Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A key Utah football game in November. Bowl Championship Series prospects on the line. And thousands of Ute fans cheering on ESPN's College GameDay broadcast from outside Rice-Eccles Stadium in the shadows of the picturesque Wasatch Front.
It's 2004 all over again in 2010, as No. 5 Utah hosts No. 3 TCU in a battle of unbeatens doubling as Saturday's drawing card for ESPN's trademark college football pregame show.
"It's so exciting because everyone on campus is talking about GameDay," said Ute fan Ellen Stemle. "It's a buzzword."
When GameDay comes calling, there's never an attitude of "been there, done that."
It's an encore performance, a repeat honor for longtime Utah fans. And except for students working on the "two-term plan" — Bush's and Obama's — it's a new rush for the U. students in the stadium's much-beloved MUSS section.
"If we win this game, I probably won't sleep for a week or two, I'll be so excited," said MUSS president T.J. McMullin. "It'll just open up so many possibilities. We'll just keep winning and then we'll win the Rose Bowl before we even get into the Pac-12. … It's a good time to be going to school here."
And it's a great symbiotic relationship. Fans find themselves within earshot of GameDay's Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard, while ESPN enjoys a backdrop of masses of fans mugging for the camera.
Saturday's visit is GameDay's third to the state, counting the 2004 Utah-BYU game and last year's BYU-TCU contest in Provo. Both times earned rave reviews for the scenic settings.
"It provides a great visual backdrop," said ESPN publicist Michael C. Humes. "The fans are great — they're passionate, and they know their football."
Even Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has acknowledged "the event."
"With the ESPN College GameDay crew rolling into town, this will be a great opportunity for our fans, and especially the MUSS, to share in the national exposure that comes with a game of this magnitude," he said.
The university is encouraging GameDay spectators to arrive by 6 a.m. for the 7 a.m. start, with general parking available in the Huntsman and Merrill Engineering lots. The Guardsman lot will open at 3 p.m. today for overnight tailgating and camping; camping may be allowed in other areas as well.
First, let's dispel a couple of local GameDay myths.
It's not a Saturday-only effort — GameDay will tape segments Friday afternoon.
Host schools don't pick up additional broadcast revenue— but GameDay limelight is near priceless when it comes to appeasing fans and appealing to would-be recruits.
Also, no bias is given to games scheduled on the ABC-ESPN networks or to conferences aligned with such networks — GameDay visited three Mountain West Conference campuses in a four-week span last year.
So next year's changes — Utah to the Pac-12 and BYU as an ESPN-contracted independent — doesn't enhance either's future prospects. GameDay goes to the notable games featuring winning teams and worthy matchups.
"We're just setting the table," said Fowler, GameDay's host. "It's the game that's the draw."
ESPN long had the Utah-TCU contest on its radar. "They both kept winning," Humes said, "and it kept moving up the list."
The game broadcast itself — on CBS College — will be available as part of a two-week free preview on CBS-C's cable and satellite distributors, including Comcast, DISH Network, Cox and others.
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