My Pick: Oregon (5-0) at UCLA (5-0)
Other Possibilities: Texas (3-2) vs. Oklahoma (5-0), Georgia (5-0) at Missouri (4-1)
Explanation: This one seems like a no-brainer, since the Ducks and Bruins should be undefeated and ranked in the top 10. Unless Fox hosts this contest (the TV schedule is not yet known), it’s tough to see GameDay not going to Los Angeles.
If ESPN passes on Oregon – UCLA, it still has plenty of options. Both Georgia and Missouri will have solid records at this point, and would give the network a viable SEC option. Similarly, the Red River Showdown (formerly known as the Red River Rivalry and the Red River Shootout) could be an attractive choice, especially if the ‘Horns were to upset Baylor or UCLA early in the season.
My Pick: Michigan State (5-1) at Indiana (5-1)
Other Possibilities: Notre Dame (5-1) at Florida State (6-0)
Explanation: As most of you probably noticed, the Big Ten isn’t mentioned very much in the first half of the season.
That’s why it makes sense to pick this contest. The Hoosiers will be the feel-good story of the Big Ten at this point in the year, entering the game with an unbeaten record in conference play. With first place in the Eastern Division at stake against a Spartan team that will still be in the top 10, Memorial Stadium will be rocking by the time 3:30 rolls around, making this the obvious choice for GameDay, which would naturally want to add new locations to its list of stops whenever it has the chance.
Of course, a Notre Dame upset of Stanford in week six could change things. A Fighting Irish win would likely move them into the top 10, making it very difficult for ESPN to pass up Brian Kelly’s team, even though GameDay might have already traveled to Tallahassee to cover Clemson – FSU earlier in the year.
My Pick: Ohio State (6-0) at Penn State (6-0)
Other Possibilities: South Carolina (7-1) at Auburn (6-0), Ole Miss (6-1) at LSU (7-1)
Explanation: Even though GameDay might be inclined to pick one of the SEC matchups, it makes the most sense to send the crew to Happy Valley. After all, this contest will be the only one that pits two undefeated teams against one another. Considering that Penn State isn’t allowed to play in the postseason this year, the Nittany Lions will probably treat this contest as its bowl game, ready to pull out all the stops to derail OSU’s national championship dreams. That will create a playoff-type atmosphere for this contest, making this environment simply too good to pass up. James Franklin’s presence at Penn State would add a dimension of intrigue and electricity to this game if both teams are unbeaten.
With that said, if either SEC matchup features two unbeaten teams – a big “if” considering that most of the teams in the upper half of the league play each other early in the year – it will get the nod as long as GameDay hasn’t gone to that site already.
My Pick: Auburn (7-0) at Ole Miss (7-1)
Other Possibilities: Stanford (8-0) at Oregon (7-1), Georgia (7-0) vs. Florida (5-2)
Explanation: GameDay will head to Oxford, Mississippi, for week 10.
That’s not to say that the Auburn – Ole Miss contest is the best one on the schedule, because it isn’t. However, ESPN isn’t going to pick a Pac-12 game – even one that will serve a de-facto elimination game for the College Football Playoff – when it has other top-flight matchups to choose from. Since the battle between the Tigers and Rebels will have the greatest impact on a national scale, it deserves the honors in this case.
Of course, if Ole Miss has a couple of losses, GameDay might opt to go to Jacksonville for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. As one of the nation’s most improved teams this year, the Gators will be the talk of the SEC East with a surprisingly fast 5-2 start.
My Pick: Baylor (8-0) at Oklahoma (8-0)
Other Possibilities: Ohio State (8-0) at Michigan State (7-1), Alabama (8-0) at LSU (7-2)
Explanation: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where GameDay is going to for this one. The Baylor – Oklahoma matchup is essentially the Big 12 title game, meaning that the winner has an excellent chance to go the College Football Playoff.
But, if both teams don’t enter the game with unblemished records, things will almost certainly change. In that case, ESPN should strongly consider going to Baton Rouge if it hasn’t done so already, especially if it’s a night game.
It also wouldn’t surprise me if the network went to East Lansing in what was hyped as the Big Ten game of the year until Braxton Miller’s unfortunate injury. While it may have lost its luster, the fact remains that the winner likely win the Big Ten East, and remain in contention for a berth in the playoffs.
My Pick: Auburn (9-0) at Georgia (9-0)
Other Possibilities: Nebraska (8-1) at Wisconsin (8-1), Florida State (9-0) at Miami (7-2)
Explanation: This decision is surprisingly easy. GameDay will go ‘Tween the Hedges. There’s no way that ESPN would pass up a heated rivalry game that features two undefeated teams.
If Georgia and/or Auburn were to lose earlier in the year, ESPN would still have plenty of options. Although Nebraska and Wisconsin would each have a loss, the winner would still have a chance to win the Big Ten title and ultimately gain a shot at the College Football playoff. Moreover, even though Florida State – Miami hasn’t been the same since the ‘Canes joined the ACC in 2004, the words “Wide Right” still resonate with a number of college football fans, making this rivalry a very viable option if the Hurricanes are reasonably good by the time week 12 arrives.
My Pick: UCLA (10-0) at USC (10-1)
Other possibilities: Louisville (7-3) at Notre Dame (8-2)
Explanation: It’s a lot harder for GameDay to find optimal locations on “Cupcake Saturday,” when teams essentially take the week off and play FCS opponents. While it isn’t as bad this season as it has been in the past, there are still too many glorified scrimmages right before Rivalry Week.
With that in mind, the show will pick UCLA – USC even though Fox will probably televise the contest this year. Although this move would likely give Fox some additional exposure, ESPN could use the opportunity to start promoting Rivalry Week to drive ratings for the final week of the season.
However, if the network decides not go in that direction, Louisville – Notre Dame is the only other viable option. All of the other games are complete mismatches.
My Pick: Auburn (10-1) at Alabama (11-0)
Other Possibilities: South Carolina (9-2) at Clemson (9-2)
Explanation: Without question, GameDay will be at the Iron Bowl in 2014. Even though it will be tough to duplicate last year’s epic battle, the Auburn – Alabama contest should again decide the SEC West, and eliminate the loser from the national championship picture. Adding in the “do or die” component to an already electric atmosphere should make this the most watched game of the year, making it the obvious choice to host GameDay.
South Carolina – Clemson is the only real alternative to the Iron Bowl. All of the other national championship-impacting games take place on Friday (after Thanksgiving) or involve teams that GameDay has already covered this year (USC, Florida, and Florida State).
My Pick: SEC Championship Game – Alabama (12-0) vs. Georgia (12-0)
Other Possibilities: None
Explanation: There’s not much to say here. GameDay will set up shop in Atlanta for the final week of the season. The matchup of unbeaten Alabama vs. Georgia will be simply too good for ESPN to pass up.
Those are my projections for where GameDay will end up each week. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to send me a message on Twitter @SectionTPJ.