After hosting ESPN’s flagship college football pregame show College Gameday in both 2015 and 2016, the Utah Utes football team has not been featured either as the host or visitor in each of the last two seasons. Part of that can be attributed to a down year in 2017 (going 7-6), but the Pac-12’s poor standing in the national landscape has not helped. ESPN’s infatuation with the SEC further damages Utah’s chances to appear in the featured game. With spring football just about to start, let’s take at some potential GameDay scenarios that could feature the Utes.
Games that cannot/will not get College Gameday
Utah’s games at the BYU Cougars and USC Trojans can both be eliminated because they occur on a Thursday and Friday night respectively. Further, Gameday will not come to Salt Lake for the Idaho State Bengals or Northern Illinois Huskies.
Best chance to host
While it is technically a rivalry game, the Rumble in the Rockies does not have the history and the heat of other season-ending rivalries, so barring both teams being undefeated, Utah is not likely to host Gameday to end the season when the Colorado Buffaloes come to town. While it is impossible to predict how good teams like the Arizona State Suns Devils, California Golden Bears, and UCLA Bruins will be in 2019 and each team showed some flashes of potential in 2018, it seems unlikely that any of those three teams will be good enough to get College Gameday to Utah. The Cal game is competing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Michigan Wolverines (the game in South Bend in 2018 got Gameday, so it would not be surprising for the 2019 edition to get it also). The ASU game has to up against the Oregon Ducks at the Washington Huskies, which could decide the Pac-12 North. There are also several Big Ten East showdowns that week (Michigan Wolverines at Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan State Spartans at Ohio State Buckeyes). The West Virginia Mountaineers at the Oklahoma Sooners could also prove an interesting game for Gameday with former you quarterback Austin Kendall leading the WVU offense after some contention with his graduate transfer. The week of the UCLA game has the least competition nationally (Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Tigers, Texas Longhorns at Iowa State Cyclones, Michigan Wolverines at Michigan State Spartans, and Stanford Cardinal at Washington State Cougars), and Chip Kelly will likely lead UCLA to a better record in his second season in Westwood, so I am not 100% ruling this game out, but it does seem unlikely (I’m just not sold UCLA will be good enough).This brings us to our final home opponent and the one that is mostly likely for Utah to host Gameday against: the Washington State Cougars in week five. The biggest worry nationally is the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Both teams are likely to be undefeated at 4-0 for their week five showdown, and it is hard to imagine that Gameday would pass up an opportunity to go to Lincoln for a showdown between undefeated Big Ten teams. However, at least according to many way too early top 25s, Utah and WSU should both be ranked preseason. If both teams can start 4-0 (which is not a guarantee with Utah at the USC Trojans in week four and WSU playing the Houston Cougars in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in week three), this could be a top 15 matchup (but so could OSU-Nebraska), so it would be a compelling game for Gameday.
Other opportunities to appear
While WSU represents Utah’s best chance to host Gameday, there is a chance Utah could appear as the visitor, and one matchup stands out: at the Washington Huskies. The only other really noteworthy game that week is the Georgia Bulldogs against the Florida Gators, which could be a top 10 matchup, but it also is not on campus (it is played every year in Jacksonville). (There is also Oregon at USC that week, but for Utah-Washington to get Gameday we are assuming Utah and Washington have already beaten Oregon once and USC twice.) It begins to be a lot harder to predict records of teams by the time we get to week 10. There could be a game that does not look good in the preseason that is actually huge game during the season (no one predicted Cal at Utah to get Gameday in 2015 before the season started for example). Washington and Utah are the reigning Pac-12 division champions and both have a great chance to repeat in 2019, so there is a chance Gameday would want to come. The bigger issue than other games around the country though could be that ESPN likely would not want to come back to Seattle if they already were there in week eight (just two weeks earlier) for the Oregon-Washington game.
If I had to make a prediction, I would say I do not expect Utah to host or play in a game featured on College Gameday in 2019. Part of that is because there are just so few realistic options with Utah missing both Oregon and Stanford in the North and playing USC on a Friday night. The Pac-12 also gets so few opportunities to host Gameday. Only Oregon and WSU hosted in 2018. No Pac-12 teams hosted in 2017, only two hosted in 2016 (Utah and Washington), and only one in 2015 (Utah) and Oregon also appeared at Michigan State.