Hickey: The B1G's best bets to host College GameDay in 2023
College GameDay is what Monday Night Football once was — the traveling circus coming to your city in a given week before pulling up stakes and taking the show elsewhere.
And though GameDay locations might not matter all that much to old fogies, it has retained a level of excitement for college students that has lasted better than a generation now. In 2003 or 2023, college kids will embrace a reason to party on a Saturday morning.
But for Big Ten students, there might not be many chances for that party to come to town this fall.
The B1G no longer has a contract with ESPN. And while GameDay has never hesitated to travel to games that ESPN isn’t televising, the stakes are a bit higher these days. If it’s a coin flip between picking games, ESPN is probably going to stick with what it’s televising rather than flipping an actual coin.
Sure, the Big Ten will still get plenty of facetime on FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff. But it’s not the same. The chemistry established by the GameDay crew is only matched on sports television by TNT’s Inside The NBA. (Ironically, that puts FOX’s college football show in the same boat as ESPN’s NBA show.)
Even though Lee Corso is showing his 87 years, he can still entertain. And his relationship with Kirk Herbstreit is TV magic. Big Noon Kickoff’s coaching counterpart, Urban Meyer, is far better with X’s and O’s, but has the personality of a starfish.
The Reggie Bush-Matt Leinart dynamic of former teammates is not as fun as the Herbstreit-Desmond Howard dynamic of former rivals.
And when you compare wacky sidekicks, the matchup between Pat McAfee and Clay Travis is more lopsided than Georgia Tech vs. Cumberland circa 1916.
Now that GameDay appearances in the B1G will be more of a Haley’s Comet experience, it’s never too early to plan ahead.
The following dates and locations are the most likely in the B1G to host College GameDay in 2023.
Ohio State at Michigan
Date: Nov. 25
The resale market is already listing tickets “as low as $374,” so this is close to a foregone conclusion. The Iron Bowl would pose a risk if the stakes were higher for Auburn, but there seems little likelihood of that being the case this season.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines will probably be fighting for the division title with CFP implications on the line. Plus, Des and Herbie will want to be there.
The only question is whether this will be the only Big Ten game they visit.
Outlook very good
Ohio State at Wisconsin
Date: Oct. 28
There is a very solid chance this will be the Big Ten’s game of the year before The Game.
The Badgers are going to be the most interesting team to follow this season as they transform from the Wisconsin we all know to the Wisconsin as envisioned by Luke Fickell. If that vision goes according to plan, this could be a surprisingly explosive game. (Or Wisconsin could learn that trying to run with Ohio State is a terrible mistake.)
Fickell vs. Ohio State gives the game a natural hook, as if a potential Big Ten championship game preview wasn’t enough. Plus, it’s Halloween weekend in Madison. You couldn’t dream of a more carnival-like atmosphere for the traveling circus.
Ohio State at Notre Dame
Date: Sept. 23
If both teams are still unbeaten, you can bet GameDay being in South Bend. And they should be, though the Irish have early tests with Navy in Dublin and a trip to NC State before they get around to hosting the Buckeyes in Week 4.
No, this isn’t a Big Ten campus. But Ohio State fans will be showing up en masse, as they do any time there’s a football game played in Indiana.
A solid argument
Michigan at Nebraska
Date: Sept. 30
If Matt Rhule can get the Huskers to 4-0, this elevates from a solid argument to a stone-cold lock for Week 5. People actually getting excited about Nebraska football is a pretty big deal. I mean, people in Nebraska are excited about the Huskers even when they’re bad.
But if they aren’t? Must-see TV.
Nebraska has some tricky games, though. The Cornhuskers open with consecutive road games at Minnesota and Colorado. And Group of 5 opponents Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech could give this new-look team a test as well.
But should Nebraska pass those tests, this becomes an obvious choice.
West Virginia at Penn State
Date: Sept. 2
Because it is opening weekend, many of the best games aren’t actually being played on a Saturday. And that changes the recipe for what matchups are the most appetizing.
Given that backdrop, it’s no surprise that NBC has tabbed this as its first Big Ten primetime game. But with the Mountaineers likely to be picked near or at the bottom of the Big 12, this might not be the one.
Ohio State at Indiana
Date: Sept. 2
How many more years will Corso be doing this? Kicking off the season at his old stomping grounds in Bloomington would be an appropriate tribute. After all, this is the man who stopped a game in the first quarter to take a picture of Indiana leading Ohio State so he could use it in IU’s recruiting guide the next year.
But it probably won’t happen.
Deion Sanders is making his Colorado debut at TCU, which was last year’s CFP darling. Even though the game will likely be a massacre, it has the most buzz nationally for Week 1.
Nebraska at Colorado
Date: Sept. 9
Coach Prime’s home debut seems like a natural pick — especially with the mountain backdrop. And an ages-old foe coming to Boulder led by its own new coach.
But I suspect the Buffs will be highlighted in Week 1 instead — in part because Texas visits Alabama in Week 2. And there is a 20,000% chance GameDay will be in Tuscaloosa for that showdown.
Penn State at Ohio State
Date: Oct. 21
A huge, huge game in the Big Ten race. But it goes up against Tennessee at Alabama, which means something again. Unless the Vols or Crimson Tide lay eggs early in the season, there won’t be any beating that matchup.
Michigan at Penn State
Date: Nov. 11
If Penn State beats Ohio State, suddenly this matchup moves into the driver’s seat. But for right now, it’s in the back seat. Maybe even the back seat of a station wagon. There’s just a lot going on in Week 11 of this year’s schedule.
It will certainly be the best chance to highlight the Pac-12. USC visits Oregon, which is a matchup that could come with playoff implications. The same is true of Utah at Washington, which is also a chance to feature Heisman hopeful Michael Penix Jr.
In the Big 12, Texas’ final visit to TCU in who-knows-how-long is interesting if the Horned Frogs can run it back this season.
In the SEC, Florida visits LSU. If the Gators are any good, Billy Napier’s return to Louisiana becomes a big deal.
And if Miami can rebound this season, this is the week the Hurricanes visit Florida State. It’s been a long time since that game meant anything. If it does, you know they’ll send Corso to his alma mater for old time’s sake.
This is perhaps the most fun week of the entire 2023 schedule. If GameDay ends up in State College, things are going very well for the Nittany Lions and Wolverines.