Just like CoVID, social distancing, toilet-paper hoarding and eccentric face masks, we didn’t see this coming. Nobody could have predicted a year ago that Austin Peay and Central Arkansas would have this week … this primetime Saturday night and all its football-starved national spotlight … to themselves.
The Governors and the Bears will have ESPN all to themselves, college football wise. Originally, they were only supposed to share this particular Saturday with a handful of teams — but all of those games have been cancelled or postponed.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl back on Feb. 2, LSU won the FBS title on Jan. 13 … and most importantly, the FCS title game between champion North Dakota State and runner up James Madison happened on Jan. 11. You can throw in the XFL playing until March 5, but no matter how you look at it, meaningful football ended roughly six months ago and hasn’t popped up its head since. Not even preseason football games have happened.
Austin Peay and Central Arkansas are about to fix that in the Guardian FCS Kickoff Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. This is the place the first night game “under the lights” was played in 1927, and it is the same stadium where the 1943 Negro League World Series was played, with baseball Hall of Famer Josh Gibson on the diamond. The FCS’ Alabama State once played home games at Cramton, and this is where the Alabama Crimson Tide played at times from 1922 until 1954. The prestigious Blue-Gray All-Star game was played there since the 1930s. A lot of special sports moments have happened on these grounds.
These two nationally ranked FCS teams (UCA No. 11 and APSU No. 13 in this week’s STATS Top 25) combined to go 20-8 last year with two conference titles. They will be the ones to break this ice … or should we say vice? Or should we say vice grip, as in the vice grip this virus has had on the game of football we all love?
No matter how you look at this, whether you agree they should be playing or not, there’s no question people are hungry to get back to normal, and when it comes to football … normal starts on Saturday with the Govs and Bears. Tune in at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
Again … not ESPN News, not ESPN7, not ESPN Portugal (no offense, Cristiano Ronaldo) … ESPN. You know the one that started in the 1970s? That one.
The Governors — less than three years removed from ending a 29-game losing streak — are coming off a school record 11 wins and their first Ohio Valley Conference title since Jimmy Carter was President (1977-81 term for those who were wondering). Central Arkansas is coming off a co-championship season in the Southland Conference and handed the Governors one of their rare losses early last year in a classic back-and-forth affair that ended up being one of the FCS season’s top non-conference matchups.
We have two young and hungry head coaches. Nathan Brown at Central Arkansas has done nothing but win since take over for successful Steve Campbell, who took over at FBS South Alabama. Austin Peay head coach Marquase Lovings was recognized by the AFCA as one of the top 35 young coaches under the age of 35, and he was a key coaching cog in turning around the defense last year — leading the No. 8 rush defense in the country, and the No. 1 unit in several categories in the OVC.
Both programs return a really nice group of talent, proportionately.
If you’re an NFL Draftnik type who couldn’t care less about this college football matchup? We have something for you, too. Robert Rochell, the electric cornerback for Central Arkansas? DraftScout has him as a potential Day Two pick in next spring’s draft, and this weekend he and his teammates are going to get to go against a 1,500 yard, 15 TD receiver in DeAngelo Wilson and another stud in Baniko Harley (842 receiving yards, 12 total TDs).
On the flip side, 2022 wide receiver prospect Lujuan Winningham, who scored the two fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat Austin Peay last year — gives Central Arkansas another potential draft pick the year after Rochell is gone. But Winningham has to go against defensive backs like APSU’s Kordell Jackson (7 INTs last year). Jackson is another cornerback who will get NFL looks next spring.
Yes, NFL Draft geeks … you have some talent to scout out here.
And how about the two quarterbacks? Austin Peay’s Jeremiah Oatsvall — who in 2017 chose winless APSU over playing in the Army-Navy game, or Central Arkansas’ Breylin Smith, the hometown guy from Conway, Ark. Oatsvall and Smith have combined for nearly 9,000 yards of offense and more than 80 total TDs … and they both have two years of eligibility left.
There’s something for everyone, football starved fans.
Tune in … football is back. For some of the news faces … welcome to the FCS.