Over 34 years, ESPN College GameDay has grown from a little-known in-studio cable TV show into a multimedia behemoth that routinely attracts more than two million viewers each week. And with a return to normalcy across college football in 2021, all eyes are on GameDay as schools and fans clamor to host ESPN’s flagship pregame show.
Where will Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, and Co. visit this season? Here are week-by-week College GameDay predictions for the 2021 college football season:
Week 1: Georgia at Clemson
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
College GameDay hasn’t shied away from neutral-site games if the matchup is big enough. The matchup in Charlotte on Saturday, Sept. 4, was big enough for ESPN.
Clemson and Georgia, separated by just 70 miles, have faced each other 64 times, including 24 times over a 26-year period from 1962-87, but haven’t met since Georgia pummeled Clemson in 2014 in the second half of a home-and-home series.
There was no chance ESPN passed on the biggest non-conference game of the season. As of late June, Clemson is a 3.5-point favorite in college football odds.
Week 2: Oregon at Ohio State
Location: Columbus, Ohio
If Arkansas and Texas win in Week 1 – against Rice and Louisiana, respectively – there’s a small chance GameDay returns to Fayetteville for the second time ever and the first time since 2006.
While both the Razorbacks and Longhorns enter 2021 with modest expectations, the temporary renewal of an old Southwest Conference rivalry remains a draw. They’ve played only four times since 1992, the year after Arkansas’ departure for the SEC, and haven’t met in the regular season since 2008.
The bigger chance is an eighth trip to Columbus in the last seven years for the first Oregon-Ohio State game since the 2014 national championship (and the first in Columbus since 1987).
Week 3: Alabama at Florida
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
The first-ever regular-season Auburn-Penn State game is a novelty game with mass appeal but not enough firepower to earn GameDay over Alabama-Florida.
Thanks to the SEC’s foolish cross-divisional scheduling, Alabama hasn’t visited Florida in 10 years, which in itself is enough to warrant just the second GameDay visit to Gainesville in the last eight years.
Alabama is tied with Clemson for the highest win total in college football betting (11.5), while Florida is tied for 14th with six other teams.
Week 4: Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin
Location: Chicago, Ill.
What was scheduled to be the second game of a two-game neutral-site series at Lambeau Field and Soldier Field between Notre Dame and Wisconsin is now the first game of a two-game series that will conclude with a trip to Lambeau in 2026.
Barring early-season losses from both teams, GameDay will make its first trip to Soldier Field, where the Irish and Badgers will meet for the first time since 1964.
Week 5: Cincinnati at Notre Dame
Location: South Bend, Ind.
Three teams have never hosted nor appeared as a road or neutral-site team in College GameDay’s 28 years: Duke, Maryland, and Rutgers. If Rutgers beats Michigan (in Ann Arbor) in Week 4 to reach 4-0, they’re guaranteed to host in Week 5.
Rutgers won’t be 4-0 and won’t host GameDay in Week 5, leaving Notre Dame in position to host for a third time since 2018 after hosting once from 2006-17. And all eyes will be on the away team as Cincinnati looks for a marquee win to enter the playoff discussion.
Also: Don’t dismiss the possibility of ESPN going outside the box with an FCS game: Stephen F. Austin at Sam Houston State.
Week 6: Alabama at Texas A&M
Location: College Station, Texas
If Texas A&M isn’t 5-0 entering the potential SEC West Championship, they lost to an inferior team, and Jimbo Fisher has some explaining to do. If Texas A&M is 5-0 entering the potential SEC West Championship, they’ll host GameDay for the first time since nearly shocking Clemson in 2018.
Week 7: UCF at Cincinnati
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
After Cincinnati beats Notre Dame in Week 5 and Temple a week later, they’ll host GameDay in Week 7 as a legitimate playoff contender. The Bearcats have never hosted the show and only have one all-time appearance: 2018 at UCF.
There are notable games elsewhere, including Florida-LSU and Miami-North Carolina, but Cincinnati is a Week 7 lock if they’re undefeated.
Week 8: Coastal Carolina at App State
Location: Boone, N.C.
Let’s take a shot: Coastal Carolina and App State move their game from Wednesday to Saturday to accommodate College GameDay.
Inexplicably, GameDay has never visited one of the best settings in American sports: Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C. And if Indiana isn’t rolling (vs. Ohio State), Notre Dame doesn’t get another visit (vs. USC), and there’s a lack of sex appeal in the Big 12 and elsewhere, this must be the selection in Week 8.
Week 9: Florida vs. Georgia
Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
In a loaded week with several contention-dependent candidates, the best bet is the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Potentially an SEC East Championship and playoff elimination game, Florida-Georgia will prompt groans from the anti-SEC and anti-neutral-site crowd, but it carries too much weight to play second fiddle to Iowa-Wisconsin, Florida State-Clemson, or Penn State-Ohio State.
Week 10: LSU at Alabama
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
It’s simple: GameDay will be in Tuscaloosa in Week 10 if LSU doesn’t suck. If LSU does suck, ESPN might opt for Texas-Iowa State, Oregon-Washington, or a wild card in the Group of Five or FCS.
Alabama hosted GameDay twice last year and ranks second behind Ohio State (19) for most hosted shows (16).
Week 11: Eastern Kentucky at Sam Houston
Location: Huntsville, Texas
If defending national champion Sam Houston is undefeated, they might get the call in a week ripe for a down-ballot game.
It won’t be a sexy matchup – Eastern Kentucky went 3-6 in 2020 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994 – though ESPN has shown minimal preference for the quality of matchup when visiting FCS schools in the past.
Week 12: Iowa State at Oklahoma
Location: Norman, Okla.
Barring carnage at the top of the Big 12 and/or an unexpected blockbuster elsewhere, Oklahoma will host GameDay in 2021.
The rematch of the 2020 Big 12 Championship will come two weeks before the 2021 Big 12 Championship, where the Sooners and Cyclones could meet for a third time in one calendar year.
Week 13: Ohio State at Michigan
Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
If Michigan is inept again this season, it’s tough to see GameDay visiting Ann Arbor for the regular-season finale. If they’re competitive or chasing a nine- or 10-win season, they’ll probably host GameDay for the second time in the last four years.
If Michigan is inept, there are plenty of other options: Alabama at Auburn, Florida State at Florida, Texas A&M at LSU, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, and Oregon at Oregon State.
Ohio State is a 13.5-point favorite over Michigan in early college football lines.
Week 14: SEC Championship
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Whichever conference championship has the best combination of playoff implications and entertainment value will host College GameDay. The best bet is the SEC Championship, which has hosted the show in 2018 and 2019.
Week 15: Army vs. Navy
Location: East Rutherford, N.J.
One year after COVID forced the Army-Navy Game to an on-campus stadium – Army’s Michie Stadium – for the first time since World War II, college football’s most iconic rivalry will return to a neutral-site venue in 2021.
GameDay hasn’t missed an Army-Navy Game since 2013, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll skip the final regular-season game of the year.
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