He was a Heisman Trophy finalist at Oregon. Then he was a starting quarterback in the NFL. Now Joey Harrington is a college football analyst for Fox Sports 1.
Harrington is making his first trip to Manhattan to help call Kansas State’s season-opener against North Dakota State on Friday.
He is looking forward to the game, which pits the defending Big 12 champion against the defending Championship Subdivision champion and marks the debut of Jake Waters as K-State’s starting quarterback.
With that in mind, Harrington was kind enough to talk about the game while he drove from KCI to Manhattan on Wednesday.
Here are the highlights of that conversation (edited for clarity and length):
Q: As a former quarterback, what advice would you give Jake Waters heading into his first start? Also, what are you expecting from Waters on Friday?
A: What advice would I give him? Be yourself, don’t try and be somebody you’re not and do more than you need to. He is walking into a good position for a lot of reasons. He has a great tailback behind him. He has some very good wide receivers, he has an offensive line that is very experienced, he has got a head coach who will make sure he is put in the right position … I would tell him to be yourself and go play.
On the second part of your question, I’m not sure what to expect. There is not a whole lot of film on him. We are still trying to find some good game film of him. I am going to try to get in there and see if I can watch some practice footage of him and get a better look. From the highlight tapes, I’ve seen he throws a nice ball and he runs well. From the stats I can tell you 39 touchdowns compared to three interceptions is about as good a ratio as I’ve ever seen.
What kind of respect do you have for Bill Snyder?
The job that he has done here is incredible. It’s nothing short of incredible. I mean, the immediate turnarounds … In his very first season he lost his season-opener, and he hasn’t lost an opener since. The thing that is most impressive is he’s not someone who is going to go chasing stats. That is not to say he is stuck in his ways or is resistant to change. But you can tell from his teams that, one, since his return I believe they are third in all of the NCAA in time of possession. They led the Big 12 in fewest penalty yards last year. These are little nuggets and stats you can piece together to tell what kind of program he runs.
He is a guy who is obviously not infatuated with the media and doesn’t pretend to be. I think he just wants to coach football. He wants to help young boys become young men by the time they leave his program. You have to respect a coach who works like that.
How good is North Dakota State? We all know they’ve won two FCS championships and beaten FBS teams, but do you think they can give a team like Kansas State a real challenge?
This one could surprise a lot of people. Obviously they are an FCS team and very, very infrequently do FCS teams beat FBS teams, especially ones that just come off the Fiesta Bowl. That being said, they are 6-3 against FBS teams. They have won the last three games they’ve played, including a blowout of Colorado State last year, against FBS teams.
When you watch film on this team you realize they have a lot of talent. They have NFL talent. The difference between a FCS team and a FBS team is that you are going to have a couple guys that get missed by the recruiting services and turn into great players, but you are not going to have them two and three deep at most FCS programs. They have real talent.
They have two fantastic running backs, Sam Ojuri and John Crockett. Marcus Williams, their corner, is the real deal. He is a very talented player. They have got a four-year starter at quarterback who has taken them to two national championships. He is not an eye-popping guy but he is the kind of guy who wins games. The reason guys play so well for him is because he is a true student and a hard worker and his teammates see that. When you piece all that together, they have great talent, great confidence playing against anybody, anywhere, anytime. You put them in this situation, which is maybe the best time to catch Kansas State, because they lost a lot of leadership from Meshak Wiliams, Arthur Brown and Collin Klein.
Kansas State is going to be looking for someone to rally the troops. They are going to be looking for someone to step up and be that on-field leader. They haven’t had a chance to find that yet in a game situation. If North Dakota State can hang in there for a while and stay close at halftime I think this can be a game. If K-State can get rolling early I think they can do what most FBS teams do to FCS teams and put them away early. But this North Dakota State team is up for the challenge.
What is the most important factor in this game?
Time of possession. North Dakota State is a very efficient offensive football team. They are going to run it. They have two running backs who are very talented players, and if they can control the ball and control the clock like they did last year when they led the FCS in time of possession you can have a game that is close at halftime. If you give the underdog a glimmer of hope, this is the type of underdog that can take advantage.
As you noted earlier, K-State likes to control the clock, too. So you think possessions could really be limited this game?
Absolutely, I didn’t mean to say time of possession isn’t important for both teams. The reverse is also true. If K-State doesn’t give North Dakota State the ball and they score with each possession they are going to pull away and win.
Are there any K-State players you are looking forward to seeing live and in person for the first time?
I want to see Tyler Lockett play, I really do. I want to see him get involved and return kicks. I just want to see him with the ball in his hands, because he is an explosive player. I am also curious to see how John Hubert does without his backfield mate. Collin Klein did a lot of the heavy lifting last year. John did a fantastic job running the ball, but I want to see if he can be that every down back who can carry K-State.
This will be your first time watching a game at K-State. What’s the closest you have come to Manhattan through the years?
When I was at Oregon we played at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. Those were our two nonconference road games. Never came to the Midwest. I played against the Chiefs when I played for Detroit. I never got closer than that in college.
Last question, you have had an interesting career path going playing football to analyzing football. You used to talk to the media, now you’re part of the media. I guess you’re talking to the media again right now, but what has that transition been like?
It was really natural, actually. I enjoyed football. I was at the point in my life and my playing career where family took priority. I didn’t want to be moving them across the country just to chase a paycheck. So I decided to hang it up and come home. When the opportunity came to work in college football broadcasting it seemed like a natural fit. I can stay involved in college football, which I love. It is hands down my favorite and I can still maintain a family life at home. The thing I like most about broadcasting is being able to use the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the last 15 years and share it in a way that hopefully fans can learn something from. I would like someone who is watching the game to be able to turn it off on the end and say I learned something. I know more about the game of football than I did three hours ago. It’s also fun watching kids play. There is nothing like the excitement of college football. I am glad to be a part of it again.