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Could JMU Host ESPN’s College GameDay in 2023?

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU football improved to 7-0 Thursday, leaning on one of its most dominant defensive performances in recent memory to beat Marshall 20-9. 

With the Dukes still undefeated, there’s a reasonable chance they break into the AP Top 25 this weekend. There’s also a chance ESPN’s College GameDay makes its third trip to Harrisonburg for the Dukes’ Oct. 28 night game against Old Dominion.

Let’s break down what needs to happen for the top pregame show in the sport to visit the Quad for the third time.  

Why would it come to JMU?

I’ve seen a few people saying JMU-ODU wouldn’t be considered for GameDay because ODU isn’t good. That’s a misconception. 

Well, not the part about ODU being mediocre. That’s true. 

The misconception is that a Group of Five or FCS team needs to be playing an elite opponent to host GameDay. That’s not true. 

When College GameDay ventures away from well-known Power Five destinations, it does so for a good story and atmosphere. It either visits an elite FCS team playing a decent opponent, a special FCS rivalry, or a Group of Five team with a good story/atmosphere. It also visits those spots when the Power Five schedule that week lacks attention-grabbing matchups. 

The show visited App State last year, even though the Mountaineers had a loss when it came to town. It did so because of App State’s electric home atmosphere and a sleepy P5 schedule that week. The show also visited Jackson State (for Deion Sanders) and Montana (for the Montana-Montana State rivalry).

JMU’s pitch for hosting College GameDay on Oct. 28 is that it’s 7-0, possibly ranked come next weekend, and ineligible for the NCAA postseason. The Dukes might be the best Group of Five team in the country, and they cannot play in their league championship. They can’t even play in a bowl game unless there aren’t enough eligible bowl teams due to the NCAA’s transition rules.

That’s a great story. 

And the Dukes facing a rival on homecoming? That guarantees an electric crowd for the show. There’s plenty of reasons why the show would consider visiting Harrisonburg next weekend, and it doesn’t hurt that JMU has hosted twice before and delivered with engaged atmospheres.

It’s fair to say JMU is on the short list of possible destinations for the Oct. 28 show. 

Where else could it go?

There are currently only two ranked vs. ranked matchups next week. Those games are Oregon at Utah and Duke at Louisville. 

Interestingly, Utah is a touchdown underdog against USC this weekend. If the Utes lose, it likely takes that game off the table as it becomes a less important game nationally if Utah takes its second loss. Unfortunately for JMU fans, Utah has USC’s number of late.

Oregon faces Washington State, but the Ducks are 20-point favorites and will likely be a top-10 team next weekend. Oregon-Utah feels like the frontrunner to host the show, if Utah can pull the upset over USC.

As for Duke-Louisville, Duke is a 14.5-point underdog against Florida State this weekend. If the Blue Devils drop that game, it’s hard to see GameDay visiting Louisville for an above average (but not great) ACC matchup with no national title implications. Louisville losing by double digits to a crummy Pitt team last weekend may have crushed the Cardinals’ chances. The Cardinals are on a bye this weekend.

There’s also the possibility the show visits Idaho for Montana State at Idaho. The Kibbie Dome has an electric atmosphere, and both teams are currently top-10 FCS teams. Idaho did lose last week, though, which was the team’s second defeat of the season. 

Georgia-Florida is also on the schedule, but unranked Florida might not be a huge draw. It’s a rivalry game, but it doesn’t really hold national title implications for both teams given Florida’s two losses. The game also doesn’t occur on campus, potentially leading to a weird atmosphere for the SEC East showdown. Formerly dubbed the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” this game could make for a fun visit, but it’s unclear how much the fans in attendance would really care about GameDay’s presence. The game – and lead up to the game – will be fun for those fanbases regardless. 

JMU fans – or Idaho fans, for that matter – would go wild for GameDay visiting town. 

On the surface the Oct. 28 schedule kind of stinks. If USC and Florida State win this weekend, JMU might top the list for potential GameDay destinations, given the team’s unique story. 

Editor’s note: Thanks to Three Notch’d Brewing for their advertising support this season.

What about the App State game?

Fair point! The Power Five schedule on Nov. 18 isn’t great. 

Georgia-Tennessee and Washington-Oregon State both look interesting, but there are a lot of games between now and then that could make those matchup less interesting. 

If JMU doesn’t host GameDay on Oct. 28, a 10-0 JMU team would be in the mix to host GameDay on Nov. 18 against App State. That’s assuming JMU can take down ODU, Georgia State, and UConn over the next three games. 

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