NCAA FOOTBALL: Season starts tonight
ATLANTA — Welcome back, college football!
The season begins tonight with a game that won’t have any impact on the national championship race: Georgia State, starting its first year as a full-fledged FBS member, takes on Division I newcomer Abilene Christian at the Georgia Dome.
It will be the first of three games in four days at the stadium in downtown Atlanta, the others having a bit more curb appeal. No. 18 Mississippi faces Boise State on Thursday night, and No. 2 Alabama meets West Virginia on Saturday.
Georgia State was forced to move its opener to the middle of the week to accommodate the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games, but at least that gives the school a little something to brag about after going 0-12 a year ago.
The Panthers were one of only two FBS teams that failed to win a game, joining Miami of Ohio.
Now, they’re playing host to the very first game of the season.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” said Nick Arbuckle, Georgia State’s new starting quarterback. “It brings a spotlight to us, and hopefully we can take advantage of that.”
The Panthers, who launched their football program in 2010, have lost 16 straight games and 22 of 23 over the last two seasons. While they are now eligible for the Sun Belt Conference championship and bowl invitations, those goals seem far down the road.
Arbuckle hopes to get the process started after transferring from a junior college in California.
“There were a lot of people wondering why I picked here,” he said. “I like the idea of being able to go somewhere and start something new, start a new tradition, take a team that really hasn’t won very many games and bring them into an era of actually winning and maybe competing for the conference championship and winning some bowl games.”
Coach Trent Miles knows the most immediate priority is simply winning a game.
“Our kids are just excited to play, to go out and chase the victory and put the demons away,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter whether it’s the first college game or the third or the 10th.”
Abilene Christian moved up from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision after the 2012 season.
The Wildcats, a member of the Southland Conference, have posted eight straight winning seasons, including a 6-5 mark last year as they made the transition to the higher level. They had no trouble scoring against tougher competition, averaging 45.5 points and 487 yards per game.
After the low-key opener, there are plenty of big games spread over the rest of the holiday weekend, many of which could have an impact down the road on the new four-team playoff.
No. 9 South Carolina plays host to No. 21 Texas A&M in a Southeastern Conference clash on Thursday.
Two days later, No. 12 Georgia entertains 16th-ranked Clemson in nearby Athens; No. 13 LSU takes on 14th-ranked Wisconsin in Houston; and top-ranked Florida State, the defending national champion, travels to Texas to take on Oklahoma State at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington.