Ed Note: The following appears courtesy The Student Section.
It’s time for some good old-fashioned fun with college football’s signature pregame show, the early-morning magnet for fans and curiosity lovers from coast to coast.
Rece Davis replaces Chris Fowler as the host of College GameDay this year, one reason the show will certainly garner a lot of attention in September. After the first few weeks, we’ll settle into the familiar guessing game about the road the GameDay bus will travel.
The twists and turns of the season — its various results and upsets — will naturally steer the GameDay schedule in certain directions. That said, you know that several big games are almost certain to get a slot along the way. Picking nine to eleven GameDay venues (or thereabouts) isn’t the hard part here; it’s getting all of them right through early December.
It’s already official that GameDay will be in Arlington, Texas, for Wisconsin-Alabama in week one, and at the Army-Navy Game on Heisman Saturday in the middle of December to close down the regular season. What about the stops in between?
WEEK TWO: OREGON AT MICHIGAN STATE
This is an easy call, with Oklahoma at Tennessee being the only game that could pull the upset. Sooners-Vols has about a one-percent chance of doing so. No need to waste time on this particular choice.
WEEK THREE: STANFORD AT USC
Auburn at LSU, Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, Stanford at USC, and Ole Miss at Alabama all emerge as legitimate choices. However, LSU has too many questions surrounding it in order to be seen as a top-tier squad worthy of a GameDay visit. Bristol would want to wait to see if the Bayou Bengals are for real. As for Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, the key point to make is that USC goes to South Bend later in the year. ESPN would want to hope that Trojans-Irish is a huge occasion, and would strongly consider a trip to Indiana at that point in time (mid-October).
This is, then, a USC-or-Alabama choice. Alabama’s the more established program right now, but USC is a highly-touted team. The fact that Stanford-USC starts just after 8 p.m. Eastern, and Ole Miss-Bama starts around 9:20, would probably tip the scales in favor of Cardinal-Trojans.
WEEK FOUR: TENNESSEE AT FLORIDA
UCLA at Arizona, BYU at Michigan, Texas A&M versus Arkansas at JerryWorld, Mississippi State at Auburn, and Tennessee at Florida are the games in play here, in what is a very thin schedule. If Stanford-USC is the choice in week three, a second straight Pac-12 locale would be highly improbable, to scratch Arizona. BYU-Michigan is a reach — maybe GameDay would want to have Jim Harbaugh on the set, but does this BYU team move the needle enough? Probably not. Mississippi State-Auburn could be an attractive game, but Mississippi State is supposed to be down this season, and Auburn hosts Alabama later in the season. GameDay might want to leave that slot open for a trip to the Plains.
Is Texas A&M sexy enough to make its clash with Arkansas GameDay-worthy? Tennessee-Florida probably offers enough old-time religion and new-age intrigue (with Jim McElwain now in charge of the Gators) to get the Bristol visit.
WEEK FIVE: ALABAMA AT GEORGIA
Arizona State at UCLA, Arizona at Stanford, Notre Dame at Clemson, and Alabama at Georgia are the primary attractions. ASU-UCLA could be done, because UCLA does not host another game as significant as this one for the rest of the season. Arizona-Stanford is not likely because Stanford hosts Oregon later in the season. Irish-Clemson isn’t likely because Clemson hosts Florida State later in the season. Ultimately, Bama-Georgia is the rather easy call this week. These teams rarely meet, so it’s not an annual SEC matchup. It’s going to be way too attractive for ESPN to pass up.
WEEK SIX: TCU AT KANSAS STATE
This is where a little more analysis is required.
Georgia Tech at Clemson is one game under consideration for this week. Other contests include Arkansas at Alabama (for a look at Bret Bielema and the Hogs), Georgia at Tennessee (if the Dawgs beat Alabama), TCU at Kansas State, Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas, and Wisconsin-Nebraska.
If Georgia plays a big SEC game later in the season, ESPN might want to showcase that one. A trip to Neyland Stadium might not register as much in week six. Oklahoma and Texas have struggled too much to make the Red River Rivalry a GameDay-worthy attraction this year. Having Alabama on in consecutive weeks for non-Auburn opponents might be overkill.
The three games which merit closer attention are Yellow Jackets-Tigers, Horned Frogs-Wildcats, and Badgers-Huskers. The centerpiece is Tech-Clemson.
The added analysis referred to in week six concerns the fact, mentioned above, that Clemson hosts Florida State later in the season. One is forced to look ahead to that week — which is week 10 — and see what competition exists for Seminoles-Tigers. If the competition is stiff, maybe ESPN would then decide to slot Georgia Tech-Clemson here and look for an SEC or Pac-12 spot in week 10, instead of FSU-Clemson.
In week 10, there’s not much to be found: Michigan State at Nebraska, Arizona-USC, LSU-Alabama, Arkansas-Ole Miss, and TCU-Oklahoma State.
Nebraska; both Arizona and USC; LSU; both Arkansas and Ole Miss; and Oklahoma State would all have to be doing reasonably well in week 10 to receive GameDay consideration. FSU-Clemson is a better bet than those contests, so with that in mind, ESPN would probably pass on Georgia Tech-Clemson in week six.
With that issue settled (at least on paper), it’s a two-horse race between Wisconsin-Nebraska — a battle of two new head coaches — and TCU-Kansas State. With Bill Snyder’s team hosting what could be a top-5 group at the time, ESPN would probably feel it important to incorporate the Big 12 into its mix at this point.
WEEK SEVEN: USC AT NOTRE DAME
Only Penn State at Ohio State comes remotely close. Trojans-Irish is a massive favorite in week seven.
WEEK EIGHT: AUBURN AT ARKANSAS
The Gus Malzahn-Bret Bielema tempo-based feud should make for good television, with a game compelling and meaningful enough to carry the day. Florida State-Georgia Tech is an alternative of similar quality, with few additional options available. Does ESPN want to load up on the ACC, though? It will probably return to the SEC before seeking out the ACC a little bit later in the season. This is a 50-50 call, however, and if both Florida State and Georgia Tech are riding high at this point, a dip from either Auburn or Arkansas would make Seminoles-Jackets the top choice.
WEEK NINE: GEORGIA-FLORIDA OR AN FCS OPTION
The conference matchups this week do not hit the sweet spot. It shapes up as an ideal weekend to go off the beaten path, to the FCS or some other non-traditional site. If ESPN goes for a Power 5 conference game, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party would fit pretty well.
WEEK TEN: FLORIDA STATE AT CLEMSON
For the explanation, see week six, above.
WEEK ELEVEN: OREGON AT STANFORD
The Oklahoma-Baylor game is the only other option in the same league.
WEEK TWELVE: MICHIGAN STATE AT OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes will almost certainly get a GameDay slot, being college football’s “it” team. USC-Oregon is also on the docket, but the only way Trojans-Ducks tops Spartans-Irish is if Michigan State is way down and USC lives up to the hype entering week 12. TCU-Oklahoma could steal this spot if Michigan State and USC are both faring a lot worse than expected.
WEEK THIRTEEN: ALABAMA AT AUBURN
The Iron Bowl is a natural, especially in light of the ratings it got last year and the way the 2013 game in Jordan-Hare Stadium concluded. If one or both teams are not in the SEC West hunt, or if the SEC West is damaged goods (with the first-place team having two losses at this stage of the season), Ohio State at Michigan could steal the spot if the Wolverines are better than expected. ESPN would probably not want to visit an Urban Meyer-Jim Harbaugh game unless both teams are appreciably good. If ESPN visited this year, it would convey a strongly-felt sense that it would camp out at The Game on an annual basis.
Baylor at TCU is the best game in week 13, by the way, but it’s a Friday game, so no Saturday origination from Fort Worth.
Is there an outside chance GameDay would hop into Fort Worth for a Friday special and then go to Auburn the next day? Maybe… but don’t count on that happening.
WEEK FOURTEEN: SEC OR PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Ohio State, assuming it makes the Big Ten Championship Game, will likely be a massive favorite over its opponent from the Big Ten West. The Big 12 has no showcase games this week. The ACC Championship Game will almost certainly be a rematch of a regular-season contest, since Florida State and Clemson both play(ed) Georgia Tech.
This leaves the SEC and Pac-12, the two best leagues in 2014 and two very balanced conferences that will both be fighting for spots in the College Football Playoff.
Let’s put it this way in terms of deciding between the two conferences: If USC is in the Pac-12 title game and Missouri (read: not Georgia) is in the SEC title game without a legitimate shot at the playoff, the Pac-12 will get the nod. On balance, the SEC is the likely favorite, but let’s leave this one open.