Predicting Every ESPN College GameDay Stop for 2014 Season

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

Predicting Every ESPN College GameDay Stop for 2014 Season

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Where in the world will Chris, Herbie and Coach Corso end up this season?

    The games themselves are what get us most excited about college football every fall, but there's also the added drama each week that comes with finding out where ESPN will be sending its famous traveling pregame show, College GameDay. If a program like that is coming to campus, it must mean two things: it's a big game, and it's time to come strong with your sign-making game.

    Most sites are chosen on a week-to-week basis, with ESPN gauging the importance of the matchups and other factors to determine where to send host Chris Fowler, analysts Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit and the massive crew that builds the set either somewhere on a college campus or to a nearby off-campus venue.

    Because it's often based on the marquee matchups being played that week, it's not surprising that the usual suspects end up hosting on a regular basis, and some teams end up being featured in multiple games in the same season.

    But some wild cards can pop up, too, such as last year when College GameDay went to Fargo, N.D. in September to spotlight two-time (and eventual three-time) FCS champion North Dakota State.

    Using all of these factors, we've picked our spots for where College GameDay will head during the 2014 season. There are plenty of old standards on the schedule, as well as some first-time locales.

    Read on to see where Washington State alumni will need to head to get their flag on national television each Saturday.

Week 1: Baltimore

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    Matchup: Ohio State vs. Navy

    Times hosted before: None

    Navy has managed to carve out a niche of success as an independent, finishing with winning records in 10 of the last 11 years. But for the Midshipmen to be considered a true power it needs to knock off major programs, like it's done 18 times during this stretch.

    But other than a few wins over Notre Dame, none of those victories have been considered big-time. Navy hasn't had many chances against top-tier teams, though, and with Ohio State on the docket this is the time to make a big splash. Doing it with a national audience enhanced by ESPN would make it even bigger.

    Navy's only time involved with the ESPN College GameDay show was in 2012 when the broadcast was done from aboard the USS San Diego in California and the Midshipmen's game against Troy (in Alabama) was the featured game. With a chance to have the crew on hand (even if it's in nearby Baltimore instead of Annapolis) will still make for a great atmosphere.

     

    Other sites considered

    Arlington, Texas (Florida State vs. Oklahoma State); Athens, Georgia (Clemson at Georgia); Atlanta (West Virginia vs. Alabama); Houston (Wisconsin vs. LSU)

Week 2: Eugene, Oregon

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Matchup: Michigan State at Oregon

    Times hosted before: eight (last time October 2013, Oregon beat UCLA)

    You don't know what you're in for at Autzen Stadium until you've played there, something Michigan State will find out firsthand with this massive early nonconference game, which will have a huge impact on the College Football Playoff race long before conference play gets in full swing. With that in mind, there's no better place for College GameDay on the first Saturday of September.

    Teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 occasionally meet during the regular season (as well as in the Rose Bowl), but the in-season matchups usually aren't this good. We might as well pencil Sept. 12, 2015 onto the studio show's schedule for next year, when these teams meet in East Lansing for the return game pitting very different styles.

    This will mark the sixth straight season the show ends up in Eugene, but considering Oregon has won at least 10 games in each of the previous five years, it's no surprise the campus keeps making the cut. For MSU, it will be the first time serving as the visitor for a GameDay contest after hosting the show six times.

     

    Other sites considered

    Columbus, Ohio (Virginia Tech at Ohio State); Palo Alto, Calif. (USC at Stanford); South Bend, Indiana (Michigan at Notre Dame)

Week 3: Mobile, Alabama

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    GM Andrews/Associated Press

    Matchup: Mississippi State at South Alabama

    Times hosted before: None

    Last year's late-September trip to Fargo showed that ESPN is willing to go off the beaten (read: power conference) path every now and then for a good story. And there are few better than the one South Alabama is writing in its short college football history.

    Formed only in 2010, the program went from 2-11 in 2012 to 6-6 last season, with last year's performance including wins over two bowl teams and a one-touchdown setback at Tennessee. And now the Jaguars get a chance to take down a school from the SEC, the league that not only dominates nationally on a performance level but grabs the attention of most college football lovers in Alabama.

    The fans in Mobile love their football and annually support the teams that come into town for the GoDaddy and Senior Bowls. Now it's time to give them, and the USA student body, a chance to bask in the glow of the national spotlight for at least one Saturday.

     

    Other sites considered

    Columbia, Missouri (Central Florida at Missouri); Fresno, California (Nebraska at Fresno State); Iowa City, Iowa (Iowa State at Iowa); Logan, Utah (Wake Forest at Utah State); Lubbock, Texas (Arkansas at Texas Tech); Norman, Oklahoma (Tennessee at Oklahoma)

Week 4: Lincoln, Nebraska

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Matchup: Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska

    Times hosted before: six (last time September 2007, USC beat Nebraska)

    Lincoln's place in GameDay history goes back to the show's early days, when the program wasn't a weekly event. But even then, in 1994, it twice came to Memorial Stadium when the Cornhuskers were a dominant team in the Big 12.

    Not so much since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, but with an old bowl-game rival coming to town for the start of a home-and-home series, this will provide the perfect time to assemble some of the old dignitaries associated with the tradition-rich programs. The teams met on New Year's Day (or later) in 1984, 1989, 1992, 1995 and 2002—a series of clashes that will pretty much write the pregame features themselves.

    And considering the often tongue-in-cheek nature of College GameDay, this matchup provides the perfect opportunity for fans hanging out behind the set to do their own versions of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's "Lion King" impression.

     

    Other sites considered

    Boise, Idaho (Louisiana-Lafayette at Boise State); Dallas (Texas A&M at SMU); Greeneville, North Carolina (North Carolina at East Carolina); Tallahassee, Florida (Clemson at Florida State); Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Florida at Alabama)

Week 5: Columbia, South Carolina

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Matchup: Missouri at South Carolina

    Times hosted before:  six (last time October 2012, South Carolina beat Georgia)

    The first (of what will likely be many) trips to SEC territory in 2014 involves the two schools that play in Columbia, with the expectation that this year's matchup in South Carolina will be as exciting as the 2013 version played in Missouri.

    This will be the sixth time Mizzou is involved in a spotlighted game but the first since joining the SEC. And after last year's magical run to 12 victories and the East Division title, the Tigers are deserving of getting some extra attention from the GameDay crew.

    South Carolina won last year's meeting in double overtime after a Missouri field-goal attempt doinked off the upright, ending the Tigers' unbeaten season. For Mizzou to return the favor, it will have to win in a stadium (Williams-Brice) where the Gamecocks haven't lost since October 2011.

     

    Other sites considered

    Clemson, South Carolina (North Carolina at Clemson); Seattle (Stanford at Washington)

Week 6: South Bend, Indiana

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Matchup: Stanford at Notre Dame

    Times hosted before: eight (last time October 2012, Notre Dame beat Stanford)

    Notre Dame Stadium was a staple of the early GameDay schedule, but of late the crew hasn't had many reasons for visiting South Bend. The Fighting Irish have ramped up their home schedule, though, but it's going to be a visit from an old rival that draws the attention this time around.

    Stanford came as close as anyone to knocking off Notre Dame during the Fighting Irish's perfect regular season in 2012, losing in overtime on a controversial finish that saw running back Stepfan Taylor appear to score a touchdown on 4th-and-goal. (The referees—and review officials—felt otherwise.) That was the last time GameDay was in South Bend, and so there will be a nice backdrop to discuss during the three-hour pregame show.

    The slate of options for sites is loaded with great conference matchups in the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, but with many other chances to visit schools in those leagues the rest of the season, this is a great time to head to northwest Indiana.

     

    Other sites considered

    Auburn, Alabama (LSU at Auburn); Austin, Texas (Baylor at Texas); East Lansing, Michigan (Nebraska at Michigan State); Fort Worth, Texas (Oklahoma at TCU); Los Angeles (Arizona State at USC); Manhattan, Kansas (Texas Tech at Kansas State); Oxford, Mississippi (Alabama at Ole Miss)

Week 7: Dallas

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Matchup: Texas vs. Oklahoma

    Times hosted before: five (last time October 2011, Oklahoma beat Texas)

    One of the best parts of the College GameDay atmosphere and vibe is how students and fans of the host school get involved with their signage and other antics in the show's camera background. But some neutral sites can provide the same excitement and flair, especially if the venue happens to be smack dab in the middle of a state fair.

    The annual Red River Shootout game between Oklahoma and Texas is almost always deserving of headlines, even if one team or the other is down. Last year's game had extra intrigue with Texas' Mack Brown looking like he was on his way out, and this season is similar in that it will feature Brown's replacement, Charlie Strong, making his debut in the rivalry.

    Oklahoma holds a 3-2 edge over Texas when GameDay is involved. Including road games, bowls, Big 12 title games and trips to Norman, it's Oklahoma's 28th time as part of the featured game, while for Texas it will be the Longhorns' 15th appearance.

     

    Other sites considered

    Ann Arbor, Michigan (Penn State at Michigan); Clemson, South Carolina (Louisville at Clemson); Columbia, Missouri (Georgia at Missouri); Fayetteville, Arkansas (Alabama at Arkansas); Gainesville, Florida (LSU at Florida); Los Angeles (Oregon at UCLA); Tucson, Arizona (USC at Arizona)

Week 8: Tallahassee, Florida

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Matchup: Notre Dame at Florida State

    Times hosted before: nine (last time November 2013, Florida State beat Miami)

    A rule of thumb that should be considered when choosing College GameDay sites: if the venue is playing host to a game that has its own special T-shirt, look no further.

    While a rematch of the Pac-12 Championship Game is being held in the desert and the latest edition of what's become a great series between Alabama and Texas A&M is also on the schedule, there's no way the vast majority of the national media won't be descending on Tallahassee for this clash between the defending national champions and their new pseudo-conference mates.

    Notre Dame's agreement to play a number of games against ACC opponents each year gave us a heck of a first course with the Fighting Irish getting tabbed to face the Seminoles the first time out. With an eye toward the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame needs quality victories, and there's nothing bigger than being able to knock off the champs especially when they're likely to be undefeated at the time. 

    Throw in the fact that GameDay's Lee Corso is an FSU alum, and you've got a recipe for awesomeness.

     

    Other sites considered

    Tempe, Arizona (Stanford at Arizona State); Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Texas A&M at Alabama)

Week 9: State College, Pennsylvania

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Matchup: Ohio State at Penn State

    Times hosted before: four (last time September 2009, Iowa beat Penn State)

    The folks at ESPN haven't shied away from visiting a school that's on a postseason ban—the show was hosted from USC in 2010 and 2011, when the Trojans were disallowed from bowl games in the wake of Reggie Bush-related NCAA sanctions—so it's not that Penn State wasn't up for consideration these past few years.

    It was more a competition issue, as the Nittany Lions were lucky to finish .500 with the scholarship limitations they faced. Now that James Franklin has come in and is driving the program toward a huge rebound in the very near future, the time is right to return to Happy Valley. Especially when Ohio State is in town for a key Big Ten clash.

    This would be the 32nd time Ohio State has been featured in a GameDay-highlighted matchup, and of late they've all been away from Columbus. Yet the Buckeyes have won the last two as visitors, beating Northwestern last year and Michigan State in 2012.

     

    Other sites considered

    Auburn, Alabama (South Carolina at Auburn); East Lansing, Michigan (Michigan at Michigan State); Knoxville, Tennessee (Alabama at Tennessee); Manhattan, Kansas (Texas at Kansas State)

Week 10: Oxford, Mississippi

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Matchup: Auburn at Ole Miss

    Times hosted before: None

    SEC schools have played host to the College GameDay crew more than any other league, with 63 shows broadcast from their campuses. But it's never been to the state of Mississippi, with Ole Miss and Mississippi State representing the only SEC teams (and two of just 17 among the power conferences) never to have been a part of the chaos at home.

    Ole Miss hasn't even been a participant as the road team, or at a neutral site, but with Auburn coming in to Oxford we're thinking a set right in the middle of The Grove and all its well-dressed tailgaters would look lovely on television.

    The Rebels have knocked off the Tigers twice at home in the past six years, and of late, some of their biggest wins have come at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. In back-to-back weeks last year Ole Miss nearly pulled off a double at home, falling late to Texas A&M but then knocking off LSU. Auburn could be 7-0 coming into this game, adding to the potential intrigue.

     

    Other sides considered

    Eugene, Oregon (Stanford at Oregon); Jacksonville (Florida vs. Georgia); Lubbock, Texas (Texas at Texas Tech); Washington, D.C. (Notre Dame vs. Navy)

     

Week 11: Norman, Oklahoma

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Matchup: Baylor at Oklahoma

    Times hosted before: seven (last time October 2012, Notre Dame beat Oklahoma)

    Baylor's official coming-out party in 2013, en route to its first-ever Big 12 title, was on a Thursday night in November when it steamrolled Oklahoma at home.

    Now it's time to face the potential payback, and adding to the atmosphere will be the GameDay crew and all of their statistics and charts to point out how futile life has been for the Bears when visiting the state of Oklahoma.

    Baylor's last win in the Sooner State was in 1995 against Tulsa. It last won in Stillwater against Oklahoma State in 1942 and is winless all time in Norman. The outcome of this clash that could determine the Big 12 champion.

    Oklahoma defends its home field well, though the last time GameDay was in town it fell to Notre Dame in a classic. And for Baylor, this will mark only the second time it's a participant in the featured game, the last occasion being the Bears' most recent visit to the state—a blowout loss at Oklahoma State last November.

     

    Other venues considered

    Auburn, Alabama (Texas A&M at Auburn); Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Alabama at LSU); East Lansing, Michigan (Ohio State at Michigan State)

Week 12: Athens, Georgia

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Matchup: Auburn at Georgia

    Times hosted before: three (last time September 2013, Georgia beat LSU)

    Last year this game gave us "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" and (along with another famous nicknamed play) helped propel Auburn to the national championship. Any chance we'll get something fancy from this game that's named after Sanford Stadium or Georgia's prized hedges?

    With 117 all-time meetings between the schools—Auburn holds a slim 55-54-8 edge after last season's thrilling 39-34 victory at home—the game known as "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" is an interdivisional SEC contest that's been preserved as part of the conference's long-term scheduling matrix.

    Lucky us, since games like last year show this one needs to be on the docket every year.

    Both teams could be in first place in their divisions when this game comes around, so it would be a no-brainer to have GameDay there, despite a strong lineup of options that could help decide other division or conference races.

     

    Other sites considered

    Boise, Idaho (San Diego State at Boise State); Gainesville, Florida (South Carolina at Florida); Miami (Florida State at Miami); Lubbock, Texas (Oklahoma at Texas Tech); Madison, Wisconsin (Nebraska at Wisconsin); Stillwater, Oklahoma (Texas at Oklahoma State)

Week 13: Los Angeles

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Matchup: USC at UCLA

    Times hosted before: one (last time October 1998, Oregon beat UCLA)

    There have been plenty of visits to Los Angeles over the 20 years of College GameDay, including more than a dozen at the Rose Bowl. But UCLA hasn't been the host in 16 years, serving instead as the visitor five times since. That's apt to change in the near future with how Jim Mora Jr. has quickly revived the Bruins program, and the annual crosstown clash with USC is a great place to start.

    UCLA has won the last two in the series (including a convincing 35-14 victory at the L.A. Coliseum last year) to add fire back to a series that had become very one-sided during Pete Carroll's run at USC. A member of that old guard has returned to take over the Trojans program in Steve Sarkisian, and both he and Mora will likely have dozens of prized recruits on hand for this Hollywood-level game.

    Aside from the Rose Bowl, this is the last trip out West for GameDay in 2014. Most of the remaining stops will be down South, where all the action is concentrated for the remainder of the season.

     

    Other sites considered

    Iowa City, Iowa (Wisconsin at Iowa); South Bend, Indiana (Louisville at Notre Dame); Waco, Texas (Oklahoma State at Baylor)

Week 14: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Matchup: Auburn at Alabama

    Times hosted before: eight (last time November 2013, Alabama beat LSU)

    The only repeat matchup from 2013 is another one of those venues that shouldn't be a surprise as the GameDay pick.

    Unless Alabama and Auburn both have three or more losses, there's no way the studio show won't be setting up in Tuscaloosa. Even then it still could happen, thanks to the history of the Iron Bowl and what happened last year between the two teams.

    Particularly what happened with no time left on the clock and a spot in the SEC championship game on the line. That's when Auburn's Chris Davis returned a missed Alabama field goal 100-plus yards for a game-winning touchdown, which will forever be known as the "Kick Six." It's been memorialized in wedding cakes, T-shirts and is branded onto the brains of every Crimson Tide and Tigers fan and will no doubt get plenty of mention during the pregame show.

    This would be the ninth time that GameDay will set up shop outside Bryant-Denny Stadium, but amazingly the show has never been there for an Iron Bowl. It's been at Auburn for three of them, including last year, and twice in the 1990s when the game was played in Birmingham.

     

    Other venues considered

    Clemson, South Carolina (South Carolina at Clemson); Columbus, Ohio (Michigan at Ohio State); Los Angeles (Notre Dame at USC); State College, Pennsylvania (Michigan State at Penn State); Tallahassee, Florida (Florida at Florida State)

Week 15: Atlanta

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Matchup: SEC championship game

    Times hosted before: eight (last time December 2012, Alabama beat Georgia)

    Because there's a good chance Alabama or Auburn will be representing the West Division in the SEC title game, this would mark the first time all season that a team was involved in back-to-back GameDay broadcasts. We strove to diversify locations and participants, but there's only so much you can do late in the year when the college football world tends to focus mostly on the SEC.

    Last year GameDay went to Indianapolis for the Big Ten final, where it was rewarded with a bit of a shocker in Michigan State downing previously unbeaten Ohio State. This year, with the added carrot of the College Football Playoff, there's intrigue in that the winner likely locks up a semifinal spot while the loser has to sweat out the whims of the selection committee.

     

    Other sites considered

    Charlotte (ACC championship game); Indianapolis (Big Ten championship game); Norman, Oklahoma (Oklahoma State at Oklahoma); Waco, Texas (TCU at Baylor)

Postseason: New Orleans and Arlington, Texas

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Matchups: Sugar Bowl (national semifinals) and College Football Championship Game

    Times hosted before: eight for New Orleans, most recently for 2013 Sugar Bowl; two for Arlington, most recently in 2012 for Cowboys Classic between Alabama and Michigan

    ESPN could opt for some sort of a two-headed show on New Year's Day, since there are two semifinals set for the same day. But odds are the game at the Superdome is going to feature the No. 1 seed, unless that team comes from the Pac-12, and because of that it gets the edge for site selection over the Rose Bowl.

    That only leaves the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game, Jan. 11 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. With 10 days to prepare lots of previews and analysis, we're hoping the GameDay folks also pay homage to the host stadium's massively large video board by constructing an extra-long studio set.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.