Matt Barrie wants Clemson fans to get up early this Saturday – as in, crack-of-dawn early.
Hey, if he has to be outside Death Valley then, he figures others ought to show up then, too. Even if it’s 13 hours prior to kickoff? Yes.
Along with co-host Sara Walsh, Barrie – who until 2008 was a sports reporter/anchor for Columbia’s WLTX-19 – will anchor ESPN’s “SportsCenter on the Road” program, which this week will be the early (7-9 a.m.) introduction for ESPN’s College GameDay (9 a.m.-noon), set to be in Clemson to preview Saturday’ 8 p.m. clash between the No. 12 Tigers and No. 6 Notre Dame.
In other words, his show is a warm-up act, right?
“That’s exactly what we are,” Barrie said this week. “We get everyone lathered up and fired up.”
Other weeks, he and Walsh take their dawn-patrol gig to a different location from GameDay, arriving Wednesday or Thursday in their mobile-studio bus with a crew of 20, compared to the traveling army of 85 that is GameDay. So far in 2015, SportsCenter on the Road has been at Notre Dame for the Irish-Texas clash; on hand for Michigan rookie coach Jim Harbaugh’s home debut vs. Oregon State; and, last Saturday, drew 4,000 early risers in Collegeville, Minn., for St. John’s vs. St. Thomas, a clash of Division III powers.
But Clemson-Notre Dame being arguably Saturday’s premier game (with a nod to Alabama-Georgia), “this seems like the right time to put all of ESPN slap-dab in Death Valley, and let the world see, over five hours, what a great game-day atmosphere Clemson is,” Barrie said.
Barrie, who joined ESPN in 2013, concedes that “this week, it’s easy; GameDay sets up right next to us, and my guess is anyone who wants to be at GameDay will have to get there early anyway.”
The stage for both programs will be at Clemson’s Bowman Field.
Being GameDay’s kid brother popularity-wise isn’t all bad, Barrie said.
“They’re the most successful college football traveling show in the industry, so it’s a challenge for us, finding our own unique take on the game,” he said.
That forces SportsCenter on the Road to be creative and try to give viewers what he calls “a sense of place. GameDay takes you inside the game itself; we do more of the engrained culture of the area.” Which, for Clemson, might mean an in-depth look at, among other spots, the town’s famed Esso Club, a gathering place for fans dating back decades.
As with GameDay, there’s news along with features, reporters checking in from other games around the nation. This week, the potential drama surrounding Clemson-Notre Dame – the first meeting between the two teams since the late 1970s – has whetted Barrie’s appetite for analysis.
“Last year, Notre Dame had a lot of hype to start the season, then they went to Tallahassee and lost (to Florida State) in the final seconds,” he said. “That’s why I love this game; we’re all waiting to see Clemson take that final step, waiting to see (quarterback) DeShaun Watson on a big stage against a marquee name.”
If the Tigers and Watson win, “he can really plant his flag in the ground and say: ‘You know what? I’m a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and Clemson is a legitimate playoff (contender).’
“Notre Dame gets this every week. They’re a national brand,” Barrie said. “Right now, I call Clemson eye candy: they look good, sound good, and you want to buy into that, but we have to see more wins against programs among the nation’s elite. It’s all about making themselves part of the conversation.”
For two hours early Saturday morning, Barrie will help set the conversational table for the famed crew that follows: Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and anchor Rece Davis. Barrie admits “it’s only human nature” for him to eye Davis’ chair with ambitions of his own … someday.
For now, Barrie’s weekend shapes up as both big game and homecoming.
“Gotta get some Southern food while I’m there: barbecue, grits,” he said. A must-do would be Mac’s Drive-In, near Clemson, he was told. Barrie laughed.
“That’s one of my first stops,” he said.