This Saturday, ESPN's College GameDay will be taking place from Evanston, Illinois at the Ohio State-Northwestern game. It's only the second time GameDay has been to Evanston (with a trip to Wrigley Field in 2010 also in the mix), with the other time taking place in 1995 when GameDay wasn't as huge of a deal as it is now.
The enthusiasm from the university has been something that GameDay has generally lacked in recent years, as it seems to go to the same few schools over and over again. I mean, have you ever seen a school like LSU, Texas, or Oregon put together a video like this to hype GameDay?
In recent years, GameDay has gotten a little creative, but not too much. Two weeks ago, they went to North Dakota State, the first visit to an FCS school since 2008. Last year, they spent a Saturday aboard the USS San Diego, which was a pretty cool atmosphere. But really, breaking the mold is the exception rather than the rule. It almost seems like once a year, GameDay will go to a site off the beaten path. In addition to the sites I already mentioned, GameDay went to Houston in 2011 (though Houston is a *huge* market overall), Colorado Springs in 2009 for Army vs Air Force, and Nashville in 2008 for the Auburn vs Vanderbilt game.
GameDay going to larger sites is really more of a statement about the current landscape of college football. Over the last season and a half, GameDay has gone to SEC schools seven times. Three of those games have involved Florida, and two each have involved Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. Overkill much? Well, those are all perennial powers that are ranked in the top ten, so it makes sense for GameDay to go to those sites.
But last year, things just got to be too much. Florida was featured (albeit on the road both times) in back to back weeks, and three times over a seven week period. South Carolina appeared twice in three weeks. Notre Dame appeared twice in three weeks, and three times over a seven week span. USC and Oregon have hosted a combined eight GameDays since 2008, while the rest of the Pac-12 has hosted a total of four – and one of those game when Utah was in the Mountain West. In case you're curious, Oregon was the road team in all three of those Pac-12 conference games.
I'm not saying GameDay needs to completely ignore the same batch of schools, but just mix it up a little bit. Next week, Florida vs LSU looks like the obvious host site. But what about Oregon vs Washington? Seattle has never hosted GameDay, and while Oregon is featured a lot, Steve Sarkisian's team would be a perfect host, especially if they upset Stanford this weekend. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies are getting a lot of ESPN face time over the last year, but what about Ole Miss? Like Seattle, Oxford has never hosted GameDay before, and throwing the GameDay crew in the middle of the Grove would be an awesome atmosphere that we haven't seen before from them. Stanford vs Utah is one that could be in play too, given that the Cardinal holds off the Huskies and the Utes upset UCLA tonight on Fox Sports 1.
Speaking of Fox Sports 1, Fox College Saturday is dying a painful death in their ratings battle with GameDay. Maybe FS1 should try to mix things up and bring their show on the road to some of these neglected venues. If GameDay won't go to Seattle, how about Fox goes, which makes sense since they'll be broadcasting next weekend's game? If you're a fan of a school that has had a lengthy GameDay drought, wouldn't you welcome any live broadcast from campus with open arms?
ESPN has done a good job at trying to keep GameDay fresh over the years. Expanding the show, introducing new personalities, and making it more of an event to those on campus have been excellent decisions. Yet, you can almost map out their destinations weeks in advance, and I'm really not sure what there is to gain from going to Death Valley in Baton Rouge for a tenth time as opposed to going to somewhere you've never been before.