Five College Football Questions with Legendary Broadcaster Barry McKnight
Barry McKnight has had the honor of broadcasting every Troy football game since the Trojans moved to the FBS level in 2001. He has called Troy football wins over Missouri, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, LSU and Mississippi State.
In addition to his play-by-play duties for Troy, McKnight hosts a morning talk show on SportsRadio 740 in Montgomery, Ala.
The Florida graduate is also a well-rounded man. Not only is he knowledgeable about all college sports, he is, well, knowledgeable. In 2003, McKnight had to meet the Troy traveling party in Logan, Utah for a game with Utah State because he had spent a few days prior in Los Angeles where he appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy!
Although he did not win on the game show, McKnight is a pretty bright man.
The Rebel Walk recently was able to sit down with the announcer for our “Five Questions with….” series.
THE REBEL WALK: First, we lost an entertainment giant this week with the passing of Alex Trebek. You were a contestant on Jeopardy! in 2003. What are your memories of Trebek and the entire experience?
BARRY MCKNIGHT: I had had a significant amount of TV experience so I wasn’t overawed by the phenomenon of being on TV as much as the other contestants might have been, so I was struck primarily by just how extraordinary he was at the business of being on TV. He was smooth and controlled, polished and thoroughly professional, of course, but he had an innate ability to make the contestants feel relaxed and comfortable. He made small talk with me during a commercial break and was very attuned to the current events in Alabama and, just for that short while, struck me as being an absolutely brilliant conversationalist.
I had not watched the show very much, and the strategy eluded me (I bet it all on Final Jeopardy and lost), but it was so overwhelmingly fun and fascinating, and the large majority of that experience was due to Alex Trebek. He was a terrific man, and I was profoundly sorry to hear of his passing.
TRW: You had the pleasure in recent years of broadcasting Neal Brown’s high-flying offense at Troy. How do you think defenses can control the offenses at schools like Ole Miss and Mississippi State?
BM: There’s not an obvious answer because each offense has marked differences from any other offense, despite their common themes (Leach’s offense at MSU and Kiffin’s at Ole Miss are actually fairly different). My thought would be to absolutely sell out and take your greatest defensive risks at the very start of any possession. So much of the effectiveness of tempo offenses comes after the initial first down, when they can get into a rhythm and really play faster. I would deploy my best blitzes right at the get-go of each possession.
TRW: In years past, you were on the call when Troy upset LSU and Nebraska, and let’s face it, the Trojans dominated both of those games. The Tigers and Cornhuskers are not having the 2020 season they might like. What steps does each team need to get their programs back on track? (Here’s Barry’s memorable call as Troy defeats LSU.)
BM: In a normal year, LSU wouldn’t be having the struggles they’re having, because they’ve not handled the virus very well. Their problems on the field stem from losing their offensive playcaller to the NFL and an inordinate number of players opting out and leaving for the NFL.
Defensively, losing Dave Aranda was catastrophic. They’ve got great talent, but they’re not as intense as they were a year ago. Derek Stingley, for example, is still a premier cover corner, but has shown virtually no interest in run support at all, and he’s not the only one.
Nebraska is an institutional challenge. They’ve never had great talent to recruit nearby, so they’ve had to expand their recruiting base and also depend on their strength and conditioning program to develop high-caliber linemen. A lot of 5-stars simply don’t want to go to college in Lincoln, Nebraska, any more, and, while their (strength and conditioning) program adds great bulk to linemen, the game itself has identified a need for athletic linemen with great feet, and lifting weights doesn’t accomplish that. Plus, it’s turning out that Nebraska isn’t a great fit in the Big Ten.
TRW: You host a daily sports radio talk show in Alabama. What are the expectations of Alabama fans looking ahead to the rest of the season and how are the expectation of Auburn fans?
BM: The regular season over the last couple of years has tended to bore Alabama fans, because they have been so good for so long, and have played so many games recently where the outcome was virtually assured.
Last year’s team was the best team ever (by far) not to make the CFP, and Bama fans, despite several reasons why they fell short, don’t want to have that happen again under any circumstances. Absolutely nothing will satisfy Bama fans except a national title this year, and they have the talent, obviously, to expect that.
Auburn has been a team under Gus Malzahn that has always taken a little while to get jump-started in a season, and the early stumbles against Georgia and South Carolina have frustrated them. In this pandemic year, they expect the offense to continue the trend over the last few weeks of greater efficiency (and the development of Bo Nix), and some of the young players in the front seven defensively to continue to bloom. Oh, yeah, and beat Alabama.
I’ve often said that the best thing about hosting a daily sports show in this state is the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, and the worst thing about hosting a daily sports show in this state is…the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. Because of it, we’re never short of conversation but, also because of it, most of the time that’s the ONLY conversation. It can be maddening!
TRW: Troy hosts undefeated and 15th-ranked Coastal Carolina this week. If Coastal can somehow go undefeated this season, what is a reasonable outcome for its postseason?
BM: I believe there are four Group of Five teams that should at least be in a conversation about participation in the CFP and its bowl setup, and Coastal is one of them, along with BYU (whom I’ve seen with my own eyes), Cincinnati, and Liberty. I’m not saying that each deserves to be in the CFP, but each deserves to be in the mix currently.
Liberty and Coastal Carolina, by the way, play each other at Coastal in the last weekend of the regular year, so they’ll decide their postseason by virtue of that outcome. I think Coastal is a slight notch below BYU, who had a strong, strong schedule torn asunder by the Big Ten and Pac-12 giving up on the season, then resuming it and leaving BYU holding the bag. BYU’s emergency schedule will not be strong enough to merit CFP inclusion. Coastal Carolina has as good a defense as anyone in G5, but won’t make the CFP and, because of the jumbling of the bowls and their constraints, probably won’t even make a New Year’s bowl even if they run the table.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.