- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s that time again, the time for starved college hoops fans to put aside the bleak reality of our current existence and, like the prisoners in Bane’s vaguely foreign open-air pit in “The Dark Knight Returns Rises,” stare upward at the sky with hope for a brighter future.
In less grandiose terms: The 2012–13 ESPN "College GameDay" schedule is here, and the games on offer are excellent.
Of course, we’re still months away from the start of the season, let alone January. Some teams will underperform preseason expectations, and a few games may lose their luster by the time the "GameDay" crew -- which has added ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose as a full-time panelist -- begins its weekend travel routines. But from our distant perch here in August, the scheduled games are excellent, full of marquee matchups and interesting venues that should incite throngs of fans and/or Digger Phelps dance enthusiasts. Man, do I love "College GameDay."
The festivities commence Jan. 19, with "GameDay’s" first-ever trip to Butler’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the Bulldogs will host the ever travel-ready Gonzaga Bulldogs in a matchup of the two marquee true mid-major teams of the past decade. The following week will feature North Carolina’s trip to rival NC State, where a decades-long and typically one-sided psychodrama -- not to mention the race for the ACC title -- is sure to have Wolfpack fans in a frenzy.
For all the expectations-destroying vagaries of the early college hoops calendar, it’s hard to imagine Feb. 2’s featured event -- Michigan at Indiana -- not being one of the most exciting games of the season. Then, on Feb. 9, "GameDay" will keep its options open: Flex scheduling will allow it to go to either South Bend for Notre Dame’s matchup with Louisville or Cincinnati for Pittsburgh’s arrival. On Feb. 16, we’ll get to see an intriguing Texas team take on what could be, by this time, another obvious Big 12 title team for Kansas. (And we’ll get to hear Rock Chalk Jayhawk, which is always a bonus.) On Feb. 23, Missouri, arguably the team best equipped to stop the SEC-title train that is the reloaded Kentucky Wildcats, will visit a manic Rupp Arena. On March 2, the West Coast’s most prestigious programs, UCLA and Arizona, will renew high-level hostilities at a renovated Pauley Pavilion, almost certainly with the Pac–12 title in play.
And then, in the final scheduled weekend of the season, "GameDay" takes things to a whole ‘nother level. On March 9, the crew will begin their day in Washington, D.C., where Georgetown will host hated rival Syracuse in what could be the series’ final game, depending on Syracuse’s willingness to schedule the Hoyas after the Orange complete their move to the ACC next season. Then Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Rose, Phelps and the rest of the crew will pick up their gear and head south to Chapel Hill in time to broadcast the 8 p.m. show in advance of yet another installment of Duke-North Carolina.
Taken as a whole, this schedule did more to get me excited for the upcoming season than any other fixtures I’ve yet seen. November and December are great, don’t get me wrong, but few things beat a Saturday that begins and ends with "College GameDay," with dozens of college basketball games in between. Just a few more months now. I can’t wait.