Washington State released its 2014 football schedule on Wednesday and the release was met with the same question it is met with every year: will this be the year College GameDay comes to Pullman?
The tradition of flying WSU flags at College GameDay has been going on for more than 10 years with the streak approaching 150 straight appearances. Although the tradition has evolved as the years have gone on, the streak started as campaign to convince ESPN to bring College GameDay to Pullman. It hasn't happened yet -- thanks in large part to some historically bad football -- but this could be the year.
In the early days of the flag-waving tradition, the prevailing thought was GameDay wouldn't come because there weren't enough hotels and it was too hard to get to Pullman. Those concerns are a thing of the past and there is no question ESPN will bring College GameDay to Pullman, it just needs a reason to. Don't believe me?
This might hurt, Wazzu fans. Gameday was planning on Pullman to salute 4-1 start/107 weeks of The Flag b4 the 8pt lead was lost. Someday...— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) October 12, 2011
Basically, to bake this College GameDay cake in Pullman, ESPN needs two ingredients. A non-terrible Cougar team and a marquee opponent. WSU is making strides to accomplish the first element and the 2014 home schedule will open several possibilities for the second.
The 2013 home schedule killed the chances of GameDay coming to Pullman before the season even started. I don't care how much ESPN likes the tradition, it isn't bringing GameDay to Pullman for Southern Utah, Idaho, Oregon State or Utah. ASU was the most marquee home opponent last season and that game was played on a Thursday.
For everything the 2013 home schedule lacked, the 2014 slate makes up for it and then some. Oregon, USC, Arizona and Washington will be among the teams headed to Pullman next season. All four could be potential GameDay opponents, depending on how the season shakes out. It will take some Cougar wins and probably some good fortune, but here's a closer look at WSU's GameDay chances in 2014.
September 20 vs. Oregon
This game has potential GameDay matchup written all over it. The Ducks will bring the necessary star power to Pullman and Oregon will likely have a very small number next to its name heading in. Oregon plays South Dakota, Wyoming and Michigan State, all at home, before heading to Pullman. With three wins, the Ducks are likely a top five team.
The Cougars will have to take care of their own business. WSU opens with Rutgers in Seattle, on the road against Nevada and at home against Portland State. Based on F/+ rankings, the Cougars were significantly better than all three teams last season. If WSU is 3-0 heading into the Oregon game and the Ducks are 3-0 and highly ranked, that would be a very strong contender for GameDay.
The complete ACC and Big 12 schedules haven't been released, but here are a few other notable games.
Other top contenders: Florida at Alabama, Miami at Nebraska, Auburn at Kansas State.
November 1 vs. USC
This game will probably be WSU's second-best chance of hosting, but it will require the Cougars to do plenty of winning. Although USC isn't the same it was under Pete Carroll, the Trojans still have plenty of name value. They are also a talented team and have a realistic shot to be 7-1 when they head to Pullman. That should be good for a top 15 ranking, maybe better. The question is will the Cougs have enough wins to still be of interest.
I don't think 5-3 is going to cut it, so WSU would likely need to be 6-2 or better by that point. That's not outside the realm of possibility. With a very generous forecast, the Cougars could have wins against Rutgers, Nevada, Portland State, Utah, California and Arizona. Losses to Oregon and Stanford would have WSU 6-2 and likely receiving votes in the polls. There isn't much margin for error, however, and most of those games are far from a sure thing.
The national schedule is in WSU's favor, at least at this point.
Other top contenders: Florida at Georgia
November 29 vs. Washington
The good thing about the Apple Cup and GameDay is it's a great rivalry, which is great for the show. The bad thing is it takes place during rivalry weekend with dozens of other very intriguing games around the country, some likely with much higher stakes.
If the Huskies continue to be the same team they've been for the last few years, they'll likely enter this game with six or seven wins. Possibly on the fringe of being ranked. That could be good enough, especially if WSU is having a good season. The problem may lie in the late-season schedule with a few tough games leading into the Apple Cup. The Cougars play Arizona and USC at home before traveling to Oregon State and ASU. A losing streak won't help their chances of luring ESPN.
Other top contenders: Every other rivalry game around the country. Auburn at Alabama, Michigan at Ohio State, etc.
We are months away from any potential decision being played -- and the Cougars will need to hold up their end of the bargain on the field -- but 2014 appears to be WSU's best chance to host College GameDay since early 2011. If WSU opens the season 3-0, I think we'll see Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and company in Pullman for the Oregon game. They'll have to win though, or else we'll still be waiting. As Fowler said, someday ...