College GameDay 2011 Schedule: Predicting Where the ESPN Crew Will Be Each Week
ESPN has been airing its very well-received College GameDay program since 1987, but the college football guys didn’t load up on the gridiron bus and hit the road until Nov. 13, 1993, when they visited South Bend, Indiana to watch Notre Dame beat Florida State 31-24.
The 2011 edition of the GameDay show will feature all the regular faces but will add former three-time All-American Georgia linebacker David Pollack to the on-air team.
So where will the bus go in 2011? Which college football meccas will be on the receiving line of the best on-campus show in all of television?
Well, the first three destinations have already been announced by the bigwigs at ESPN, and after filling you in on this trifecta of booked whistle-stops, the following slideshow will boldly predict the direction the orange football chariot takes for the remaining 11 weeks of the 2011 season.
Of course, a lot can happen between September and December. Hot teams go cold and underrated or overlooked squads emerge as the real players, so at the end of the day, while these picks are (for the most part) realistic, the true destination of everybody’s favorite virtual means of pigskin transportation is deliciously still up in the air.
Week 1: Arlington, Texas
Oregon vs. LSU: Saturday, Sept. 3
This one is set in stone, as the Ducks and now suspension-ridden Tigers face off in the first battle betwixt two top-five teams in Week 1 since 1999.
The venue is Jerry Jones’ tribute to cash, football and capitalism, Cowboys Stadium, and the only other time the ESPN bus has stopped in the Dallas metropolitan area was on four separate occasions pitting Oklahoma against Texas in the Red River Rivalry (2001, 2002, 2008 and 2009).
Other games of note in Week 1 where the bus will not stop include the blockbuster showdown between Georgia and Boise State in Atlanta, BYU at Ole Miss and Minnesota at USC.
Week 2: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Notre Dame at Michigan: Saturday, Sept. 10
The GameDay chariot travels 1,200 miles from Texas to Michigan for Week 2’s matchup between the Irish and Wolverines.
This is another destination that is already booked, and you may wonder why the Notre Dame versus Michigan game was chosen over other intriguing clashes such as Oregon State at Wisconsin, Mississippi State at Auburn, South Carolina at Georgia and Utah at USC.
The historical significance of this year’s clash between the Wolverines and Irish has little to do with the actual game (though it should be a great one) but is all about the fact that Michigan Stadium will turn the lights on for the first time in its storied history, and hence the Sept. 10 game will be the first night football game in Ann Arbor.
The GameDay crew has visited Ann Arbor on nine separate occasions, making it the fifth-most frequent stop (tied with Tuscaloosa/Birmingham, Alabama).
Week 3: Tallahassee, Florida
Oklahoma at Florida State: Saturday, Sept. 17
The motor coach will have to travel 1,000 miles to reach the last of the three pre-scheduled stops, Tallahassee, Florida, to witness what looks to be among the best non-conference matchups of the season.
The Sooners should be 1-0 and the Seminoles 2-0 coming into a contest that could have multiple implications that last all season long.
The GameDay crew has visited Tallahassee six times during its years on the road, which ties FSU’s home town at No. 14 all-time on the frequency meter.
Other Week 3 games of note that didn’t get the ESPN nod are Ohio State at Miami FL (in the officially sanctioned Sanction Bowl), Michigan State at Notre Dame and Texas at UCLA.
Week 4: College Station, Texas
Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: Saturday, Sept. 24
Here is where the bold predictions begin...the bus leaves Florida, hits I-10 and travels about 800 miles westward to College Station, Texas to witness the Aggie fanbase go nuts on A&M’s campus celebrating ESPN’s third trip to Aggieland.
If the Cowboys can survive a Week 2 visit from Arizona, then both of these Top-10-ranked teams should be undefeated, which would set up a key “must win” situation for both teams if their dreams of a Big 12 title are realistic in 2011.
Other possible bus stops in Week 4 are Tuscaloosa for Arkansas at Alabama and Morgantown for LSU at West Virginia.
Week 5: Madison, Wisconsin
Nebraska at Wisconsin: Saturday, Oct. 1
The bus leaves the College Station/Bryan, Texas metroplex and heads a whopping 1,200 miles north to record an eyewitness account of Nebraska’s first ever Big Ten conference game.
Both the Cornhuskers and Badgers have a reasonable chance to be unscathed by Week 5, but both face a Pac-12 team early in the season (Nebraska has Washington in Week 3, and Wisconsin has Oregon State in Week 2) that will have to be dealt with if perfection is to be achieved.
Of all the conference shuffling slated for 2011, Nebraska’s move is the biggest, and it’s easy to see the bus travelling to Madison to celebrate; this clash also might be a preview of the first ever Big Ten championship game.
The GameDay team has set up camp in Madison on five previous occasions, most recently last season for the Oct. 16 game against Ohio State.
Other candidates for Week 5’s road trip are Gainesville for Alabama at Florida, a second trip to Arlington, Texas for Texas A&M and Arkansas or Columbia for Auburn at South Carolina.
Week 6: Lincoln, Nebraska
Ohio State at Nebraska: Saturday, Oct. 8
The posh orange bus follows the Nebraska faithful out of Madison and makes the 500-mile journey southwest to Lincoln, where the children of the corn will gladly greet Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Chris Fowler and Desmond Howard on their fertile home turf.
Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that ESPN will book back-to-back ‘Husker games, but there are several reasons to think it’s a distinct possibility.
First, it’s Nebraska’s first ever home Big Ten game; second, it’s beleaguered Ohio State, who still could be 5-0 (and playing an unscathed or one-loss Nebraska team); and third, it’s the first game when what’s left of the Buckeyes' “Tat Five” will be back in action.
So many story lines...Move That Bus!
GameDay has travelled to Lincoln on six previous occasions, tying the city for No. 6 on the all-time recurrence charts.
Two big Week 6 clashes that could certainly supplant Ohio State versus Nebraska are the Red River Rivalry in Dallas featuring Oklahoma against Texas (and if they are both undefeated, this definitely has “game of the week” potential) and a little game pitting Florida against LSU in Baton Rouge.
Week 7: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Utah at Pittsburgh: Saturday, Oct. 15
The lengthy ginger chariot leaves the central Midwest and heads eastward 1,000 miles to bear witness to what is probably the biggest stretch on this entire list.
Utah at Pitt certainly doesn’t seem like a barn burner from the safe confines of the preseason, but the matchup is a solid non-conference, midseason meeting and features two teams who could be front-runners in their respective conferences.
Pittsburgh has shucked off the high expectations of 2010 and with a new coach and a bunch of talent could be a one-loss (or perfect) team by Week 7 (key games are at Iowa, Notre Dame and USF, which come in a row).
Utah (the newest BCS team, which is a storyline all on its own) could easily shock the Pac-12 and be a contender in a South division that has no front-runner (we’ll know a lot about the Utes by Week 7 because they’ll have already faced USC, BYU and Arizona State).
The other factor that makes this game alluring from a busing standpoint is that Week 7 lacks a real blockbuster game (from a preseason perspective), but other realistic options are South Carolina at Mississippi State and Oklahoma State at Texas (again, that all depends on how Texas actually plays in 2011).
GameDay has visited Pittsburgh twice previously but hasn’t made a stop there since 2005.
Week 8: South Bend, Indiana
USC at Notre Dame: Saturday, Oct. 22
The bus driver gets a bit of a break in Week 8 (and maybe ESPN can pocket some gas money savings) when the crew leaves Pittsburgh and heads a mere 375 miles west to South Bend, Indiana for an eighth GameDay appearance on the campus at Notre Dame.
You have to figure that if Notre Dame really is the “real deal” in 2011, the crew will take at least one trip to the college football mecca that is South Bend, and the game against traditional foe USC (who also should be improved this season) is the perfect selection.
Both these squads have realistic shots of being one-loss (or perfect) teams by Week 8, and if they were both unscathed, this could be a hugely delectable matchup.
Other candidates for a Week 8 tour booking are East Lansing for Wisconsin at Michigan State and the other Columbia for Oklahoma State at Mizzou.
Week 9: Jacksonville, Florida
Georgia at Florida: Saturday, Oct. 29
Even though it’s not officially called “the world’s largest cocktail party” any more, the boys on the bus still open the on-board cupboards and retrieve their blenders, shakers and frilly toothpicks and travel 1,000 miles south to attend the annual liquor-infused meeting between Georgia and Florida.
Despite how they fare in their first eight weeks, the Bulldogs and Gators matchup will likely be a key factor in determining who takes home the SEC East crown and plays for a bona fide BCS bid in the conference championship game.
The GameDay crew has been on hand for a Florida game in the Sunshine State an eye-popping 13 times, which ties Columbus, Ohio for the most visits ever.
Among alternate itineraries for the big bus in Week 9 is a juicy little number back in College Station, Texas, when Missouri calls on the Aggies to try to avenge its 2010 loss at towering Kyle Field.
Week 10: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
LSU at Alabama: Saturday, Nov. 5
The college football bandwagon heads 500 miles northwest in Week 10 for what is often the SEC West game of the year and has featured the eventual divisional champ six of the last 10 years.
Both LSU and Alabama will have a full plate of meaty opponents to chew on before November rolls around, but look for this game to matter regardless of whether either or both squads are unblemished by Week 10.
The GameDay troop of sportscasting thespians has set up its cameras at nine Crimson Tide home games, a mark that ties Alabama with Michigan for fifth place all-time.
Week 10 offers some other salacious matchups, such as Texas A&M visiting Oklahoma, which could be the deciding factor in the ever-shrinking Big 12 race.
As we are all aware, the city of Tuscaloosa was directly hit by the tornadoes that ravaged the South this past spring. To make a donation to the relief effort in Alabama, please follow the included link to the Red Cross Donation Page.
You can also call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Week 11: Stanford, California
Oregon at Stanford: Saturday, Nov. 12
As the season winds down and the conference races heat up, the carrot-y bus rotates its tires and heads a whopping 2,300 miles westward to California (or maybe ESPN has a “stunt double” bus that they keep on the West Coast to save on petrol money).
The visiting squad has walked away a loser in the last three Stanford versus Oregon games, and the 2011 meeting between the two will likely decide who represents the Pac-12 North in the first ever conference championship game.
It’s Heisman hopefuls, it's singular birds, it's uniform mayhem, it’s dancing trees, it’s Donald-esque Ducks and it’s probably the Pac-12 game of the year.
The ESPN College GameDay crew has never visited Stanford, California.
Other front-runners for a Week 11 visit from the big boys are Tallahassee for the Hurricanes at Seminoles game, Happy Valley for Nebraska at Penn State and Columbia for Florida at South Carolina.
Week 12: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nebraska at Michigan: Saturday, Nov. 19
ESPN fires up its big motor chariot for another 2,300-mile cross-country journey that lands the crew back in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but this time the trip has nothing to do with lights at night.
This outing is planned exclusively to cover a surprising race developing in the new Big Ten Legends division that has come down to a late-season game pitting the Cornhuskers and Wolverines against each other for all the divisional marbles.
The game between the now divisional rivals marks the first time they have met in Ann Arbor (or in the regular season, for that matter) since 1962, when the Huskers outlasted the Wolverines 25-13 on their way to a 9-2 finish.
Alternate itineraries for everybody’s favorite gridiron motor vehicle include staying on the West Coast for the USC versus Oregon game in Eugene.
Week 13: Gainesville, Florida
Florida State at Florida: Saturday, Nov. 26
The bus takes the same route it did between Week 2 and 3 and travels from the now frigid nether regions of Michigan to the warm and sunny shores of Florida.
The GameDay crew settles down south for a Turkey Leg and what represents the matchup that ESPN has visited the most in its almost two decades of road tripping: Florida State and Florida.
If things go the Seminoles' way in 2011 (and they have the kind of schedule that makes it oh so possible), then the game in Gainesville could decide whether FSU is one step closer to a national championship appearance or not.
As far as the Gators are concerned, they have enough talent on board that anything is possible, which means this game could be substantially meaning-filled for the Chompers as well.
Thanksgiving weekend is oozing with GameDay-worthy matchups, and if the boys erect the set on Friday, possibilities include Iowa at Nebraska (if this was Facebook, I just hit “like” a bunch of times for that game) and Arkansas at LSU.
Sticking with the Saturday only schedule, the Iron Bowl (Alabama at Auburn) is always attractive, as is the annual hate-fest of Ohio State at Michigan (where shockingly the Vest Jim Tressel and Rich Rodriguez have both left the building).
Week 14: Indianapolis, Indiana
Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, the Big Ten Championship: Saturday, Dec. 3
The bus heads back 900 miles northwards for the final (partially) full weekend of college football.
Though Week 14 has as much potential of any in 2011 (Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, the ACC title game, the SEC title game and the first ever Pac-12 championship), there is something so enthralling about a first ever Big Ten title game that it may be quite impossible for the “leader in sports” to pass on it.
The venue is Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (which has never hosted GameDay), which is also the site of this season's Super Bowl XLVI. Regardless of the actual on-field matchup, you have to figure that the Big Ten-infused GameDay broadcast team will have no problem making their way to the middle of Indiana to finally crown a Big Ten champion that doesn’t involve a three-way tie.