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Journalism Showcase: Ryan McGee Marks Off 50th State Milestone In Quest For Dakota Marker And The ‘Best College Football Rivalry You Don’t Know’

In advance of North Dakota State and South Dakota State football teams meeting for the 113th time (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+), the senior writer reflects on this College GameDay feature, his journalistic journeys and his five favorite states’s Ryan McGee visited the “Dakota Marker,” among other places, for his report on the North Dakota State-South Dakota State football rivalry.
(Photos: Ryan McGee/ Amanda Brooks/ESPN)

Ryan McGee, senior writer and co-host of SEC Network’s Marty & McGee (Saturdays, 9 a.m. ET), reached a milestone this week by visiting his 50th state.

Ryan McGee (Ryan McGee/

Known for his stories that are a bit off the beaten path, this College GameDay and feature pitch landed McGee in the middle of what he calls “the best college football rivalry you don’t know: North Dakota State and South Dakota State.” The 113th meeting between the teams is set for Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN+), and McGee took a moment before covering another longstanding college football rivalry – Alabama at his alma mater Tennessee – to reflect on this milestone and some of his favorite stories.

What most surprised you about this rivalry while writing your story?
The Dakota Marker is easily one of the coolest rivalry trophies in college football. They have been playing this game since 1903, but they’ve had this trophy for less than two decades because it didn’t come along until they both moved up to FCS in 2004. And then the actual people of the Dakotas had no idea what the marker was based on, the quartzite monuments that were used to divide North Dakota from South Dakota, not until this rivalry taught them. I have always wanted to be a history professor, so I’m very proud that I’m educating people about this!

Having grown up surrounded by college football and witnessing some of the greatest rivalries in the sport, what makes this one so special?
It’s the passion. If you go to a game in Fargo (N.D) or Brookings (S.D.), the crowds might not be as big as what you will see at LSU or in the Rose Bowl, but their love of the game and their passion for their teams, not to mention their genuine dislike for their very close neighbors, that’s what college football is all about for me.

You’ve now traveled to all 50 states. Have you had a favorite moment or memory?
I was very fortunate that my parents were big on traveling. I knocked out a lot of states as a kid because we would travel with my father when he was going on business trips. We would drive across the country to California from North Carolina, or we would drive through the northeast.

I learned at a very early age that the world is much smaller than you might realize; you have to get in the car and see it. I also learned how important it was to have one of those armrest dividers in the backseat of a family sedan because that’s the only thing that kept my little brother and me from killing each other on those road trips.

Looking back at the stories you’ve written across 50 states, which five states and stories stand out to you?

North Carolina

    • : First, in my home state of North Carolina I will never forget riding in a pickup truck with Junior Johnson, the NASCAR legend, as we went and visited what was then a shuttered racetrack, the North Wilkesboro Speedway, and then we went back to his house, and he served me real moonshine. I’ve never recovered.


    • : In Texas, I was working on a story at Baylor and decided I would find the Branch Davidians’ compound. I was chased off the property by some very angry dogs. They were not nearly as angry as my wife was when I came home and told her what I had done.


    • :

At Washington State,

    • I was told that I had 15 minutes to interview Mike Leach in Pullman, and I ended up staying for three days. The trip ended with me having to tell Coach that he had to get out of my car or I would miss my flight. I’d realized how late/early it was because we were sitting in his driveway so long that the newspaper delivery guy walked up to the car and handed Leach his paper and said, “Good morning, Coach.”


    • : In Illinois, I met with a former NASCAR driver named Aaron Fike at a Perkins breakfast joint in Galesburg. He had been suspended after a drug arrest, and the conversation was supposed to be just a catch-up on how he was doing. He proceeded to confess that he had a raced while on heroin, and that story changed NASCAR’s drug policy.


    : I spent a day in the Vegas suburbs with [famed Notre Dame football walkon] Rudy Reutiger, from breakfast until time to catch the redeye home. The idea was to determine once and for all what is true about Rudy’s life and what is made up. Years later, I’m still not sure what’s what.

You’re returning to your alma mater this weekend and will share your wisdom with Tennessee students. What’s something that the Ryan of today would tell the Ryan back then?
Keep your head up and your eyes open. We did not have smartphones back then, but we still had plenty of distractions. (Shout-out to the Sega Genesis

that almost caused me to flunk out of my junior year of college.) The reality is everything that we do in this business is based on powers of observation. And you can’t be observing if you’ve got your head pointed down. The stories are out there, not in whatever you’re holding in your hand.

From 2019 in: Brookings, SD at South Dakota State University: Mascots of the North Dakota State Bison and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits meet on the set of College GameDay Built by the Home Depot.
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)




You’re renowned for your ever-popular Bottom 10 rankings each week. Last week, Kansas welcomed College GameDay for the first time and seemingly graduated from your list. Did you ever think Bottom 10 would be College GameDay sign material?
First, props to that guy for his arts and crafts skills. I don’t even know where he found that headshot of me that he cut out and stuck on that sign. I have said this before, and I will say it forever, the best part of writing the Bottom 10 is when a school you have watched struggle for years turns the corner. When UTSA nearly went undefeated a year ago, or when Georgia State became an annual bowl visitor, or when Kansas hosted College GameDay, I felt like I was sending my kids off to college. It’s awesome.

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