‘College GameDay’ analysts excited to be back at JMU

HARRISONBURG — ESPN’s “College GameDay” has returned to James Madison University and they are happy to be back.

The three-hour college football pre-game show starts today at 9 a.m. from The Quad at JMU. The show was there for the first time two years ago, and ESPN “College GameDay” analyst Desmond Howard said on Friday that JMU is a perfect setting for the show.

“Obviously, the outcome we were here last time — it was phenomenal,” Howard said in a press conference from the steps of Wilson Hall by The Quad. “It was outstanding. It’s like what you’d think about when you think about “College GameDay” on a campus during football season. It was amazing. It was picturesque. It was everything you could ask for from a production standpoint. So we’re hoping (today’s) even better. They set the bar kind of high the last time we were here — they really did.”

The undefeated Football Championship Subdivision Dukes host Villanova at 3:30 p.m. The show came to JMU on Oct. 25, 2015 when the Dukes hosted the University of Richmond, a game JMU lost 55-45. There were an estimated 12,000 people at “College GameDay” the first time it was at JMU.

It’s only the ninth time “College GameDay” has done a show at an FCS school. They typically broadcast the show from Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

JMU alum and ESPN’s vice president of college sports Lee Fitting said JMU was on a short list of schools they wanted to visit this weekend. The 1996 JMU graduate said once there were a few upsets last weekend they decided to come back to his alma mater.

“The decision came down to Sunday morning,” Fitting said. “And there’s a group of us going back and forth. And (“College GameDay” analyst) Kirk Herbstreit said ‘why don’t we go where we know there’s going to be a guaranteed great scene, where the energy’s going to be great’ — and here we are.”

ESPN “College GameDay” analyst David Pollack said that one of his favorite memories from two years ago was how big the crowd was for the “College Football Live” show on the Friday before “GameDay.” The show was broadcast live from JMU, and he said it was the best crowd they’ve had for the Friday show.

Pollack said it’s always special coming to smaller schools such as JMU compared to some of the bigger schools they go to.

“There’s no expectations and there’s just happiness,” Pollack said. “And it’s just a great scene. When you come to the smaller schools it’s more fun for us. I know that sounds cheesy, but it really is, because you know it’s going to be just swamped. And it’s going to be awesome.”

Rece Davis, “College GameDay” host, said that the energy from the crowd really stood out to him the last time they came to JMU.

“We always say we can have a great show if there are 20 people here or 15,000, or whatever you had here last time,” Davis said. “You can have a great show either way. But because of the nature and the passion of the sport it’s really nice to have that atmosphere and that energy with the crowd. And theyre  excited to see us. That’s always very gratifying. We never take that for granted.”

JMU, the reigning FCS national champions, currently has the nation’s longest Division I win streak at 17 games.

Pollack, a former defensive standout at the University of Georgia, said the fact that JMU has a winning program is a big factor in why they chose to come to JMU.

“You tip your hat to programs that are good,” Pollack said. “We don’t go to sorry teams. We’re not going just anywhere. There’s plenty of spots that you can go. I’m not saying this week is the best week in college football, but you go to a team that’s a national champion and has a 17-game win streak — that’s pretty awesome.”

Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Michigan, said that he’s been impressed with JMU’s defense from what he’s seen of them.

“Defense is about being well coached, about being disciplined and knowing where you’re supposed to go — knowing your assignments,” Howard said. “And I think that’s what jumps out when you watch them play defense. They’re well coached. They play fast because they’re disciplined and they know their assignments.”

One of the highlights of the show when it came to JMU two years ago was ESPN analyst Lee Corso dressing up like James Madison and putting on the JMU headgear on the steps of Wilson Hall. At the end of each show, Corso, who has been doing the show for 30 years, wears  headgear of the team he is picking to win.

Fitting said that he couldn’t give away any details as to what Corso would do for an encore.

“(Corso) always has something special planned,” Fitting said. “I’ll tell you what, he wasn’t happy that he picked JMU last time, and they lost. He said I came all the way to Madison and I dress up as James Madison and that happened on the field — so we’ll see.”

Fitting said he expects the energy of the crowd to be even better than it was two years ago.

“I’m at the point now where I’m going to be disappointed if the crowd, and the scene and the energy aren’t better than they were two years ago,” Fitting said. “I’ve been doing this now for 15 years and it was as impressive of a scene as we’ve had on “College GameDay.”