ESPN’s Rece Davis weighs in on BYU-Navy, maybe the weirdest college football opener ever

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune A Utah cheerleader photobombs a conversation between ESPN analysts Desomnd Howard, left, and Rece Davis during ESPN's College Gameday broadcast from President's Circle on the University of Utah campus, Saturday, October 29, 2016.

Rece Davis’ Labor Day weekend itinerary is further proof that this coronavirus-fueled college football season is going to be unprecedented, not to mention a little weird.

Along with Kirk Herbstreit (color) and Allison Williams (sideline), Davis will call the BYU-Navy game on Labor Day night at Navy-Marine Corps. Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. First, though, Davis will take his normal Saturday-morning place as host of College GameDay, but there’s a catch.

Davis will host, not from a campus site, per usual, but from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. studios, although GameDay regulars Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and David Pollack will be live from remote locations.

After GameDay responsibilities are complete, Davis will travel Saturday afternoon to Annapolis, where he will be expected to remain in his hotel room until he is needed on site late in the day on Monday. Once there, he, along with everyone else, will be masked up.

“It’s very awkward because college football is a sport that usually starts off like a cliff dive, head first into the deep water,” Davis told The Salt Lake Tribune via phone from Connecticut Friday afternoon. “Now, I think we’re all sticking a toe in, wading up to our calves and seeing where it goes.”

Davis for years did play-by-play for ESPN’s Thursday Night Football broadcasts, but that stopped when he took over as host of College GameDay in 2015. From there, his GameDay predecessor, Chris Fowler, and Herbstreit took over play calling and color duties for Saturday Night Football on ABC/ESPN, which is generally one of, if not the biggest matchups of the weekend.

Again, things were bound to be weird this season. Fowler is off doing the U.S. Open in New York, so Davis will be with Herbstreit in Annapolis for BYU-Navy, which oughta be unique.


BYU and Houston announced Friday that the game between the two schools, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 16 at LaVell Edwards Stadium, is being moved to TDECU Stadium in Houston and will be nationally televised on ESPN2 at 7:30 p.m. MDT.

“Due to issues regarding travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston approached BYU about switching the order of the two-game series that was announced in 2017,” the school said in a statement. “Under the amended agreement, the second game of the series will be played in Provo at LaVell Edwards Stadium at a date to be determined.”

For starters, there will be no fans allowed. Either way, the Labor Day primetime game on ABC/ESPN has always been viewed as a showcase event for the sport and is the only game in the country being played at that time. Recent Labor Day matchups have included Notre Dame-Louisville, Virginia Tech-Florida State, Tennessee-Georgia Tech and Ole Miss-Florida State.

Simply put, BYU has played its fair share of network TV games through the years, but this is a step forward as the Cougars are quite literally playing in the biggest game in the country during opening weekend.

“This is a tremendous stage and platform for [Kalani Sitake’s] program given when this game is being played, but also because Navy is an established brand,” Davis said. “BYU doesn’t generally get a stage like this, nor does Navy, so it’s a great opportunity for both and I think people will just be excited to watch a game at this point.”

For BYU to get this level of TV exposure, its original schedule first had to be reduced to rubble.

One of four FBS independents playing football this fall, the Cougars watched as the Pac-12 and Big Ten initially moved to conference-only slates, while the Mountain West postponed football to the spring. After the Mountain West decision, BYU was down to just three games, but ultimately wound up with eight, a feat Davis called “remarkable.”

BYU added Navy on Aug. 6, Army on Aug. 19, Western Kentucky two days later, and UTSA and Texas State five days after that.

Those five do not bring the Power Five appeal that Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota and Stanford would have, but beggars don’t get to be choosers right now, especially when the beggars are independent.

“They basically lost their entire schedule, lost a bunch of marquee games, but they still have an opportunity to make their mark this season,” Davis said. “One thing that struck me in talking to coaches and players this week, they all seemed to appreciate this opportunity. They pieced this schedule together and they’re excited to get started.”