Could JMU Host ‘College GameDay’ for a Third Time?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” in 2015 and 2017, and it was glorious. JMU fans showed up in droves, creating a pair of extremely memorable experiences.

ESPN’s Rece Davis recently went on the Gramlich and Mac Lain podcast and was asked about his three favorite “College GameDay” venues. Davis pegged JMU as one of his three favorites, citing the “gargantuan crowds” and “picturesque setting” as reasons for why he enjoyed.

His comments made me think … could JMU host “College GameDay” a third time?

JMU’s future GameDay chances

JMU could very well host GameDay again, especially with the athletic programs joining the Sun Belt. With football playing at the FBS level, it becomes easier to make “College GameDay” appearances.

So what’s it take for a Sun Belt team to host GameDay?

For starters, the team has to be good. JMU would likely need to be inside or near the AP top 25 to host GameDay. It also helps if JMU’s opponent is competitive, and the matchup has meaning.

Secondly, it helps when the Power 5 slate is weak. If No. 1 Alabama faces No. 2 LSU when JMU might be in contention to host GameDay, ESPN will side with the Power 5 matchup. When the Dukes hosted in 2015 and 2017, the FBS slates were boring those weeks.

Third, storylines help. In 2015, JMU defeated SMU prior to the GameDay visit and the Dukes had Vad Lee (FBS transfer) leading a high-powered offense. JMU’s 2017 team was one of the best in program history, as the Dukes nearly went undefeated after winning the 2016 national title.

To summarize, JMU needs to be really good. Their opponent needs to be good. The Power 5 slate needs to stink. Storylines (Is either team in playoff contention? Is it a rivalry game? Does either side have an NFL prospect at QB?) don’t hurt either.

Can JMU host College GameDay in 2022?

Don’t bet on it, although we won’t say it’s impossible. I’d peg the Marshall game on Oct. 22 as JMU’s best chance this upcoming season.

For that to happen, JMU needs to get off to a fast start. With games against Middle Tennessee, Norfolk State, Appalachian State, Texas State, Arkansas State, and Georgia Southern prior to the Marshall matchup, it’s possible JMU is 5-1 or 6-0. Is that likely? I see 3-3 or 4-2 as being more likely, but 5-1 or 6-0 in the realm of possibility if the Dukes receive strong quarterback play and effectively fill openings at linebacker and cornerback.

The Week 8 matchup against Marshall is JMU’s homecoming, and the Thundering Herd could very well be a top-tier Sun Belt squad. They have a manageable early season schedule that includes two FCS games before Oct. 22. A Sept. 10 road matchup at Notre Dame offers an unlikely upset shot against a national power.

On paper, the Week 8 FBS schedule isn’t overly impressive. We’re too far out to know for sure, but there’s a chance it’s a light week when it comes to ranked Power 5 matchups. With the storyline of JMU being a new FBS member coupled the Sun Belt rising up the Group of 5 ranks, JMU-Marshall is a relatively easy sell if it’s a subpar week of Power 5 games.

Again, I don’t expect this outcome, but a “College GameDay” return trip to Harrisonburg in the coming years feels possible thanks largely due to the Dukes’ move to the Sun Belt.

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