Last weekend, Rece Davis was supposed to be in Ireland setting the stage for the Notre Dame-Navy matchup that would have ushered in a new college football season.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” host imagined he’d be surrounded by thousands of screaming fans on location in the Dallas metroplex this past Saturday, where Alabama and USC were set to meet for the first time since 2016.
Or perhaps Davis would have been in Seattle for Michigan’s football opener against Washington. Davis’ sixth year as the steward of the longstanding preview show was expected to start with a bang. Cool road trips. Juicy matchups. The best football this sport has to offer.
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Instead, he is left to wonder what could have been as he stared at a menu of Week 1 games that barely whet the appetite.
Middle Tennessee at Army?
Texas State hosting SMU?
Eastern Kentucky vs. Marshall?
“The reality is that it is something beyond our control,” he said with a hint of resignation.
This Week 1 slate didn’t move the needle and Davis likened it to a soft rollout. But it did offer a reminder the sport has returned to life during the middle of a pandemic, even as it remains blacked out in the Big Ten and Pac-12.
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Both conferences are sitting out the fall after indefinitely delaying football last month. The decisions invited immediate scrutiny from near and far and created a divide within the sport as the ACC, Big 12 and SEC elected to forge ahead.
“We’re in the same pandemic they’re in and at the same time they get to play we don’t get to play,” Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye said. “We have to sit and watch them play and be able to win games and have all that fun when we have continue to stay in Ann Arbor and practice with hopes of possibly having a season.
“It’s just been real frustrating.”
In so many ways, the dichotomy between the teams that are inactive and the ones kicking off their seasons will alter the complexion of college football as well as GameDay, which has been a morning fixture on Saturdays in the fall since its debut in 1987.
In the coming months, Davis and his band of talking heads won’t stop in Ann Arbor, Columbus, Madison and State College as they have so often in years past.
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“All of those places are sort of staples – places that we can count on going over the course of a football season,” Davis said. “It’s going to be strange not to have them involved and not to be a part of it. It’s going to be different.”
Yes, it will. Next week, the ESPN crew is headed to Wake Forest for the first time. The show will emanate from the 50-yard line at Truist Field, hours before the Demon Deacons host Clemson.
The rambunctious throngs of fans hovering behind Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso may disappear to a large degree. The number of clever signs that blanket the wide-angle shots will be diminished. The features that fill segments of the program are expected to be produced differently, with some interviews conducted via the Zoom teleconference platform instead of in person.
“But we are going to stay as true to the formula that has worked for us as we possibly can,” Davis said.
The question is whether the citizens of Big Ten country will tune in and recognize the changes.
More pointedly, what’s it going to be like to see college football go on without them?
“Definitely it is going to be pretty frustrating to watch that,” Michigan offensive tackle Ryan Hayes said.
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During the week the Wolverines were supposed to go to the Pacific Northwest to face the Huskies – or rather host Purdue as part of a revised conference-only schedule – the reality sank in that other teams are playing while they are stuck running drills with no competition in sight.
This is the time of year when the excitement of a new season bubbles to the surface, when optimism tends to peak, when players can’t wait to…