COLUMBIA – The SEC Network, the highly anticipated college sports station that launched two weeks ago, is here and preparing for its first-ever football game broadcast.
When Texas A&M faces No. 9-ranked South Carolina at 6 tonight, the network hopes to have its 62 million subscribers fired up and ready.
"We are going to reflect the atmosphere that is unique to the SEC," said SEC Network lead broadcaster Joe Tessitore. "There is nothing like SEC football. When I say that, I'm not talking college football. I'm talking an American sport.
"This is an event. Game day in the SEC is an event. The tradition, the pageantry, the tailgating, the energy, the fans — we're going to put a good mirror up to that and reflect that to the rest of the country, and I think everybody is going to be blown away."
Make no mistake, Thusday's game is a big deal for the network, which is available on, among others, AT&T U-Verse, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, and Dish.
"Texas A&M at South Carolina is going to be for us a little bit like a bowl game or a championship game in how we are going treat it," Stephanie Druley, the SEC Network's vice president of production, told Forbes.com. "The night is going to feel big, starting with an onsite pregame show that we will do every week. But for this night, we have added more cameras and more bells and whistles."
The SEC Network is building permanent sets in each of the conference's communities, including one located in Carolina Park across the street from Williams-Brice Stadium. Its goal is interaction with local fans, Tessitore said, which will set the SEC Network apart from similar shows on other sports networks.
"One thing SEC Nation is going to do is really infuse itself with the surroundings and the atmosphere," Tessitore said. "We're not going to sit up here on a pedestal on the set. We're going to be down here in the tailgate.
"If I see good enough barbecue, I'm coming off that set and I'm eating, I'm telling you right now. We're going to do a segment at the Cockabooses, we're going to have tailgating, we're going to bring the guys from the local chicken wings here, the 2-fat 2-fly guys, for a taste test."
Tessitore will be joined on the set by former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, former LSU standout and Dallas Cowboys player Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum, who probably has a bigger SEC brand than anyone else in the league.
"I'm excited," Tebow said. "But for me, it's just talking ball. It is something I've done in my living room since I was 6 years old and something I love to do. I love watching these teams, studying them, talking to players, coaches, just understanding what they are trying to do in their game plans and talking about it."
Spears recently predicted the Gamecocks to win the SEC title. He didn't back away from the prediction on Wednesday.
"I feel good about the team," Spears said of the Gamecocks. "I think they have all of the talent it takes to win in the SEC. They're built the right way — offensive line, great running back and Dylan Thompson, who we think is going to be a successful quarterback in this league.
"Then, on defense, you lose Jadeveon Clowney but you still have that continuity. You have guys in the right positions. A little young in the secondary, so that is a concern for everybody. But I think they will be fine.
"If they beat Georgia and Florida, who we think will have a resurgence this year, Carolina may be in the College Football Playoff.