ESPN analysts excited to be at JMU

Kirk Herbstreit, an analyst for ESPN's College GameDay, speaks to reporters outside Wilson Hall at James Madison University on Oct. 23, 2015. College GameDay is coming back to JMU this weekend. The Dukes host Villanova on Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily file

HARRISONBURG – Kirk Herbstreit is still amazed at how far ESPN’s “College GameDay” show has come since he started.

The ESPN college football analyst has been doing the show, which will broadcast from James Madison University today, for 20 years. The show is so big that it brings around 10 tractor trailer trucks with it each week.

“I still can’t believe that, because I remember we used to have one truck and now the stage — it’s like a concert,” Herbstreit said at a news conference on Friday.

“You look and see how much work the guys put in. They got here, probably Wednesday. They started putting that up on Thursday and it’s just really like a band traveling around the country. … I would say it’s been like this for maybe about the last 10 years, maybe. I always look at that like it’s truly a blessing to be able to cover a sport like college football, where people are just so interested in the sport and in the show.”

Herbstreit and the “College GameDay” crew will be broadcasting from the quad outside Wilson Hall on the JMU campus from 9 a.m.-noon. They also did some segments for “SportsCenter” and “College Football Live” on Friday morning and afternoon.

ESPN analyst Desmond Howard speaks to reporters outside Wilson Hall Friday afternoon during a news conference. ESPN College DayGame will feature the James Madison University Dukes and the Richmond Spiders today. Rich Cooley/Daily

It is only the eighth time in the show’s history that they have done a show at a Football Championship Subdivision school. JMU hosts the University of Richmond today at 3:30 p.m. The Dukes are ranked No. 3 in the FCS Coaches poll, while Richmond is ranked No. 12.

Desmond Howard, who is one of the main five ESPN analysts for the show, said he’s glad that they chose to come to JMU this weekend.

“I love coming to places like this,” Howard said. “I would come here as opposed to come to some other places in other conferences any day, just because (of) the appreciation factor – the way that they treat you. You give people some national exposure that they’ve earned – that they deserve. It’s always good to be able to do that.”

Perhaps the happiest person at ESPN to see “GameDay” come to JMU is the show’s producer Lee Fitting, a 1996 JMU graduate.

Fitting said he tried to make sure when they were thinking about coming to his alma mater that they weren’t doing it because of him. He said coming back to JMU has been special for him.

Lee Fitting

“It’s a dream come true,” Fitting said. “I never thought the show would get here in my wildest dreams, and tomorrow will be kind of surreal like the past few days have been. But we can’t wait. It’s going to be an awesome scene.”

Herbstreit, a former Ohio State University quarterback, said that he loves coming to smaller schools, and to see the passion they have for the sport.

“It’s just surreal when we come into these off-the-beat paths,” Herbstreit said. “It’s just surreal to see how excited people are and how the show touches everybody. It doesn’t just touch Nebraska or USC or Texas fans – everybody loves college football.”

The three-hour show Saturday will focus mostly on Football Bowl Subdivision schools, but will talk about the JMU-Richmond game, and JMU coach Everett Withers will make an appearance. The analysts and a guest picker will pick the game to end the show.

Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner, said that the exposure JMU is receiving from this weekend is great for the university and he’s happy they came to Harrisonburg.

“You can’t take anything away from the program,” Howard said. “The way they’ve been playing, they’ve earned the right for us to come here and give them some national love. I’m glad we’re here giving them some national attention.”

There are several other ESPN personalities that have connections to JMU and Richmond. ESPN football analyst Todd McShay is a Richmond graduate, and has stated his support for the Spiders on several ESPN shows this week. ESPN’s “SportsCenter” anchor Lindsay Czarniak is a JMU graduate.

Fitting was asked Friday about McShay’s support for the Spiders.

“I thought that was great,” Fitting said. “That’s what college football’s about. That’s what makes college football special. Everybody’s got a team and you’re passionate and you’re energized and you’re into it. And I wish Todd all the best. He’s going to come on the losing side tomorrow, but we’ll wish him all the best.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com