(Stats Perform) – The Matchup – No. 13 Austin Peay (11-4 in 2019) vs. No. 11 Central Arkansas (9-4 in 2019) in the seventh annual Guardian Credit Union Kickoff Classic
Kickoff – 9 p.m. ET at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama
Coverage – ESPN
Series – Central Arkansas leads, 2-0 (won 14-13 in 1975 and 24-16 last year – both games were at Austin Peay)
Coaches – Austin Peay: Marquase Lovings (first season); Central Arkansas: Nathan Brown (15-9, third season)
3 Players to Watch – Austin Peay: QB Jeremiah Oatsvall, WR DeAngelo Wilson, NB Kordell Jackson; Central Arkansas: : QB Breylin Smith, WR Lujuan Winningham, CB Robert Rochell
The Skinny – The first game of the college football season is a matchup of nationally ranked teams. Austin Peay (Ohio Valley), which set a school record with 11 wins, and Central Arkansas (Southland) both earned a share of their respective conference title last season.
Austin Peay is seeking the 300th win in program history, Lovings his first as interim head coach. Oatsvall suffered a season-ending foot injury in last year’s matchup against UCA, but the dual-threat is back behind center and will get the ball into the hands of Wilson and all-purpose threat Baniko Harley. The Governors will be hard-pressed to replace longtime TB Kentell Williams, turning to redshirt freshman Lelan Wilhoite and true freshman C.J. Evans. The defensive line is ferocious up the middle with DT Josephus Smith and NG John Wesley Whiteside and should get penetration into the UCA backfield. Jackson (seven interceptions) was the OVC’s preseason defensive player of the year and LB Jack McDonald is always around the ball.
Brown is particularly confident in this year’s UCA squad, which has planned the largest schedule (nine games) among the 15 FCS schools competing this fall. Smith (3,704 passing yards, 32 touchdowns) was outstanding last season, although he threw only three TDs against eight interceptions in the four losses. He has his choice of offensive weapons with potent WRs Winningham and Tyler Hudson, and senior RB Kierre Crossley figures to get back on track as long as the offense capably replaces its starting tackles. Senior CB Robert Rochell, who had five of his 10 career interceptions last season, is an NFL Draft prospect. PK Hayden Ray provides accuracy as he’s 17 of 19 on field goals and 53 of 54 on PATs the last two seasons.
Prediction – Central Arkansas is a four-point favorite, but the game is basically a toss-up. Austin Peay 21, Central Arkansas 20.