College football has Georgia on its mind


Abilene Christian at Georgia State, Georgia Dome, 7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU

Ole Miss vs. Boise State, Georgia Dome, 8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN

Wofford at Georgia Tech, Bobby Dodd Stadium, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, FSS

Alabama vs. West Virginia, Georgia Dome, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC

Clemson at Georgia, Sanford Stadium, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN

College football season will touch down in Atlanta this week.

A pair of Chick-fil-A Kickoff games in the Georgia Dome will bring four prominent programs — two of them nationally ranked in preseason polls — and about 100,000 fans to a downtown district already energized about the sport after the weekend opening of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The doubleheader of Kickoff games will start with an undercard of No. 18 Ole Miss against Boise State on Thursday night, followed by the headliner of No. 2 Alabama — winner of three national championships in the past five seasons — against West Virginia on Saturday afternoon. Both games will be nationally televised.

“We talk about Atlanta as the college football capital, and I think this week will certainly emphasize the reason we feel that way,” said Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, which also operates the Kickoff games.

Those games won’t be the only, or even the first, college-football games in the Dome this week. Georgia State will open its season there Wednesday night against Abilene Christian in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPNU. Georgia State will be the first FBS team in the nation to play a game this season. Abilene Christian is in FCS.

Two miles from the Dome, at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech will open against Wofford on Saturday.

And 70 miles away in Athens, No. 12 Georgia will meet No. 16 Clemson on Saturday, a rematch of last season’s opener between the same teams at Clemson (won by the Tigers 38-35).

“All right, who’s ready for some football?” Hall of Fame CEO John Stephenson asked the crowd at the attraction’s grand-opening ceremony.

Rhetorical question.

The Hall of Fame expects the Kickoff games to be good for business, given the new attraction’s close proximity to the Dome.

The Alabama-West Virginia game is expected to fill the Dome with about 70,000 fans. The Ole Miss-Boise State game, on the other hand, will fill no more than half of the Dome.

Stokan said he expects about 35,000 for the Thursday night game, a made-for-TV matchup between teams from 330 and 2,200 miles away. The upper-deck seats won’t be used for that game, he said.

“Thursday games are hard because people have to give up two work days when they’re from far away,” Stokan said.

About 70 percent of the fans attending the two Kickoff games will be from out of town, Stokan said. Few of them will come from Idaho, however, as Boise State has sold only 1,800 tickets.

The Boise State-Ole Miss game will be televised on ESPN and the Alabama-West Virginia game on ABC.

Stephenson said ESPN also has made plans to broadcast its “College Football Live” studio show Thursday afternoon from the indoor field at the Hall of Fame, as well as segments from there for other shows Thursday. College Football Live analysts Mark May and Lou Holtz are members of the Hall of Fame.

The start-of-the-season Chick-fil-A Kickoff games have been played annually in the Dome since 2008.

This week will mark Alabama’s fourth appearance in the event, which coach Nick Saban likes partly because of the exposure it provides in recruiting-rich Georgia. The Crimson Tide has won each of its three previous appearances. Its opponent this week, West Virginia, is in the event for the first time.

Boise State defeated Georgia in the event in 2011, when the Broncos were ranked No. 5 in the nation and sold 7,500 tickets for the game. They’re unranked this time. Ole Miss is making its first appearance.

This week marks the second time organizers have staged two Kickoff games in the same year. The other time was 2012 (Auburn-Clemson and Tennessee-N.C. State).

“No one else in the country is doing two Kickoff games. No one else in the country has the College Football Hall of Fame,” said Stokan, closing his argument for Atlanta as the college-football capital.