It's another fumble with the FCS Kickoff
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - It's starting to feel as though the annual FCS Kickoff game has been hijacked from its original intent.
Wednesday's announcement that Austin Peay and Central Arkansas will meet in the seventh annual Week Zero matchup on Aug. 29 should have been well received, but it may take some time to build anticipation.
When the Kickoff began in 2014, it was intended to showcase great teams and great atmospheres for the FCS in a nationally televised game the weekend before most of the nation, including the more-watched FBS, kicks off the season. It did originally with such matchups as Eastern Washington hosting Sam Houston State on the red turf in the inaugural game or Montana's down-to-the-wire slugfest over four-time defending national champ North Dakota State at a rocking Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula in 2015.
Each of the first five Kickoffs matched two teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 and it should go back to that this year with Austin Peay, which won a share of the Ohio Valley Conference and was an FCS quarterfinalist last season, and Central Arkansas, which tied for the Southland Conference title and advanced to the national playoffs. They met during the regular season and UCA rallied in the fourth quarter for a 24-16 win.
But for the fourth straight year, the Kickoff will be played at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. The neutral site is about 325 miles from Austin Peay's campus and nearly 500 miles from Central Arkansas' campus, where this year's game was originally scheduled to be played on Sept. 19. The Bears have a gray-and-purple striped field that could have been spotlighted to an ESPN audience, and Estes Stadium clearly would be more electric than the Cramton Bowl.
The Cramton Bowl made some sense for Jacksonville State's win over Chattanooga in the 2017 Kickoff, but it hasn't since then. In fact, it was downright horrible for last year's game because Youngstown State and Samford had no connection to it and few traveling fans for it. Neither team was even ranked in the preseason or went on to have a winning season.
At least the 2020 matchup should create some buzz as it nears, with stronger teams again, but the move off The Stripes in Conway, Arkansas, was a fumble again.
The FCS Kickoff is a spotlight game that deserves to be the talk of the subdivision heading into each season. It needs to get back to being that.
Updated January 29, 2020