Could ESPN’s College GameDay Come to JMU For Homecoming Against Marshall?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU upset Appalachian State. You know what that means? It’s time to irrationally speculate about all the great things bound to happen to the program the rest of the season.

If the Dukes can erase a 25-point lead at App State, they can do anything, right? Win the Sun Belt regular season title? Sure, why not. Take down Louisville in November? Count on it. Todd Centeio making a run at the Heisman? Feels like a formality.

And I know JMU fans love nothing more than trying to project College GameDay‘s next potential visit to Harrisonburg. After Saturday’s comeback, I’ll indulge in this fantasy. What the hell, maybe the Dukes get a third visit from the ESPN show and the broadcast propels Centeio’s Heisman hype.

A possible host date

It’s always a significant challenge for an FCS program or a G5 team to have GameDay visit its campus. The slate of Power 5 games needs to be iffy, and there have to be ample storylines for the potential Group of 5 host.

That happened a couple weeks ago, when App State defeated Texas A&M. The win created a mediocre Power 5 slate and an opportunity for ESPN to visit a well-known Sun Belt program with a rowdy atmosphere.

JMU, after facing Texas State this weekend, will only have three home games remaining. It’s hard to imagine a College GameDay visit on Nov. 19 against Georgia State or Nov. 26 against Coastal Carolina.

Wait, why? Coastal and JMU are the only undefeated teams in the G5. Isn’t that a perfect weekend to visit? I’m not sold.

It’ll be hard for JMU to be undefeated or ranked by the end of the season. Realistically, the Dukes will drop a game at some point, and they won’t appear quite as new and shiny to ESPN executives on Nov. 26.

Perhaps more importantly, the Nov. 26 weekend is rivalry weekend across much of the Power 5. That’s arguably the hardest weekend to earn GameDay for a program like JMU, and the students being on break (Thanksgiving is two days earlier) is not an ideal recipe for a perfect atmosphere.

Auburn-Alabama, Notre Dame-USC, and Michigan-Ohio State are safer options. Heck, even Kansas-Kansas State could make for a really fun for a GameDay visit. Oregon-Oregon State and Washington-Washington State can’t be ruled out either.

The Nov. 19 game against Georgia State isn’t as sexy a matchup as the game with Coastal, and the Power 5 schedule that weekend looks decent. While that can change, Georgia at Kentucky, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, and Utah at Oregon are among the matchups likely deserving of a visit.

That leaves Oct. 22 against Marshall. This is the most likely date for a GameDay visit to Harrisonburg, in my estimation.

What needs to happen for JMU to host?

JMU needs to be 6-0. If the Dukes beat Texas State, Arkansas State, and Georgia Southern, there’s a legitimate chance College GameDay visits Harrisonburg for JMU’s Homecoming game.

At 6-0, the Dukes could be inside the AP top 25 poll, as they already received some votes this week. An undefeated program in its first FBS season is a good storyline. An undefeated, ranked program in its first FBS season in the Sun Belt with a road win over App State is a damn good storyline.

Homecoming all but guarantees an electric atmosphere, and it’s against a Marshall team that upset Notre Dame to begin the season. While the Thundering Herd have lost twice since then, it’s a bit of a misconception that G5/FCS teams need a perfect matchup to earn GameDay. You think ESPN visited Boone on Sept. 17 because of Troy? Of course not. The visit was for the App State atmosphere.

Marshall’s name is known and with home games against Gardner Webb and Louisiana left on the schedule before Oct. 22, a 4-2 record is possible. The Thundering Herd should at least be 3-3 with a win over Notre Dame on Oct. 22. That’s enough from the opposition to warrant a visit to Harrisonburg, although a 5-1 or 6-0 Marshall could’ve put the game over the top.

Finally, the P5 schedule on Oct. 22 needs to underwhelm. That’s very possible.

Texas at Oklahoma State, UCLA at Oregon, Ole Miss at LSU, Washington at Cal, Kansas at Baylor, Kansas State at TCU, and Minnesota at Penn State are among the likely contenders to host GameDay on Oct. 22.

A lot of football will occur between now and Oct. 22, but JMU fans hoping for GameDay should root for some of those teams to take losses between now and then. The matchup between Minnesota and Penn State looks like an obvious threat currently, but it’s worth noting that Penn State hosts Ohio State the next weekend. That’s a massive showdown that could lead the GameDay team to think outside the box on Oct. 22.

TCU and Kansas State are both sneaky contenders in the Big 12, which could make that an enticing option. Fortunately, TCU faces Oklahoma, Kansas, and Oklahoma State before Oct. 22. A loss seems likely. Kansas State faces Texas Tech and Iowa State, two teams capable of upsetting the Wildcats. That game could look less impressive in a couple of weeks.

The bottom line

If JMU sits at 6-0 entering the Oct. 22 home game against Marshall, the Dukes figure to be in the conversation to host College GameDay. The Dukes need to take care of business on the field, and they’ll need help with a few key Power 5 losses.

It’s worth noting that the weather could be bad Saturday, making a seemingly easy game with Texas State more complicated, and road games against Arkansas State and Georgia Southern will be tough. Reaching 6-0 would be an impressive accomplishment for JMU.

Hosting GameDay is hardly a sure thing, but it’s not out of the question if the Dukes keep winning. After beating App State in comeback fashion, I’m not ready to rule anything out this season.

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