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Lee Corso's plan for Salt Lake City is the same as it is anywhere.

Step 1: Check in under an assumed name at a hotel.

Step 2: Stay there.

"That's what I do in every town, from Tucson, Arizona, to Clemson, South Carolina, to Salt Lake City," Corso told The Tribune by phone Wednesday.

When you've picked against as many teams as he has, he reasons, the streets are full of your critics. And they never forget.

"I've picked games four, five, six, 10 years ago, and they remember," he chuckled. "They say, 'I remember you picked so-and-so, and you looked like you enjoyed it.'"

Corso said he's nonetheless tickled to return to Utah for the school's third-ever visit from ESPN's "College GameDay," a preview of Saturday's games that has evolved over 29 years into an event unto itself.

While Corso may spend Friday night flipping through his hotel's cable offerings, hordes of his show's devotees will camp on the grass at Presidents Circle and strive to be among the first 300 ushered at 4:30 a.m. into "the pit" next to the "GameDay" set.

Before Clemson hosted Notre Dame last Saturday, the "GameDay" crowd endured heavy rains from Hurricane Joaquin to catch a glimpse of the show's stars — Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Samantha Ponder and host Rece Davis — and to share its wit with a national audience.

One attendee's sign read: "Rudy was offsides."

Another: "Why do Notre Dame players eat cereal out of the box? Because they choke when they get near a bowl."

Other young people belly-flopped into mud, producing arguably the same effect.

Life may or may not have any purpose, but "GameDay" surely does: to give fan bases a chance to prove that their passion is as manic as any other's, while ESPN promotes the day's games and its sponsors.

Sunday morning, after the mud angels had presumably washed away, "GameDay's" half-dozen semi-trucks set out west for Salt Lake City.

Producer Lee Fitting said they aim the armada each week at "the best story in college football." The showmakers call, email and text each other until they reach a consensus, and the ESPN higher-ups usually defer to their judgment.

It's not always "the sexiest game on paper," as this game is, Fitting said. Last year they went to Army vs. Navy and Yale at Harvard, and they visited Fargo, North Dakota, in consecutive years to honor FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

But this choice boiled down to No. 23 Cal at No. 5 Utah or No. 13 Northwestern at No. 18 Michigan, and Utah — which received seven first-place votes in the latest AP poll — was a "no-brainer," Fitting said.

Coincidentally, the Utes have been billed as the nation's No. 5 team in all three "GameDay" visits, although in 2010 they were No. 5 in BCS rankings but No. 6 per AP.

That alone may come as an uncomfortable degree of detail about the 2010 affair, a blackout-game drubbing that many have aspired to keep blacked out.

Kyle Whittingham was asked this week if he learned any lessons that day.

He did, he said.

"Play better."

Surprisingly, Utah's 47-7 loss to TCU was only the 11th-most lopsided in the show's history. "We've been to some doozies like that," said Fitting, who noted that Utah fans had developed an expectation of success by 2010 that he hadn't perceived when Utah trounced BYU 52-21 in 2004.

Whittingham, who will appear live on set at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, said his first "GameDay" as head coach had been preceded by a week of good practices. His team seemed to be in the right mindset.

"There were no telltale signs going into the game that we were going to get blitzkrieged like we did."

Of course, as Tribune TV writer Scott D. Pierce noted this week, that TCU team went undefeated while the Utes' shortcomings were further exposed in losses to Notre Dame and Boise State.

Utah is different this time around, Corso said.

"I think they're the No. 1 team in the nation this week," Corso said. "They destroyed Oregon in Autzen Stadium, and then — the most important thing — they beat a Michigan team that's only lost one game now."

Cal, for its part, has "the best quarterback in America" in junior Jared Goff, Corso said.

It's a solid bet that Corso will don the removable head of Utah's Swoop hawk at the close of Saturday's show, signaling he thinks Utah will atone for its 2010 no-show.

He's lost four straight of those so-called "headgear picks," his longest skid since 2002, but he's correctly called all three of Utah's "GameDay" appearances, including a 2009 loss at TCU.

He might be right, or he might be wrong.

Either way, he'll never live it down.

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

"GameDay" times, logistics

These are the directives from Utah athletics on how to camp out Friday and be on TV Saturday:

ESPN will be broadcasting on Presidents Circle from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, with a live segment starting at noon. Activities will be going on, including promotional giveaways, games and sign-making.

The university will allow overnight camping beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at Presidents Circle. Equipment must be cleared away by 4 a.m. At 4:30 a.m., fans will be admitted onto the "GameDay" set, with the first 300 fans getting access to "the pit" adjacent to the set.

The live broadcast will air between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturday, and fans are not permitted to have food or drink, signs on sticks, backpacks, purses, or projectiles.

Fans who have the proper permits can camp out in the Guardsman Way lot starting at 6 p.m. Friday. Other free parking on Saturday morning will be available at the Merrill Engineering lot.

— Kyle Goon