GameDay puts MSU football in ESPN spotlight

For most people, when news breaks that ESPN’s College GameDay (9 a.m. ESPNU, 10 a.m. ESPN) is coming to town, the first thing that pops into mind is, “What should I write on my sign, and how early do I need to get there for a spot near Erin Andrews?”

There’s nothing wrong with that. It really is mind-blowing the way Lee Corso and the crew are able to bring such an exciting atmosphere with them to each venue. And for those with school pride (around here, we call it Spartan Spirit) the chance to show off your campus to the world is something special.

But for us, having the show here on Munn field — especially for football — is about something more. It’s about legitimacy. It means the Spartans, after five years of hard work from MSU head coach Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff, are finally getting national recognition.

Just look where GameDay has traveled in recent years. All of the schools are elite (except for maybe Northwestern and Illinois, but that was at Wrigley Field). The crew has frequented the campuses of programs such as LSU, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma.

It will take quite a few more years of success for MSU to be near that list, but GameDay is a sign of gaining respect in the college football world.

When the No. 15 Spartans face off against No. 4 Wisconsin, it will be a matchup between two top-tier teams. That’s something Spartans weren’t able to say in 2005 — the last time GameDay came to East Lansing.

Although GameDay attracted the typical thousands of fans it usually does, the twist was that the basis of the show wasn’t necessarily to celebrate the Spartans season.

MSU was 5-5 at the time and actually failed to make a bowl game. However, the matchup was against then-No. 5 Penn State, who was celebrating a turnaround season and was one win in Spartan Stadium from clinching the Big Ten title.

In hindsight, it seems almost like a slap in the face. MSU was featured, but it was the spotlight that Penn State had earned.

This year, it’s not solely because of a great opponent — although the Badgers certainly help make this the national game of the week.

Of course, Wisconsin already has had the pleasure of playing in front of a rowdy GameDay crowd, but considering it’s been six years since the crew has been in East Lansing, it shines a deserved light on MSU after spending so much time in the dark.

“As far as the fan base and the national exposure and putting the university in the spotlight, I think it is going to change a lot,” senior quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “It heightens our desire to want to put on a good show for everyone Saturday night. It emphasizes again the importance of this game.”

Not only does College GameDay have an impact on Spartan Nation in giving MSU national recognition, but as Cousins said, the players’ excitement and motivation to play well is intensified.

As you might imagine, players such as junior running back Edwin Baker and sophomore linebacker Denicos Allen grew up watching College GameDay and dreamed of the day when they would finally get the chance to be a member of one of the lucky teams selected.

“You see it on TV, you see all the fans in the background, you see all the posters and things like and things like that, and you’re like, ‘Man, I want to play in a game like that,’” Baker said. “And sure enough, I’m playing in a game like that.”

Grateful for the opportunity to play on a big stage, other players take the national recognition as a sign that things are changing for MSU under head coach Mark Dantonio. MSU no longer is plagued by the control of John L. Smith — who coached the Spartans from 2003 to 2006, in case he’s as forgettable as we assumed he’d be.

Dantonio has turned this Spartan team around with his bowl games, conference championship and one of the nation’s best defensive lineups. So for players such as sophomore linebacker Max Bullough, GameDay’s presence is about recognition for where the football program is headed and the gravity of the game.

On such a grand stage, Bullough said he expects the Spartans to rise to the challenge as they have in past games because each conference game has been bigger than the previous one.

“It just shows how important that game really is,” Bullough said. “It shows how important this game is to us, to Wisconsin, the rest of the league and the country. We know there are going to be a lot of eyes watching, and we’re looking forward to playing on this stage.”

GameDay isn’t coming to East Lansing just to watch a team other than MSU play. This time around, it’s about celebrating the great achievements of co-defending Big Ten Champions and watching quality football.

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