The folks at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will be promoting two games instead of one to begin the 2012 college football season. But one of those two games will attract significantly more eyeballs than the other.
Tennessee and North Carolina State will meet on Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with the gametime to be determined. That contest will be televised on ESPNU.
The next day or night — time to be determined — Auburn will face Clemson in the same venue, but that game will be shown on either ABC or ESPN.
Chick-fil-A began presenting these kickoff games in 2008. Alabama beat Clemson that season. In ’09, Bama beat Virginia Tech. In 2010, LSU defeated North Carolina. Last year, Boise State toppled Georgia. The tie that binds? All of those teams were preseason Top 10 (or at least Top 20) squads.
Well way back in 2009, the Chick-fil-A folks announced that Tennessee and NC State would be the featured matchup in 2012. At the time, Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said, “I fully expect that in 2012 both of these rising programs will be ranked in the Top 20.” Uh, think again.
Since Stokan’s announcement, Tennessee has seen Lane Kiffin bolt, Derek Dooley enter and three seasons of so-so football culminating in an 18-20 overall record (including a 5-7 mark last season). NC State — under Tom O’Brien — has improved from 5-7 to 17-9 the last two years (including a win over Louisville in the esteemed Belk Bowl last December).
Seeing Tennessee’s post-Kiffin struggles on the horizon, the Chick-fil-A group decided in September of 2010 to add a second game to its lineup: Auburn versus Clemson. Auburn went on to win the national title that season and could make a preseason Top 25 or two this fall. Clemson will likely be a Top 15 team entering the 2012 season after winning the ACC title last year.
It’s no wonder Tennessee-NCSU has been shifted to the Friday night, ESPNU contest — it doesn’t figure to be the draw that Auburn-Clemson will be. But that doesn’t mean Vol and Wolfpack officials will be pleased with being relegated to a non-traditional night on a network with fewer cable subscribers than ESPN (regardless of what they say in their “ain’t it great” press releases). Quite simply, this isn’t what Tennessee and NC State signed up for.
The schools gave up home games in the hopes of getting primetime, big boy coverage on a major network. Instead, the Vols and Wolfpack will serve as the hors d’oeuvre to the Tigers versus Tigers main course the following day. It makes sense for the Chick-fil-A group and for the networks, but it’s a kick in the teeth for UT and NCSU.
One wonders how future SEC squads might look at this move. Next season, Alabama and Virginia Tech return to the game. But in 2014, Ole Miss is scheduled to play Boise State. Already, Alabama has been lined up once more as part of a double-header (to make up for what would appear to be a bad matchup ‘tween UM and BSU). Will the Rebels want to be shifted to a Friday night on a second-tier network if it comes to that?