Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
In 2015, ESPN’s “College GameDay” selected JMU’s game vs. Richmond as its destination. Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Rece Davis and the entire GameDay crew made their way to Harrisonburg for the first time in the show’s history.
Bedlam ensued. JMU fans didn’t disappoint as students greeted the GameDay bus in droves, hundreds showed up for Friday’s College Football Live and hundreds more spent Friday night sleeping on the Quad.
Saturday’s show was wild. Fans came out by the thousands to take in the scene. The Quad was packed with fans as Lee Corso dressed as James Madison and picked the Dukes to beat the Spiders.
Two years later, JMU had a new coach, a 2016 national title and a great 2017 squad. “College GameDay” noticed again, and the crew returned to the ‘Burg.
If we follow the two-year pattern, ESPN has no choice but to visit town again this fall.
While a third trip to Harrisonburg is unlikely, we’ve learned before that it’s not an impossibility. Here are a few things that need to happen for GameDay to return to Harrisonburg for the third time in five years.
- JMU needs to be undefeated (a season-opening win over West Virginia is a must)
- The slate of FBS games needs to be weak
- There needs to be social media buzz from fans around the possibility of the show visiting Harrisonburg for a third time
- There need to be a few storylines that make a visit to Harrisonburg worthwhile (AAC rumors, an undefeated season, Curt Cignetti, FBS transfers leading the team, huge winning margins, a rivalry game, etc.)
JMU was a long shot to get GameDay the first two times, and it’s still a long shot this time around. Even though it’ll be tough for JMU to get the show again, we won’t rule it out. Let’s take a look at the 2019 games that could bring the show back to the ‘Burg.
Games with no chance
Sept. 7 vs. Saint Francis
College GameDay won’t visit JMU during the second week of the team’s season against a team like Saint Francis. The two previous weeks when College GameDay came to town, JMU faced solid CAA foes.
This games lacks storylines, and the overall atmosphere at JMU for a Week 2 game against Saint Francis isn’t enough for GameDay to visit, even if it is the home opener.
Sept. 14 vs. Morgan State
This explanation mirrors the Saint Francis description. The game day atmosphere for a Week 3 game against Morgan state won’t be enough to attract ESPN.
Games with the tiniest of chances
Oct. 12 vs. Villanova
This week features a few solid FBS games, including USC at ND, Oklahoma vs. Texas and Florida at LSU. In all likelihood, at least one of those games will be relevant come October.
If those games fall through and no other FBS matchups pop up, there’s a chance this game draws interest. Villanova doesn’t face an FBS team all season, and the Wildcats’ toughest game prior to the JMU matchup (Maine) comes at home. Road matchups with Towson and Colgate will be difficult, but Villanova could be a top-25 team.
The quality of opponent really isn’t the biggest concern, however. North Dakota State hosted GameDay against two subpar foes, and when JMU hosted GameDay in 2017, Villanova had a few losses. Since ESPN won’t cover the game, it’s more about the atmosphere for the show than it is about the opponents’ record.
If JMU is undefeated at this point in the season, there’s a small chance the show considers Harrisonburg.
Oct. 26 vs. Towson
The major FBS games this week are Penn State at Michigan State, Notre Dame at Michigan and Wisconsin at Ohio State. That’s a strong slate for the Big Ten. It’s hard to see GameDay skipping out on ND-Michigan if both teams are ranked.
If GameDay doesn’t go to one of the major FBS games this week, the JMU-Towson game offers a lot. For JMU, the Dukes would be undefeated and the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country at this point in the season. For Towson, the Tigers could easily be ranked and Tom Flacco, Joe’s brother, is their starting quarterback. There are legitimate FCS storylines in this game, and it’s late enough in the season for JMU fans to be fully engaged.
The FBS slate is strong this week, so a visit is unlikely, but the potential storylines are there.
Nov. 9 vs. New Hampshire
This week has a few major FBS games, including LSU at Alabama and Iowa State at Oklahoma. Many of the other matchups aren’t all that good, which gives hope to the Dukes.
If JMU is undefeated late going into this game, a late November visit could be exciting. This would take a lot of FBS help, though.
Games with a legitimate chance
Nov. 16 vs. Richmond
The one marquee FBS game this week is Georgia at Auburn. Other than that, it’s a really weak slate on paper.
A weak FBS schedule plus a late-season matchup with their biggest rival is a recipe for success for the Dukes. If JMU is undefeated, this is a realistic possibility. This game comes a week before classes let out, so all the students would still be at school. It’ll be fall in Harrisonburg and fans will be rowdy for JMU football.
When “College GameDay” visited Harrisonburg the first time, the Dukes played Richmond. Could the show return for another JMU-Richmond battle?
Road games with a chance
Sept. 28 at Elon
While a road “College GameDay” appearance isn’t as exciting for JMU fans, there’s a chance the JMU-Elon game hosts GameDay. The major storyline is Curt Cignetti’s return to his old school. Elon has a gorgeous campus, and the football program is on the rise.
If both teams enter the game undefeated, which requires JMU beating WVU and Elon beating Wake Forest, this is an enticing matchup for GameDay. It would be a great FCS matchup at an up-and-coming program. This game would need a social media push from Elon fans to show that they’re truly interested in hosting the event.
A weak FBS slate helps the cause. Ohio State at Nebraska is the likely destination, but there’s a chance one of those teams loses a game or two prior to Sept. 28 and dampens the excitement.
The bottom line
Projecting the strength of FBS games in July is difficult, and the potential FBS matchups for each week will likely change as the season plays out. It would be surprising to see the Dukes host GameDay in 2019. It would take a special season and a perfect storm of FBS upsets and FCS storylines for the show to visit for the third time in three seasons.
But we’ve seen everything break the Dukes’ way twice before. Who’s to say this year won’t be the same?