In a normal year, Kevin Kugler might be getting ready for a Nebraska home game on Saturday.
This is anything but a normal year, of course, and Kugler instead spends his weeks preparing to announce NFL games for Fox.
At either level, preparation is just as key for the people calling the games as it is for the people playing and coaching. There's a deep pool of knowledge to dive into, and play-by-play announcers, such as Kugler, and color commentators have to be able to absorb it before the game and recall it at a moment's notice come Saturdays.
In all, Kugler says, his preparation works out to about three or four hours of prep per hour that the game is on the air — that's 15 to 20 hours per week of immersing himself in the finer points of two different teams and their players over and over through the course of a season.
While the best in the business make it sound seamless, the end product is the result of hours of work that goes on behind the scenes, long before the cameras come on.
The following is Kugler, a Lincoln High graduate, taking us through his most important keys for preparing to call a college football game.
Monday and Tuesday: It's all about reading. Kugler pores over reports from local beat writers, whether they cover Nebraska or Wisconsin or Penn State. Living in Nebraska, Kugler said, makes it a little easier to prepare for Husker games. But the best way to be informed is to read or listen to what the people who see the team every day for an entire season write or say.
"We're dropping in to do a game on a national level, and trying to be as informed as we can about the team," Kugler said. "So really, my week starts with a lot of reading — trying to read as much as I can, reading the columns, reading the articles, reading everything."
On Tuesday, Kugler starts to put together his spotting boards, which feature the rosters, biographical information and statistics for each team, and the stories Kugler wants to share on the air.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: Wednesdays are set for conference calls with the visiting team's coaches — both coordinators, and the head coach. Those talks usually range from just over an hour to an hour and a half, Kugler said, depending on how chatty the coaches are.
Kugler travels on Thursday, giving him all day Friday to allow him and others in the crew to meet in person with the home coaching staff, and maybe a few players.
Well, they used to meet in person, before a pandemic gripped the country. Now, that's all done over phone calls or Zoom meetings. There's a production meeting Friday night for the major players in the broadcast to tie up any final loose ends. Then it's time to rest up for Saturday's game.
Trends and nuggets: "I'm a stat geek, so I like trends," Kugler said of what he focuses on in his preparation. "What are individual trends, what are team trends — I think that speaks to what the team is doing going into that given week."
Trends reveal tendencies as well. For example, how will a strong running team handle a stout rush defense? How does a good passing team attack a scary pass rush?
Then there are the fun facts. Kugler loves obscure bites of knowledge.
"We had one a couple years ago for a Nebraska game that an opponent hadn't been called for a hold against Nebraska in some ridiculous amount of time," Kugler recalled. "And it was one of those things where we found the number, and it happened in our game, and we put it up on the screen and people were like, 'Oh, my gosh!'
"I love those, where people are like, 'Can you believe that?'"
The biggest key: The preparation is critically important. But it all goes for naught if Kugler misses on the pronunciation of a player's name.
"I have to have all the pronunciations right. That's an obsession with me, and when I screw one up — and we all do, it's inevitable — when you screw one up it's just like, 'ugh'. It's this pain in my gut. So I try to avoid that pain in my gut by going over and over and over it time and time again."
That's the thing people remember, Kugler said. A broadcaster might know every fact there is to know about a team. But mess up a name, and it looks like you didn't do your homework.
"I understand why people feel that way because I do the same thing," Kugler said. "I'm watching a game, and somebody says the name wrong, and I'm like, 'Ugh, that's not right. You didn't even prep!'"
Moving on: Ask Kugler the score of the game he called a few days later, and chances are he won't remember it.
That comes with the territory of having to learn about two new teams every week. As soon as one game is over, the prep for the next game begins.
"It's one of those things where you train yourself to just make it go away as fast as you can, because you've got to cram your brain full of information about two new teams the next week," Kugler said. "So I flush it pretty quick after a game."
There's always a new story to tell, a new nugget to be found, a new fact to unearth. The teams may change, but the preparation stays the same.