Ravell Call, Deseret News
Lee Corso predicted a Ute victory in 2004 when ESPN visited Rice-Eccles Stadium.

For Lee Corso, success has gone to his head.

Despite his 28-year coaching tenure and 22 years as an ESPN football analyst, Corso is best known for his zany, over-the-top game predictions as part of the network's College GameDay show.

In closing the two-hour live broadcast from the site of a key game each fall Saturday, Corso and co-analyst Kirk Herbstreit predict winners of the day's major matchups, concluding with the one to be played at the GameDay site.

Corso punctuates his final prediction by donning a mascot head or helmet representing his selection, sending the home crowd into a frenzy of cheers or a fury of boos, depending on his pick.

With GameDay making its first-ever stop at Provo's Edwards Stadium this weekend in conjunction with Saturday's BYU-TCU game, Corso is bracing himself for an onslaught of the usual queries when spotted by football fans.

"They always ask me, 'Lee, who you gonna pick? Whose head you gonna wear?' " said Corso in a phone interview Wednesday from Maitlan, Fla., where he works as development director for Dixon Ticonderoga, a manufacturer/marketer of writing and arts products.

Corso's headgear antics date back to 1996, when GameDay was in Columbus, Ohio for the Big Ten pairing of third-ranked Ohio State and fourth-ranked Penn State. Watching OSU mascot Brutus Buckeye walk by earlier, Corso was prompted on how to sell his prediction.

"I said, 'Hey, Herbstreit, you get me that head and I'll put it on — I won't have to say anything.' "

Herbstreit, a former OSU star quarterback, had no trouble filling the request, and Corso surprised the crowd by pulling out — and putting on — Brutus' head.

"Everybody went crazy," Corso recalled. "The (production) truck went crazy. ESPN went crazy.

"I told myself, 'I think I've got a shtick — and I'm going to stick to it.' "

And he has ever since, sporting everything from a Trojan helmet, armor and sword (for Southern California) to a the purple cow's mascot head (Division III's Amherst College). For a GameDay before a Harvard-Penn contest, he dressed up as Benjamin Franklin.

His favorite mascot-head memories? Corso remembers scraping his forehead the first time he put on Florida's Albert the Gator mascot head and the fun of triggering a pair of shotguns while wearing the head of Raider Red, Texas Tech's caricature mascot.

The 74-year-old Corso is the only one of the four current GameDay on-air talents — along with Herbstreit, Chris Fowler and Desmond Howard — who has been with the show since its 1987 inception. Season No. 23 was a little in doubt when he suffered a mild stroke last May.

It was as if his heart was echoing Corso's catch phrase — "not so fast, my friend."

His only post-stroke change this fall is forgoing Friday's pre-taped segments and getting plenty of rest for his Saturday gigs.

While GameDay is making its inaugural Provo visit, Corso has called several previous ESPN Thursday night games at BYU and is anxious to return to the scenic Wasatch Front.

And he's quick to tell any available listener about his University of Indiana team's 38-37 victory over BYU in the 1979 Holiday Bowl, the Hoosiers' first bowl win in 75 years.

Prior to Provo, GameDay made its first Utah stop in Salt Lake City in 2004, when Utah beat BYU in the regular-season finale and earning a BCS-busting trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Corso doesn't remember the 22-degree weather that late November morning outside Rice-Eccles Stadium as much as he does the enthusiastic Ute fans.

"A great crowd," he said. "We were all eating Tostito chips and throwing Tostitos chips."

In Corso, some may see a bit of pro football analyst John Madden, a bit of actor/director Mel Brooks and a bit of wacky TV game show producer/host Chuck Barris. "I hope you see 100 percent Lee Corso," he said. "Because what you see is what you get. ...

"We're in the entertainment business," he added, "and college football is our vehicle."

So then, tell us, Lee, what about Saturday's game — might you be donning the headgear of Cosmo the Cougar mascot, playing to the delight of GameDay's pro-BYU host crowd? Or rather the spiky head of SuperFrog, mascot of the favored, visiting TCU Horned Frogs?

"If I told you," said Corso with his trademark chuckle, "I'd have to kill you."

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com