In a world where most major publications release preseason top-25 rankings before the current season officially ends, there’s no shortage of premature speculation for college sports fans. So when College GameDay analyst Chris “The Bear” Fallica tweeted that he thought Iowa State would be the next “first-timer” to host ESPN’s pre-game college football show in the middle of last season, Cyclone fans already started dreaming about 2019 and the opportunities the schedule presented.
Most recently, SB Nation added fuel to the fire, ranking Iowa State as it’s most likely Power 5 team to be a first-time GameDay host.
So while it’s entirely possible Iowa State crashes and burns and never gets the opportunity to host College GameDay, there’s no question that Ames is very much on ESPN’s radar heading into 2019. But it’s not really that simple. Unless you are a college football blueblood, the stars have to align nearly perfectly to host the most coveted preview show in all of sports.
Because of that, my offseason brain is somewhat of a jumbled mess. There are two factors battling against each other in my head: what I want to happen and what is most likely to happen. The former is less important because ESPN doesn’t ask me for my opinion, but it absolutely affects how the latter is perceived by fans. So let’s explore that: who is Iowa State’s most likely opponent if GameDay comes to Ames?
While this ranking will be from least likely to most likely opponent, I’ve also taken the pulse of my fellow TGS Cyclone fans to see how they’d rank opponents from most desirable to least desirable.
With seven home games this season, there are three we can knock out of contention before we get started: Northern Iowa, Louisiana-Monroe, and Kansas simply aren’t going to attract ESPN to Ames. That leaves four contenders. From least likely to most likely, here is the outlook for the 2019 schedule (using the NCAA’s 2019 preseason rankings):
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys | Week 9 | October 26
Cyclone fan desirability: #2 out of 4
Other potential GameDay locations: #9 Notre Dame at #7 Michigan, #14 Wisconsin at #3 Ohio State, #17 Auburn at #8 LSU, #18 Washington State at #11 Oregon, #13 Penn State at Michigan State
GameDay comes if: Both teams come into the game on winning streaks and the other games magically become less interesting.
GameDay goes elsewhere if: Notre Dame and Michigan are top-15 teams.
Why: You have to go all the way back to the 2014 season to find an ISU-OSU game decided by more than one score. With this year’s game falling on Iowa State’s homecoming weekend, the environment has the potential to be one for the ages. Fans love this game because it’s usually a high scoring affair with plenty of drama. The problem? Well… Notre Dame and Michigan, for starters.
But Iowa State will be coming off a 4-game stretch with 3 road games and Oklahoma State has to travel for 4 of its first 7 games, meaning both teams will have to greatly exceed expectations to usurp an iconic matchup like Notre Dame versus Michigan. And honestly, the Cyclones and Cowboys just don’t move the needle too much nationally unless they are coming into the game on win streaks and a number by their names. Any of the five games listed above seem far more likely to host.
3. Texas Longhorns | Week 12 | November 16
Cyclone fan desirability: #1 out of 4
Other potential GameDay locations: #4 Georgia at #17 Auburn, #12 Florida at #23 Missouri, #14 Wisconsin at #25 Nebraska, #20 Stanford at #18 Washington State, Michigan State at #7 Michigan, #2 Alabama at Mississippi State, Navy at #9 Notre Dame
GameDay comes if: A top-15 Iowa State team hosts a top-10 Texas squad that will, for the second year in a row, send the winner to the Big 12 championship game.
GameDay goes elsewhere if: Either team is unranked and/or there are no Big 12 title game implications.
Why: I don’t think there’s any question why Texas is the most desirable opponent for Cyclone fans—the Longhorns are a national brand, the series has heated up considerably the past decade, and the potential for a November home game under the lights with conference title implications is a dream scenario for any football fan.
There’s also not really any question why this is one of the more improbable GameDay opponents—as the 10th game of the season, a lot has to go right for both Iowa State and Texas to topple the list of potential GameDay choices. At least four of the games listed above could have conference title game implications and if any of those teams are playing for a College Football Playoff berth, forget it. But this matchup has big game potential and there’s a clear path to playing host.
2. TCU Horned Frogs | Week 6 | October 5
Cyclone fan desirability: #3 out of 4
Other potential GameDay locations: #17 Auburn at #12 Florida, #16 Washington at #20 Stanford, #22 Iowa at #7 Michigan
GameDay comes if: Both teams are 4-0.
GameDay goes elsewhere if: Either team has a loss.
Why: The biggest reason this game is more likely than the other two is simply because there’s considerably less competition—if ESPN execs are truly interested in coming to Ames, I don’t think they’d have any problem passing up Florida (hosted GameDay 12 times), Michigan (12 times), or Stanford (1 host, 11 appearances). And if the 2017 ISU-TCU game at Jack Trice Stadium was any indication, the matchup has mayhem potential.
But ISU and TCU are vulnerable teams, and anything less than perfect to start the season likely wouldn’t move the needle much nationally. The paths are there—neither team should have any trouble with three of their first four opponents, so if ISU can beat Iowa and TCU can knock off Purdue, this matchup will be a serious contender for GameDay.
1. Iowa Hawkeyes | Week 3 | September 14
Cyclone fan desirability: #4 out of 4
Other potential GameDay locations: #20 Stanford at #15 UCF, #2 Alabama at South Carolina, #12 Florida at Kentucky, Pitt at #13 Penn State
GameDay comes if: Both teams are ranked in Week 3.
GameDay goes elsewhere if: Stanford impresses in wins against Northwestern and USC.
Why: It takes about two minutes of browsing the college football schedule for Week 3 to see why the CyHawk rivalry is a real possibility for College GameDay: ESPN doesn’t have many other choices. UCF hosting Stanford seems to be the most likely competition, but GameDay was in Orlando late last season. That’s not to say the CyHawk rivalry won’t be a good choice—it’s one of the few annual non-conference in-state rivalries in the nation and the last two games have come down to the final possessions. So a potential night game in September at Jack Trice Stadium with the entire nation’s eyes on a top-25 matchup in the state of Iowa… what’s the fuss from fans?
Imagine this: Your dream is to go to Disney World. One year, you enter a contest to win two free tickets… and you win! But instead of taking a friend, you’re told you have to take none other than your little brother (pardon the pun). It doesn’t ruin the trip, but what was supposed to be your day is now you and your brother’s day. The rides you wanted to ride, the food you wanted to eat, the adventures you wanted to go on—they were all your dreams, and now you have to drag your noisy, annoying, attention-stealing brother around for all of it.
Metaphors aside, you know that crowd on ESPN would be absolutely huge, but even if there are four Cyclone fans for every Hawkeye fan, that’s a lot of black and gold in the crowd. You know tensions will be higher than ever. And you know Hawkeye fans will try their damnedest to make it about them—and who wouldn’t? So it’s no surprise that Cyclone fans overwhelmingly hope for any other opponent for their first College GameDay experience.
So what are the odds Iowa State actually breaks the drought this year? There are too many factors in play to put a solid number on it, but I’d say it’s in the ballpark of 50/50. National talking heads blow a lot of hot air to keep fans happy, but Fallica and Herbstreit’s comments seem genuine, and it has created enough momentum that it’s bled into media mentions outside of the Iowa State bubble.
In the meantime, Cyclone fans will keep dreaming. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ll see you guys at College GameDay in Ames against UNI.