By Cody Soto
No. 5 Baylor football provided fans with a memorable game day experience on Saturday at McLane Stadium. ESPN’S College GameDay built by Home Depot made an appearance in Waco in its final show of the regular season.
The announcement made last Sunday brought excitement to the entire Baylor community on an important week in college football. Fans were allowed to start camping out at 5 p.m. on Friday in order to get a good spot for the sports entertainment show.
“This is a huge deal, and it honestly caught me by surprise,” Dallas freshman Colby Boozer said. “With all of the championship games this week and other huge games to come here, it’s cool for them to come. I had a great time.”
The excitement carried on into the night as a line of students wrapped around the stadium with their tents, tarps, sleeping bags and game day signs set up. College GameDay host Chris Fowler said the game has been circled on their calendars for a long time.
“Although we don’t announce it till the week before, we have a list of games every week, and we’ve had this game circled knowing that it could have a whole lot of meaning on the final Saturday,” Fowler said.
The atmosphere provided for a good game day atmosphere. With Baylor fans and the $266 million stadium in the background, ESPN captured the excitement that fans have for the university’s football team. Pictures don’t capture the beauty of McLane Stadium.
“The stadium is beautiful. I’ve seen pictures, so I sort of knew what to expect, but to walk through it is a different experience,” Fowler said. “If you walked somebody in here and said, ‘this is where you’re going to play college ball,’ I think that would be a good selling point for Baylor.”
Although Baylor doesn’t have the biggest stadium in college football, the experience is not lost.
“You don’t have to have 90,000 seats to be able to wow people and give a great game day experience with the fans. I think this place obviously does that,” Fowler said.
Head coach Art Briles was able to see the amount of people that showed up for College GameDay, and that carried over to the game as well, he said.
“Our fans are unbelievable. I walked around the students last night and they were all camped out. It just humbles you,” Briles said. “I love young people. And I love young people that have vision, that are innocent, that are doing things for the right reasons. That’s the way our kids are here.”
The atmosphere of the first game day show in Waco was second to none, Briles said.
“You can’t find a better stadium in the United States of America to play a football game,” Briles said. “It’s a big thrill, a great privilege, and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.”
Director of Athletics Ian McCaw estimates around 5,000 people woke up bright and early to participate in the early morning show, and he gives credit to everyone that made it possible.
“ESPN indicated they were thrilled and they will back,” McCaw said. “Our staff did a phenomenal job. It’s like running two football games in one day. College GameDay requires so much preparation and work and logistics, and our staff has been working tirelessly all week.”
Alumnus and former student body president Wesley Hodges said the transformation of Baylor is much more than football. It’s the foundation that has been set before this by the founders, he said.
“We are a mission-driven school, and it’s all stemming from our foundation to pursue and glorify Christ. We do that by pursuing excellence on that field,” Hodges said. “We have a world-class team on the field, and God is good. That’s all I can say. This is a lot of things lining up, and I believe in God more than luck.”
No. 5 Baylor football will prepare to play in its fifth straight bowl game in January, and College GameDay coming to town is a big indicator of what direction the program is headed.
“There’s one game picked in America, and they picked ours. They chose Baylor,” Briles said. “They chose Baylor because have a great stadium, we have a great name, we have a great team, and we have great alumni.”
For Baylor football, students and fans across the community, Saturday was another milestone accomplished by the team. It puts Baylor on the map, McCaw said.
“Baylor University has been around 170 years or so, and there isn’t many days better than this one,” McCaw said. “Just to see the energy from our students, fans, the atmosphere and the great presentation of Baylor and Waco was just extraordinary and exhilarating.”