With no college sports going on in the summer, it is a time for predictions. In both 2015 and 2016, the Utah football team hosted ESPN College Gameday, the premier college football preview show. It is always a big honor for a Pac-12 team to host Gameday. It is a big boost in exposure for the program and helps with recruiting, so can Utah host for a third year in a row in 2017? While it is certainly possible, it seems a bit unlikely (but so did Gameday coming for Utah-Cal in 2015). Let’s take a look at the the game with the best chance to host Gameday.
The biggest problem I see with Utah getting Gameday is that their two best match ups are both on the road, at USC and at Washington. Some people have projected Utah-Washington to get Gameday for the second year in a row. It would however be hosted by the Huskies since the game is in Seattle. USC and Utah figure to be two teams in the hunt for the Pac-12 South, so this could be another tempting matchup for the College Gameday crew.
Utah’s best chance to host ESPN College Gameday is their Oct. 7 game against the Stanford Cardinal. While Utah certainly needs to handle their business and be 4-0 to have any shot to get Gameday this week, they need help from other teams. Utah will not start the 2017 season ranked. Prior to the Stanford game, they have home dates against North Dakota and San Jose State and road games against BYU and Arizona. They might rise into the rankings if they are 4-0, but outside BYU, they are not playing an FBS with a winning record in 2016 in the first four games. This means they need help to get Gameday.
The most important other team is obviously Stanford. Stanford needs to come in undefeated, which seems like it could be challenging with back-to-back road dates at USC and San Diego State, followed by a home game against UCLA. If the Cardinal do manage to start 5-0, they could roll into Rice-Eccles Stadium ranked in the top 10.
BYU plays LSU in Houston, Texas the week before they play Utah. A BYU win over the Tigers would be immensely helpful for the Utes since BYU is by far Utah's best nonconference game in 2017. A BYU win over LSU would mean a 2-0 start for the Cougars (who also face Portland State on Aug. 26) and a possible national ranking. It would also have another benefit for Utah’s Gameday chances.
When looking at where Gameday will go, we also have to consider the other possible games. The best two contenders on Oct. 7 are LSU-Florida and Alabama-Texas A&M. If BYU were to beat LSU, that hurts the chances Gameday heads to Gainesville, Fla. Florida has a tough week one opponent in Michigan in Arlington, Texas. If both teams lose week one games on national television, Gameday could look elsewhere for a deserving game. Texas A&M has to travel to UCLA in week one and will likely not be ranked. A loss in that game followed by four games against teams who likely won't be ranked could keep A&M out of the top 25. Gameday will also have already featured Alabama once in their week one game against Florida State in Atlanta, so they may not want to feature the Crimson Tide a second time until later in the season.
Not only is Stanford likely to be the best opponent Utah faces at home in 2017, they also play them during a week without a sure fire game that Gameday almost certainly go to instead of a game featuring the Utes. The other games that we considered for this were Washington State and Colorado. Each of these games could feature a ranked opponent coming into Rice-Eccles Stadium. They are both in November, so they allow plenty of time for each team to build a resumé that is not based on preseason rankings. The problem with each of these games is not the game itself, it is that there is at least one other game that is much higher profile the same day. UCLA is another opponent that could have gotten Gameday, but that game falls on a Friday. The game against Washington State falls on the same day as Clemson-Florida State, the biggest game of the year in the ACC. It will likely decide the ACC Atlantic Division (and likely the eventual ACC Champion). The Rumble in the Rockies falls on rivalry week. It would have to be a more compelling game than Alabama-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State, which seems highly unlikely. The only other home game for Utah in 2017 is against Arizona State on Oct. 21. ASU is coming off a 5-7 season and has games at Texas Tech, home against Oregon, at Stanford, and home against Washington before coming to Salt Lake City. It seems unlikely the Sun Devils will improve enough to get through that stretch with a good enough record to warrant Gameday coming to Utah over Michigan at Penn State. Alabama-Tennessee is also the same day.
Getting ESPN College Gameday to come to town is prestigious. It puts the center of the college football world squarely at the school they visit each week. For schools like Utah that do not have the clout of national college football brands, it provides great publicity for the program and often draws in top recruits for a visit (one example is incoming freshman wide receiver Bryan Thompson, who visited Utah during the UW game last year). With the college football season less than three months away, it seemed like the right time to make a prediction if Utah will play host to ESPN College Gameday for the third year in a row.
In the comments below, sound off if you think Utah will host Gameday and who the opponent will be.