The ESPN College GameDay set, featuring (from left) Desmond Howard,...

The ESPN College GameDay set, featuring (from left) Desmond Howard, Rece Davis, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit is seen on site at Baylor University. Credit: ESPN

In 1987, a gallon of gas cost 89 cents and The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" finished at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

It also was the year ESPN debuted a college football pregame show. It starred Tim Brando, Beano Cook and Lee Corso, and it was called "College GameDay."

Much has changed in 28 years,but the show has only grown. What started as just your typical pregame studio show has become an ingrained part of the college football culture - and a show that has widely been recognized as one of the best pregame programs in all of sports.

Through the first five weeks of the 2015 season, College GameDay was averaging a record 1.992 million viewers on TV and an additional 41,000 average minute impressions on the WatchESPN streaming app. That's an all-time high for the show since it moved to a three-hour format in 2013, according to ESPN.

But it hasn't just been one thing that has caused College GameDay's popularity to soar. If you ask ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit - who is part of the show's current cast along with Rece Davis, Desmond Howard and Corso - it's a mix of things.

One of those reasons, Herbstreit said, is the growing popularity of football as a whole.

"I just feel like the last eight or nine years, we've been in a really good spot as far as the sport has grown immensely," Herbstreit said Wednesday during a call to promote Allstate's It's Good Sweepstakes. "I think as the NFL has become kind of 'the' sport in our country, college football has gone along for the ride. So I think football - major college football and the NFL - kind of separated themselves from everything else based on attendance and ratings and things like that."

Then there's the actual content of the show, ranging from Corso's weekly mascot headgear pick (which he has done more than 250 times since 1996) to straight news, analysis and feature stories.

"You might be crying one minute and laughing the next," said Herbstreit, who has been on the GameDay set since 1996. "It's really a mix of emotions when you watching a show of ours."

Most important to College GameDay's growth, though, has been the way the show has taken advantage of the rabid fandoms that define college football. After seven years in a studio, College GameDay started broadcasting on the road in 1993. Since then, it's become the backbone of the show, to the point where fans openly campaign to have GameDay come to their school.

"We're right in front, usually, of a huge atmosphere that's authentic and real and not manufactured," Herbstreit said. "And then these crowds that we get every single week. I mean, I don't know, there's 10-15,000 people around our set just going bonkers about their school and their team. I think it's kind of symbolic of tailgating and college football."

The result: the rare must-watch pregame show.

Said Herbstreit: "I think people, they've really embraced it."

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