Comin' to Your City: Predicting Every Stop by ESPN's College GameDay in 2011
It's become a ritual for college football fans.
Wake up in the morning on a fall Saturday, put on your team gear and turn on ESPN's College GameDay to get your early fix for college football.
College GameDay is a show where ESPN analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Erin Andrews and Chris Fowler preview the day's action live from the site of the day's biggest game. Fans show up in masses and try to get their clever signs noticed by a national audience.
At the end of the show, the guys bring out a celebrity picker who is affiliated with the school that GameDay is visiting. The guys all take their guesses as to who will win the nation's biggest match-up, and the show ends after Corso dons the mascot head of the team he predicts will win.
Whether you like the cast of this show or not, you have to admit watching it is the perfect way to start your college football Saturday.
With the 2011 season just under four months away, you can bet the GameDay gang is up at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, just planning on where the iconic show will be going.
I figured I might as well predict where I think they'll be this season. Are they "comin' to your citaaaaay" in 2011?
Week One: LSU vs. Oregon (Arlington, Texas)
Other options: Georgia vs. Boise State (Chick-Fil-A Kick-off Game), BYU at Ole Miss, Minnesota at USC
College GameDay spurns Atlanta, the city where the show kicked off the past three seasons, for Arlington, Texas for the highly anticipated match-up between SEC power LSU and Pac-12 beast Oregon.
Both teams are projected to start the season in the top 10, possibly the top five, and their contrast in style will make for a must-see game for anybody who calls themselves a fanatic of college football.
Oregon, who went 12-0 in the regular season last season before losing the national title game against Auburn, has a high-speed offense and turnover-happy defense. LSU, who went 11-2 last season, has a new offensive system, a pound-it mentality and a hard-nosed defense.
Prediction: This is a very hard game to call, but in the end, I think LSU's size dooms the Ducks. I like LSU in a nail-biter at Cowboys Stadium. Don't worry, though, Duck fans. They always say if you have to lose once, do so early. The loser of this game won't be out of the national title picture by any means.
Week Two: Alabama at Penn State (University Park, Pennsylvania)
Other options: Notre Dame at Michigan, South Carolina at Georgia, Mississippi State at Auburn
GameDay makes its first trip to University Park since 2009 to see the Penn State Nittany Lions face one of the nation's best teams, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Last year, the popular ESPN show visited this game when it was in Tuscaloosa. Then-No. 1 Alabama rolled over the Nittany Lions, 24-3, in a game that seemed more focused on history than being an actual competitive game. The only reason Alabama didn't destroy Penn State was because Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban had too much respect for Penn State's Joe Paterno.
However, Penn State enters 2011 as an improved team, and this game is in Happy Valley with over 100,000 screaming fans rooting on the Nittany Lions. The game has been dubbed as a "white-out," where all Penn State fans will wear white to the game for this primetime showdown.
Prediction: I think Penn State's chances of winning against the Crimson Tide are much better this season than they were last. Of course, last year's chances were about 0 percent, so it isn't much of an improvement. Alabama pulls away in the second half to send the home folks home sad in this big game.
Week Three: Oklahoma at Florida State (Tallahassee, Florida)
Other options: Ohio State at Miami (FL), Auburn at Clemson, Michigan State at Notre Dame
The GameDay gang heads to Tallahassee, Florida, for this highly-anticipated battle between top 10 teams (barring an upset ... nah...) in the Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida State Seminoles.
Last year, the Sooners jumped out to a 34-7 halftime lead in route to a 47-17 blowout win over the Seminoles. But that was in Norman, a place where even the best teams get knocked around. This year's contest is at "The Doak," where the crowd will be rocking and Jimbo Fisher will look to get his biggest win so far at Florida State.
If Florida State wins, they prove themselves as a bona-fide BCS Title contender. If Oklahoma wins, it's a huge road victory that could give the Sooners enough momentum to carry them to a 12-0 record.
Prediction: FSU is surely on the upswing and they can win this game, especially since it's at home. However, I think Oklahoma's defense puts on a show and the Sooners come out on top in a surprisingly low-scoring affair. FSU fans, after a morning of an excitement and a day of anticipation all around town, will head home disappointed.
Week Four: Oklahoma State at Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)
Other options: Oregon at Arizona, LSU at West Virginia, Arkansas at Alabama
Corso and the crew make their way to College Station, Texas, for this Big 12 (Ten?) battle between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas A&M Aggies, both considered darkhorse contenders to win the national championship.
Last year, the Cowboys scored 31 second-half points to top A&M, 38-35, in a game that started out as an Aggie rout.
This year, the game will be played at Kyle Field, one of college football's greatest venues. Also, the Aggies have a great QB in former-WR Ryan Tannehill, who led the Aggies from the ashes to a share of the Big 12 South title last year. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have explosive offensive stars in QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon.
Prediction: This game is a really tough call as both are capable of winning the conference, but despite the fact it's in the Aggies' house, I like the Oklahoma State Cowboys to come away victorious in a high-scoring affair. Once again, fans at the GameDay location have a sad drive home.
Week Five: Nebraska at Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin)
Other options: Alabama at Florida, Oregon State at Arizona State, Auburn at South Carolina
One of the biggest moves of the college football conference-shuffle was when the University of Nebraska announced that its athletic programs would be moving out of the Big 12 to the Big Ten.
One of the first huge games for the Huskers in Big Ten play is this road game against the reigning conference champions, the Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin has arguably the best RB duo in the country and the defense looks solid, while Nebraska is trying to solve a QB controversy and replace Prince Amukamara and RB Roy Helu, Jr. However, Bo Pelini is a good coach and 2010's disappointing season will be motivation for the Cornhuskers in 2011.
Let's face it, this is the best place GameDay could possibly be this week.
Prediction: So far, according to my predictions, with the exclusion of the season-opening neutral-site game in Arlington, the home teams hosting GameDay are 0-3. This is the week it changes, as the Badgers make a statement with a 21-point win over the Cornhuskers. Wisconsin takes this one easily.
Week Six: Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas, Texas)
Other options: Florida at LSU, Miami (FL) at Virginia Tech, Ohio State at Nebraska
GameDay makes the trip to Dallas for this exciting Big 12 rivalry between two of college football's top 10 programs of all time.
Oklahoma, an easy pick to be college football's No. 1 team in the preseason, faces the Texas Longhorns, looking to rebound from their humiliating 5-7 record last year. Oklahoma is loaded for a title run while Texas simply wants to make a bowl game again.
This showdown at the Cotton Bowl is one of college football's best and most bitter rivalries, and this year should be no different.
Last year, Texas fell behind 28-10 in the fourth but rebounded with 10 straight points. Oklahoma sealed the deal, though, and defeated the Longhorns 28-20.
Prediction: Oklahoma will enter this game with the No. 1 ranking in every poll. Common sense says Oklahoma steamrolls Texas. As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend!" Texas jumps out to a big lead early and holds on late to shock the top-ranked Sooners. Don't mess with Texas!
Week Seven: Michigan at Michigan State (East Lansing, Michigan)
Other options: Florida at Auburn, Arizona State at Oregon, Northwestern at Iowa
College GameDay passes up Oregon-ASU and Auburn-Florida to come to East Lansing, Michigan, for an interstate showdown between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan State, who claimed a share of the Big Ten title last year, looks to keep momentum rolling and shake off the poor image they were left with following their 49-7 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Michigan, the winningest program in college football history, enters year one of the Brady Hoke regime looking to rejoin the elites of college football after three long years with Rich Rodriguez.
Last season, the Spartans went into Michigan Stadium and blew out the Wolverines, 34-17, shutting down then-Heisman frontrunner Denard Robinson. Robinson is back for revenge against the Spartans.
Prediction: Though Michigan will be improved, the Spartans should take this game. It's in East Lansing and one year won't be enough for Brady Hoke to fix Michigan's defense, though they will definitely be improved. I like Michigan State to pull away in the second half and beat the Wolverines.
Week Eight: Auburn at LSU (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Other options: Tennessee at Alabama, Oklahoma State at Missouri, USC at Notre Dame
The GameDay gang heads to the bayou of Louisiana for this SEC showdown between the 2007 and 2010 national champions.
The Auburn Tigers visit Death Valley to face the LSU Tigers. Auburn hasn't won a game in Baton Rouge since 2001, and LSU looks to keep it that way in 2011.
Last year, Cam Newton ran for 217 yards and Auburn ran for 440 yards as a team to topple Les Miles's Bayou Bengals, 24-17, en route to the national title. But LSU is more primed for a national title run in 2011, as Auburn will probably be relegated to spoiler this season.
Prediction: The Auburn-LSU game is always close, and this game shouldn't be any different. However, home-field advantage and experience will push LSU past Auburn in this SEC West showdown. Auburn will be back in the title hunt ... just not in 2011. LSU gets the nod here.
Week Nine: Wisconsin at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
Other options: Stanford at USC, Oklahoma at Kansas State, Michigan State at Nebraska
The popular ESPN show will visit Columbus for the fourth straight season for this Big Ten (12?) battle between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
What condition Ohio State will be here is anybody's guess. Will the five-game suspension of the Tat-Five and Jim Tressel not have an impact early on, leaving the Buckeyes in title contention at this point? Will the Buckeyes already be hit by NCAA sanctions? Will there even be sanctions?
But Wisconsin seems to be pretty much set in stone ... which, by the way, they like to pound. The Badgers have the best duo of RBs in America, but can they overcome the tough atmosphere at Ohio Stadium?
Prediction: Despite the fact it's in Columbus, I like the Badgers to steamroll the Buckeyes on their own field. Wisconsin takes this game by 24, sending the once-hopeful fans to the exits by the middle of the fourth quarter.
Week 10: LSU at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
Other options: Oregon at Washington, Texas A&M at Oklahoma, Northwestern at Nebraska
GameDay heads to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for one of the best college football games of the 2011 schedule.
The LSU Tigers face off with the Alabama Crimson Tide in a battle for SEC West (and possibly national) supremacy.
Since Nick Saban took over the Tide in 2007, he and Les Miles's Bayou Bengals have played four great games. In the last four meetings, Alabama has outscored LSU 106-101 (average score of about 27-25). That's what I would call close.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide have two of America's most talented squads, which is why they have combined for three of the last eight BCS National Championships.
Predictions: The Bryant-Denny crowd will surely be loud for this highly-anticipated game. However, I like LSU to pull the mild upset in front of the road crowd. The Tigers win, stunning the Crimson Tide faithful.
Week 11: Oregon at Stanford (Palo Alto, California)
Other options: TCU at Boise State, Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Florida at South Carolina
Corso's crew heads to Palo Alto, California, for what could determine who represents the North division in the Pac-12 title game.
The Oregon Ducks, two-time reigning conference champions, roll into town to face star QB Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford has a new head man following the departure of Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers, while the Ducks return stars like LaMicheal James and Cliff Harris. But the Cardinal have Andrew Luck, who would have been drafted No. 1 by Carolina in the 2011 NFL Draft had he declared.
Last year, the Cardinal went into Eugene and stormed out to a 21-3 lead. The Ducks responded with a 49-10 scoring run to end the game, resulting in a 52-31 Ducks win. Oregon went on to go 12-0 in the regular season while Stanford would not lose again, including a 28-point win in the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech.
Prediction: Yes, the game is in Palo Alto. Yes, the Cardinal have Andrew Luck. But the Ducks have a great staff and they also have a pretty good QB named Darron Thomas, who threw for a BCS Title Game-record 374 yards in their loss to Auburn. I like the Ducks to pull away in the second half and score a surprising 17-point win over Stanford.
Week 12: USC at Oregon (Eugene, Oregon)
Other options: California at Stanford, LSU at Ole Miss, Texas Tech at Missouri
One week after stopping at an Oregon road game, they visit Eugene for this heavyweight Pac-12 matchup between the USC Trojans and the Oregon Ducks.
Last year, Oregon rolled to a 53-32 win over Southern Cal in Los Angeles. USC now is more talented and Lane Kiffin has gotten himself comfortable in Hollywood. USC still isn't in contention for the national title thanks to NCAA sanctions (unless they win the appeal), but they are rapidly improving.
Can the Trojans go into the Autzen Zoo and come out victorious?
Prediction: USC will jump out on Oregon, but we all know it won't last. USC will get yards and score points, but Oregon will get more yards and score more points when it's all said and done. Oregon wins at home by two touchdowns.
Week 13: Alabama at Auburn (Auburn, Alabama)
Other options: Notre Dame at Stanford, Florida State at Florida, Ohio State at Michigan
GameDay makes its third trip to the Plains of Auburn, Alabama since 2008 for the best rivalry in all of college football, the Iron Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers.
This rivalry has had its ugly spots and its bright spots. Ugly spots include when Alabama "fan" Harvey Updyke poisoned the famous oak trees at Toomer's Corner. But when true tragedy strikes, such as the recent tornadoes that destroyed Tuscaloosa, the fanbases put their fandoms aside to help one another and remember the true priorities of life.
OK, now on to the game itself. Last year, the unbeaten Tigers fell behind Nick Saban's Tide 24-0 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. But Heisman winner Cam Newton and Lombardi winner Nick Fairley both had a huge part in bringing Auburn back to win, 28-27. Auburn would go on to beat Oregon for the national title.
Of course, it's well-documented that Auburn doesn't exactly bring back a lot of players from the 2010 team. The Tigers lose Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Darvin Adams, 23 seniors and five players due to arrest. Alabama loses some key starters, but the back-ups for the Tide are more experienced and are very, very talented.
The Iron Bowl, at Jordan-Hare Stadium, between the past two national champions? Sounds good enough for College GameDay to be there.
Prediction: Common sense says to go with the Crimson Tide, but in reality, Auburn has home-field advantage and returns a lot of talent, albeit not experienced. This game should be another classic, but I like Auburn to pull off a mild upset in the Iron Bowl, giving Gene Chizik a winning record over Nick Saban ... for now.
Week 14: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Stillwater, Oklahoma)
Other options: SEC Championship Game, Big Ten Championship Game, Pac-12 Championship Game
Before preparing to camp their tent in New Orleans for the BCS National Championship Game, GameDay makes one final regular-season stop in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for the Bedlam rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Sure, they could visit the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-12 Championship Games, but ESPN doesn't have the rights to any of those games, while this is an exciting shootout sure to be ABC's primetime game. It's too good for ESPN to pass up, especially since this could be a conference title game itself.
Last year, Oklahoma scored 23 points in the fourth quarter to break Oklahoma State's heart, 47-41, en route to the Big 12 championship. Now, Oklahoma, who has won eight straight over Oklahoma State, must go back to Stillwater thanks to the installment of a new conference schedule.
Prediction: I like the Cowboys to finally (and I stress, FINALLY) beat the Sooners and win the Big 12 (Ten?). The folks in Stillwater will be partying all night after the Pokes defeat Oklahoma in, what else, a freakishly high-scoring contest.