SEC game or two before he opens his mouth again. But in terms of entertainment value (and that’s what this show would be about), I think he’d bring it to the table each and every episode.

As for Bielema I know you’d be in for some disappointing TV. The guy is pretty boring in practice, having sat through my share of them over the past two years. However, get him in the off-field mode I don’t disagree, you’ll get a guy who will say what will generate a buzz in the media to be sure. However, my point is that what he says in the media is far different than his real thoughts in my experience.