Among the sea of white — among the signs, the smiles and the screams — there was a sense of anticipation on the Old Main Lawn: Not necessarily for what headgear Lee Corso would choose, but which team would change its season hours later.
It wasn’t the first time in almost a decade that ESPN’s College GameDay visited State College. It wasn’t the first time Nittanyville members lined up at 12:30 a.m. for a front-and-center spot at the pregame show’s set. It wasn’t the first time in years that Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Rece Davis and the crew lauded the Nittany Lion faithful and the reverberating enthusiasm that consumed campus.
When College GameDay visited on Oct. 21, 2017 — for the first time since 2009 — the buzz was palpable because of how new everything was to so many. This go-around, from the banter between roommates to parents educating their young kids, there was more focus on the game. There was more chatter about the season-long implications of No. 9 Penn State and No. 4 Ohio State playing Saturday night.
And that’s fair. College GameDay’s trip to Happy Valley this time was all but a formality. The first matchup between top-10 teams at Beaver Stadium in 19 years? A game some are already calling, in Week 5, the game of the season? Herbie and the gang weren’t going to miss this.
Now, that’s not to say Saturday’s atmosphere was dull or boring, stale or stagnant. The crowd still filled in, backing all the way up to the Old Main steps. The “We Are” chants — whether they were started by head coach James Franklin or doppelganger and guest picker Keegan-Michael Key — were loud as ever. And the signs were stellar. A few Urban Meyer-themed ones were pretty clever, and “My name’s Big Game Trace, and I hit dingers” deserves some serious props.
But even Franklin mentioned it, talking to ESPN’s Maria Taylor. Saturday was all “business.”
That rubbed off on the fans, too. One fan walking up the Old Main sidewalk wondered aloud if Corso and company would come back for Penn State’s Nov. 10 game against Wisconsin. Another teenager — wearing a custom Saquon Barkley jersey — asked his buddy what the College Football Playoff sites were this year; the national semifinals are the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl, for those wondering.
On the crammed corners of College Ave. and surrounding the set, conversations weren’t dominated by College GameDay returning to town. But the presence of sport’s premier pregame show only added to the feeling that Saturday night will determine the national title landscape.