Gruden brought his own unique style

If Jon Gruden leaves ESPN and the “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth to return to the NFL and coach the Raiders, it would leave a big void for the all-sports network.

Gruden’s colorful and likeable approach works well on game broadcasts. In addition, he contributes to ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft and creates content, both broadcast and online, with his “Gruden’s QB Camp” leading up to the draft.

Losing Gruden would not be an insurmountable hurdle, but it will take more than one person to boost ESPN in the ways he does.

Now, losing him could also be spun as some as an opportunity to save some money, but whomever they put in a seat on “MNF” will get paid well, so it’s hard to know how any departure and related moves will impact the bottom line.

No analyst drives ratings and viewership – the games do that – but Gruden certainly provided personality for “MNF.”

Without him, there are no “Gruden Grinders,” and no half-curled hands as he makes a point during an on-camera stand-up segment. He was, at times, a caricature of himself, and maybe even playing a part but the approach generally seemed sincere. As a result, he came across as genuine and likeable.

Finding that again, combined with some football smarts, with not be especially easy.

Barkley’s business

Saquon Barkley went from Penn State standout to media savvy future pro pretty quickly.

Immediately after Penn State’s victory at the Fiesta Bowl, Barkley deftly stiff-armed questions about his future by saying he wanted to enjoy the victory and “this team,” the group that had done something special by producing a second consecutive season with double-digit victories and a major bowl appearance. He promised a decision about his future at some point.

It came pretty quickly — and not long after that Barkley was on site at the Rose Bowl for an on-camera interview with ESPN. That’s a lot of logistics in a short period of time for someone who said he was undecided less than 24 hours before. So, either Barkley was planning for a while or he has already assembled a nimble and strong support team.

No matter how it happened — and it would be interesting to know — Barkley’s a good story.

Championship conundrum

An all-SEC matchup between Alabama and Georgia in Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game should mean standout ratings and viewer response in at least one region of the country, but how it performs beyond that will be interesting.

With two schools from neighboring states in the southeast competing for the title, some worry about broader ratings and viewership.

So the matchup and situation could, in some ways, be bad for college football — even if it produces quality on-field action.

Semifinal status

Perhaps not surprisingly, the College Football Playoff semifinal contested at the Rose Bowl between Georgia and Oklahoma last week attracted more viewers — 26.8 million — than the other semifinal in the Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Clemson. The latter game was watched by 21.1 million viewers.

With its earlier kickoff that lingered into prime time, as well as its rich tradition, the Rose Bowl was situated for more success and viewer response than the Sugar Bowl, which was also hosting a rematch and was a less compelling and competitive matchup than Georgia-Oklahoma provided.

Both games performed better with viewers than they had the year before. The Rose Bowl was up 39 percent. In addition, it was the fifth-most watched cable telecast. The Sugar Bowl was up 10 percent.

Title talent

One of the best broadcast tandems working college football will be working the College Football Playoff national championship game — but not together.

Play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and color commentator Todd Blackledge were stellar on their call of the Sugar Bowl semifinal — better than the game itself — but for the championship game Tessitore will work the “Homers Telecast” on ESPN2 while Blackledge handles the game on ESPN Radio with Sean McDonough the play-by-play.

Tuner tidbits

n By comparison to the College Football Playoff semifinal games, 10.1 million people watched Penn State’s victory over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.

n With their first-round bye, the Steelers have off this week as the NFL playoffs begin. Their first game will be at 1 p.m. next Sunday, airing on CBS. That means veteran Jim Nantz and rookie standout Tony Romo as the broadcast talent.

Sampsell can be reached at