"People say 'GameDay' should be at the best game of the week. My motto is let's go to the best story of the week."
That's a 2014 quote from ESPN's "College GameDay" producer Lee Fitting when the Saturday morning college football show rolled into Fargo, N.D., for the second year in a row. After the broadcast, Fitting said the scene was the best he'd ever seen and they'd be back.
It's now time for the crew to fulfill that promise and return to the home of FCS No. 1 North Dakota State on Sept. 29 as the Bison take on their conference rival and No. 3-ranked South Dakota State for the coveted Dakota Marker.
"GameDay" hasn't been shy on attending FCS games, going to Harvard later in 2014 and visiting James Madison in 2015 and 2017. While there are a few solid FBS vs. FBS options for the show, there are even more reasons why "College GameDay" should return to Fargo in two weeks.
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4. The Teams
The Bison are in the midst of one of the greatest dynasties in college football history, winning six of the last seven FCS national championships and are favorites once again this season. They've added another FBS win since "GameDay" last visited with a last-second field goal to beat No. 11 Iowa in 2016, extending their FBS win streak to six games and improving their overall record to 9-3. NDSU also had a guy named Carson Wentz be drafted No. 2 overall in 2016 and develop into an MVP-caliber quarterback.
If it wasn't for NDSU, SDSU would likely have at least one national championship appearance and a possible ring. The Jackrabbits are consistently a Top 10 team in the FCS and own a two-game regular season win streak against the Bison. NDSU has always had the last laugh in the playoffs, though, eliminating the Jacks in 2012, 2014 and 2016. But there's still one empty spot in the crowded trophy case where the Dakota Marker sat for eight years in a row until two seasons ago.
3. The Players
The level of talent on the field is as good as it gets at the FCS level and is legitimately better than the bottom half of the FBS. There's plenty of NFL talent on both sidelines, starting with NDSU quarterback Easton Stick, who is on a majority of NFL Draft boards. That shouldn't overshadow the opposing quarterback Taryn Christion, who might not be as pro-ready as Stick but is arguably the better college quarterback. Both were named on the Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List.
Bison running back Bruce Anderson is the top NFL Draft prospect in the FCS at his position and defensive end Greg Menard is going to see his stock rise as the season progresses. SDSU cornerback Jordan Brown is trending up in a big way and is also on the Senior Bowl Watch List along with safety Brandon Snyder.
Several underclassmen are also on NFL radars, including SDSU junior kicker Chase Vinatieri and junior middle linebacker Christian Rozeboom and NDSU sophomore outside linebacker Jabril Cox.
2. The Rivalry
What was once a friendly rivalry between two programs who made the jump to Division I together in the early 2000s has turned feisty. The fan bases, players and coaching staffs, while the last two may not admit it publicly, are simply annoyed with each other's existence. From coaches subtweeting on Twitter featuring petty tweets on whose summer camps are better to former players taking shots, the physical battle on the field has spilled onto social media.
It wasn't until the Jackrabbits scored regular season wins in 2016 and 2017 when the intensity reached new heights. SDSU now believes it's on the same level as NDSU on the field, in recruiting and with facilities. Meanwhile, the Bison are out to show the gap is still wide with their longer postseason success.
1. The Scene
Deciding which "College GameDay" visit had the most passionate and loud fans is subjective and tough to rank. But it's hard to argue against Downtown Fargo's location being one of the most unique in the show's history. Broadway Street was packed with the iconic Fargo Theatre sign in the background. Businesses had banners and streamers on their windows while fans hung out windows and stood on balconies or even rooftops.
Just watch the opening five minutes from the 2013 show:
"We go to a lot of great places every year, but I think the bar has been raised to a different level after this trip to Fargo," Kirk Herbstreit said in the opening.
"There's nothing ever been like this," the legendary Lee Corso added.
The scene was even crazier in the 2014 show where the crowd stretched further down the streets on both sides of the stage:
Fitting summed it up in one tweet:
Thank you Fargo. Today's scene was the best ever for @CollegeGameDay. Thanks for the hospitality and enthusiasm. We will be back.
— Lee Fitting (@leefitting) September 13, 2014
Well, it's been a few years since the show has been back, although "SportsCenter on the Road" broadcasted in the Fargodome in 2015. The Bison have added a few more national championships to the trophy case since and one more could be coming soon. There are few stories better than NDSU football right now in all of college sports. And Fargo deserves to have that story told once again with a visit from "College GameDay."
Lastly, there is genuine appreciation from FCS fans when the ESPN crew comes to town. Sure, a Top 10 showdown with Ohio State and Penn State is the game of the week. But those schools get "GameDay" love so often that fans in attendance are ho-hum compared to FCS fans when the show visits. Both times when "GameDay" was in Fargo and the show went off the air, the crowd stayed behind and chanted "Thank you, 'GameDay!'" as the hosts waved in appreciation. No doubt the show will get that sort of passion and hospitality again with a trip to Fargo on Sept. 29.