Host Pat McAfee, center, makes a point while Rece Davis, left, and Lee Corso look on during the ESPN College GameDay show on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, on the Hesburgh Library lawn on the University of Notre Dame campus in South Bend. The show was to highlight the Notre Dame-Ohio State game. (Credit: © GREG SWIERCZ / USA TODAY NETWORK)

College football, like much of the world, is in a state of flux. Yet, amidst this evolution, College GameDay is a familiar presence each Saturday morning. While the show has seen its share of changes in recent years, including the addition of Pat McAfee and Nick Saban alongside the departure of David Pollack, it remains primarily rooted in its traditions.

But nothing about McAfee is traditional.

And unlike many other analysts, McAfee’s career path is anything but conventional. As Rece Davis, a longtime veteran of GameDay, aptly observed on the Stuck In My Thoughts Podcast, McAfee is a media powerhouse who built his empire independent of established media giants.

“He’s a great teammate, and he doesn’t have to be,” Rece Davis said on the Stuck in My Thoughts Podcast, “because he is the hottest thing in sports media. He’s built an empire — independent of any traditional media giant. He can call his own shot, yet he has respect for our show and respect for us, that he has come in, and he has helped us elevate the show. And he’s been a good teammate along the way.”

While McAfee’s unconventional style and occasional controversies make him a divisive figure, he has become a central focus for College GameDay. His on-campus Friday shows, attracting large crowds of his dedicated fanbase, are seen as ESPN’s solution to attract younger viewers who have migrated away from traditional cable TV.

Despite his non-traditional background and independent success, Davis highlights McAfee’s remarkable ability to connect with the audience. In his 30+ years of experience, Davis has never seen anyone quite like him, describing McAfee’s connection as “sensational.

McAfee’s appeal is not limited to his unconventional background, it extends beyond it.

“He’s even winning over some of the older audience,” said Davis. “My wife’s aunt is 88 years old. And when Pat first came on the show, even though she’s a huge sports fan and a huge football fan, she didn’t remember the punter from the Colts or West Virginia punter and kicker. She didn’t know who he was. So, initially, she was, just as you might expect — not a big fan — but as time went on, and she started watching him, I now say, ‘It hurts my feelings that I think you like Pat more than you like me.’ She loves all the stuff he does. The connections he makes. She obviously loves the field goal contest. All of those things she loves.

“So, I think even the people who may be initially were like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute,’ I think if you give him some time and kind of see what he’s about, that in most cases, I think he’s won a lot of those people over, too. Not everybody, because you’ll find this…if you’re in front of the camera, if you’re putting yourself out there in the media business, a lot of people are going to look for a reason not to like you; there’s not a lot you can do about it.”

Regardless of how viewers feel about McAfee’s presence on GameDay, he will remain on the show for the foreseeable future. Davis’ comments suggest that the show will continue to focus on the “hottest thing in sports media,” and given how much his colleagues like Kirk Herbstreit respect him, it’s likely that the show’s direction will only continue to revolve around him.

[Stuck In My Thoughts Podcast]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.