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The Inside Track | TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

West Coast Apparently Agrees With `GameDay'

September 15, 2006|LARRY STEWART

ESPN's traveling circus, known as "College GameDay," is coming to town.

The cast of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, sometimes referred to as "the three wise men of college football," will be at the Coliseum on Saturday to do their show at 7 a.m. before USC's 5 p.m. game against Nebraska.

ESPN has been taking this show on the road since 1993 but didn't make a West Coast visit until 1998, when Oregon, then ranked 12th, played second-ranked UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Before 2004, there was only one other West Coast appearance, in 2000 when No. 8 UCLA played at Oregon.

The show made two stops at the Coliseum in 2004 -- for USC games against California and Notre Dame -- and was there last season for UCLA-USC.

One perceived problem about West Coast appearances was that the early start would be a deterrent to getting much of a crowd. But this show has become so popular, it could probably draw a crowd at 3 a.m.

After the first two weeks of this season, the show is averaging a 1.7 rating. Games on ESPN are averaging a 2.4 and games on ESPN2 a 1.1.

One reason for selecting Saturday's Nebraska-USC game as the place to be was that Nebraska draws well, even on the road, and its fans love the show. When Notre Dame played at Lincoln, Neb., in 2001, a record crowd of about 15,800 showed up.

Other possibilities this weekend were Louisiana State at Auburn and Michigan at Notre Dame, even though those games are on competing networks. To ESPN's credit, the show is not restricted to being at only ABC and ESPN games.

Sites last season included two Southeastern Conference games on CBS, the USC-Notre Dame game on NBC and the Bayou Classic between Southern and Grambling on NBC.

"College GameDay" originated in 1987 with Bob Carpenter as the host, and Corso and Beano Cook as the analysts. The current cast has been together for 11 years and plays a key role in the show's popularity.

The first road show in 1993 was at South Bend, Ind., on Nov. 13, when No. 1 Florida State played No. 2 Notre Dame.

Corso says he knew at the time that ESPN had hit on something.

"After that show, I said that within four years colleges will be paying us to come to their school," he said this week. "They don't pay us, but they sure barter for us."

Corso himself is another reason for the popularity of "College GameDay." He has the expertise of a former coach -- he coached at Louisville, Indiana, Northern Illinois and one year in the USFL before being hired by ESPN in 1987. Plus, his zaniness is usually entertaining and his candor refreshing. He's never afraid to express an opinion, even one that might anger certain fans.

Of Saturday's Nebraska-USC game, Corso said, "Realistically, Nebraska doesn't have a chance." He softened the blow, though, by adding, "If USC doesn't play tough, Nebraska has a chance."

He calls Pete Carroll "the best college coach in America," without concern about offending anyone else.

There was a time, though, when he did fear he had offended someone.

After the 1999 Virginia Tech team had lost the BCS championship game to Florida State, "GameDay" was at Virginia Tech for the opener the next season.

"I predicted on the air that Florida State and Kansas State would be in the championship game at the end of that season, and got booed by the Virginia Tech students," Corso said.

"After that segment, I went out to the parking lot and discovered my rental car had been hit by lightning. I was told it was like 500 billion to one that lightning would hit my car.

"When I went back on the air, I said, 'I don't know what a Hokie is, but God must be one. Go, Virginia Tech!' "

larry.stewart@latimes.com

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