Dynasties have come and gone at Miami, Florida State, Florida and Oklahoma while “College GameDay” has reigned as the preeminent Saturday morning pregame show.
But the ESPN franchise heads into its 37th year having undergone the most change ever going into a new season while also facing competition from Fox and its upstart “Big Noon Kickoff.”
While the core of the “GameDay” lineup is back with host Rece Davis and analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Pat McAfee, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso, it will have a different look.
Analyst David Pollack, reporter Gene Wojciechowski, and Senior VP of Production Lee Fitting were let go while research producer Chris “The Bear” Fallica left for Fox.
Fallica had the longest tenure with “GameDay” at 29 years. Fitting had been a producer since 2004, while Pollack (11 years) and Wojciechowski (12) were longtime veterans.
“We’ll see how it unfolds. I think ‘GameDay’ will always be ‘GameDay,’ but I think it will come across different this year,” Fallica said.
Corso has been with the program since it started in 1987, while Herbstreit goes into his 27th season. Howard is in his 18th year.
Davis, entering his ninth season as host, knows change is a constant, but he also thinks the show has evolved over the years, as evidenced by McAfee coming aboard last year.
McAfee will do “GameDay” with his popular talk show moving to ESPN in September.
“I think we have maybe the most dynamic force in sports media right now,” Davis said. “He’s been unbelievable to me. He’s got a great connection with people and the audience. His addition last year sort of exemplified what this show has done in sort of always trying to stay ahead and making sure that you maintain your roots and don’t let it get complacent.”
Even though fans primarily tune in for the on-set debates and the signs in the crowd, whoever picks up feature reporting, which has always been one of the staples, remains a crucial question. Going into her eighth season, Jen Lada will have some segments, while Marty Smith and other veteran reporters will contribute.
Davis noted there will also be times when he, Herbstreit or Howard might do a segment.
“Stanford Steve” Coughlin moves into Fallica’s spot for analysis and picks against the point spread.
“I don’t think we look at it as a transition at all. It is an evolution of the show, which has been on top for 30 years,” said ESPN Vice President/Executive Producer Seth Markman, who oversees all college football and NFL studio programming.
“GameDay” averaged 2.1 million viewers across its three hours last season, the second-most watched year in program history. This year' marks the 30th season that “GameDay” has originated from game sites. The show will be in Charlotte on Saturday as No. 21 North Carolina takes on South Carolina.
The Sept. 9 location has not been announced, but it would be a surprise if it isn’t Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for No. 11 Texas at the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide.
Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” has added Fallica and Mark Ingram II to a crew that includes host Rob Stone and analysts Matt Leinart, Urban Meyer and Brady Quinn. The pregame show has become a solid lead-in to the 12 p.m. Eastern game and will be on site for the second straight year.
Stone, who worked at ESPN before joining Fox in 2011, has appreciated some of the gains Fox’s pregame show has made in a short time.
“Gap isn’t even a fair word. The head start our competition had was mammoth. They have built a legendary product, and we were just jumping in literally five years ago,” he said. “I admire everything that they have done and the people in front and behind the camera that have created that institution. But boy, it is fun to be that competition lurking out there and continually eating away at their crowd and pulling more and more people into what we like to do.”
Fox also has an advantage because its pregame show leads into its marquee game at noon, while at “College GameDay,” the game isn’t until late afternoon or at night.
When matched up for the final hour (11 a.m. to 12 p.m.), “GameDay” still has a significant lead. According to Nielsen, “GameDay” averaged 2.69 million viewers to “Big Noon Kickoff’s” 1.58 million. But Fox has seen gains of 30% in that hour since 2019.
“Big Noon Kickoff” will be on site for coach Deion Sanders’ first two Colorado games. The Buffaloes are at No. 17 TCU on Saturday before hosting Nebraska next week.
Brad Zager, Fox Sports executive producer and president of production & operations, has also been pleased with what has been accomplished in a short time.
“Last year, we committed to be on the road every single week, which adds that whole band and tailgate aspect that those shows thrive on. And over time, we’ve added pieces that make the show more complete for the viewer,” he said. “We’re excited about the schedule and what’s to come this year.”