BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech will be the site of more than a football game Saturday.
It will also be basking in the “College GameDay” spotlight.
ESPN’s Saturday morning college football preview show will originate from the Virginia Tech campus for the first time in 10 years. This will be the sixth time Virginia Tech has been the site of the program, which will air live from 9 a.m. to noon.
“The foundation of the show over the 25-plus years on the road has been capturing the essence of a campus, and this place has been special in the history of ‘College GameDay,’” Rece Davis, the host of the program, said Friday as he met with the media on the Tech campus.
“It’s also been special, I think, in the evolution and growth of college football in general on ESPN. I think a lot of Virginia Tech’s brand was built by a willingness to play on Thursday night.”
Virginia Tech student Olivia Hsu is looking forward to attending the show, which has set up shop on the Alumni Mall portion of campus.
“Everyone’s all hyped up,” said Hsu, a junior from Altavista. “It’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
ESPN has brought “College GameDay” to Virginia Tech because the 12th-ranked Hokies will be hosting second-ranked and defending national champion Clemson at 8 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be televised by ABC.
The football version of “College GameDay” last originated from Virginia Tech in 2007, although the basketball version of “College GameDay” was held at Tech in 2011.
“This show is in my judgment the best show on television,” said Davis, who has been the host of the football “College GameDay” since 2015. “It’s great to be able to go out and experience all these different places and see great games and meet great fans and great crowds every week.
“We can go through a three-hour show and hopefully we have made you cry, we’ve made you laugh, we’ve made you think — and maybe we’ve even made you mad because we didn’t pick your team.”
When “College GameDay” came to Virginia Tech on Sept. 1, 2007, the compelling story was not a duel between highly ranked teams but rather Tech’s first home football game since the shootings that had taken place on the Tech campus on April 16 of that year.
“It was great to come here and just try to uplift some spirits,” analyst Desmond Howard said.
In 2007, ESPN did not want to put the “College GameDay” set near the Drillfield because of the memorial there to the shooting victims. So ESPN did that show from a set on the soccer/lacrosse practice field and from a set inside Lane Stadium.
This time, ESPN has opted for Alumni Mall, near the Squires Student Center and the Newman Library. The Torgersen Bridge will be the backdrop as Davis, Howard, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack face the TV cameras from their set. “College GameDay” last did a show from Alumni Mall in 2005.
Virginia Tech fans can line up to watch the show in person beginning at 4 a.m. Saturday, with the pit area opening to fans at 5 a.m. The “College GameDay” crew will do several live “SportsCenter” reports from Alumni Mall from 7-9 a.m.
“We’re going to be some of the crazy ones getting up at 4 a.m.,” said Kenny Miller, a Tech senior from Manassas.
“I watch it on TV every Saturday — you basically just sit there and hope they come to your school one day,” said Morgan Smith, a Tech junior from Abingdon. “So when they actually come, it’s kind of hard to pass up.”
Davis said the show will have a Tech-themed opening Saturday.
“I’m not going to give it away, but I’ll just say that anyone who bleeds Chicago maroon and burnt orange will probably really, really enjoy the top of the show,” he said.
Reporter Maria Taylor will do a live interview with Hokies coach Justin Fuente during the show. Reporter Gene Wojciechowski will do a feature on sideline props, including the Virginia Tech lunch pail. The show will also examine the derivation of the “Hokie” name.
Howard has been part of “College GameDay” since 2005. He said the traveling he must do for the show is the worst part of his job.
“I’m on the road every week, and when you come to places like Roanoke, Virginia, enough said. It’s not the easiest place to get to,” Howard, a former University of Michigan star, said with a laugh. “Tuscaloosa, Alabama, you kidding me?”
Howard has enjoyed his latest visit to the Tech campus.
“I was just looking at the architecture,” Howard said. “It’s amazing. Some of these buildings look like castles.”
Pollack has been part of the “College GameDay” crew since 2011. He has also been to Tech as a game analyst, and as part of a “College Football Countdown” pregame show that originated from Lane Stadium on Labor Day night in 2015.
“This [game] atmosphere here, if you’ve never been here, you don’t know how psychotic it is,” said Pollack, a former University of Georgia standout. “The way it starts off with ‘Enter Sandman’ is insane.”
Davis has not only been to the campus as the host of the basketball “College GameDay” but has also been a play-by-play announcer for Tech games.
He also used to visit Blacksburg when he was younger. He said his great uncle Coyt Wilson used to teach agriculture at Virginia Tech and also had a Christmas tree farm.
“The one thing that I’ve always noticed about this [school], particularly after they got good, was the unity and pride that people who either went to school here or played here feel, not only about the team but about the university,” Davis said.