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It was still dark during the first time “College GameDay” analyst Pat McAfee took his shirt off in freezing-cold temperatures.
The clock read 7:05 a.m., but the party was well underway in Presidents Circle on the University of Utah campus on Saturday morning ahead of the big matchup between No. 13 Utah and No. 8 Oregon later that afternoon.
The longtime traveling pregame show made its fifth stop in Salt Lake City, and its first appearance since 2016, when Utah lost 31-24 to Washington. But before the camera cut to the fans and the hosts for the first time, the show opened with the “Utah Mili,” a longtime Utah pregame tradition that has roots in a Polynesian war chant, led by former Utah offensive lineman and current graduate assistant coach Isaac Asiata.
Live from the University of Utah, it’s “College GameDay” pic.twitter.com/if8nGUzzFh
— Joe Coles (@JoeAColes) October 28, 2023
The energy from a crowd of Utah fans, who showed up early and braved cold temperatures, was palpable throughout the show as host Rece Davis and analysts Desmond Howard, McAfee and Kirk Herbstreit guided the three-hour show along — longtime analyst Lee Corso was attending to a family matter and was unable to make it to Salt Lake City.
For the university and the assembled crowd at Presidents Circle, it was a chance to show the nation what Utah was all about in a three-hour window. “GameDay” hosts obliged, praising the Utes and Salt Lake City throughout the show.
Utah quarterback Cam Rising, who was regaled with chants of “One more year!” by Ute fans, Oregon coach Dan Lanning, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham were interviewed live on “GameDay.”
Features on Whittingham and Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes were aired during the show.
“Nothing compares to the Beehive State’s Paul Bunyan-like legend that is Kyle Whittingham,” ESPN’s Ryan McGee said, tracing Whittingham’s life as an All-WAC linebacker at BYU to one of the state’s all-time greatest coaches.
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 28, 2023
Predictably, “GameDay” leaned in hard to Barnes’ pig-farming roots — they even had a live pig on set at one point — in Jed Lada’s feature on the Utah quarterback. Barnes’ parents read from something Barnes wrote when he was a kid, “A Story of a Football Player,” and the junior signal-caller talked about growing up on a pig farm.
“Work’s got to get done type of mentality. It doesn’t smell great, but it doesn’t matter, it’s never going to smell great, get the work done,” Barnes said.
Before Utah QB Bryson Barnes was tossing the pigskin, he worked on a pig farm.
A farm with 12,000 pigs to be exact 😳🐷 pic.twitter.com/7xiRlwEVhb
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 28, 2023
During Lanning’s time with the crew, he had a fun back and forth with Utah fans, who chanted “Dan, you suck.” Lanning was loving it, turning around and flashing the “O” to the fans.
Actor Ty Burrell, a diehard Oregon fan most known for playing Phil Dunphy on “Modern Family,” had a quick interview, and musician Lil Nas X, who said he has family that attends the University of Utah, unzipped his jacket to reveal a Utah jersey.
Signs are an integral part of the “GameDay” experience. A sampling — “If you see Jonah Elliss fighting a bear, help the bear”; “Welcome to the Pig Farm”; “Pig Farmer by Day, Duck Hunter by Night”; “Michigan Stole My Other Sign”; “You Can’t Spell Caleb Williams Without Three L’s” (referencing Utah’s three wins against USC and Williams).
Though Corso wasn’t there to make the traditional headgear pick, McAfee and former Utah and NFL star receiver Steve Smith Sr. — the day’s guest picker — got the crowd fired up at the end of the program.
Howard and Herbstreit went with Oregon, drawing loud boos from the crowd, though Herbstreit said that Utah’s fans and student section make it a tough place to play, but the crowd reached a fever pitch when the time came for McAfee to make his pick.
“Did you know that 29 out of the last 30 home games right here at the University of Utah, the Utah Utes have won?” McAfee said. “... 80 straight sellouts, a head coach that wears sleeveless shirts, rides a Harley Davidson. Today, the Utah Utes show the world that they are a college football town.”
Then Smith Sr. capped the show off with a bang.
“You see what color my shoes are, do you not see what color shirt I’m wearing? Do you not see the flipped up hat? I could lift this table right now,” Smith Sr. said as the crowd went nuts.