College GameDay Bear Bets: How The Big Ten Challenged An ESPN Expert

Written By Russ Mitchell on September 13, 2021 - Last Updated on March 15, 2024

ESPN College GameDay and its producer Chris “The Bear” Fallica are on to the next campus after wrapping up Iowa’s 10-point win over Iowa State in Ames. GameDay will travel to State College, PA, as No. 22 Auburn visits No. 10 Penn State Saturday in Happy Valley.

“Bear’s Board,” — an on-set tote board featuring three of Bear’s college football picks — will be wiped clean in the transfer from Iowa State to Penn State. That will be perfectly fine with the sports wagering analyst — the Big Ten gave Bear an 0-3 record Saturday. He thought:

  • Ball State would stay within 22.5 points of Penn State. The Nittany Lions won by 31.
  • Washington would stay within a touchdown of Michigan. The Wolverines won by three touchdowns.
  • And, yes, the Iowa-Iowa State game. Bear picked the Cyclones to win by at least four points.

He wasn’t alone in backing the Cyclones, either. About 56% of the fan vote at College GameDay considered Iowa State a good bet. So did GameDay College Football Analyst Desmond Howard who said: “I’m going Cyclones because of their defense creating turnovers today.” The Hawkeyes didn’t have any turnovers in the game.

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One perfect pick from the Bear

PlayIA talked with The Bear on Thursday and he was bearish about scoring for the Cy-Hawk rivalry. Caesars Sportsbook IA set the total at 46 going into the game. “Under does feel right,” Bear said, right before hitting a bullseye on the final score:

“I can see this being like a 23-13 type of game or 27-17 — something in that realm.”

Two pickers on the GameDay set correctly picked Iowa. That ’70s Show actor Ashton Kutcher was ESPN’s celebrity guest picker. Kutcher admitted he was a “fully inclined” (his phrasing) Iowa Hawkeyes fan.

Kirk Ferentz has never lost to (Iowa State coach Matt) Campbell. Never. That’s one point. (Phil) Parker is a massively underrated defensive coordinator. The Iowa Hawkeyes have been a top 20 defense for the last six years straight. The Iowa Hawkeyes have had 23 straight games of holding the other team to under 24 points. And, when Iowa State is held under 24 points they’re 2-12 … I’m taking the Iowa Hawkeyes to win this game all day long.”

Longtime analyst Lee Corso ends each GameDay by making a “headgear selection.” On Saturday, he had the Cy-Hawk trophy up on the set.

“This is the Cy-Hawk Series Cup. It’s 31 inches tall and weighs 19 pounds. It’s beautiful. I wanted to show it to the Iowa State fans because they haven’t seen it in awhile. Take a real good look at it because Iowa has won it five straight.”

Corso told the Ames crowd “it’s State’s turn to win it,” before quickly adding “forget about it” and reaching down for Herky the Hawk’s headgear. “Hawkeyes in an upset.”

Bear’s overview on the Iowa and Iowa State seasons can be found here. He talked about his life on the road below.

Q&A with The Bear highlights:

Editor’s note: Answers were lightly edited where needed for clarity.

PlayIA: Bear, how do you choose the picks you spotlight on College GameDay?

The Bear: I kind of just combine a lot of different things. I will look at the number first and foremost. Is the number too high? Is the number too low? What are the reasons behind it? Which side do I expect to potentially get the most play and be the public side? What’s the situation of the game? Is it a potential flat or look-ahead spot? Revenge? All of the intangible things like that.

Then I’ll look at a lot of the particular unit matchups. Is there a matchup that can be exploited with a really good defensive line against a bad offensive line like (Sept. 4) with Georgia and Clemson? We knew Georgia had one of the better defensive fronts in the country and with Clemson, the offensive line was an issue. Certainly, that’s the way it played out.

Then there are certain historical situations with coaches. And there are certain matchups that that play out where certain coaches thrive at being an underdog. …There are a lot of guys out there who are solely math — power rating numbers. If their power rating says a team should be 6.3 points better and they’re a five-and-a-half-point favorite, they’re just gonna play them on the blind.

I’ll look a little bit further — I will certainly use and look at power ratings to see what they do call for. But, I’m not just going to play a game on the blind just because of the power rating, where you have like maybe a point advantage according to the line.

PlayIA: How much pressure do you feel to get your picks right, Bear?

The Bear: Tons, especially after last year with my first losing season since I’ve been doing this.

… If I lose a pick on the air, fine. But, I’m more upset for people who trusted me and listened to me for my rationality and it didn’t work out. There is pressure. Social media these days can be what it is. And it’s fine. It’s the small minority of people who get up in your grill when you lose a pick. Then, when you’re right you don’t want to pat yourself on the back but you feel a good sense of pride.

There are certain people out there who do appreciate you. But, last week was a great example: On the show, we were doing a segment about potential games where you could see it upset or see a game that’s potentially closer than what you might think. And I threw out Arkansas vs. Rice. I said Arkansas has got Texas next week and Rice isn’t a terrible team. Arkansas had a great season last year but they’re just not going to walk out on the field and beat anybody by 20 points by simply walking out there. They’re not that good to do that yet.

And, lo and behold, Rice was leading in the third quarter with a tie game going to the fourth. Then Arkansas scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes. The next thing you know Arkansas fans are all up in my grill with a strange flex. They’re boasting with me about getting a late cover as a 20-point favorite. It’s weird, and I get it. The way I look at it is people are listening, people are paying attention. People want to engage and that certainly is not a bad thing.

PlayIA: What is your routine like during the football season?

The Bear: It’s busy.

Essentially, I will have Daily Wager (an ESPN betting analysis show) three days a week. I’ve got a podcast on Wednesday on my column that I do with “Stanford” Steve (Coughlin).

I have a couple of GameDay meetings: Monday we have a game day meeting. Tuesday, I will have a game call for the ABC primetime game that Kirk (Herbstreit) and Chris (Fowler) call.

Wednesday we’ll have another meeting — just kind of a smaller breakout group to shore things up.

Thursday is a travel day.

And then Friday we are out at the site, doing all of our hits and having our little rundown meeting with everybody in person. Once again, I’ll have a couple of radio shows I do on Friday as well.

Then Saturday, we have the show. Then the primetime game. Sunday I do it all over again.

Of course, in there, I’m doing my own research, my little statistical analysis. … This (past) week was a little bit weird. I felt a little bit busier than usual. And I think it’s probably because we had that additional game on Monday (Labor Day) night in Atlanta between Louisville and Ole Miss. This just felt a little bit weird and a little bit more cramped. But I think once we get back into that routine, it’s going to feel normal again.

I don’t want to say it’s 24-7, but it’s busy. And I’m not going to complain one bit. If I weren’t doing this, I don’t know what I’d be doing. And it certainly doesn’t feel like work. Even if I weren’t getting paid to do it, I’d probably be doing a lot of it anyway because I just love the sport so much.

PlayIA: Bear, what do you like most about arriving on college campuses?

The Bear: In a weird way, it kind of keeps me young.

You’re engaging with younger people throughout the year. You are traveling every week so you’re seeing different parts of the country, which is certainly great. You’re in a game every week. So it’s exciting. You’re in the truck working a game so it’s live television: It’s unexpected. You never really know what’s happening.

So it’s a rush. It was a rush in 1996 when I started on the show, and it’s a rush right now in 2021. I’m really blessed to still be doing something that I love and that I’m passionate about. I feel the same way now as I did twenty-something years ago when I started.

People always ask me ‘what’s my favorite place to go?’ It sounds a little corny but I always say it’s either somewhere where we’ve never been, or somewhere where we haven’t been in a long time. When we’re somewhere new, it’s new for us. It’s new for them. It just kind of gives the show a kind of a fresh start for that particular week.

PlayIA: Along those lines, do you prefer visits to college football blue bloods or campuses with upstarts?

The Bear: There’s nothing like the game (Labor Day weekend) between Clemson and Georgia or an Ohio StateMichigan game with everything on the line or AlabamaLSU — whatever. But I do like going to some of these off-the-grid types of shows like when we went to North Dakota State, South Dakota State or James Madison — shows like that.

And at the same time, it’s great to be able to take the show to FBS power 5 schools that kind of are breaking through. The show we did in Washington State a couple of years ago exceeded all of our expectations. They’ve been wanting to show there since 2003. And finally to get there and have it exceed what we wanted it to be was awesome.

To get to Iowa State a couple of years ago, early in the year, and have that weird day with the weather. Now to be back with them as a legitimate, Big 12 contender and College Football Playoff contender, it’s awesome. It’s great on the fans. It’s great publicity for the team, the school the players, and the coaches.

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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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