No. 3 Mississippi State will make its initial appearance on ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ Saturday morning prior to its match-up against second-ranked Auburn.
Brad Locke of the Daily Journal caught up with some of the ‘GameDay’ talent both in front of and behind the camera.
Locke spoke with host Chris Fowler and producer Lee Fitting. Click here to watch Fowler talk about being in Starkville or read the transcript that follows.
Chris Fowler opening statement:
“All of us, although ‘GameDay’ hasn’t been here, have been here before – the Thursday night package, which all of us have worked on at one time or another. Mississippi State was their favorite stop. They were very willing to play on Thursday nights, and we were happy to be here and had a lot of fun. I have to say, what I’ve seen in the first couple of hours this morning and what I have heard about from last weekend is a lot different from those Thursday night games. Mississippi State was sort of this spunky underdog trying to shock the world, and the feel now is very different, and 2 vs. 3 speaks for itself. It’s cool. We were going to places we hadn’t been before with the show, because it’s flattering and you get to capture excitement that people are excited about the Bulldogs, and they see our appearance here as some sort of validation of the status of the program and the bigness of the game, and that’s fun for us. It gives them an opportunity to show their side of things. After we were in Oxford for the first time last week, we understand the sensibility to top everything that they do here. So we’re happy to go along for the ride. We had a blast in Oxford. It was everything we would’ve imagined. Based on the reports from our SEC group last week and pictures I saw and the build-up for the game and knowing how much people love their team here, we’re looking for an equally cool experience tomorrow.
Impressions of Dak Prescott:
I love his story and his emergence as a leader, his growth as a person, what he’s been through. Having that alpha guy as your quarterback who is a natural leader who guys rally around and gravitate to, who also backs it up with is play. It’s great. As of right this moment, he’s that favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Now, things can change fast in the SEC West, but it’s deserved, everything that he’s gotten. I think he’s one of those guys that it’s even more satisfying, the journey, when you’ve been hyped and yet doubted and criticized and taken a while, and finally the light goes on, everything comes into place, and you show what you can do. That’s where he is right now. It’s another big national showcase for him. It’s about the whole team, obviously, but it’s a lot about the two quarterbacks who run offenses that center on the quarterback. The guy he’s facing (Nick Marshall) won a conference title last year and came close to winning a national title, so it’s an excellent quarterback matchup. That’ll be part of what we talk about tomorrow, along with the other angles. I have a lot of respect for him, and so does every single person in this sport. When they see State on tape, it’s not possible to understate or ignore what 15’s done.
Lee Fitting’s leadership style:
It’s a collaborative thing. He’s been the longest-running producer of the show and a very successful producer of the show, and we love his vision and his enthusiasm for it. It’s a very collaborative effort. … It’s very fluid, it changes a lot within the show. We like it that way. But somebody has to put down an order of things and sort of point guard it from the truck. Between him running things in there and talking to me in the earpiece and sort of me trying to keep the thing on course on the set, it’s a very good relationship.
It’s a complicated show to produce, and when you do it a long time, we can speak in shorthand, and it seems streamlined, but it really isn’t. There’s a lot of things we spend a lot of time trying to figure out, as we did last week, how to come on the air, what to feature, how to make it unique, how to explain as best we can the many facets of the game and the program and the rivalry. It’s hard to do, because there’s a lot you can say. You could do an hour-and-a-half of a three-hour show on this game and this matchup and this program, but obviously we can’t do that. So you have to figure out how to be economical and what’s the most important thing to do.
We do know where we’re going to be next week, but typically week to week we don’t know where we’re going to be. We wouldn’t have been able to say in Oxford we were going to be here, and we wouldn’t have said Oxford was a lock until the week before. It changes like that, and it’s great.
How do you arrive at decision?
We have a list of games every week, but it changes. If UCLA and Oregon could block the pass rush, we would’ve been in Westwood, because that’s the game that would be involving two higher-ranked teams than these two. But we’ve never had a weekend like last weekend in the history of this sport. A lot got reshuffled, and we did not know where we were going to end up until at the end of the day. It was pretty clear – it’s 2 vs. 3, it’s the place to be. It’s kind of cool for us to be 75 miles away two weeks in a row at two schools we’d never been to before. People at Baylor are upset, but it’s 2 vs. 3.
What’s this mean?
I don’t know what it means that we’ve been here. I think what it means, obviously, and how I will say it when we come on the air tomorrow, is this is the state of Mississippi’s moment. This is what you hope for. This is why you have a football program, to be relevant, to matter, and to have a showcase game. Our show is here because this is the biggest game of the day. … Just like at Oxford last week, that was the best story and the best game that day we felt. We go where the story is, and we’re here because the two programs have earned it, and they deserve it, and they’re hosting monster games. We’re happy to be here.
What’s at stake is the top ranking for the winner. If it’s a clear-cut, well-played game, I don’t know how you wouldn’t consider the winner out there worthy of the No. 1 ranking.
At Ole Miss a lot of our focus was on the Grove and the social fabric of their pregame rituals and how they get ready for the game. That isn’t necessarily our focus this week or any other week. This week, it’s about both programs in the state, and it’s about this atmosphere back here, and here we are again, and the party’s just as big and maybe louder in its own way. We’ll try to celebrate everything that Mississippi State home games are about and let people know why it’s such a historic time.
Gonna be a challenge to tune out cowbells?
It requires a lot of thought. It requires everything from the set-up of the stage, the closeness of the people. We’ll see how it goes off the top. We want cowbell noise. That’s part of the deal here. We’re not trying to silence that – I mean, bring it on. I’m going to mention it in what we call the scene set before the tease rolls. There will be a cowbell reference or two in there. If we can’t be heard, that’s sort of a problem. I would appeal to the people closest to the set. It always takes a ton of focus. We have noise-canceling soundproof earbuds in, and the only thing you hear is what goes into the mic. But cowbells are loud enough to be heard in four mics, so we’ll see. It’s not going to stop us in our tracks. We’re prepared for it. If you can call out cadence and run an offense with that, you can certainly do a TV show.
Making the decision where to go:
You have 2 vs. 3, it’s pretty easy. Maybe the only time all year you get 2 vs. 3. Some people say, it’s a tough decision. I don’t get why people are saying that. Is it because it’s Mississippi State? Or if if were LSU-Alabama or UCLA-Oregon or Michigan-Ohio State, oh, it’s an easy one. We felt the same way this week. You strip the names off and the traditions of the programs, and this is a no-brainer for us, 2 vs. 3. We may not get that again the rest of the year. Put on top of that we’ve never been here, and the energy and excitement you get coming to a school for the first time is awesome. This is like the perfect storm for us.
I was asked earlier in the week if we were going to let cowbells into the pit and around the set, and my response was, why wouldn’t we? You want that experience. Now if it gets to the point where the viewer at home can’t hear and it gets obnoxious, then we’ll call an audible mid-show and ask for a little bit of cooperation. I’m sure the fans and the folks here don’t want the takeaway from the show to be there’s so many cowbells you couldn’t hear the show, and we’d probably never come back again. We’ll let them ring it, and that’s part of the experience and part of what we want to show off, is introducing the country to that. That’s a cool deal, and make that part of the character. I’m sure it’ll all work out just fine. It’ll be loud and obnoxious and annoying, but that’s the purpose of the cowbells, is to be annoying.
On guest picker:
It’s been an all-week process, let’s put it that way. The people here were very, very excited about it. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like that. I fielded a lot of phone calls on the guest picker front this week. I don’t know if it was because we’ve never been here, they didn’t know how it worked. And they were great about it, don’t get me wrong. … I don’t know if we’re ever going to top Katy Perry. The name, and she’s an entertainer. That’s what she does; she gets it. As popular of a star as there is today.
It’ll be entertaining, though, I can promise you that. That part I can guarantee. It’ll be entertaining.
When, why decide to be producer?
I thought I wanted to be an on-air personality, and I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. I think America thanks me for that. I studied journalism in college, and between my junior and senior year of college I took an internship at ESPN the Magazine when it just started out doing four periodicals a year. I sort of made some connections, and when I graduated school I got an interview at ESPN through those connections and came in as a temporary production assistant. I had no idea what I was doing. I thought it’d be a deal maybe I’d stay for a few years then leave to something else, then one thing led to another, then after about four or five years at ESPN I got a taste of ‘College GameDay.’ I was an associate producer.
I wasn’t a huge college football fan growing up.
I got out on the road a little bit with ‘College GameDay’ doing some feature stories and fell in love with them, and fell in love with the show, and fell in love with the uniqueness of the show. And one thing led to another, and next thing I knew I was producing it. I had very limited producing experience. I’d produced like four or five ESPN news shows before I did my first ‘GameDay’ show. You can imagine what that was like.
GameDay different beast, what was it like when took over?
Overwhelming. It was intimidating, it was overwhelming. I was just trying to keep the train on the tracks. I wasn’t trying to do anything crazy. Then you get a little more comfortable, and maybe I can fix this one or two little things, or make this a little better and tweak it. It’s been awesome ever since.
People you leaned on:
Chris thinks like a producer. He looks at every aspect of the show. He’s someone I leaned on right from the get-go, and still lean on today. I run almost everything by Chris. You need to get him on board, and if he’s not on board, if he and I aren’t on the same page, then we’re in trouble. Chris and Kirk Herbstreit, and Kirk still gives me to this day weekly or bi-weekly feedback on what we can be doing better, what we’ve been doing well. This group has a very open relationship, and that’s part of what’s make for the success of the show, is we’re all very open.
Why do you keep doing this show?
Can’t give it up. There’s nothing like it. You look around and see other shows and other jobs, and I just don’t see anything else right now that would be as much fun. From Saturday mornings from 9 to noon are the highlight of the week. The rush and the energy and the adrenaline that goes with that, and the fun and the laughs that we have, and the challenge of doing the show. It’s unmatched. Where we set the bar every week, and working with a group of people that are the best in the business at what they do, and that’s every position from PA to on-air, I’m lucky. I don’t want to give it up.
Biggest challenge of a traveling show vs. studio show?
Keeping it fresh and keeping it unique and keeping it unpredictable. I think the reason most people like ‘College GameDay’ is because it’s unpredictable, and it’s unique, and they can sense the passion that the guys in the show have towards the sport and what we’re talking about. To keep that going every week is the biggest challenge.
Team decision on where y’all go?
It’s a group effort. We’ll start with a small group here on site in a meeting on Friday talking about the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll eventually go back to our bosses in Bristol and run it up the ladder. It’s rare when we get any pushback on it. Our bosses are great at sort of letting us go where we should go, and we’re very thankful that there’s no mandate from above – ‘go to an ESPN game or go to an ABC game.’ We go where we think the best story of the week is. Not the best game of the week, but the best story.
Guest picker decision:
That’s us. We are lucky, there are no mandates toward our show. I can count on one hand the number of stories in the last five years that any of our bosses sort of pushed us to do. We’re lucky that we’re sort of independent of all that. This group decides the guest picker. Some weeks we have options, and other weeks we don’t. It just sort of varies week to week.