Are you ready to hear a confession? I haven’t sat and watched a full episode of College GameDay in years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because the product has suffered, and I’m not on a moral hunger strike against any of Kirk Herbstreit’s hot takes. Lee Corso’s headgear selection is still appointment television in my household.
It’s just that my son started playing football himself on Saturday mornings last fall, and when your job requires you to be on the couch each week until the early hours of Sunday morning (rough life, right?), well, you’ve got to get your sunshine when you can get it.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Just because I’m no longer a weekly viewer doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what the show means. ESPN holds more power over college football than any other entity. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any entity holding more sway over any sport than ESPN has over college football. And GameDay is an essential piece of that empire. It’s ESPN’s way of knighting a program, each and every week. It’s a mark of validation, the network’s way of acknowledging, “Yes, you matter. For this week, you matter above all else.” Just look at what happened when the busses finally rolled into Pullman, Wash., last year.
Aug. 24: Miami vs. Florida (at Orlando) — This one has already been announced as the official kickoff event of college football’s 150th anniversary.
Aug. 31: Auburn vs. Oregon (at Dallas) — This pick became significantly easier when Miami-Florida moved up a weekend. ESPN split its opening weekend loyalties last year; GameDay went to South Bend for Michigan-Notre Dame, while ABC’s Saturday Night Football crew was in Orlando for Alabama-Louisville. This year, Michigan and Notre Dame don’t meet until late October, and Alabama plays Duke in Atlanta. Ipso facto, the whole bunch will be in the Metroplex all day.
Sept. 7: Texas A&M at Clemson — There are two big games this week: A&M-Clemson and LSU at Texas. Since Texas is a Big 12 school, there’s a good chance FOX swoops this game up, while ESPN is guaranteed to have A&M-Clemson on its air. Tie goes to the guaranteed broadcast rights.
Sept. 14: Pitt at Penn State — If that seems like a weak choice (no offense, Pitt or Penn State fans), that’s because this is a weak week. Our other options here were Florida at Kentucky or Oklahoma at UCLA.
Sept. 21: Notre Dame at Georgia — Notre Dame’s first and only trip between the hedges. One team made the Playoff last season, the other came within a whisker. Put this one in ink.
Sept. 28: Ohio State at Nebraska — Big Red opens with South Alabama, at Colorado, home against Northern Illinois and at Illinois. GameDay hasn’t been to Lincoln since 2007, when Nebraska was still in the Big 12. In Year 2 of Scott Frost, and with Nebraska likely 4-0 and in the back end of the Top 25, this feels like a good time to return.
Oct. 5: Auburn at Florida — Hey, did you know Auburn and Florida used to play every year? Yeah, that was back when they were in the same conference. Auburn hasn’t been to the Swamp since 2007, and probably won’t return until midway through the 2030s. In 2019, the spoke in this wheel may be Auburn’s early schedule, which calls for games against Oregon and Texas A&M away from the Plains before this trip to Gainesville.
Oct. 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma — Prepare for another battle in the cold war between Texas and A&M. While UT heads to Dallas, A&M hosts Alabama. If either of these teams falter, there’s USC at Notre Dame, Florida at LSU, and Florida State at Clemson — all of whom would be happy to host Rece, Coach, Kirk & Co. But Lincoln Riley vs. Tom Herman is shaping up to equal or even surpass Bob Stoops vs. Mack Brown, so we’ll bank on them.
Oct. 19: Oregon at Washington — These two Pacific Northwest powers hate each other, but they’ve never really been at the peak of their respective powers at the same time. That changed last year, when No. 17 Oregon outlasted No. 7 Washington in overtime. Here’s betting Jacob Eason and Justin Herbert can continue the trend.
Oct. 26: Notre Dame at Michigan — Notre Dame and Michigan first meet in 1887, and have played 41 times since, the bulk of those meetings coming in 1978 and beyond. The last time the Irish and Wolverines played this late on the calendar? Nov. 14, 1942.
Nov. 2: Georgia vs. Florida (at Jacksonville) — Like Texas-OU and Oregon-Washington, Florida-Georgia is a rivalry on the upswing thanks to a smart coaching hire. The argument against this pick is that, in my hypothetical timeline, Florida has already appeared twice, and we skipped over their visit to LSU a few weeks back. This could be a 2- or 3-loss team by this point. (By the way, being the smart hypothetical TV programmer I am, I checked to see if Rutgers was home on this Saturday, given that college football’s 150th birthday falls on Nov. 6 and the sport was literally born on the Rutgers campus, but the Scarlet Knights are at Illinois on Nov. 2 and off on Nov. 9. How does this happen?)
Nov. 9: LSU at Alabama — GameDay has skipped exactly one Tide-Tiger Tussle since 2011, and in a year where both schools will enter in the Top 5, this feels like a safe bet.
Nov. 16: Yale at Princeton — As mentioned above, the game’s 150th birthday is 10 days prior. In the semi-annual Off The Beaten Path week, why not return (close to) the game’s birthplace, to the site of the sport’s second-oldest rivalry, to celebrate the sport itself?
Nov. 23: Penn State at Ohio State — The latest regular season meeting between these two Midwestern powers ever. The last three games have been decided by five points — total — with the winner going to Indianapolis as Big Ten East champion. Is this the time when James Franklin takes back control of the division, and thus the conference, does Ryan Day continue to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps?
Nov. 30: Ohio State at Michigan — The New 10-Year War never materialized, partly because Urban Meyer left after Year 4, but mostly because Jim Harbaugh never beat him in any of those four. Michigan gets Notre Dame and Michigan State at home, it returns quarterback Shea Patterson, who will run a new offense that is better suited to his talents. Michigan should be good enough to win the right to host GameDay. It should be good enough to win this game. If not…
Dec. 5: Georgia vs. Alabama (at Atlanta) — By this point we’ve invariably switched from predicting ESPN’s thinking to predicting how the actual season is going to play out, and Kirby Smart vs. Nick Saban in a de facto CFP quarterfinal feels like a safe prediction as long as the two are doing their thing.