Northwestern the game to watch in eyes of ‘College GameDay’

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern has given “College GameDay” a Cinderella story. It has given “College GameDay” a novelty act. On Saturday, it gives “College GameDay” a great football game.

During a news conference Friday, members of ESPN’s “GameDay” team highlighted the difference between the show’s two previous visits to NU home games and its visit for the Saturday night game against Ohio State.

“We’re at the site of the biggest game, the most meaningful game,” “GameDay” host Chris Fowler said. “This is just regular old ‘GameDay.’ No novelty, just a place we haven’t been in most of the students’ lifetimes.”

The show’s last broadcast from Evanston was in 1995, when a team with a long record of losing vied for a Rose Bowl berth. In 2010, the show set up at Wrigley Field, where the Cats took on Illinois. This year, the show’s attention reflects a pattern of success from NU’s program. Saturday’s game is about a high-profile matchup and the Cats’ dramatic rise to prominence, “GameDay” producer Lee Fitting said.

“This game’s been on the radar for months,” Fitting said. “I like to categorize (the criteria for choosing a site) as the best story of the week. This happens to be the best story and the best game.”

Fowler said the drought since the show last visited campus adds to the excitement for the crew and, of course, for the students.

“That energizes us, when it’s been a while since we’ve been to a place,” Fowler said. “We feed off that energy when it’s new for us. We’re excited that we get to showcase what’s great about this campus. The location will do that if we get a nice weather day. And it’s a chance for Northwestern students and fans to show the nation what the program is about.”

“GameDay” analyst and Michigan Heisman winner Desmond Howard commented on the development of NU’s program from afterthought during his 1989-91 college career to an outfit worthy of national notice.

“It’s been a big change,” Howard said. “Back then, you would probably look at the Northwestern game as maybe a less competitive game — I don’t want to call it a stats game — but it just wouldn’t be a game you would circle on the map.”

That ascension is part of the “story” of which Fitting spoke. The other aspect is NU’s perpetual underdog status. As the smallest and most academically prestigious school in the Big Ten, all athletic success — particularly in major sports — is viewed as a story.

“(‘GameDay’’s presence) highlights the consistency of the program,” Fowler said. “That’s what’s remarkable. A school of this quality academically, a school that’s the only private school, surrounded by these massive universities in the Big Ten, is not supposed to be able to win consistently. So that’s what’s impressive to me.”

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02