- The second half of the college football season is upon us, and that means plenty of big games for College GameDay to choose from.
With ESPN’s College GameDay announcing its long-awaited first trip to Washington State for Week 8, just six undetermined destinations remain this season for the show that has become an integral part of every fall Saturday. The announcements aren’t always as surprising or celebrated as the decision to go to Pullman, but they are always met with plenty of excitement and debate. Chosen fanbases get to start making their signs and preparing for a fun weekend in the national spotlight, and those that miss out are left voicing their frustrations on Twitter. Given that it’s the midpoint of the season and we’ve got a pretty good idea of who teams are and what the biggest games of each remaining week will be, let’s make some informed guesses on the stops the GameDay crew will make for the rest of the year.
Week 9 (Oct. 27): Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Part of the appeal of GameDay is that it usually takes place on college campuses, giving students and the entire host city a chance to showcase their school pride before a big game. But if the best matchup of the week happens to be at a neutral site, GameDay has shown that it won’t hesitate in going there. The latest example came on Oct. 6, when the show was hosted from Dallas before Texas-Oklahoma.
Georgia and Florida play in Jacksonville every year in the game unofficially known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Despite Georgia’s loss to LSU in Week 7, the two teams are having strong 2018 seasons. They’re both 6–1, ranked in the top 11 in the AP Poll, and tied atop the SEC East (which won’t change since both have byes in Week 8, although Kentucky can make it a three-way tie with a win over Vandy). GameDay hasn’t gone to Jacksonville for this game since 2005, but this year’s matchup is set up perfectly to change that. Unlike in 2008 and 2012, when top-10 Florida-Georgia matchups weren’t chosen, there’s no other great game to compete with. Texas A&M at Mississippi State is the only other possibility that comes to mind (and only if the Bulldogs beat LSU in Week 8), but the stakes just aren’t as high in that game. GameDay will head back to Jacksonville for this classic rivalry.
Confidence level: High
Week 10 (Nov. 3): Alabama at LSU
Go ahead and pencil this one in. Assuming Alabama takes care of business against Tennessee this weekend (the Tide are favored by 30 despite the game being in Knoxville), this will be the first real test of the season for the unquestioned No. 1 team in the country. LSU is up to No. 5 after soundly beating Georgia and still controls its own destiny in the SEC West, not to mention that adding a win over Bama would immediately make the Tigers a favorite to reach the playoff. On top of all that, GameDay has been to five of the last seven matchups in this series. If LSU beats Mississippi State, this is an absolute lock. Both teams have byes in Week 9, allowing plenty of time for the hype to build up. If Mississippi State wins—especially if it wins big—there’s technically a chance GameDay could go to West Virginia at Texas instead. But I think LSU will handle the Bulldogs, meaning the SEC, which has only had one non-conference game receive the GameDay treatment through eight weeks, will be featured in consecutive weeks.
Confidence level: Very high
Week 11 (Nov. 10): Texas at Texas Tech
Unlike the two previous Saturdays, Week 11 doesn’t have a game that currently stands out as the obvious favorite to host GameDay. What it does have is a solid slate of games that have the potential to become even better over the next few weeks. Once we get to Week 11, which is nearly a month away, this exercise in predicting the GameDay destination becomes mainly an exercise in predicting which teams will start the second half strong. For example, Ohio State at Michigan State could be a possibility if MSU beats Michigan this week. Same with TCU at West Virginia if TCU beats Oklahoma this week and West Virginia beats Texas in Week 10. I’m not too sold on any of those things happening.
Let’s go with Texas at Texas Tech. The Longhorns have won six in a row and are up to No. 7 in the country. They’ll be 6–0 in the Big 12 heading into this game if they can handle Oklahoma State on the road and West Virginia (which didn’t look like a contender in a loss to Iowa State) at home over the next few weeks. Texas Tech, meanwhile, is coming off an impressive road win over TCU and should get starting quarterback Alan Bowman back from injury soon. The Red Raiders can beat Kansas and Iowa State before playing Oklahoma at home in a big Week 10 game. If Kliff Kingsbury and Co. can knock off the Sooners, this game will have massive Big 12 implications and would become the easy choice. Call it a hunch, but I think GameDay will head to Lubbock for the first time since 2008.
Confidence level: Low
Week 12 (Nov. 17): Cincinnati @ UCF
It might seem bold to predict GameDay going to a Group of Five game, but it actually makes a lot of sense when you take a long look at Week 12. As things stand in the AP poll heading into Week 8, this is the only matchup of the weekend between two ranked teams. Miami at Virginia Tech had some appeal early in the year, but both have dropped games to bad teams. Duke at Clemson could become an option if the Blue Devils win their next four games, but that’s a tough thing to rely on. This seems like a great week for GameDay to go to an unconventional location, which they’ve done at least once per season in recent years. Jacksonville State vs. Kennesaw State from the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park could be an option; GameDay has done an FCS game in four of the last five years.
The safer call is that ESPN will reward UCF for a winning streak that should be at 22 games by the time this matchup rolls around. Discussions of UCF’s playoff candidacy will continue to grow if it avoids an upset, setting this game up as a recognition of the Knights’ accomplishments over the past two seasons. Cincinnati is also undefeated and could stay that way if it beats Temple on the road and holds off South Florida (another currently undefeated team) at home, setting up a chance to take the AAC East lead by beating UCF. Also, GameDay has never been to Orlando and Cincinnati has never so much as played in a GameDay game. It makes sense.
Confidence level: Medium
Week 13 (Nov. 24): Michigan at Ohio State
The last week of the regular season—also known as rivalry week—features an impressive slate of games, as always. Oklahoma at West Virginia and Washington at Washington State could have Big 12 and Pac-12 title implications, but both are on Friday night, which rules them out. (Wazzu wouldn’t host twice, anyways). LSU at Texas A&M is off the table because the Aggies have already hosted this season. Games like Notre Dame at USC and Florida at Florida State would be considered if the home teams were having better years. The Iron Bowl is this week, but Auburn already has three losses and figures to have one or two more by this time. That leaves one real option: Michigan at Ohio State. These are clearly the two best teams in the Big Ten, and it isn’t difficult to see a scenario in which both are 8–0 in conference play heading into this game, making it a Big Ten East title game and a playoff eliminator for Michigan (and maybe Ohio State as well). This is one of the greatest rivalries in the sport and seems like the clear favorite to host the final regular season edition of GameDay.
Confidence level: High
Conference Championship Week (Dec 1): SEC Championship Game
GameDay has gone to the Big Ten or SEC championship in seven of the last 10 seasons. This year, there’s no need to go to Indianapolis since it will have just been at the de facto Big Ten title game in Columbus. (The Big Ten West is having a down year with Wisconsin struggling and Iowa still having much to prove, so the actual title game might be ugly). GameDay went to the ACC championship last year when Clemson-Miami was full of intrigue, but that league has just two ranked teams right now—Clemson and NC State—and both are from the same division. The Pac-12 South is terrible. That leaves just two title game options: The SEC and the Big 12. The argument for the Big 12 is that it hasn’t hosted GameDay since 2007, which is because it just brought back its championship game last season after a six-year hiatus. However, I think the appeal of whatever the SEC title game ends up being will be too strong to ignore. Among the Big 12’s three ranked teams, Texas and Oklahoma each still have to play West Virginia. It’s entirely possible both teams in the Big 12 title game will have at least two losses, whereas the SEC game could pit an undefeated Alabama team against whoever of Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky emerges from the East. GameDay will head back to Atlanta for the first time since 2012.
Confidence level: Somewhat high
After that, only three GameDay locations remain, and we already know what they will be. It’s become tradition over the past four years for the crew to head to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy game on the second Saturday of December. The two final broadcasts will be from one of the playoff semifinals and the national championship.