Chasing the spotlight

Every Pac-10 school but Stanford has done it, USC 18 times. Florida's done it a NCAA-leading 32 times. Ohio State's done it 26 times, including an NCAA-best 12 times at home. Florida State (23), Oklahoma (23), and Michigan (21) round out the fop five. What are we talking about, and why might Stanford join the list this year?

In case you have been living under a rock since it took to the road in 1993, ESPN's College GameDay is a now two-hour national college football preview show broadcasting weekly from the biggest game of the year (with a bias, increased in recent years, toward ABC/ESPN games.) What that Wikipedia link can't tell you is that the show has transcended television to become coverage that in many ways defines college football. Looking at GameDay's travel history, courtesy a handy-dandy list here, one finds most of the games that have defined college football in the past two decades. The show's primary analysts, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, are the most influential media voice in college football, with their opinions having impacted Heisman races and BCS chases alike – the very events they cover.

While schools such as Amherst, Grambling State, Bowling Green, Harvard, East Carolina and North Carolina State have each appeared in the game from which the show broadcast, Stanford has never once made the cut. Part of that probably is an anti-7 a.m. local start West Coast bias (how else is USC tied with Notre Dame for all-time appearances, or Colorado [6] three times as frequent a guest as Cal [2]?), and a pro-Disney bias (ABC/ESPN has a lower proportion of Pac-10 games than, say, Big 10 or Big 12 games), part of that may be schedule fluke, but part of that is also fair. Stanford hasn't been good that frequently since 1993. Even when the Cardinal have been good, they've been multiple times per season good, and not seriously challenging for the national title, as GameDay prefers its participants to be.

The GameDay-less streak might come to an end though, with Stanford playing in several high-profile games early this season. Based on a chronological TV listing of college football games here and using rankings from a consensus preseason top-25 here, here is preseason No. 27 Stanford's schedule vis a vis college GameDay:

Slim-to-no shots
12. Sept. 4 vs. Sacramento St. – No explanation needed.
11. Sept. 23 vs. Washington St. – Ditto.
10. Nov. 13 at Arizona State – They should stink, consensus No. 9 in the league.
9. Sept. 18 vs. Wake Forest – Maybe they'll end up being good, but just two weeks into the season, way too early to drum up national interest with both teams outside the preseason top 25.
8. Sept. 11 at UCLA – See above.

7. at 38. Washington, Oct. 30. Other games: Florida/Georgia, Oregon/USC.
6. vs. 37. Arizona, Nov. 6. Other: Alabama/LSU.

With all these teams starting outside the top 25, they'd need to go undefeated or virtually undefeated up to game day to have a shot. For Stanford, at UCLA, at Notre Dame, at Oregon and vs. USC are major early tests. With conference co-favorites USC and Oregon (along with ASU) not on Arizona's schedule until after Stanford, the Wildcats could have a pretty record if they can navigate Iowa and the Oregon State/Washington/Cal middle of the Pac-10. Washington has a tougher road, as they'd have to beat Nebraska, USC and Oregon State. The Luck/Locker matchup would be great for TV, but with Nov. 6 a relatively light day after Alabama/LSU and an easier early schedule, Arizona gets the nod.

Realistic shots
For the non-conspiracy theorists out there, there are five realistic shots at a GameDay game for Stanford.

5. At Cal, Nov. 20.
Pros: Stanford has yet to play Oregon State and Cal has yet to play Washington, so the Pac-10 race could be relatively open for the late date. Big Game's a rivalry that could pique national interest.
Cons: No one is giving Cal a preseason ranking, so Stanford and Cal need to have two or fewer losses between them to have a good shot. The game is on FSN. And there are a lot of competing possibilities, including two at historic baseball parks…
Other games: 14. USC at 21. Oregon State, 2. Ohio State at 8. Iowa, 10. Virginia Tech at 13. Miami, Illinois vs. Northwestern at Wrigley Field, Army vs. Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium, Yale at Harvard

4. vs. 21. Oregon State, Nov. 27.
Pros: Could be for the Rose Bowl with USC ineligible and Oregon without its QB Masoli. If Oregon State has made it through to this point undefeated or near-undefeated, they will have knocked off preseason No. 6 TCU, preseason No. 3 Boise State and preseason No. 14 USC the week before, among others.
Cons: Oregon State at Boise State on Sept. 25 could already be a GameDay game. Hard to see the Beavers getting on twice in a season. Plus, hard to see OSU (or Stanford) making it through all those toughies unscathed. Most convincingly, though, it's Rivalry Weekend, the premier weekend in college football, as we see…
Other games: 29. Notre Dame at 14. USC, 5. Florida at 17. Florida State, Michigan at 2. Ohio State, BYU at 29. Utah, 19. Georgia Tech at 23. Georgia, 11. Oklahoma at 36. Oklahoma State

3. 27. Stanford at 29. Notre Dame, Sept. 25, NBC
Pros: It's Notre Dame. I hear they tend to get on TV lots for reasons unrelated to on-field achievement. Interest will be higher with this being Kelly's first year. Notre Dame is vs. Purdue, vs. Michigan and at Michigan State, while Stanford is vs. Sacramento State, at UCLA and vs. Wake Forest prior to the matchup, so there's no reason why both teams couldn't be 3-0/
Cons: The game is on NBC. Oregon State at Boise State and UCLA at Texas will both be Disney and both are intriguing. Too early in the season for these teams to make it above No. 20 – or for enough of the teams below to lose.
Other games: 21. Oregon State at 3. Boise State, UCLA at 4. Texas, 1. Alabama at 16. Arkansas, 26. West Virginia at 22. LSU, 11. Oklahoma at 24. Cincinnati

Best shots

2. 27. Stanford at 9. Oregon, Oct. 2, 8 p.m. ET, ABC.
Pros: After last year's 52-41 shocker, people will want to see this year's matchup. Stanford visits Notre Dame the week before, so the Cardinal have an opportunity to make a splash with a win, and would be in the Top 20 were they undefeated. Oregon will likely be undefeated, easing into the season with Tennessee and Arizona State its toughest tests in September. Ducks could be top-five too, if a few teams above them lose early. Finally, with USC ineligible, this will shape the Rose Bowl race early. The schedule-makers have already made this the game of the week – it'll have the nation's attention undivided, with 5. Florida at 1. Alabama and 11. Oklahoma vs. 4. Texas earlier in the day.
Cons: We could have four of the top five teams in the country playing each other in those two games above. Realistically, Stanford would probably need each team above to have lost already. Alabama has Penn State and Arkansas early, Florida has Tennessee, Texas has Texas Tech and UCLA, and Oklahoma has Florida State and Cincinnati, but that would be one heck of a parlay. And if last year's Heisman and the recent conference expansion saga have taught us anything, it's not to undercount Alabama or Texas's national pull.
Other games: 5. Florida at 1. Alabama, 11. Oklahoma vs. 4. Texas, Tennessee at 22. LSU, 20. Penn State at 8. Iowa, 38. Washington at 14. USC.

1. 14. USC at 27. Stanford, Oct. 9, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Pros: USC/Stanford is already a great rivalry after Stanford's last two visits to L.A. Kiffin and Harbaugh are both media magnets, and one could see one hell of a rivalry developing between the two fiery men. The game looks pretty close on paper, with USC ranked slightly higher but Stanford at home. It's a relatively dull weekend in college football, so this might legitimately be the Game of the Week. That it's scheduled for the national ABC nightcap won't hurt matters either, as Herbstreit would likely be calling the game anyways.
Stanford has an absolutely beautiful campus, so hosting on Stanford – where GameDay has never been – could be a draw as well. With Virginia, Hawaii, Minnesota and the Washingtons heading into this, USC should be undefeated, which would put them in the Top 10 after a month's worth of attrition of teams ahead of them. Stanford, meanwhile, will have just visited Notre Dame and Oregon, so they're top-15 if they've won both of these games. Nationally, everyone likes seeing USC lose (cuz we're all haters, right Mike Garrett?), ESPN seems to like plucky underdog Stanford (we got pretty good coverage last year), and there are no shortage of Stanford alums at the Worldwide Leader, and I imagine they'd make themselves heard. With an appeal decision coming down in a few months, USC could be in the news anyways plenty at around this time.
Cons: With USC Rose Bowl-ineligible, a Trojan win wouldn't mean a lot. Stanford would have to win in South Bend and in Oregon. Whenever possible, the show doesn't like to do West Coast shows because of the 7 a.m. local start. …
And that's really about it. If Stanford can win its first five, College GameDay will be on the Stanford campus for Stanford/USC game. You heard it here first. It would be hard to argue Stanford football hasn't arrived when it's being beamed into every household in the country as the Game of the Week.
Other games: 22. LSU at 5. Florida (CBS), Michigan State at Michigan, 17. Florida State at 13. Miami

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