-- For many fans across the country, ESPN's College GameDay is the wake-up call for college football Saturdays. But for the dozen or so schools that host the show on their campus each season, it is much more than that.
You see, when Rece, Herbie, Dez, Corso and the mystery picker come to town, that school is transformed into the center of the college football universe for a weekend. And savvy coaches like Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting, use the aura that GameDay creates as a major weapon in their recruiting playbook.
With GameDay heading to Tucson Saturday for UCLA's visit to Arizona -- a battle of unbeaten teams with major implications in the Pac-12 South -- Dudek and the rest of the UofA coaching staff have worked nonstop the past six days to ensure the broadcast is a ratings hit with their most coveted targets.
"GameDay is a 3-hour infomercial for your university," Dudek said. "You would hope that anybody you are recruiting watches College GameDay every Saturday morning already. So right there, you're getting a free campus tour to every high school athlete out there that's on your board. It also draws attention to things around your university and program that would not normally be there. Who is the guest picker? What buildings around campus are they going to show? What traditions are they going to talk about? All of those things play into what we are preparing to show the recruits. This time the difference is it's not just going to be only on social media, it's going to be on national television in front of millions of people."
Dudek knew when he looked at his iPhone around 9 a.m. Sunday his week was going to be unlike one he's ever experienced as a coach. Like all good recruiters, he was already in the football offices Sunday morning when he received the message saying GameDay was coming to town.
As he stared at the screen, hundreds of questions danced around in his head. What have other schools done that has worked? What can we do different? What about social? What mail should we send? What are we going to have our photographers shoot? What cool ideas can our designers come up with? What about official visitors? How are we going to handle the onslaught of requests from recruits wanting tickets?
"When I found out, my mind raced to think of ways that we can use this to help us with recruiting," Dudek said. "With everything, we have to think about the recruiting impact and how we can make it a positive for our program. It was an immediate 'what advantages can Arizona get because only 12 teams get this every year?' So how can we make it positive for the program?"
Dudek didn't immediately have the answers but worked quickly to find some, because Wildcat coach Rich Rodriguez wanted to know what the initial recruiting blueprint was by Sunday afternoon.
"It's the week from hell, but this is what you live for as a recruiter," Dudek said. "This is like the Super Bowl for a coach. Having an event like this on your campus is what you do everything for. This is a really, really big deal. Is College GameDay coming to town? Yes. Are we playing UCLA, another top-10 ranked team? Yes. Are most of the recruits we target from Southern California? Yes. It is a really big opportunity that we have to work hard to ensure we make the most of."
It comes as no surprise a major part of Arizona's recruiting plan for the week revolved around a major social media push to prospects. Dudek said the Wildcats had a graphic promoting the GameDay appearance dispatched to recruits' inboxes by Sunday afternoon. Recruits then had another edit shipped to them on Tuesday promoting the red chrome helmets the team will be wearing in Saturday's game, and by Wednesday afternoon the school's athletic video department created a hype video that compared the Wildcats to the Avengers. The video had its own #MenOfMayhem hashtag and surely found its way to the screens of Arizona's top targets.
"We also sent personalized private messages out to the guys about GameDay that encouraged them to watch," Dudek said. "We also had another graphic about GameDay created and mailed out to the guys. We just really want to make sure this is something we take advantage of. 'If you're not waking up, then set your DVR to watch it.' Yes, they're going to talk about other teams, but Old Main is going to be in the background and that's something we want our recruits to see."
Another part of Arizona's plan for the week involved ensuring they would be able to create promotional materials once GameDay is long gone from campus. To accomplish that, Dudek said he's had more meetings than he "can remember" with the design and photography staff this week. In the end, Dudek believes it's what the photographers are able to capture while GameDay is on campus and what the designers create in the following weeks that could be the biggest recruiting tools for the Wildcats.
"We always spend a lot of time with our designer and photographers, but this week has been an overtime situation," Dudek said. "We've talked to our photographers a lot about what we want to capture from the day, and the designers are already brainstorming ideas of ways we can take those pictures and create things that will be appealing to recruits. God willing, Lee Corso will put the Wildcat head on. That's something we've already talked to our photographers about. If he does that, that's something that goes up on your wall in the office as a floor-to-ceiling graphic and is in the hands of recruits all over the country in a few days."
Arizona does have one disadvantage, though, over other schools that have hosted GameDay this season. Unlike previous hosts Alabama and Michigan State, the broadcast is at 6 a.m. PT Saturday morning, so Dudek knows he's going to have a hard time getting recruits on campus in time for the show. The Wildcats don't have plans to host any official visitors this weekend, but they are expecting 117 unofficial visitors and have had around 200 email requests for tickets from recruits throughout the week.
"Sadly, I don't know how many recruits are going to even be up or even in town," Dudek said. "I'm up. I'll be there 100 percent, so if one of our unofficial visitors wants to be there with me, I'll bring him along. But even if they can't be there for the show, we'll find a way to get them around the set and show them the atmosphere around the whole event when they get here. This is a special, special weekend for the entire university, and we know we've got the right plan in place to turn this grandiose event into a recruiting home run for our program."