Predicting Every ESPN College GameDay Stop for 2015 Season
We're less than eight weeks away from the 2015 college football season, which means wall-to-wall college football every Saturday for several months. It also means starting our weekend gridiron binge with an event that's become as synonymous with the sport as marching bands, tailgating and big-man touchdowns.
ESPN's College GameDay will be in its 29th season this fall, traveling the country and camping out near one of the top games of each week. The three-hour preview show has established itself as sort of a wake-up call to prepare us for the busy day ahead, filling our brains with profiles, statistics, kooky signs, predictions and the image of a former coach donning a mascot head.
Almost as exciting as the show itself is where it will be each week, as having GameDay in town or on campus is considered a badge of honor in the college football world. Last year, the show visited 12 different schools and also made stops at several neutral sites between the opening week of the season and the College Football Championship Game in Arlington, Texas.
Where will GameDay go this year? Based on the scheduled games for each Saturday—games played on other days of the week aren't normally considered—and some speculation as to how the 2015 season will unfold, here's our prediction for the locale of every stop between Sept. 3 and Dec. 5.
Week 1: South Bend, Indiana
Matchup: Texas at Notre Dame
The opening week of the 2015 season is chocked full of notable neutral-site matchups in NFL stadiums, and College GameDay has stopped at these places in the past. Six of the last seven opening sites have been at one of these games, and the options for another such stop are there.
But how often do we get a pair of blue-blood programs like Notre Dame and Texas playing each other and in a home-and-home to boot? That's too historic of a matchup to pass on, despite the quality of the other games that week.
It will be Texas' fourth trip to South Bend but first since 1995 when it lost by 28 points. It also would be the Longhorns' first inclusion in a College GameDay site since the 2011 Red River Shootout against Oklahoma. Notre Dame has hosted College GameDay eight times before, most recently in 2012 when it beat Stanford during its run to the BCS title game.
Other candidates: Arlington, Texas (Alabama vs. Wisconsin); Atlanta (Auburn vs. Louisville); Evanston, Illinois (Stanford at Northwestern); Houston (Arizona State vs. Texas A&M); Lincoln, Nebraska (BYU at Nebraska)
Week 2: East Lansing, Michigan
Matchup: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 2 belongs to the Ducks and Spartans, as for the second year in a row these teams will be paired up in the game that will serve as College GameDay's backdrop. Last season it was in Eugene, Oregon, where the home team rallied in the second half to knock off Michigan State in the first marquee nonconference clash of 2014. The victory helped spark Oregon's run to the national championship game.
This year's game is just as big in terms of playoff implications, but the locale has crossed the country to bring ESPN's set to East Lansing for the eighth time and fourth in the past five seasons. The Spartans lost at home to eventual national champion Ohio State last November.
Oregon has been involved in a GameDay site 10 other times since the start of the 2011 season.
Other candidates: Ann Arbor, Michigan (Oregon State at Michigan); Knoxville, Tennessee (Oklahoma at Tennessee); Louisville, Kentucky (Houston at Louisville); Starkville, Mississippi (LSU at Mississippi State)
Week 3: Miami
Matchup: Nebraska at Miami (Florida)
ESPN looks not only for great matchups but good stories when it selects GameDay sites, particularly during the early part of the season. That will send the show to south Florida for the renewal of a rivalry that's deeply rooted in the past and has been a big part of college football's championship history.
Miami and Nebraska met in bowl games five times between 1984 and 2002, with each game factoring into the national title discussion. The 1984 Orange Bowl was one of the all-time classics, with Nebraska scoring with 48 seconds left but then coming up short on a two-point conversion to fall 31-30. The 2002 edition was held at the Rose Bowl and saw Miami dominate the Cornhuskers en route to its last title.
Neither team is expected to be a strong contender for the playoffs this season, with Mike Riley taking over at Nebraska and Miami's Al Golden facing a hot seat in his fifth season, but it should still be a good contest that helps determine how each team will fare in their respective conferences.
Miami hasn't hosted GameDay since 2006, when the Hurricanes lost to Florida State on Labor Day. That was the last time during regular season that a game played on a day other than Saturday was selected, though ESPN was also at the site of a Saturday game (Notre Dame at Georgia Tech) two days earlier.
Nebraska was last involved in a GameDay matchup in 2011 when it opened its first season of Big Ten play with a loss at Wisconsin.
Other candidates: Athens, Georgia (South Carolina at Georgia); Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Auburn at LSU); Los Angeles (Stanford at USC); South Bend, Indiana (Georgia Tech at Notre Dame); Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Ole Miss at Alabama)
Week 4: Tucson, Arizona
Matchup: UCLA at Arizona
Championships aren't won in September, but they could be lost. That's what Arizona and UCLA are facing in their Pac-12 opener, as these are two of the three teams that battled for the South Division title in 2014.
For all the progress that Arizona has made in Rich Rodriguez's three seasons, the one hurdle it hasn't gotten over has been UCLA. The Bruins destroyed the Wildcats 66-10 in Los Angeles in 2012 and then converted linebacker Myles Jack into a running back to pace a 31-26 road win in 2013. Last year's game in LA was a surprising defensive struggle, with UCLA claiming a 17-7 victory, but Arizona ultimately won the division.
Tucson has played host to College GameDay just once, in 2009, when Oregon came to town. That game was noteworthy both for Oregon's massive comeback in the final moments to eventually win in overtime, and for Arizona fans' premature storming of the field.
UCLA was last part of GameDay in 2011 when it fell at Oregon.
Other candidates: Arlington, Texas (Arkansas vs. Texas A&M); Syracuse, New York (LSU at Syracuse); Tempe, Arizona (USC at Arizona State)
Week 5: Athens, Georgia
Matchup: Alabama at Georgia
The SEC routinely has among the most GameDay sites each year, if not the most, with 66 visits from the show since 1995. Last year saw six trips to SEC campuses, including three straight at one point. It wouldn't be a surprise to see similar numbers in 2015 as almost every week offers at least one SEC locale as a viable option.
It's hard to imagine the first regular-season meeting between Alabama and Georgia since 2008 wouldn't be a lock for Week 4.
The schools last met in 2012 in the SEC title game, won by Alabama, but the 2008 clash was just as notable. That was a "blackout game" at Sanford Stadium in Georgia, a Top-10 matchup that saw the Crimson Tide jump out to a 31-0 lead en route to a 41-30 victory.
"This sequel blackout game turned out to be as entertaining for Georgia fans as 'The Next Karate Kid,'" Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald wrote.
The 2012 meeting was far more competitive, with Alabama pulling out a 32-28 win in Atlanta a few weeks before crushing Notre Dame in the BCS title game.
Georgia has only hosted GameDay three other times, most recently in 2013 when it beat LSU. Seven SEC teams have hosted the show at least four times, and Alabama has been a part of 32 times.
Other candidates: Clemson, South Carolina (Notre Dame at Clemson); Knoxville, Tennessee (Arkansas at Tennessee); Los Angeles (Arizona State at UCLA); Madison, Wisconsin (Iowa at Wisconsin)
Week 6: Columbia, South Carolina
Matchup: LSU at South Carolina
The SEC tour continues with a matchup that might not be the biggest on paper but will be one of the most anticipated from a media standpoint. That's because of the anticipation of the quotes that will come from LSU coach Les Miles and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier leading up to, during and after this cross-division clash. Two of the most quotable men in college football haven't squared off since 2012.
GameDay occasionally is able to get the coach of the host school to come onto the show that morning, but in this case it would make for great TV to have both Spurrier and Miles up there with a chance to trade impromptu barbs at each other and various other topics. Maybe a discussion on grass consumption, country music, visors and traffic laws?
Columbia has hosted GameDay seven times, including last September when the Gamecocks lost to Missouri. LSU was part of the show last October when it beat Ole Miss at home, but it's lost the last two times it was the visitor in the highlighted matchup.
Other candidates: Clemson, South Carolina (Georgia Tech at Clemson); Dallas (Oklahoma vs. Texas); Knoxville, Tennessee (Georgia at Tennessee); Lincoln, Nebraska (Wisconsin at Nebraska); Piscataway, New Jersey (Michigan State at Rutgers); Tallahassee, Florida (Miami at Florida State)
Week 7: College Station, Texas
Matchup: Alabama at Texas A&M
Texas A&M's official debut in the SEC in 2012 was a season-opening home loss to Florida, but the date the Aggies really became part of the league's inner circle was two months later when Johnny Manziel and his teammates shocked defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Since that result, each year's Alabama-A&M game has been among the most highly anticipated in the league, if not the country.
The 2013 version in College Station was as wild as any game, with Alabama holding on for a 49-42 victory. Then, last year's clash at Alabama was an embarrassment for A&M. The 59-0 loss was the worst ever for A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and signaled the low point of a disappointing 8-5 year for the Aggies.
What will the 2015 edition have in store for us? Aside from the revenge aspect, it will be a matchup of some of the top recruits of the past few years.
A&M has hosted College GameDay four times in its history, twice since joining the SEC. The last came in 2013 when Alabama most recently visited College Station.
Other candidates: Ann Arbor, Michigan (Michigan State at Michigan); Athens, Georgia (Missouri at Georgia); Columbus, Ohio (Penn State at Ohio State); Memphis, Tennessee (Ole Miss at Memphis); Salt Lake City (Arizona State at Utah); Seattle (Oregon at Washington); South Bend, Indiana (USC at Notre Dame); Tallahassee, Florida (Louisville at Florida State)
Week 8: Atlanta
Matchup: Florida State at Georgia Tech
GameDay will remain in the South but slide over to an ACC venue for Week 8, where we get a rematch of the best of last year's power-conference title games but on a college campus rather than at a neutral site.
Georgia Tech was among the many teams that pushed Florida State to the limit last year but were unable to get the job done, falling to the Seminoles in the ACC title game in Charlotte. The Yellow Jackets haven't hosted FSU since 2008 when it earned a 31-28 victory.
It's been even longer since GameDay set up shop outside Bobby Dodd Stadium, where the show has broadcast from twice but not since the 2006 season opener. GameDay has since made seven other trips to Atlanta, but all of those were either for Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic games at the start of the season or for SEC title games in December.
This would be FSU's eighth appearance in a featured game since the start of the 2013 season, with the only loss in that stretch coming to Oregon in January's Rose Bowl national semifinal.
Other candidates: Fayetteville, Arkansas (Auburn at Arkansas); Miami (Clemson at Miami); Piscataway, New Jersey (Ohio State at Rutgers)
Week 9: Norfolk, Virginia
Matchup: Western Kentucky at Old Dominion
The past two years have seen College GameDay break from the mold at times, eschewing sexier matchups involving power programs for ones at the lower ranks. This has resulted in three trips to FCS schools, twice at North Dakota State and once at Harvard.
This year, look for ESPN to make its second-ever journey to a Conference USA venue by showcasing one of FBS' newest programs and one of the top offenses in the country led by the nation's most prolific passer.
Old Dominion is in its third year of FBS play, having resurrected its program in 2009. The Monarchs went 6-6 last year but weren't allowed to play in a bowl game. This fall, they're not only eligible but could contend for the C-USA's East Division title. One of their main challengers is Western Kentucky, which has senior quarterback Brandon Doughty in his sixth season and coming off a year when he threw for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns.
This will also be the Halloween broadcast, so look for Lee Corso and the rest of the GameDay crew to break out some sweet costumes. Though all of that will get trumped if Corso decides to thrown on the head of Western Kentucky's furry blob of a mascot, Big Red.
The only other GameDay site that's involved a C-USA team was in 2011 when a Kevin Sumlin-coached Houston team beat SMU at home. Both teams have since moved to the American Athletic Conference.
Other candidates: Jacksonville, Florida (Florida vs. Georgia); Philadelphia (Notre Dame at Temple); Raleigh, North Carolina (Clemson at North Carolina State)
Week 10: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Matchup: TCU at Oklahoma State
The Big 12 was unofficially the fifth-best conference out of the Power Five last year if you base this off teams that made the playoffs. It was the only one not to get an entrant in the semifinals, tarnishing the reputation of a once-dominant league that now has fallen down a few rungs, partly because longtime powers Oklahoma and Texas have slipped but also because it's the only one of the power conferences without a title game.
That challenge remains this season, so everything comes down to regular-season results in the Big 12. Sadly, the biggest game on the schedule in 2015 isn't eligible for a Saturday GameDay visit, as Baylor visits TCU on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The conference slate has several other notable matchups in November, however, so in order to give the Big 12 some publicity, it will require highlighting the top teams in matchups against others in the conference.
TCU figures to be unbeaten when it heads to Stillwater in early November, and that's a place where other perfect teams have recently fallen. In 2013, Baylor was 9-0 when it played at OK State and got blown out, and this would be the first time GameDay has come to T. Boone Pickens Stadium since that contest.
The Horned Frogs have dropped their last three games in Stillwater, including the two since joining the Big 12 in 2012 by a combined 36 points. However, TCU is 5-0 all time in GameDay-highlighted games.
Other candidates: Clemson, South Carolina (Florida State at Clemson); College Station, Texas (Auburn at Texas A&M); Lincoln, Nebraska (Michigan State at Nebraska); Tuscaloosa, Alabama (LSU at Alabama)
Week 11: Waco, Texas
Matchup: Oklahoma at Baylor
The second half of the Big 12 Promotion Tour stops in Waco, where GameDay visited last December to witness the Bears beat Kansas State in a game that kicked off during the SEC title game and just before the ACC and Big Ten championships. When the dust settled, Baylor had been left out of the playoffs in favor of the winners of those other three games (as well as Pac-12 title game winner Oregon from Friday night).
Baylor will be playing the same day as those conference finals again this year, hosting Texas on Dec. 5, but will hope not to have to worry about the results of those other games. In order for that to be the case, it needs to take care of business in a tough November that features games against 2014's best teams from the Big 12.
The Bears have games against both Oklahoma schools leading up to the big post-Thanksgiving clash at TCU, and they can't take either of those for granted. Despite having won three of four against Oklahoma (after losing the first 20 meetings in the series) and playing in a stadium that it averaged 53.8 points per game last season, this isn't a walkover.
Oklahoma hasn't been a part of GameDay since October 2012 when it lost at home to Notre Dame. The Sooners' last win in a featured contest was against Texas in the 2011 Red River Shootout in Dallas.
Other candidates: Auburn, Alabama (Georgia at Auburn); Kansas City, Missouri (BYU vs. Missouri); Palo Alto, California (Oregon at Stanford); Starkville, Mississippi (Alabama at Mississippi State); Waco, Texas (Oklahoma at Baylor)
Week 12: Columbus, Ohio
Matchup: Michigan State at Ohio State
Traditionally, the defending national champion in college football spends much of the following season in the spotlight as long as they remain in the hunt for another title. This will no doubt be the case with Ohio State, but because of how its schedule plays out in 2015, the Buckeyes' opportunities for being part of the GameDay mix are limited.
Had the opener at Virginia Tech been on a Saturday instead of Labor Day Monday, it likely would be where the show begins this season. Instead, the first realistic chance for the Buckeyes to be featured on GameDay will be in what could be their toughest matchup of the season.
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team to beat an Urban Meyer-coached OSU squad in his three seasons, doing so in the 2013 conference title game. The Spartans weren't able to knock off OSU at home last year—a game that served as the backdrop for GameDay last November.
Columbus is the most visited campus in GameDay history, with 13 previous stops there. Surprisingly, though, the last one came back in 2010 for a November win over Penn State.
Other candidates: Eugene, Oregon (USC at Oregon); Norman, Oklahoma (TCU at Oklahoma); Stillwater, Oklahoma (Baylor at Oklahoma State); Tucson, Arizona (Arizona at Arizona State)
Week 13: Auburn, Alabama
Matchup: Alabama at Auburn
It's rivalry Saturday in college football, where most of the best games involve matchups that are regularly played on this date and that include many contests with major division, conference and national championship implications. But the Iron Bowl would probably win out over most of the other options, even if both Alabama and Auburn weren't both expected to be in the national title hunt.
GameDay has stopped by for this game in three of the previous four seasons, including the 2013 game made famous by Auburn's Kick-Six touchdown as time expired. Last year the Crimson Tide exacted revenge in a record-setting 55-44 home victory.
Depending on how the rest of the season goes, Alabama and Auburn could be playing for the SEC West title and a spot in the conference title game that one or the other has played in six of the previous seven years.
This would be Auburn's 10th time hosting GameDay, the last two being the 2011 and 2013 Iron Bowls.
Other candidates: Ann Arbor, Michigan (Ohio State at Michigan); Atlanta (Georgia at Georgia Tech); Columbia, South Carolina (Clemson at South Carolina); Gainesville, Florida (Florida State at Florida); Los Angeles (UCLA at USC); Starkville, Mississippi (Ole Miss at Mississippi State); Stillwater, Oklahoma (Oklahoma at Oklahoma State)
Week 14: Atlanta
Matchup: SEC Championship Game, teams TBD
The only repeat city on our list is Atlanta, but unlike the previous visit, this one will be in the Georgia Dome rather than at Georgia Tech. The SEC title game has the best chance of being a contest where both teams will be in contention for a spot in the playoffs—compared to those deciding the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 champions—and that puts it atop the others for GameDay selection.
Because East Division favorite Georgia plays both Alabama and Auburn during the regular season, there's a chance this game could be a rematch. That's happened six times before, most recently in 2010 when Auburn beat South Carolina for the second time during its national championship season.
The show parked outside the Dome for the 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 SEC championships, more than for any other postseason site other than the Rose Bowl or the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Other candidates: Charlotte, North Carolina (ACC Championship Game); Indianapolis (Big Ten Championship Game); Santa Clara, California (Pac-12 Championship Game); Waco, Texas (Texas at Baylor)
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.