Texas History: The first time ESPN College GameDay came to Austin, Major Applewhite made it count


Posted January 31st, 2018

This Saturday ESPN’s live pregame show, College GameDay, will come to Austin for the men’s basketball team’s matchup with Oklahoma later that night. It’s the first time the Saturday show, in any sport, has been on campus since Sept. 19, 2009.

The College Gameday crew came to Austin for a Friday Longhorn Network event in August 2011, but it wasn’t for the show most fans wake up early for on Saturdays.

One of the most popular shows in sports television, GameDay began in 1987 but didn’t start hitting the road until 1993 when it aired outside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. before No. 2 Notre Dame’s game against No. 1 Florida State.


Since then College GameDay has morphed into a staple of college football. Fan bases complain constantly when the show doesn’t go to their campus, a Washington State flag gets mailed to every location and flown proudly each week and Lee Corso puts on a mascot head when he makes picks.

The basketball show is a little different. Instead of mascot heads, former All-American Jay Williams rips off a button down shirt to reveal the jersey of the team he’s picking, Seth Greenberg is the crusty old coach while Jay Bilas is the lawyer-turned-smart guy with zingers. There’s a half-court shooting competition and lots of good features stories.

But it’s not the football show.

When did College GameDay first come to Austin?

Texas quarterback Major Applewhite and wide receiver Kwame Cavil celebrate their 24-20 win over Nebraska in 1999. (Brian K. Diggs/American-Statesman)

Corso and the boys didn’t make it to Austin until 1999, Mack Brown’s second season at Texas. The Longhorns had never even been apart of a featured GameDay matchup, so this was all new for the program.

It was late October and Nebraska was rolling and Texas was ranked, so ESPN announced its Oct. 23, 1999 telecast was heading to the state capital. 

Nebraska was ranked No. 3 in the nation and Texas was No. 18. Texas had beaten Nebraska twice since 1996. Led by a future Heisman Trophy winner, Eric Crouch, Nebraska and second-year coach Frank Solich were rolling along in the BCS’s second season.

PHOTOS FROM THE ARCHIVES: No. 18 Texas beats No. 3 Nebraska in Austin

In Austin, the Longhorns were adjusting to life without Ricky Williams. And they were adjusting pretty well. Brown was still stocking the cupboard that would yield some of the best years of the new millennium, but there was plenty of talent in Austin. Led by Hodges Mitchell at running back and sophomore quarterback Major Applewhite, Texas averaged 34.2 points per game and Mitchell finished with 1,343 rushing yards. Applewhite threw for 3,357 and 21 touchdowns, at the time one of the best passing seasons ever.

But make no mistake, Texas was the underdog coming into this game against Nebraska, even after beating Oklahoma the previous game.

It didn’t matter.

Nebraska took a 13-2 lead into halftime, but Texas would score two touchdowns coming out of halftime and entered the fourth quarter up 17-13. Crouch gave Nebraska the lead, 20-17, early in the fourth on a 9-yard run.

Applewhite threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Mike Jones to give Texas a 24-20 lead with less than six minutes to go, and Texas held on for the win.

It was the third win in a row over the Cornhuskers.

“We don’t have their number,” Ahmad Brooks told the Statesman’s Mark Wangrin. “But we do have three wins.

“You figure it out.”

Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wrote: “Texas’ third consecutive victory over Nebraska made a mess of the Cornhuskers’ national championship hopes for the second time in three years.”

Nebraska went on to snap that streak in a big way with a 22-6 win in the Big 12 Championship Game in December. That was the second of three losses Texas would suffer to end the season, starting with Texas A&M and ending in the Cotton Bowl with a 27-6 loss to Arkansas. If anyone wondered why Applewhite had to fight for the starting job heading into his junior year, it might be because the Texas offense scored 6, 16 and 6 points in the final three games of the year, all losses.

GameDay aired outside the Red River Showdown in 2001, an Oklahoma win, and again in 2002, another Oklahoma win.

GameDay returned to Austin in 2003 and the Longhorns beat Kansas State 24-20. In 2005, GameDay was in Columbus, Ohio for the Longhorns’ matchup with Ohio State and later that year came to Austin for the third time for the 52-17 win over No. 8 Texas Tech. In January, 2006 Texas was involved in a third GameDay game when the show went to the BCS National Championship Game.

ESPN’s Lee Corso dons a giant Bevo head after picking the Longhorns to win over Missouri in their football match up in 2008 as Kirk Herbstreit looks on. (Patrick Meredith/ American-Statesman)

In 2006, Texas lost its first GameDay matchup on campus to Ohio State.

In 2008, Texas was involved in three GameDay games, including in back-to-back weeks when at the Red River Showdown and in Austin for the Missouri game. Texas went 2-0 but then lost in Lubbock, the third GameDay contest, in the famous Michael Crabtree game.

Texas got revenge in 2009 when they hosted the show for the Tech game and won. Texas had two more appearances on the show in 2009, the Red River Showdown and the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.

Since then Texas has been involved in just one GameDay contest, the 2011 Red River Showdown, when Oklahoma won 55-17.