Well, they’re coming to our city

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

The South Dakota State-North Dakota State football rivalry has mostly been an Upper Midwest secret for decades — that all changes Saturday morning.

Saturday’s matchup featuring the No. 1 Bison and No. 3 Jackrabbits was likely to garner a fair amount of attention in the region, but now it’ll be front-and-center on the national stage as ESPN’s College GameDay comes to Brookings.

Mike Lockrem, SDSU’s Director of University Marketing and Communications, credits the SDSU fan base for helping draw GameDay’s attention to Brookings, saying the push made by Jackrabbit Nation on social media could have played a role in the decision to feature the two Dakota schools’ rivalry.

“You’d have to ask them, but I certainly think it can’t hurt when your fans show interest,” Lockrem said. “Now the challenge is we need thousands and thousands of people in blue to show up on Saturday. We’ve asked for it (GameDay), and now it’s here.”

Early Sunday afternoon, GameDay, a traveling college football show, announced Brookings as the host city for this weekend’s broadcast. It’s only the ninth time the show has traveled to a Football Championship Subdivision game — the first since October 2017.

It wasn’t like there was a lack of high-level games at the FBS level for GameDay to choose from. Matchups such as No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 3 Ohio State, No. 9 Auburn at No. 2 Louisiana State and No. 8 Notre Dame at No. 19 Michigan all would have made sense for a GameDay production, but on this Saturday an FCS top-three clash rose about them all.

“That’s what GameDay is about — thriving on things like rivalries and big games,” SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeier said. “In the Football Bowl Subdivision, there are very few huge rivalries because of the distance. These guys (the Bison) are right up the road. So I think they’re going to have a really unique spin on this in terms of the Dakotas and the border marker as if we’re still one territory. It’s exciting.”

Nearly 2 million viewers from across the nation tune in to ESPN’s College GameDay weekly, making the show a large-scale production. More than 80 people, ranging from on-air talent to production staff, needed housing accommodations, a set location had to be chosen and other logistical questions required an answer.

Tuesday afternoon, College Green was announced as the location for Saturday’s live show broadcast from 8-11 a.m. on ESPN. In addition, a half-hour segment of College Football Live will be taped at 2 p.m. Friday for broadcast later that day on ESPN2 at 3:30 p.m.

With so much activity in the latter part of the week, GameDay’s presence will be nearly impossible to ignore. Stiegelmeier knows this and is working on minimizing the distraction while embracing the opportunity it brings.

“You can’t turn your back and say it goes away,” Stiegelmeier said. “We’re going to acknowledge that it’s going to be here, we’re going to acknowledge that there’s a lot of neat things about it and we’re going to acknowledge what we have to do to win the football game.”

Obviously, the Bison have been in the national spotlight several times in recent years. GameDay even made trips to Fargo in 2013 and 2014 in the midst of NDSU’s current run of winning seven of the past eight FCS titles, but this is a completely new experience for SDSU players, coaches and fans alike.

“Whenever we have these rankings, you think that can happen, but it’s really a rare chance,” Stiegelmeier said. “Then, when it happens, it’s about our football program. They’re nationally known and recognized as a power, so I’m very proud of them.”

Considering GameDay’s normal presence at large Division I universities with tens of thousands of students in cities with tens of thousands of people, there is some pressure and high expectations for what a GameDay production looks like.

“I would guess this is one of the smallest communities GameDay has come to, so we’re going to rely a lot on people coming from outside (the community),” Lockrem said. “If you think about it in those terms, this is pretty remarkable and something that should get everyone really excited.”

SDSU may only have 12,000 students and Brookings may only have 24,000 people, but those heavily involved in the planning process aren’t concerned about how SDSU will stack up.

“There’s no reason it can’t look the same,” Lockrem said. “I think we’ve got a lot of proud alumni, a lot of proud Jackrabbits that want to see this pulled off. Certainly, we’d be naive to say that Bison fans aren’t going to show up as well … We have an opportunity to show the rest of the country that, even at the FCS level, you can have that Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama-type environment.”