How the UGA-Boise State matchup happened

First, he tried to pry the Georgia-Florida game out of Jacksonville. Next, he tried to move the Georgia-Georgia Tech game to the start of the season. Then, he tried to match Georgia Tech vs. Southern California.

Stokan, who runs the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, was 0-for-3 when he came upon the matchup that will materialize Saturday night: a Georgia program trying to redeem itself after going 14-12 the past two seasons vs. a Boise State program seeking to build on its 61-5 record of the past half-decade.

Even after Stokan zeroed in on the Bulldogs and the Broncos, the pairing proved difficult.

"This one was the most challenging of all to put together," said Stokan, a veteran of many years of football matchmaking. "We had to have a lot of help from a lot of people."

By the time the deal was done, at least eight teams across the country had adjusted their schedules so that the game could happen, a process Stokan compared to solving Rubik's Cube.

This is the fourth year of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, which Stokan pitches to potential participants as a high-profile way to start a season. The first three games were arranged without inordinate difficulty: Alabama-Clemson in 2008, Alabama-Virginia Tech in 2009 and LSU-North Carolina in 2010.

Although all three games drew national TV coverage and generally positive reviews, arranging the 2011 installment proved challenging for a variety of reasons.

Stokan's initial idea, which he began pursuing in spring 2009, was to lure the Georgia-Florida game here. The schools' previous contract with Jacksonville was to expire after the 2010 game and although Stokan expected the series to largely remain in the Florida city, he tried to persuade UGA to play it at least one time in Atlanta.

UGA rejected the idea, agreeing to a new six-year contract that will keep the game in Jacksonville through 2016.

Stokan next pursued the possibility of moving this year's Georgia-Georgia Tech game from late November in Bobby Dodd Stadium to early September in the Georgia Dome.

Tech expressed interest, but only if UGA would agree to play at Tech, rather than in Athens, in 2012.

The result would have been that starting in ‘12, Tech's home games in the rivalry would fall in even-numbered years, rather than the current odd-numbered years. That change would have created a more even flow of revenue for Tech by breaking up the current format that has home games against Georgia, Clemson and Virginia Tech in the same seasons.

Georgia declined, saying it did not want to alter the rivalry's home-game rotation.

Stokan then turned to Lane Kiffin, the former Tennessee coach who was interested in bringing his new team, USC, to Atlanta as a recruiting tool.

"For a while, we thought we had USC and Georgia Tech lined up," Stokan said.

But there was no signed contract, and USC's interest in the game ended when the school had a change of athletic directors.

By last fall, unusually late to be arranging a game for the following season, Stokan still had no matchup. He even began to worry that there might not be a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game this year.

But last September, Stokan contacted Greg McGarity, who was new on the job as Georgia's athletic director. The Bulldogs were scheduled to open this season at home against Louisville, but Stokan asked if Georgia might be receptive to some creative maneuvering that would allow the Dogs to open in the Dome against someone else instead.

McGarity was intrigued, and Stokan and ESPN executive Dave Brown took it from there.

"We reached out to Louisville and told them we'd pay the buyout [for Georgia to cancel games against the Cardinals in Athens in 2011 and in Louisville in 2012]," Stokan said. "Then we went to North Carolina, which was looking for a game because Tennessee had dropped a home-and-home [series against UNC] and asked if they would play Louisville."

The Chick-fil-A game's agreement to pay Louisville $500,000 and North Carolina's agreement to replace Georgia on Louisville's schedules cleared the way for the Bulldogs to play in Atlanta.

"Then we needed somebody for them to play," Stokan said.

Boise State occurred to both Stokan and Brown, and Georgia liked the idea because it created a high-profile game with the potential, McGarity said, "to put some juice back in the program [and] put us back on the national stage." But there was more work to be done, because Boise already was scheduled to open the season at Ole Miss.

The Rebels previously had expressed interest in playing a game in Atlanta, so Stokan offered them the opportunity to move their game against Boise from 2011 in Oxford, Miss., to 2014 in the Georgia Dome.

"They liked that," Stokan said, "so they could get to Atlanta."

Still, Ole Miss needed a new opening opponent for this season. Brown delivered BYU, which had signed a TV deal with ESPN as part of its move to independent status in football.

There were still a couple of loose ends to tie up. Oregon State switched dates on BYU's schedule to accommodate the BYU-Ole Miss game, and James Madison switched dates on North Carolina's schedule to accommodate UNC-Louisville.

Finally, in November, the deal was done: Georgia would get $1.7 million, not including the $500,000 paid to Louisville, and Boise State $1.4 million to meet in the Dome on ESPN.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.