ATLANTA (AP) — The first season major college football’s champion will be decided by a playoff began Wednesday night in a mostly empty Georgia Dome, with one of the newest members of FBS taking on a team starting its second season in Division I.
The road to the College Football Playoff started here and Georgia State got a head start on the rest of the competition — which only seems fair given the Panthers’ credentials — with a wild 38-37 victory against Abilene Christian in front of announced crowd of 10,140.
On Thursday, the heavyweights start to join the race.
The Georgia Dome crowd will swell significantly when No. 18 Mississippi faces Boise State on Thursday night. On Saturday, No. 2 Alabama fans figure to pack the home of the NFL’s Falcons for its opener against West Virginia.
No. 1 Florida State begins defense of its national title in Texas against Oklahoma State at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. By the time Labor Day night rolls around and Miami welcomes Louisville to the Atlantic Coast Conference, every ranked team will have played.
There will be a few big games: The post-Manziel era begins for No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina on Thursday night, and No. 16 Clemson is at No. 12 Georgia on Saturday.
And there will be plenty of mismatches: No. 8 Michigan State against Jacksonville State; No. 3 Oregon vs. South Dakota; and No. 19 Arizona State facing Weber State, to name a few.
But it all started rather humbly Wednesday night in Atlanta.
This is Year 4 of Georgia State football and the first as a full-fledged member of FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Playing against a full FBS schedule for the first time last year, the Panthers went 0-12.
No, the Panthers won’t be contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff. If Florida State is No. 1 in the 128-team FBS, Georgia State is still likely to finish much closer to No. 128 than the final four.
But for a night, the Panthers had the stage — and ESPNU — all to themselves.
Dealing with key injuries
Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury has the potential to shake up the national title race, leaving a loaded Ohio State team without one of the country’s most dynamic quarterbacks.
While Miller’s injury has drawn the most attention this preseason, the Buckeyes aren’t the only ones trying to replace a key player who went down with an injury.
These teams have also been stung by the injury bug in a big way.
No. 6 AUBURN. The defending Southeastern Conference champions lost two key linemen before camp in started. On defense, end Carl Lawson, the team’s best returning outside pass rusher, had knee surgery in May. The Tigers haven’t ruled out his return. On offense, the loss of guard Alex Kozan (back surgery) for the season leaves the Tigers’ powerful running game without one of its best blockers.
No. 3 OREGON. The Ducks’ offensive line took a hit when left tackle Tyler Johnstone re-tore the ACL in his right knee during practice. The first injury happened during last season’s Alamo Bowl victory against Texas. Johnstone is out for the season, leaving the Ducks vulnerable on Marcus Mariota’s blind side. The loss of Johnstone comes on top of the injury to receiver Bralon Addison, who went down with a knee injury in the spring. Addison hopes to play this season.
No. 22 NEBRASKA. Early in camp, the Cornhuskers seemed to be on about an injury-a-day clip. The worst hits came on the defensive side, where both nickel back Charles Jackson and linebacker Michael Rose are out with season-ending knee injuries. The Huskers also lost tailback Adam Taylor to a broken ankle, which eats into their depth behind star Ameer Abdullah. The losses on defense are compounded by the season-long suspension of safety LeRoy Alexander and the departure of defensive tackle Aaron Curry, who transferred.
DUKE. The Blue Devils will be defending their ACC Coastal Division title without two key players. Linebacker Kelby Brown went down with a left knee injury during Duke’s first preseason scrimmage. Brown made 114 tackles and had two interceptions last season. A few days later, the Blue Devils lost tight end Braxton Deaver, who had 46 catches last season, to another knee injury.
KANSAS. The Jayhawks’ chances for a turnaround in Year 3 under coach Charlie Weis took a major hit in about a 24-hour span earlier this month. Tailbacks Brandon Bourbon (knee) and Taylor Cox (Achilles), who occupied the top two spots on the depth chart, are both gone for the season.
LOUISVILLE. The Cardinals will enter the Atlantic Coast Conference without their most accomplished playmaker. Receiver Devante Parker broke his foot at practice late last week and is expected to miss at least six weeks. Parker set a school record with 12 TD catches last season and has first-round draft pick talent. Louisville is deep at receiver, but it would have been nice to have Parker around while breaking in new starting quarterback Will Gardner.
Extra points: Mississippi State lost Damien Robinson, its projected starting right tackle to a knee injury; Clemson lost top returning rusher Zac Brooks for the season with a foot injury.