When ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew is choosing a site for its weekly traveling circus, sometimes the answer stands out like a mascot’s head on Lee Corso.
This week, that answer is Soldier Field, where No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin will square off Saturday. In its 35th season, the show will make its first visit to the venerable stadium and fourth to the Chicago area. It aired from Northwestern in 1995 and 2013 and from Wrigley Field in 2010.
“It’s a classic matchup, two schools with storied traditions, with big, passionate fan bases, in a stadium with history,” said Drew Gallagher, the coordinating producer for “GameDay.” “It was a no-brainer.”
The show’s set is outside the north end of Soldier Field, between the stadium and the Field Museum. “GameDay” director Rodney Perez and operations producer Lu Fisher conducted a site survey last week to determine the best spot.
“We like the spot that we’re at because there’s natural foot traffic,” said Gallagher, referring to East McFetridge Drive. “We’re gonna have a great backdrop. It will be the museum and the skyline. It’s gonna have a very iconic Chicago feel throughout the show.”
The set – which takes five to six trucks to transport – is being assembled Thursday so it can be used for live programming Friday on “SportsCenter,” “Get Up” and “College Football Live.” “GameDay” airs from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
The show will include Kirk Herbstreit’s interview with Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan, who transferred from Wisconsin. Gene Wojciechowski will have an essay on the history of college football at Soldier Field. And other elements with Chicago connections are in the works. The celebrity guest game picker was still up in the air.
“GameDay” will have company. Fox, which will air the game at 11 a.m., will have its pregame show, “Big Noon Kickoff,” stationed on the Great Lawn on the east side of Soldier Field. But Gallagher is undeterred, buoyed by his show’s wild popularity.
“ ‘GameDay’ is always nimble and able to go wherever we think, whether we think it’s the best game, the best story, the best scene,” said Gallagher, a 20-year ESPN veteran. “We try to put in our minds, what’s going to be the best show. Whether it’s our game or CBS or Fox doesn’t really matter.”
Gallagher is looking forward to seeing schools beyond Notre Dame and Wisconsin represented at the show. He called Chicago “the crossroads of college football,” with so many alumni and fans from the Big Ten and elsewhere residing here.
“We’re hoping it’s like a come-one-come-all for college football fans from Chicago,” he said. “We hope we see a lot of good signs, a lot of flags, a lot of schools represented, and we wanna make sure everyone feels welcome. It’s not just a Wisconsin-Notre Dame show. It’s a college football show for everybody.”