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#CountdownToZero: How the ESPN College GameDay Crew Preps for Saturday

By:  Jay Moye Aug 27, 2014
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ESPN

The ESPN College GameDay crew: David Pollack (left), Desmond Howard, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbsteit

Whether it’s stocking up at the store for a tailgate party, singing fight songs ad nauseum, or making a can’t-miss sign to hold up in the crowd, college football fans savor every moment of the weekly countdown to zero. This season, Coke Zero is celebrating the essential weekly preparation in the run-up to Saturday together with college football’s longest-running and most-celebrated pregame TV show: ESPN’s College GameDay.

The three-hour, Emmy Award-winning program broadcasts live from the site of each weekend’s most anticipated matchup. For the second year in a row, Section Zero — the ultimate destination for fan revelry — returns to the College GameDay set. At each campus visit, the invite-only space will treat 50 raucous fans to premium seating and an up-close look at the action. Students can earn access to Section Zero through on-campus Cornhole Challenge presented by The Home Depot, Coke Zero and Coca-Cola.

Coke Zero’s “Zero Means It’s Game Day” campaign is inspired by the many ways fans and their favorite teams count down to zero each week. Five 15-second spots — each focusing on a specific weekday — show how intensity builds as game day draws closer, and a 30-second film featuring the full countdown will debut during the first week of the season. Check out this slideshow for a sneak peak:

We stopped by the set of the commercial shoot in Atlanta to chat with the ESPN GameDay broadcast team about how they prep for the both the college football season and, more specifically, each week’s show. Here’s what they had to say:

Kirk Herbstreit
I’m one of these guys who over prepares. My ritual is my preparation. I try to go out of my way to work like crazy Monday through Friday. I probably end up only using 20 percent of what I prepare for each week, but it gets me relaxed. So when you watch me on Saturday morning, I’m not looking at my notes or thinking about my commentary. When I arrive on the set, I don’t know what I’m going to say or when I’m going to say it, but I have all the information in my head. Our show is so impromptu, it’s not as scripted as many people think, so you have to be able to roll with the punches.

Chris Fowler
I’m not a 12-month-a year college football guy. I like to go away from it and come back to it… it keeps it fresh for me. This is one of the hardest sports to prepare for. Every year, you have 20 to 30 new coaches, and teams are shifting conferences. There are always wrinkles in college football. There is always a lot to catch up on… lots of phone calls with coaches and lots of reading, both on traditional media and also blogs. To do it well takes time.

The GameDay format is pretty simple: We’re there to tap into the passion and excitement of the game that’s about to happen. It’s the focal point of the college football nation that day. We’ve perfected the art of finding a good location… maximizing the background, making it visually interesting and keeping it unique from campus to campus. And we feel almost as excited as the fans sitting behind us. Section Zero really adds to the excitement. To see the lunatics who have won their way into those seats sitting alongside legendary coaches in their buttoned-up blazers has been pretty funny. We don’t really know who will show up.

Lee Corso
Just before the start of the season I go away for three days and isolate myself in a cabin on the west coast of Florida. I do nothing but study and meditate about football for those three days. After that, I write down who’s going to win and why.

Desmond Howard
I do a lot of prep work during the week. I talk to coaches, sports information directors (SIDs) and people who cover the teams exclusively for a living, including local columnists and play-by-play guys. I also watch a ton of film. I try to tune in to ESPN's College Football Live and College Football Daily to get valuable information, insights and other tidbits.

David Pollack
The number-one thing you have to do is listen to the other guys and be a good teammate. People think we just get up there and talk, but there’s a lot that goes into it. My work for this season began six months ago. If I’m not following spring ball, then I’m not doing my job. I come into a season knowing every storyline for every team. And when the games begin, you have to start watching tape. One thing I’ve realized is that when I talk about a specific team, there are hundreds of thousands of fans who love their team more than anything. So I can’t just throw something out there and see if it sticks. I owe it to these fans and teams, because they’ve earned it.

The “Zero Means It’s Game Day” campaign will appear both online and on NBC, CBS and ESPN’s family of networks during college football games. Coke Zero will also engage fans throughout the season via social media with shareable content and real-time conversation around the #CountdownToZero hashtag. Learn more at www.cokezerofootball.com.