For years, Gophers fans waited — sometimes patiently — as ESPN’s “College GameDay” visited locales across the country, including two stops in Fargo and one in Brookings, S.D. Finally, the popular pregame show made it to Minneapolis for the 2019 regular-season finale against Wisconsin.
Might “College GameDay” return to Minnesota for a second consecutive Gophers home game?
It’s possible, because the cable network is considering the season opener between the No. 24 Gophers and No. 19 Michigan on Oct. 24 at TCF Bank Stadium for its show, a source with knowledge of the situation told the Star Tribune.
On Monday, the Big Ten announced the Gophers and Michigan will kick off at 6:30 p.m. and air nationally on ABC. In another twist, the Gophers will play three Friday games this season — Oct. 30 at Maryland (6:30 p.m., ESPN), Nov. 13 at home vs. Iowa (6 p.m., FS1) and Nov. 20 at home vs. Purdue (time TBD, BTN).
The opener against Michigan will be played for the Little Brown Jug and could be attractive to the “College GameDay” decisionmakers because it’s one of only four involving teams that this week are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The others are No. 2 Alabama at No. 18 Tennessee, No. 8 Cincinnati at No. 17 SMU, and No. 20 Iowa State at No. 7 Oklahoma State.
“College GameDay” is going to Tuscaloosa, Ala., this week for the huge matchup between the Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia. That doesn’t rule out back-to-back appearances by Alabama at Tennessee the following week, but a Big Ten matchup would give the show some variety and break up its SEC/ACC exclusivity. By Saturday, the show will have included Miami (Fla.) three times, Clemson and Georgia twice, and Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Louisville and Wake Forest once each.
On Oct. 24, Cincinnati at SMU matches two undefeated American Athletic Conference teams, though the Bearcats and Mustangs don’t have the national profile of a Big Ten game, especially since Michigan-Minnesota offers a matchup from a Power Five conference retuning to play.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State could be a solid candidate because the Cowboys (3-0) might be the Big 12’s last hope to make the College Football Playoff, while the upset-minded Cyclones have a victory over Oklahoma to their credit.
Nebraska at No. 6 Ohio State on Oct. 24 might have been intriguing for “College GameDay,” but FOX’s “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show will air from Ohio Stadium.
ESPN often makes its decision on the site of the show after the current week’s games are played.
Should “College GameDay” end up in Minnesota for the opener, it will have a different feel that it did last year. On a snowy Nov. 30, fans packed the Northrop Mall to see Rece Davis, Desmond Howard, Kirk Herbstreit, guest picker Eric Decker and, of course, Lee Corso break down the Gophers vs. Badgers.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Corso is making his picks from his Florida home, and the rest of the on-air crew are seated at an elongated desk to maintain social distancing. There have been no fans to provide a festive backdrop at the five stops. Instead, fans can participate virtually through online videos. Cheerleaders and bands have been allowed at certain stops. ESPN also is sending about half as many production crew members on the road than it usually does.
With or without “College GameDay,” the network TV appearance will be the fifth in the past six games for the Gophers, with the exception being the Outback Bowl win over Auburn on ESPN.
The Gophers’ three Friday games were among the five announced by the Big Ten on Monday. Wisconsin is host to Illinois in its season opener on Friday, Oct. 23, and Nebraska plays at Iowa in the traditional Black Friday game on Nov. 27. In three seasons under coach P.J. Fleck, the Gophers have played one Friday night game, a 38-31 home victory over Indiana in 2018.