Highlights from today's media opportunity with ESPN College GameDay producer Lee Fitting, host Chris Fowler and analysts Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit discussing the show's first-ever visit to Oxford and the SEC West Showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Ole Miss on Saturday.
College GameDay Producer Lee Fitting
On when he starting looking at Ole Miss-Alabama as a possibility for College GameDay...
"Over the summer when the schedule came out. We're always looking for opportunities to come to Oxford, so this one has been sort of earmarked for a while. We followed it for the first several weeks and it got real about two weeks ago. It made us sweat a little bit last week with Memphis.
"Every year we're looking for opportunities to get here. We are thrilled to here. I mean that. This is awesome. It re-energizes us whenever we go somewhere for the first time. This weeks feels different than all the other weeks. In turn, our show is typically better because of that. It's exciting to see how excited the fans and people are here, and the product reflects that."
On the excitement to be in Oxford...
"Behind closed doors in our little group, we talk about the Grove all the time. 'When are we going to get there? When is it going to fall on the right week? I want to get down there and I want to experience.' Our crew typically after the show, most weeks, will leave and go home.
"This week, there is a huge pack of us sticking around, tailgating in the Grove, going to the game, hanging out after the game. This is a big deal for us. I'm not in here just to say that for a quote in the newspaper or TV. This is a big deal. This is fun. I'm excited, and the guys are excited. This is more than Oxford. This is a chance to introduce and explain to the country in further detail what the Grove is about."
On Katy Perry as a celebrity guest picker...
"We're excited. She's really fired up to do it. We may have had equal superstar status on our show before, but she's up there. This is awesome. Twitter doesn't tell you everything, but she has 57.5 million followers, which is pretty good. She's pretty popular."
College GameDay Analyst Desmond Howard
On Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss...
"He's done an excellent job recruiting, bringing in some great young talent. They have been doing a tremendous job of coaching the young men up. Defensively, I was really impressed early in the season when I watched them play Boise State.
"Not only were there guys in the right position, but I also thought they did an excellent job of tacking. You watch a lot of football nowadays and guys just want to hit and try to put their shoulder pads on somebody, but these guys are actually hitting and wrapping, making excellent tackles in the open field against Boise State. That was refreshing to see, so defensively I was very impressed.
"Offensively that night, there were too many interceptions and too many poor decision with the ball, but it was something that Boise wasn't good enough to take advantage, so Ole Miss ended up winning that game. Those were the pros and cons of what I saw earlier in the season with Ole Miss."
On the opportunity Saturday's game and this weekend presents for Ole Miss...
"This game doesn't just have the potential to define a season, but it has the potential to define a program."
On Ole Miss playing on the big stage...
"As a former player, they will be very excited. They will come out with a tremendous amount of energy, but after the first couple of plays, things will settle down for them and they will get back to the basic. You look toward your coaches and team leaders to make sure the guys get focused on the task at hand. It's going to be a tremendous atmosphere for those guys.
"In my opinion, this is why you to come to Ole Miss. You come to Ole Miss to play games like this and in atmosphere like we're going to experience tomorrow, so hopefully they're prepared for it."
College GameDay Analyst Kirk Herbstreit
On getting the opportunity to come to Oxford for College GameDay...
"For us, the pageantry of the sport and the passion that fans have for it, that's we love about it. To be able to go place like Fargo, North Dakota, even though it's not necessarily what people think of as big-time college football, but in their world, it is. We have always had in our mind that it would be great to get to Seattle, and we got there last year.
"We always talked about getting to the Grove forever. I have been on the show 19 years, and it's one of those landmarks that people love to come to. We have never looked at ourselves as 'Hey, we have arrived. Everybody pat us on the back.'
"We're very much more about the place we're visiting and being a conduit between the fans nationally and the university we're on that week. And what better place to celebrate a college football Saturday than in Oxford, Mississippi with a huge showdown, arguably one of the biggest games in school history. We're thrilled to be here.
"I have been here for the Egg Bowl, but it's during Thanksgiving and it's like 45-50 degrees, so it doesn't really count. This will be my first real experience of the Grove and looking out over the stage, I can't imagine what it's going to be like. It's going to be sweet. We feed off the energy of the crowd, and this crowd will be one of the best we will have all year."
On Katy Perry as a celebrity guest picker...
"We have so much fun with segment, not just because of Lee (Corso) at the end and whatever he might be up to it, but the person and whatever their background and industry is, they get up there and they get intertwined into the fun and the prediction.
"Lee's telling them, 'Not so fast my friend,' and it's a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to see how she does and hopefully she will have fun with it."
On Ole Miss and the opportunity Saturday...
"In the past with a new coach, when they would get into these types of games, there was a hope they could compete and they needed something good to happen for them to buy in.
"When you're down for so long as a program -- and there have been some moments with Eli and some other moments over the decades -- it's hard to go from being irrelevant in the SEC West to mattering over night.
"There have been enough steps forward that when they get into this setting now against Alabama, at home especially, I don't think they hope they can catch a break and compete. Deep down, they think they can play.
"The X's and O's to me would be Bo Wallace and the running game. They have to run just enough to avoid those 3rd-and-8 and 3rd-and-9 plays. If they're not running the ball, they're not going to win. They have to be able to run the football to take pressure off of Bo Wallace.
"If you put him into obvious passing situation, you're going to turn it over two or three times, and you're going to lose. Running the football and getting into those 3rd-and-manageable situations will be really big.
"The other thing is Lane (Kiffin), who everybody kind of made fun of when Nick Saban hired him, has become maybe the national story with what he's been able to accomplish with a new quarterback who's really never played.
"That's the difference with Alabama and the old Alabama teams. It's no long defense, special teams and running the ball. Now, they're spreading you out with empty formations, throwing the ball down the field. Its' very different from what AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy operated in. Defense has been a strength for Ole Miss, and it will be interesting to see how they matchup against Amari Cooper and arguably the best group of receivers in the SEC."
On Saturday as a program-defining game for Ole Miss...
"It would earn them instant credibility on a national scale. I was talking to Huge (Freeze) yesterday at practice. If you win the game, it's exciting, everyone runs on the field and you took advantage of a great opportunity, but you're going to Kyle Field next week, and you can lose that game and be forgotten.
"I wouldn't say this is a program-defining moment, but this is definitely an opportunity to prove to people that you can beat the best teams in the SEC and that gets a lot of attention from a lot of people. Look at their schedule. No matter what happens Saturday, it's not as if they beat Alabama, reserved your hotel tickets for Atlanta and the Final Four. They can beat Alabama, but I don't know if anybody in the SEC West is going through the gauntlet of all these teams. It's just too tough."
College GameDay Host Chris Fowler
On mentioning Oxford as College GameDay destination in the opening segment of the picks last week...
"We go where the game is, and we have wanted to come here for a long time. The people who follow this program might know there have been some close calls and some games we had circled, but then the result didn't quite fall the right way, namely Ole Miss stumbled before the big game we had circled. We were just hoping that it didn't happen this year.
"Obviously this game has been on the schedule and we have looked at it from the beginning of the season. We thought there was a very good likelihood that both teams would be undefeated. It came down to one final hurdle to clear with Ole Miss home against Memphis as a three-touchdown favorite. We thought we would have fun with it. We have started to talk more in the show about games that have GameDay implications and let it out there that if this happen, we will likely be at this place next week.
"That was the blatant I have ever been about it. We had some fun, although I wasn't really kidding. If the game here had fallen through, we likely would have been in Starkville."
On the experience so far in Oxford...
It's great. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We have all been here for games. To be clear, the show hasn't been here, but those of us who have been around for a long time in this have been to Oxford for games and to do features.
"It's just the first time the show has arrived here on Saturday. Doing some of the Thursday games, it's not quite the same. I have been looking forward to a big Saturday atmosphere for a long time. You can tell the buildup is as advertised, so we can't wait until tomorrow morning."
On what Hugh Freeze has done at Ole Miss...
"It starts with inheriting a situation where he needed to make drastic changes right away, and he talked to me about that yesterday, on the field and off the field. He has brought in top-flight talent, which is one of the reasons he was an attractive coaching candidate.
"Now, the next step is getting those guys to not just win the games they're supposed to win, but to beat people like Alabama and LSU. Everybody knows, in soccer teams, the SEC West is the group of death. There's no easy passes. Every game is going to take the best effort that Ole Miss has and now it's time to step up.
"I sense a real difference from being around practice yesterday and some of the comments I have read. It's no longer viewed as Ole Miss just trying to be respectable against big, bad 'Bama. Now, those guys really believe they belong with anybody and should win the game.
"Nationally, there's always going to be skeptics because until you have done it, you haven't done it. There will be a lot of eyes on this town tomorrow afternoon to see if they can take that step and beat Alabama. And then keep it going because the season isn't over, win or lose, and that's what Hugh has preached, and rightfully so. You can't let down for one week in this division."
On Saturday being perhaps the biggest college football day in the history of Mississippi...
"The ingredients are there. You talk about two top-15 matchups that are 75 miles apart as the crow flies. Any place in the country would be thrilled to have that. The fact that it's been a long time down here certainly makes it fun for us.
"It's hard to imagine it being bigger, but if they keep winning, there are going to be a lot more big weekends. Tomorrow's result will determine whether Mississippi gets a lot more weekends like this and if there will be biggest Egg Bowl in the history of Egg Bowls."
On the Grove and Oxford...
"It's a place of good food and drink and great atmosphere. I have been to the Grove before, but I haven't seen it quite like that. There is stuff that's unique about it. I was trying to explain it. You see this picture on television with these red and blue things, and I don't think people even knew what that was, and I explained they were staking out territory and what it is going to look like tomorrow.
"It's our job to capture what's unique about it because at first glance, you might look at the show and say every week is kind of the same where there's a bunch of screaming kids with signs. If we're not doing our job, we won't be able to point out what's distinct and what's unique about this. We're going to get on the ground and go all over the place and try to capture it as best we can sprinkled throughout the show. There are few surprises thrown in there too that even the people on the desk don't know about yet."