College football is almost here, and football means tailgating, unabashed and unreasonable optimism, and, of course, College GameDay. ESPN’s best show travels to a different site each week to bring us the latest in Katy Perry’s college guy crushes and Lee Corso’s animal-shaped headwear.
Spencer Hughes and Jake Ohlde are here to lay out GameDay’s road trip plans so you don’t have to. Where will they go, and when? The guys don’t know, but as with anything in college football, they’re ready to guess about what will happen and defend their uninformed (and probably incorrect) positions until they’re blue in the face. Let’s go.
Week 1 (Aug. 31)
Jake’s pick: Auburn vs. Oregon. This is clearly the most anticipated game of Week 1, with both teams having CFP aspirations (although another potentially fun matchup is Boise State visiting Tallahassee to play the Seminoles).
Spencer’s pick: We start with the easiest one. ESPN’s already announced that the GameDay crew will be at Jerryworld in Arlington, Texas for Auburn vs. Oregon. Hard to argue against this pick, as it should be a fun kickoff to the season. There will also be a nerd battle this week when Northwestern visits Stanford, as well as a bunch of nerds getting obliterated in Atlanta where Alabama takes on Duke.
Week 2 (Sept. 7)
Jake’s pick: It’s an early season clash between two programs that are media darlings and arguably the most overhyped of anyone nationally going into any given year: LSU at Texas. LSU routinely has the physical freaks, but I actually like UT’s chances here thanks to the emergence of Sam Ehlinger in 2018. I could also see ESPN pick Texas A&M at Clemson, as the former are expected to have their best campaign since the Johnny Football days and played the national champs close in College Station last September.
Spencer’s pick: This one’s a two-horse race, but I think LSU at Texas will get the nod. Two enormous brands and fanbases and another opportunity for ESPN to lay on the “Texas is back” charm (and maybe get a couple Longhorn Network ads in, too). Texas A&M at Clemson comes in a very close second, but it’s kept behind in part because the best game the next week is…
Week 3 (Sept. 14)
Jake’s pick: Clemson at Syracuse. Seems like another relatively straightforward choice (especially since I think they pass on the Tigers the week prior). Clemson are once again the title favorites but the only team (besides Alabama) that seems to have given them trouble recently is…Syracuse. The Orange upset them in 2017 and pushed them all the way to the brink again last season in Death Valley. I personally can’t wait to see what Dino Babers has up his sleeve this time. Another game that I could see them selecting is Iowa at Iowa State, with both teams likely being undefeated and ranked – making it probably the most important Cy-Hawk game in my lifetime. Ames has never hosted the show, making it even more alluring as a locale.
Spencer’s pick: Agree with Jake here (again) on Clemson at Syracuse. GameDay will get the defending champs just when they add a first-time host to the ranks. Syracuse is coming off of a 10-win season and may end up being Clemson’s toughest obstacle to another 13-0 regular season. I know some Iowans are hoping for the Cy-Hawk Game here, but consider this: FOX chose to put Arizona State at Michigan State on their broadcast network and push Iowa at Iowa State onto FS1 at the same time. That’s the kind of clout that media networks think an all-Iowa clash brings to the table – not much. So, Week 3 will send GameDay into a sea of orange.
Week 4 (Sept. 21)
Jake’s pick: Notre Dame at Georgia. GameDay will be in Athens. Georgia is chasing a title once again while Notre Dame is expected to be slightly down but still a top ~15 team. Very could be a blowout, which is why I’d prefer to see the show in Camp Randall for a ranked slugfest between Michigan and Wisconsin.
Spencer’s pick: Week 4 is probably as close to pre-determined as possible, because games like Notre Dame at Georgia don’t just happen every week. A Top 10 matchup between two huge brands with playoff implications? GameDay is there with its first SEC campus visit of the season.
Week 5 (Sept. 28)
Jake’s pick: The GameDay crew has been itching for a reason to head back to Lincoln, and the legend of Scott Frost gives it to them with Ohio State at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers only won 4 games last year but are expected to make a big jump in year two under their native son. OSU will likely be undefeated and in the top 5 when they come to visit a rocking Memorial Stadium. We’ll find out quickly if the hype is warranted.
Spencer’s pick: ESPN will not get out of September without a Big Ten team appearing on GameDay, and fortunately there’s a really exciting matchup here with Ohio State at Nebraska. This one may be a preview of the B1G title game (if you believe the talking heads who are high on a team coming off of a 4-8 season). Husker fans will show up big time for this.
Week 6 (Oct. 5)
Jake’s pick: Michigan State at Ohio State. A matchup between the Big 10 East’s two best programs the last decade and will once again have potentially huge ramifications. OSU has had the upper hand recently but MSU is poised for a big year and should be undefeated when they roll into Columbus.
Spencer’s pick: Now we’re getting into the range where the guesses are heavily influenced by my win/loss predictions. For example, if you’re inclined to think Iowa and Michigan both win tough early-season road games at Iowa State and Wisconsin respectively, then you would probably slot GameDay in Ann Arbor here. Because I don’t think those teams will win those games, I’m going with Michigan State at Ohio State. It’s very unusual for the same team to be featured in back-to-back weeks, but this will be the show’s only trip to Columbus all year – a site GameDay has broadcast from for the past 4 years in a row.
Week 7 (Oct. 12)
Jake’s pick: Alabama at Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide have won six straight against the Aggies since getting Johnny Football’d at home in 2012, but this should be the best iteration of the Aggies since that season. Kyle Field has one of the best gameday atmospheres in all of college football and it’ll be interesting to see if they can rattle Tua and the Tide at all. The Red River Rivalry also takes place this Saturday, and with both teams as collectively relevant as they’ve been in years – I wouldn’t be shocked to see that one picked either.
Spencer’s pick: GameDay heads back to the Lone Star State for Alabama at Texas A&M. Even if A&M loses at Clemson, they should still be highly ranked here. And if the Aggies somehow win that game against Clemson, then look out for the runaway hype train leading up to this one. GameDay begins to meet their annual Alabama quota in Week 7.
Week 8 (Oct. 19)
Jake’s pick: Michigan at Penn State. It seems rare that GameDay doesn’t make at least once trip to Happy Valley a year, and this looks like the most ideal slot. Trace McSorley is gone but PSU still has a stout defense and should be ranked, while this is the year for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Oregon at Washington is a sneaky pick here too, with the winner of that game likely playing in the Pac 12 title game.
Spencer’s pick: Michigan at Penn State gets the draw here. This one would be different if GameDay just went to the Big House for Michigan a couple weeks earlier (maybe Oregon at Washington would land this one, if so), but this huge matchup is ripe for GameDay, especially if neither team is a repeat player so far this season.
Week 9 (Oct. 26)
Jake’s pick: Wisconsin at Ohio State. Very good chance that this is the first of two Wisky/OSU showdowns, seeing as I think both are undefeated going in and win their division (assuming OSU comes out on top). Wisconsin hasn’t had a ton of luck playing the Buckeyes (see all the previous Big 10 title games) but I’ve got a feeling they’ll muck it up and keep it close this time. This is a banner weekend for the Big 10 as a whole, with Penn State visiting Michigan State, Iowa playing at Northwestern, and Notre Dame taking on Michigan.
Spencer’s pick: Finally, a disagreement between me and Jake! This is another tricky week where the best game (Notre Dame at Michigan) is probably out due to my pick for the previous week. Badgers-Buckeyes would bring GameDay to a Big Ten game in 4 out of 5 weeks, too. So I’ll go with Washington State at Oregon here, because I think both of those teams could be in a very strong position at this point in the season. This could be a week where GameDay picks an unexpected site, though, like an FCS or Group of 5 game. I could also see Utah fans clamoring for GameDay and ESPN deciding to head to Cal at Utah this week if the Utes are 7-0, because there probably won’t be an opportunity after this week to head to Salt Lake City and Utah could be a sneakily legitimate CFP contender.
Week 10 (Nov. 2)
Jake’s pick: Florida vs. Georgia. Georgia has owned the Gators of but Florida could sneak into the SEC title if they could find a way past the Bulldogs in Jacksonville in Dan Mullen’s 2nd year. Should be a fun game either way with both most likely in the top 10.
Spencer’s pick: We’re back in my old city of Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, where Florida vs. Georgia is the main event. I know GameDay was at this site just last season, but it’s not a strong slate this week and this game very well may be the de facto SEC East championship game. If that’s the case, then it’s basically a play-in to the Playoff play-in (i.e. a play-in-in).
Week 11 (Nov. 9)
Jake’s pick: LSU at Alabama. The most anticipated regular season game year in and year out. Bama rolled the Tigers in Baton Rouge in 2018, so they should be good and hungry to make it a close game this time. I still expect Saban and company to cruise, though. I’d prefer to see them go elsewhere however, with Wisconsin and Iowa potentially playing for the division and Iowa State visiting Oklahoma for the first time since pulling their stunning upset in 2017.
Spencer’s pick: It’s time for a trip to Tuscaloosa. LSU at Alabama is the pick here. No need to explain. Believe it or not, GameDay hasn’t been to an Alabama home game since 2016!
Week 12 (Nov. 16)
Jake’s pick: Michigan State at Michigan. It’s been 3 years already since the Wolverines botched a snap that led to one of the wildest final plays in the history of the game. That won’t impact this one though. Both programs should be ranked and in the chase for the division when this one comes up and the rivalry makes it even better. There’s another chance this weekend to get to Ames, with Texas coming to town. Wisconsin also visits Nebraska with the division possibly in the balance.
Spencer’s pick: On one hand, one of the biggest brands in college football – a team that’s been down for years – is on the rise with a chance to play for a conference title. On the other, one of the worst programs in history has come out of nowhere to compete for the exact same thing. College GameDay makes its first-ever trip to Ames here for Texas at Iowa State. Why not? If things turn out the way I think (and hope), this will basically be a Big 12 semifinal game with the winner in line to face Oklahoma.
Week 13 (Nov. 23)
Jake’s pick: Texas A&M at Georgia. This game should have national implications, but I think it’s picked for an additional reason – it’s the very first SEC matchup between the two teams (despite the Aggies having been a member since 2012). That just doesn’t seem possible, and is a great example of how realignment has hurt the landscape of college football.
Spencer’s pick: The best game here might look like Penn State at Ohio State, but not so fast, my friend – I don’t think that one will have a lot of importance at this stage of the season when it’s all said and done (I’m not too high on the Nittany Lions). I might otherwise agree with Jake that Texas A&M at Georgia is a good choice, but I think that would be a lot of Georgia for one year. Instead, I’ll go with TCU at Oklahoma. If the Sooners are 10-0, and the Horned Frogs are still in the Big 12 mix – which I think they could be, because the Frogs are underrated entering 2019 – then GameDay will head to Norman.
Week 14 (Nov. 30)
Jake’s pick: Virginia Tech at Virginia. The only other key matchup on this slate is Iowa at Nebraska, and while that’s a potentially huge rivalry game – so is this one (plus it’s on Black Friday and GameDay will have already visited Lincoln by this time). The Hoos are finally relevant under Bronco Mendenhall and picked to win the Coastal division, but the Hokies look to play the spoiler. Lot of fireworks in store for this one.
Spencer’s pick: What might be the best game of this week – Iowa at Nebraska – is on Black Friday, so it unfortunately won’t be in the GameDay mix. If Ohio State at Michigan is the Big Ten East championship game (and probably even if it’s not), it will be the pick here. That’s one of the biggest games in college football year in and year out.
Conference Championship Weekend (Dec. 7)
Jake’s pick: Alabama at Georgia. I think all but one of the Power 5 conference title games feature very familiar matchups (Virginia will be the only exception, in the ACC). This seems like the obvious, most impactful choice (as it probably serves as an elimination game for the CFP again). I’d like to see them go anywhere else.
Spencer’s pick: GameDay will go to the conference championship where the winning team is guaranteed a playoff spot, and that will be the SEC game, which I think will be Alabama vs. Georgia once again. No other conference will be in the same position.
If Spencer is right about these picks, GameDay in 2019 will feature an SEC team 11 times, a Big Ten team eight times, Big 12 five times, Pac-12 three times, and ACC twice (plus one Notre Dame). That’s not so far off of GameDay’s recent history, which has been heavily SEC- and Big Ten-focused.
If Jake is right, the split will be even more stark. He has 77% of all GameDay teams coming from the Big Ten or SEC, as well as the Big 12 and Pac-12 getting only one team each onto the program (both within the first two weeks of the season).
But this is a total guessing game, so the guys aren’t sweating these picks. Because who knows? Part of the fun each week is waiting to see where the crew is heading. Maybe they’ll be comin’ to your city next.