TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — How much of a magnet is Saturday’s SEC college football showdown between top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama?
If you were westbound on Interstate 20 headed toward Tuscaloosa Thursday morning, chances are you would have seen a convoy of fans in recreational vehicles with tailgating gear sporting the logos and colors of . . . Boise State.
Fans are coming from far and wide to see the “Game Of The 21st Century,” and ESPN’s College GameDay has been here and in Baton Rouge, La. to chronicle the countdown.
“These are the top two teams in the country. It’s not invention, it’s not hyperbole, clearly they are,” said GameDay reporter Tom Rinaldi, who spent days this week interviewing Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Rinaldi’s counterpart Erin Andrews similarly interviewed LSU coach Les Miles.
The ESPN reporters and production crews took fans inside Saban and Miles’ homes, offices, even cars as part of the coverage this week.
Why would these coaches endure the extra media now?
“It’s ESPN. That’s what really granted us the access,” said Rinaldi, now in his eighth season with College GameDay.
“Believe me, it’s no great affection that coach Saban has. I’m not a distant relative. . . . It’s really the fact that these [coaches] understand they can use our platforms as best they can to showcase the programs that they’re proud of building.”
Said Andrews: “Both of those coaches are so great because they get it. They know what it means to have a relationship with the media and they also know how to use the relationship with the media.”
The College GameDay crew, fresh off advancing a classic Stanford-USC game in Los Angeles last week, set up outside Bryant-Denny Stadium Wednesday. Usually, the show sets up on Thursdays.
The crew will feed SportsCenter, College Football Live, ESPNU and other platforms in addition to preparing for the traditional Saturday morning circus (9 a.m. ESPNU, 10 a.m. ESPN) before thousands of rabid Alabama and LSU fans.
In the coming days, Front Row will give you glimpses into how a typical show comes together, the people who work behind the scenes, and the general atmosphere surrounding GameDay.