On the move with Beth Mowins

ESPN play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins was a busy woman for the 18 days. She's broadcasted four sports -- college football, women's soccer and basketball, and the women's volleyball selection show --- from various spots around the country. Mowins invited everybody on her trip through her dispatches from the road. Early mornings, planes, rental cars, hotels, changing weather and late nights were involved.

Monday, Dec. 5, 10:24 a.m., Beth's home, San Diego

I finally made it home and what a wonderful trip it's been. This is a great time of year because of the variety of sports I get to cover and because national championships are on the line.

Congratulations to Stanford for winning the College Cup in dramatic fashion! Now my attention turns to the volleyball tournament for the next two weeks and seeing whether Penn State can make it five titles in a row.

I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have and I look forward to seeing on the road in the near future.

Sunday, Dec. 4, 9:24 a.m., Hotel room, Kennesaw, Ga.

My backside is dragging a bit on this Sunday morning but the end is in sight on my 18-day excursion. Covering four sports in two weeks is a challenge, but it's one well worth taking -- especially when national championships are involved.

And that's what buoys my spirits today as either Stanford or Duke will take home the College Cup for the first time.

There is also the added bonus of having seen both teams just a couple of days ago, which eases the preparation tremendously. I am already familiar with names and numbers and storylines. All we needed to do Saturday was go to practice and press conferences.

It's important to check back in with the teams to see about any injuries or illnesses that may have popped up in the last 24 hours. Analyst Julie Foudy and I will also pull the coach or an assistant aside by ourselves to talk more in-depth strategy or lineup adjustments. We do this so the coach does not have to share the information in the public press conference and then find that his secret game plan is online by dinnertime.

An interesting sidebar for the final is the fact that both teams have a player who grew up in the shadows of the Duke and Stanford campuses. Even at institutions that recruit nationally and have rosters with players from all over the country, there is some local flavor and a story to which any of us can relate.

Blue Devil semifinal hero Mollie Pathman used to make cupcakes and cookies with her U-10 team and bring them to the Duke games to give to the players. Cardinal senior Teresa Noyola went to high school in Palo Alto, literally across the street from the Stanford campus, and used to go to soccer games with her dad. As youngsters, both women dreamed of a day like today and are actually getting a chance to live it.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

Dinner at Trackside restaurant in Kennesaw with dear old friends. Good Southern hospitality for a bunch of transplanted Northerners.

Saturday nights at the championships are a time to rest and relax. Most of the crew heads to dinner at a Thai restaurant, but sometimes us TV types get to hob-nob with the power brokers! I had the pleasure of dining with Kennesaw State Athletic Director Vaughn Williams, his wife Eileen, and Boston College Administrator Amy LaCombe. The Williams' have been gracious hosts for the College Cup and they are old friends from his days at UConn and her days at our alma mater, Lafayette. LaCombe and I have been friends since childhood.

One of the advantages of having been in this business for so long is that you tend to know people wherever you travel and it's nice to have dinner and conversation with familiar faces.

Back at the hotel I log on to the NCAA website to check scores from the volleyball tournament with second round action in full swing. I already have game notes printed out for the four teams expected to be in Minneapolis for the regional that I will cover next weekend with Karch Kiraly. The seeds hold so I will have plenty of reading material on the flight home after the soccer match.

I make a quick call to Delta to see about an earlier flight home Sunday afternoon just in case. As frequent fliers, we want a contingency plan, but we also try our best never to mention overtime or penalty kicks or weather delays. It's like being in the dugout with a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. Don't talk about it.

Once you confirm plans to catch an earlier flight...or once someone in the production truck utters the phrase, "Gosh this game is moving along so quickly, we're ahead of schedule"...you are doomed!

But for our blog purposes I will share with you that barring overtime and a 3 p.m. finish, there is a 4:30 direct flight that I will make a run at. (I will tweet whether I made it @bamwins.)

With that in mind I have already been to FedEx to ship home the extra bag that I checked on my way to the College Cup. I will often ship a bag home from the road because it is better than the alternative.

In most instances, at all costs, do NOT check a bag. Especially during the holiday season. You have more flexibility to switch flights, switch airlines or even leave the airport and get a rental car to drive to your next destination. If the airline has your bag, they also have you.

In my early days I once did a basketball game at Kentucky and my checked bag did not arrive with me. I landed in Lexington late on a Saturday night with all the stores closed. I had to be at the gym at 10 a.m. Sunday morning with none of the stores open.

I called the game in the same sweater and a pair of jeans I had flown with. We did the shortest on-camera open in TV history. After the game when I went back to the airport, I walked through baggage claim and there was my checked bag just arriving on the baggage belt. I picked up my bag, walked over to the ticket counter...and promptly checked the bag back in for my flight home. It did not make it back with me either. Ugh.

Back to present day and let's hope for a thrilling finish to the College Cup!

Thursday, Dec. 1, 5:18 p.m., Hotel room, Kennesaw, Ga.

For the viewers, the College Cup begins Friday with the semifinal doubleheaders. But for the announcers and crew it actually begins Thursday with interviews of all four semifinal teams.

We sit in a little conference room and talk with the coaches and players to get a better perspective on the teams. It makes for a long day with about an hour for each team ... but it is invaluable to our game preparation.

It is at these meetings where we discover whether a team is changing its formation or its lineup. It's where the coaches may or may not share their strategy and game plan. Some coaches are much more open than others.

It is also at these meetings where we discover neat little nuggets that we drop into the telecast and you may be scratching your head as a viewer thinking, "Man, how do they know that?".

Today was fun because three of the four teams are new to the College Cup and you could sense their excitement. The team that has been here before is Stanford. The Cardinal told us they are trying not to think about disappointing losses in the last two Cups and are focused on not just reaching the finish line, but "running through the finish line".

As for the other nuggets we jotted down to use on Friday night ... Florida State's Tiffany McCarty "breathes to score" according to her coach Mark Krikorian. The Duke defenders put an "X" on their wristbands for each of their school-record 16 shutouts this year. And Wake Forest teammates Katie Stengel and Aubrey Bledsoe are so competitive, their rivalry extends to getting better grades in their chemistry class. (the goal-scoring Stengel has a slight lead over goal-keeper Bledsoe).

After the interviews we have some free time before a production meeting so I catch up on emails to see what else is happening in the world. I love the Christmas holidays so I swing by the drug store for some Christmas music and a scented candle to officially ring in December and give my hotel room a bit more of a homey feel.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

Beth Mowins preps with members of the Duke soccer team 24-hours before the College Cup semifinals.

The multi-tasking continues with some soccer research, a listen to the Michelle Beadle podcast and one eye on Pardon the Interruption on the TV. At some point I will have to check out On-Demand for the recent episodes of Castle, NCIS and Modern Family that I missed earlier in the week.

Tonight is a working dinner/production meeting at Ruth's Chris to go over our game plan for the semifinal doubleheader. We will work out storylines, on-camera segments and logistical stuff like who gets the hot chocolate and electric blankets for a chilly Kennesaw night. We are in good hands with a veteran producer Beth Chappell and director Bob Frattaroli.

Bob is a food aficionado, so at the steakhouse we always adhere to the "Frattaroli Rule"... don't eat any dish that has traveled farther than you have to get here. #nofishtonite

Tuesday, Nov. 29, 11:16 a.m., San Diego, Beth's home

Home sweet home! At least for a couple of days as my 18-day adventure stops in San Diego. My trip to Charlotte was rather uneventful, which is a very good thing. The last thing I like on road trips are surprises from airlines, hotels or rental car places.

Sunday night I was in the studio at espnU for the volleyball selection show with Karch Kiraly. Ooohh, I love my job! This trip has paired me up with Karch, Mike Bellotti, Rebecca Lobo and the anchor leg will be with Julie Foudy and Monica Gonzalez at the College Cup this weekend.

As a youngster, when I realized I probably wasn't going to be a superstar athlete, I made the conscious decision to pursue play-by-play. That has put me in the position of being able to work with superstar-athletes-turned analysts.

In the volleyball community, Karch is as big as it gets, and yet he is the most humble, level-headed guy you could find. He has a wonderful perspective on the sport, the politics, the coaching and all the personalities who make up the college game. I learn something new whenever we work together.

There is a basketball studio show taking place right before we go on air so it is a scramble to hop into the seats occupied by anchors Dari Nowkhah and Adrian Branch just as they are leaving. We do a quick microphone check, get a last-minute makeup touch-up, bump knuckles and then we are off and running.

The volleyball selection show is 22 minutes of content to unveil a 64-team bracket, talk to two coaches and spend a few minutes trying to make sense of it all. Not much time.

As is usually the case, it is not hard to find something controversial about the bracket and our attention quickly focuses on the Honolulu Regional. The top-three teams in the coaches' poll all end up in the same bracket with questionable seeds: Nebraska is at No. 2, USC at 7 and Cal doesn't even get a top-16 seed. There is no apparent reward for winning the two toughest conferences in the country, the Big 10 and the Pac-12.

After the show there is no time to dilly-dally. I have to print out game notes and stats for the College Cup teams so I can study on the plane. The College Cup starts with team interviews Thursday. It is a bit of good fortune that three of the four teams are from the ACC. Yours truly happened to call the ACC tournament several weeks ago. Stanford is the fourth team and I am very familiar with them since they've been at College Cup the past three seasons.

Nonetheless, it's still more than 125 pages of notes stacked more than an inch high. That doesn't include newspaper clippings and online stories I will collect in the next few days.

Monday in San Diego is spent at the car dealership getting some repairs, paying bills (all online for me) and doing laundry. Ah, the glamorous TV life meets the mundane chores of home. Monday night makes it all worthwhile as I get to hang out with my family. My nephew is 6 years old and loves sports. I throw him the football and he makes diving catches on the trampoline in the back yard. He likes Philip Rivers and Darren McFadden, but he's paying more attention to Tim Tebow and Tom Brady because he's going to see Denver play New England in December.

Tuesday it's back to work on my soccer prep and packing for the College Cup in Atlanta. I also have to multi-task with an interview for the espnW basketball podcast. Our guest for next week's show is the lovely and talented Lobo. Tune in next Tuesday to hear about UConn, Geno Auriemma, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund and potty training. We cover all the bases.

Sunday, Nov. 27, 8:27 a.m., Hotel room, Charlotte, N.C.

Saturday started with plenty of drama at the Rutgers vs. UConn football game. It did not end that way. The Scarlet Knights had a chance to earn a share of the school's first Big East title, but Connecticut had other plans and ran away with a 40-22 win to keep its own bowl hopes alive.

I see that in every sport, especially when it's a young team playing in a big game. Rutgers did not handle the pressure well, turning the ball over early and often to sabotage its championship aspirations.

It is one of those special things about competition, whether it's a college football game, the College Cup or the Women's College World Series. When the stakes get higher and that goal you have dreamed about is suddenly attainable, it affects you mentally and physically. It is a great learning experience that gets you ready for the next big game, and hopefully you react in a more positive way.

This is also part of the student-athlete experience and skills I use every day in the real world. I played college basketball at Lafayette College. In my four years, besides developing a better outside shot and an affinity for Mark Twain books, I learned time management, stress management and pressure management.

I don't remember the scores of any games or the grades in any classes, but I vividly recall my friends and teammates and how we pulled one another through difficult challenges. I discovered I was strong enough to get through just about anything. I hope student-athletes today have similar experiences on and off the field.


Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

<i> Mowin's pregame routine included watching "College GameDay" before she called the UConn-Rutgers game.</i>

Back to our regularly scheduled program. When we have a blowout in a game, we have to "fill." That's the TV term for "start talking about stories and big-picture topics in an effort to keep the viewer interested." In a game that's gotten out of hand, it is not as important to continue calling a true play-by-play of the game.

It's fitting that we had to fill at UConn, because it is the home base for Huskies women's basketball radio announcer Bob Joyce. He has had to call so many UConn women's basketball routs over the years that whenever I have to "fill," I simply say I'm "Bob Joycing" it. It's a running joke whenever we see each other.

Fill topics can include the BCS standings, bowl projections and your bowl of cereal that morning. Analyst Mike Bellotti and I spend our time talking about the other big games of the day and the need for a playoff in college football. Can anyone explain why we can't have a playoff and keep the lower-tier bowl games? Those bowls still matter to the players and fans of those schools.

My favorite story of the day comes from producer Bart Fox, who worked on the Chicago Thanksgiving Day parade. We all get a kick out of the tale of Bart airing a segment about turkey carving and then immediately cutting to a shot of Big Bird in the parade. Nice.

We didn't mention that story during the football game, so I share it with you now. By the way, if you Google Big Bird, Sesame Street claims he is a golden condor. I have been interested in breeds of animals ever since my days announcing dog shows. That's right ... dog shows. If you haven't seen the movie "Best in Show," do yourself a favor and watch it.

I have already moved on to the prep work for the NCAA Volleyball Selection Show on ESPNU. That requires index cards of information I can hold in the studio and have at my fingertips at a moment's notice. We have a plan for how a studio show should run, but you still have to prepared for the unexpected. Can Penn State win a fifth championship in a row?

Thursday, Nov. 24, 3:26 p.m., Friends' house, Syracuse, N.Y.

Hope everyone is enjoying a happy Thanksgiving weekend. Mine is a little bit of work but mostly relaxing and enjoying time with friends I've known since high school.

Wednesday was dedicated to UConn study and the coaches' call with the head coach and coordinators. Thursday is time for Rutgers prep.

Talking with coaches is such a valuable part of game prep that I really miss it if I can't get on the phone or get some face time. But coaches' availability is based on their schedule and not that of the announcers, so sometimes you just can't make it. Thanksgiving afternoon is the only time Rutgers is available, but as a guest at a friend's house, I'm not sure if I will be able to get on the call.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

Fantasy football is a family affair, especially on Thanksgiving with Jessica and Nick.

Taking coaches' calls and conference calls can be a fluid situation when you travel a lot and work multiple sports. You may have a couple of calls a day, maybe a couple at the same time, or you may have to take calls in some interesting places.

I decided long ago not to be held prisoner to phone calls and go about living my daily life. I just take them on the road and excuse myself for a few minutes. I always have a pen and paper on my person, because you never know where the next nugget of news will come from.

Among the places I have at least answered a call and muted to listen (for the good of the game, of course) include highway rest stops, powder rooms, Yankee Stadium, movie theaters while the previews are playing, doctors' waiting rooms, tailgates, sitting poolside, jogging and in the Nordstrom shoe department during the semiannual sale. Gotta get the work done.

I will be heading back to Hartford, Conn., for the UConn-Rutgers football game Saturday. Rutgers is attempting a worst-to-first move in the Big East. That would be a first in league history.

Until then, the holiday is time to get in the kitchen to make homemade cavatelli and get in the family room to follow fantasy football!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 11:27 p.m., Friends' house, Syracuse, N.Y.

Tuesday is a travel day from Hartford, Conn., to Syracuse for a few days off for Thanksgiving. Last year I was in a hotel on Thanksgiving, so it's nice to be able to spend the holiday with friends in Syracuse. I can't make it home to San Diego and I will miss my family, but old friends who I grew up with are the next best thing.

Before I left Hartford, I stopped by a FedEx Office to print notes for the football game this Saturday. Often, the hotel business center can't handle printing more than 100 pages of notes and stats, and I don't want to burden friends by using that much ink.

After the four-hour drive to Syracuse, I set up at my friends' kitchen table and got to work on my football research for a couple of hours. My friends all have kids, and I wanted to get my work done before they get home from school so we could relax and have some fun.

When I do my research, I am still old school in many ways. I like to physically hold the information in my hands, highlight notes, dog-ear pages and underline newspaper clippings. So when I am gathering information for a game, I prefer to print information out rather than scrolling through it on the computer.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

The game board Beth Mowins will use when calling the UConn-Rutgers game.

I am also no good with Excel, so I hand write my game boards for use during games. Many announcers input the info into Excel for a printout to have in the press box. I write mine out with Sharpies, colored pens and pencils. It helps me memorize names and numbers.

One side of the game board features the Rutgers offense and UConn defense. You flip it over when UConn has the ball to show the Huskies offense and Rutgers defense. I've included a photo of the game board in its early stages and will fill it in with more stuff after talking to the coaches in the next two days.

If it's a close game, I rarely refer to the game board and just talk football and strategy. But if the game turns into a rout, my game board includes stories to tell, BCS rankings to talk "big picture" and even some nuggets about the other games later in the day on ESPN.

There will be more work tomorrow, but this evening it's time to enjoy the innocence of kids at play. I'm heading out with a few friends to watch some of their children at lacrosse practice and will be transported back to my own childhood. And yes, I have to fend off the urge to start calling play-by-play of their scrimmage.

On football Saturdays, I may have to talk about lockouts and buyouts and the latest news from Penn State, but tonight I get to just listen and enjoy stories of teenage crushes, mouth guards designed specifically for teeth with braces and the latest episode of "Modern Family" (big Phil Dunphy fan). It's the perfect momentary getaway to fill my mind with fond memories of Chuck Taylors, pregame PB&Js and orange slices to suck on at halftime.

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 12:22 a.m., Hotel room, Hartford, Conn.

Monday is game day in Hartford for the UConn versus Stanford women's basketball game between a couple of top-5 teams. Game days are all about planning. You've got to eat, study, go to practice, get in a workout, eat again and get ready to look your best.

My usual strategy is an early wakeup with oatmeal for breakfast, and then I try to get a workout in. I don't like to eat anything heavy or spicy. I have a sensitive stomach, and calling a game on an upset stomach is never fun. It can also affect your voice.

The workout has to come early because I have to block out at least an hour to shower and do hair and makeup. I try to get that done before practice just in case things change in the afternoon and prep time gets crunched.

The big thing on game days for basketball is the early afternoon ritual of a shootaround, a light practice that may last only an hour and is primarily used to go over the scouting report and specific game strategy. It is also our chance as announcers to chat with the coaches. They will stop by to talk with us sitting courtside.

The information we receive is different based on who the coach is. Some will tell you a lot, some very little. UConn's Geno Auriemma and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer are veterans who understand the importance of sharing info with us to help shine a positive light on the team without sugar-coating things.

Courtesy of Beth Mowins

Beth Mowins records her podcast in her hotel room with her laundry laid out on the cabinet behind her.

Shootaround chats with coaches allow announcers to bring the viewer behind the scenes and describe what's happening when the gyms are empty and it's just the team working on their own. It's one of my favorite moments as a sportscaster, being privy to how coaches run their teams and how players respond in unique ways. Both coaches and the players seemed loose, yet confident in their abilities. It would be no surprise to see both teams back in the Final Four.

The game goes off without a hitch, and we are pleased with the production. Neither team plays well early, but they bounce back to put on quite a show. UConn freshmen Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scores 25 points to lead the Huskies to a win, extending a home-court win streak to 86 games.

One of the real joys of my job is the chance to work with analysts who are former superstars or coaches. They also happen to be real people who are just a pleasure to hang around. Rebecca Lobo is one such person. I worked with her when she first started broadcasting shortly after she graduated from UConn more than a decade ago. She has honed her craft as an announcer and has really become top notch. Tonight was a treat because we also welcomed Maya Moore onto the telecast for a few minutes to talk about the game.

In the morning, it's off to Syracuse, N.Y., for Thanksgiving, finding time here and there to get some homework done. Next weekend, college football and college volleyball are on tap.

Sunday, Nov. 20, 10:53 p.m. Hotel room, Hartford, Conn.

Things were kind of quiet today on the extended road trip. Sundays in the fall are usually a day to relax, get away from work and recharge the batteries. It's also a day to watch more football.

I grew up a Cowboys fan in the heyday of Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Ed "Too Tall" Jones. The Cowboys-Redskins game is always the biggest game of the year for me and it did not disappoint Sunday with an overtime win for Dallas. I hope I did not bother the other people in the hotel fitness room with my yelling at the TV from the treadmill. The fact that Jason Witten is also on my fantasy team only adds to the drama!

TV people are often asked how hard it is to not cheer for our favorite teams. First of all, we are fans of the game just like you are. That's why we pursued a career as a sportscaster. But our professionalism and integrity always takes precedence when we are working.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

Binoculars in hand, Elizabeth Mowins checks out pregame warm-ups for the Wisconsin-Illinois football game on Saturday.

If I ever get the chance to call a Cowboys game, the viewer would never be able to tell that I grew up with a Drew Pearson poster on my wall. Every announcer had favorite teams growing up. If we are perceived to be a homer, our career is over, so we tend to avoid that. We are trained to call the game without prejudice. TV people root for an entertaining show with a fantastic finish. That's it. If we get that, it's a great game.

We don't have a rooting interest. We have an interest in watching people excel and then coming up with creative ways to describe it.

And here's another urban legend I need to debunk: Female sportscasters do NOT intentionally dress in school colors.

If I happen to wear a red dress for the Stanford basketball game Monday, it doesn't mean I'm supporting Stanford. It just means red looks good on TV and we like to wear what makes us look good.

Having said that, I think I will go with a green DVF wrap dress and my new boots ... because that looks even better than red.

A little Jimmy Chitwood, a little Jimmy Choo.

Sundays can also be a day for dealing with curve balls. Occasionally our schedule can change in an instant, as we get word that our crew will not work the Syracuse football game next Saturday as planned. Instead we will be at the Rutgers-UConn game in Hartford as the Scarlet Knights attempt to win the Big East.

That means I will still go to Syracuse to visit friends for Thanksgiving, but Friday I will make the drive back to Hartford for Saturday's game. It also means the preliminary research on Syracuse and Cincinnati that I did last week goes down the tubes.

So instead of a Saturday inside the climate-controlled Carrier Dome, I will have to deal with the elements of an open-air press box at Rentschler Field and potential inclement weather. I, of course, used this as an excuse to head to Nordstrom to get some winter pants and a sweater just in case the weather chills out.

I have to be prepared ... and I cannot walk away from the tomato basil soup in the Nordy's Cafe. Woman cannot live on parmesan bread alone!

The rest of my Sunday includes dinner with some co-workers at the Trumbull Kitchen in downtown Hartford for the seafood pad Thai. There is also a stop at Target to pick up some poster board, markers and Sharpies to prep for football next week, as well as the NCAA volleyball selection show.

I want to get my work done by Wednesday so I can relax and enjoy cranberry sauce from the can, sweet potatoes, extra stuffing ... and fond memories of Clint Longley's Hail Mary pass to beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day 1974.

Sunday, Nov. 20, 12:29 a.m. Hotel room, Hartford, Conn.

Saturday started with a 6 a.m. wakeup call in Champaign, Ill., and ended near midnight in a hotel in Hartford. Day 3 on my journey includes the Wisconsin-Illinois football game and then a trip east for the Stanford-Connecticut women's basketball game Monday.

I have to get a good breakfast and some coffee to get me going in the morning. I finalize my game prep, check the papers, catch some "SportsCenter" or "College GameDay" and then hit the showers. In most instances when we are on the road, we handle our own hair and makeup. Then a runner comes to take us over to the stadium about two hours before kickoff.

Courtesy of Beth Mowins

Beth Mowins takes some timeout from game prep and department store hopping to fill readers in on her relaxing Sunday.

Pregame varies depending on the weather and our location in the press box. It's a nasty day weather-wise so it's not the best idea to head down to the field to talk to coaches. I stay indoors and roam the press box to talk with radio or newspaper folks I've gotten to know over the years. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez stops by to say hello, and Heisman trophy winner Eddie George is a couple of booths away from us calling the game on the radio.

Our statistician, John Maddrey, gets us laughing with his Heisman Trophy story. Years ago an anonymous guy in the TV booth asked John if he needed anything. "Since you ask," John said, "I'd love a hot dog." Only later, after the guy had left and Maddrey finished his dog, did John find out that the anonymous man in the booth was former Nebraska QB Eric Crouch.

Crouch had just stopped by to say hello to a friend. He was nice enough to go get the hot dog. Now Maddrey has a great story we can all relish. (Sorry, had to do it.)

The game goes well, with Illinois jumping out to the first-half lead, only to let it slip away in the second half, with three turnovers aiding the Wisconsin comeback. Badgers win it 28-17.

After the final whistle is when the fun begins. It's a mad dash to get out of the stadium and get out of town to get on that airplane home (or in this case, on to the next event).

Mike Bellotti, director Kelly Atkinson and I have a brisk quarter-mile walk to get to the car. Our jaunt gets interrupted by a local police officer who is none too pleased at our attempt to jaywalk across the street. Oops.

Part of our weekly ritual is to secure an exit strategy to get out of a stadium, away from game traffic and on our way to the airport quickly. For afternoon kicks, we don't dilly-dally when we have a chance to catch a flight and get out of town. Sometimes that requires a police escort but that's not necessary today.

We drive a couple of hours north to O'Hare Airport for a two-hour flight to Hartford. Travel wasn't too bad, and I reach the hotel just in time to watch Oregon miss a late field goal against USC. Moments later Baylor stuns Oklahoma with a late TD. It's a crazy weekend in college football, with four of the top seven teams taking a tumble.

Time for some rest and then it's on to hoops!

Friday, Nov. 18, 10:55 p.m. Hotel room, Champaign, Ill.

It's Day 2 of my extended road trip covering four different sports in the next couple of weeks. Thursday night, some of the crew headed over to Assembly Hall for an Illinois basketball game. It's nice to get a little bit of R&R before getting down to work Friday. It was fun to be a fan and actually watch the game!

Fridays before a football Saturday can be hectic. My day begins by hopping on the internet to check out ESPN.com as well as the sites for the football teams' local newspapers and bloggers. I also take a few minutes on the phone with a reporter in Hartford who wants to talk about the UConn vs. Stanford women's game that I will be covering Monday night. Multitasking is a must! Does Stanford have good enough guard play to handle pressure?

Then it's back to football and off to film study in the Illinois football offices around 9:30. I join the producer, director and analyst to watch film from last week's games for Illinois and Wisconsin. We look for tendencies, alignments and personnel and then come up with our own scouting report of what to watch for in our game.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mowins

Beth Mowins watches game film with ESPN analyst Mike Belotti, left, and director Kelly Atkinson.

After a couple of hours of tape, by 11:30 we meet with Illinois coach Ron Zook, as well as the team's offensive and defensive coordinators. Those meetings last an hour and a half and give us a chance to ask questions and share thoughts about the Illinois players and their game plan. They are meetings that include privileged information coaches share with us, trusting that we won't reveal any secrets before the game begins.

We follow that up with lunch at Panera Bread with some of the crew. It's a great day for soup (windy, chilly, 50s). The conversation is all about the other sports stories of the day, including Penn State, Syracuse and the tragic deaths of the coaches at Oklahoma State. It can be tough to concentrate on game prep on days like today with the off-field events demanding so much energy and emotion.

Afternoons are a good time to hit the fitness room back at the hotel and get on the treadmill for awhile. It helps to clear my head and refocus. Often on the treadmill is when I will work on memorizing players names and numbers.

Several of us then head out for an early dinner at a good Italian restaurant up the street. I would highly recommend the butternut squash ravioli at Biaggi's!

At 7 p.m. we are back in the hotel's Nittany Lion meeting room (the rooms are all named after Big Ten mascots) for our production meeting. For an hour we talk about keys to the game, main storylines, graphics, promos and anything else that might pop up during the course of the game.

I end the night back in my room studying my game board, which is the "cheat sheet" of information I keep in front of me during the game. I also make some phone calls and send emails regarding the espnW podcast coming up Monday. The breaking news from Oklahoma State and the Sunday showdown in women's basketball between Baylor and Notre Dame have us scrambling to make final preparations.

And lastly, with the Oklahoma State football game on ESPN in the background I have to take a few minutes to check NCAA women's soccer scores with second-round action going on tonight around the country! Any more upsets???

Gotta get plenty of rest ... 6 a.m. wakeup Saturday for a little more studying and then I shut it down and head to the stadium for Illinois and Wisconsin football!

Thursday, Nov. 17, 11 p.m. Hotel room, Champaign, Ill.

For the next 18 days I have the privilege of hitting the open road to cover a wide variety of sports for ESPN, and you get to come along for the ride.

Courtesy of Beth Mowins

Beth Mowins watched the Illinois basketball team defeat Lipscomb Thursday night with ESPN football associate producer Jason Greenberg, left, and Kelly Atkinson.

I left San Diego on Thursday and started on a journey that will include four different sports, involving six games and a studio show. It starts in Champaign with Saturday's Illinois vs. Wisconsin football game.

If you ever have wondered what announcers do while not on the air calling the game, then this is the trip for you. I will file reports to take you behind the scenes, play by play and day by day.

The challenge is to keep my head on straight, be informative and entertaining on the air, and have fun with the good people I have the chance to work with. Friends refer to me as "America's Houseguest" on trips such as these. I will pass through at least seven airports and lay my head down in hotel rooms or friends' couches in six cities. If I'm lucky, I can even get home for a couple of days.

Thanksgiving will be at a friend's house, and forgotten supplies have to be picked up at the nearest Staples. There undoubtedly will be liquids confiscated by overzealous TSA airport agents. They can be replaced by purchases at the Target up the street from the hotel.

My constant companion is my iPhone. I need the GPS to get around in cities once I land. I need the Notes to jot down my hotel room number and the location of my rental car in the parking lot so I don't forget them. I need the Sudoku, ScoreCenter and ESPN Fantasy League apps to restore my sanity, and the Starbucks store locator app so I can get my morning lattes.

Seven events in 18 days covering four sports: football, basketball, soccer and volleyball. And not a single moment feels like work. So come along with America's Houseguest and see what it's like -- play by play, day by day. Oh yeah, there's also a podcast debuting on espnW on Monday. Check it out.

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