ATHENS — The folks that put together the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game knew they had a good football matchup when they brokered a Georgia-North Carolina contest in 2015. A year later, as the teams get set to open the 2016 season on Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome, that matchup is looking even better.
In fact, as of this week, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff is officially a sellout.
“It’s the earliest sellout of any game this season, kickoff game-wise,” Peach Bowl Inc. President and CEO Gary Stokan said. “And there are a lot of great kickoff games this year. It’s going to be one of our tougher tickets.”
There is a lot about which to be excited. Georgia is in its first season under new head coach Kirby Smart and is coming off a 10-3 season. North Carolina went 11-3 last year and played in the ACC Championship in its fifth season under coach Larry Fedora. Both teams are expected to be ranked in the Top 25. The Bulldogs are No. 13 and UNC is 19 in ESPN’s “Way Too Early” poll.
Meanwhile, there are several developing plot lines at UGA. The emergence of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, the nation’s No. 1-rated quarterback prospect, has Georgia fans buzzing. And after Sony Michel broke his left arm in a summer ATV accident, the Bulldogs aren’t sure who will be playing tailback for them. Star runner Nick Chubb is also recovering from knee injury suffered midseason last year, but could possibly return for this game.
“The Georgia people are really excited about what Kirby’s doing,” Now you’ve got this story on Michel and also Chubb and quarterback situation with Eason and Lambert. So there’s a lot of interest in this game from the Georgia people for obvious reasons.”
There are several other marquee early-season this year, including defending national champion Alabama vs. Southern Cal in Dallas, LSU vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and FSU vs. Ole Miss at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
“The Georgia Dome is one of the country’s most exciting venues and we are looking forward to playing before a sold out crowd,” Georgia’s Smart said in a statement released through the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. “I know the Georgia fans will be there in great numbers to support the Bulldogs and celebrate the kickoff of the season against a great North Carolina team.”
Said Fedora: “We’re looking forward to opening the season in a sold out Georgia Dome against an outstanding program in Georgia. Our players have been working hard this offseason to prepare for what will surely be an incredible opportunity on a national stage.”
This will be the second appearance for both teams in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Georgia played Boise State in the 2011 edition of the game and dropped a 35-21 decision. North Carolina last opened the 2010 season in Atlanta against LSU and lost 30-24.
The nation’s longest-running kickoff game, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has now sold out eight of its 11 matchups. The game averages 66,869 fans per game – higher than more than 30 bowl games from last year – and has an average payout of $4.7 million, according to game organizers.
Georgia and North Carolina have been playing football a long time and used to play each other quite regularly. In fact, they first competed in Atlanta way back in 1895, and they liked it so much they played twice that year. They’d 30 times in football from then until 1971, but not in the 45 years since. The Bulldogs lead the series 16-12-2
Georgia won that last meeting 7-3 in the Gator Bowl in a battle of brothers Vince Dooley, who coached the Bulldogs, and Bill Dooley. The two men will be at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff this year as honorary captains for the coin toss.
The Chick-fil-A also plans to co-host a luncheon on Aug. 30 with the College Football Hall of Fame and will welcome back several hall of famers for the week.
“We’re really starting to bring to fruition the original vision of having the Kickoff Game and the Hall of Fame here in Atlanta,” Stokan said. “To have the semifinal game of the (College Football Playoffs) and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, too, this is a great place to kick off the season and end the season in Atlanta, the capitol of college football. It’s a big two years when you think about it.”
Next year, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will feature two games and will christen the new Mercedes Benz Stadium with matchups between Alabama-Florida State and Georgia Tech-Tennessee. Atlanta will also host Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl that December and the CFB National Championship Game in January of 2018.
CHICK-FIL-A KICKOFF HISTORY
Year; Matchup; Winner
2015; No. 6 Auburn vs. No. 25 Louisville; Auburn 31-24;
2014; No. 2 Alabama vs. West Virginia; Alabama 33-23
2014; No. 18 Ole Miss vs. Boise State; Ole Miss 35-13
2013; No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech; Alabama 35-10
2012; No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 24 Auburn; Clemson 26-19
2012; No. 25 N.C. State vs. Tennessee; Tennessee 35-21
2011; No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia; Boise State 35-21
2010; No. 16 LSU vs. No. 18 North Carolina; LSU 30-24
2009; No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech; Alabama 34-24
2008; No. 9 Clemson vs. No. 24 Alabama; Alabama 34-10