(Stats Perform) – The FCS Kickoff Saturday night isn’t just the first college football game of the season, it’s a return to two subdivision teams having the Week 0 spotlight.
All other games this week were canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but No. 11 Central Arkansas and No. 13 Austin Peay have stuck it out for a matchup at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.
The brainchild of ESPN, the FCS Kickoff was first played in 2014 as a standalone game in the new Week 0 and a way to feature nationally ranked programs before the crush of Division I games begin on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend.
In the first matchup, Eastern Washington hosted Sam Houston State on its red turf and before an electrified, sellout crowd. There was talk across FCS conferences about expanding the Kickoff to an annual doubleheader or tripleheader, but it never happened and eventually more FBS schools began to play in Week 0 than FCS programs.
Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas, a rematch of UCA’s 24-16 road win last September, will air on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.
Following are the six previous FCS Kickoff games:
Aug. 23, 2014: No. 1 Eastern Washington 56, No. 17 Sam Houston State 35 (Cheney, Washington)
The first Kickoff had star power and Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams stood out while passing for 302 yards and four touchdowns. The teams combined for 1,166 offensive yards and the game marked the debuts of Eagles wide receiver Cooper Kupp and K.C. Keeler as Sam Houston’s coach.
Aug. 29, 2015: No. 13 Montana 38, No. 1 North Dakota State 35 (Missoula, Montana)
North Dakota State was coming off the fourth of five straight FCS championships, but Montana won the biggest Kickoff matchup on Joey Cousins’ 1-yard run with 2 seconds remaining. Quarterback Brady Gustafson threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns to outduel Bison senior Carson Wentz, who eight months later was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Aug. 27, 2016: No. 1 North Dakota State 24, No. 7 Charleston Southern 17, OT (Fargo, North Dakota)
The two preseason Top 10 teams were scoreless after the first quarter, tied 3-3 at halftime, deadlocked 10-10 through three quarters and tied again 17-17 after four quarters, but Bison senior King Frazier scored on a 25-yard touchdown run to open overtime and Charleston Southern managed only one yard on its possession.
Aug. 26, 2017: No. 6 Jacksonville State 27, No. 12 Chattanooga 13 (Montgomery, Alabama)
ESPN moved the Kickoff from campus sites to the Cramton Bowl, but Jacksonville State had somewhat of a home crowd on hand to watch Roc Thomas break off a 76-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and total 190 yards from scrimmage. Safety Jonathan Hagler scored on a 52-yard interception return and the Gamecocks defense kept Chattanooga without a touchdown until the final two minutes.
Aug. 25, 2018: No. 14 North Carolina A&T 20, No. 6 Jacksonville State 17 (Montgomery, Alabama)
N.C. A&T won Sam Washington’s coaching debut and ended Jacksonville State’s 41-game regular-season winning streak against non-FBS opponents. Lamar Raynard had two touchdowns passes in the win and the Gamecocks self-destructed with four turnovers, 14 penalties for 149 yards and two missed field goals attempts in the fourth quarter.
Aug. 24, 2019: Youngstown State 45, Samford 22 (Montgomery, Alabama)
The Kickoff went off track with a matchup of two unranked teams, but Youngstown State played like one by controlling nearly 41½ minute of game clock and forcing four turnovers, including Cash Mitchell’s first-quarter fumble recovery for a 26-yard touchdown, which gave the Penguins the lead for good. Quarterback Nathan Mays finished with 214 yards of total offense and two TD passes in the win.