Clemson football to open with Alabama in Georgia Dome

CLEMSON — For Gary Stokan, finalizing a Clemson-Alabama matchup at the Georgia Dome was “like putting a Rubik’s Cube together.”

Friday, the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s president slid the final colored pieces into place. He joined Alabama and Clemson officials to announce what many had expected for some time: the Crimson Tide and Tigers will open the 2008 season by meeting in a one-time-only game at the Georgia Dome on Aug. 30. The game will kick off at 8 p.m. Eastern and be televised by either ESPN or ABC.

Stokan said the game is designed to be a yearly event which will showcase ACC and SEC teams which recruit Georgia natives; Clemson and Alabama currently have a total of 24 Georgia players on their roster.

“We greatly appreciate Gary’s work on this as well as the Chick-fil-A Bowl and everyone in Atlanta,” Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said. “In our office it was (assistant athletic directors) Katie Hill and Kyle Young who helped with the schedule to make this happen and make it reality.

“Our fans are excited about it and it’ll be a wonderful opportunity to showcase Clemson and Alabama to the nation on Labor Day Saturday. It’s going to be a great matchup and we’re looking forward to it.”

Making the game happen required some schedule juggling on both sides. Alabama moved a game with Western Kentucky originally scheduled for Aug. 30 to Sept. 13. And Clemson dropped a pair of games with Football Bowl Subdivision schools to make the game work.

Talk about the game originally started when Central Florida approached Clemson about making its schedule easier, but Louisiana Tech — which was scheduled to receive a visit from Clemson in Shreveport – also wanted out of its agreement with Clemson.

Clemson announced Friday that in addition to Alabama, it would play a pair of in-state Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as I-AA) schools next season in The Citadel and South Carolina State. South Carolina State will replace Louisiana Tech on the schedule and serve as a seventh home game. Clemson will face The Citadel on Sept. 6 and South Carolina State on Sept. 20.

“When we had the opportunity to play Alabama at a neutral site, we considered losing a home game and the negative economic impact that would have on the University and the state of South Carolina,” Phillips said. “We understand that many businesses in the area depend on Clemson home games for a primary source of revenue. When Louisiana Tech contacted us about voiding their contract with us, it afforded us the opportunity to find a seventh home game.

“We made many contacts with FBS teams, but no one had an opening that allowed for a seventh home game. We contacted South Carolina State and they had an opening. It will be a positive for two football programs in the state of South Carolina.”

Clemson-Alabama came together partially as a partnership between Stokan, the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Alabama athletic director Mal Moore. The Chick-fil-A Bowl had originally tried to start a second pre-Christmas bowl game in Atlanta, but turned towards the idea of a season-opening “classic” along the lines of the now-defunct season-opening games which were outlawed when college football went to a 12-game schedule.

Moore and Alabama played a similar neutral-site game against Florida State in Jacksonville this season and enjoyed the experience. This game will be a true neutral-site game for both teams, which last met in 1975 in a 56-0 Alabama rout.

“I like playing teams I can beat out-of-conference, but I look at this situation playing Alabama like recruiting,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. “You allow room on your recruiting board to sign great players. You allot a certain amount of numbers at positions for seniors who are graduating, but when a great player comes along, you find a way to make it work.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to have a national platform, you take it.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban — who likened the game to a yearly date with Notre Dame when he coached at Michigan State — applauded the move, too.

“Tommy has done a great job building an outstanding program, a nationally-ranked program, and for Alabama to play in Atlanta, a great city in the South is something we look forward to,” he said. “It’s great for us to have national exposure and recruiting. I’m an advocate of playing national games that bring attention to our program.”

Stokan said that tickets will likely be split equally between the teams, with a minimum of 33,000 going to each school. The Chick-fil-A Bowl will take a management fee to run the game, but the rest of the revenue following expenses will be split between the schools.

Clemson will include Clemson-Alabama ticket information on its season ticket IPTAY application. Qualified IPTAY donors will receive the application in late March, and detailed ticket information will be released then.

Clemson also announced its ACC opponents Friday — home games against Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland and N.C. State and road games with Boston College, Florida State, Virginia and Wake Forest. Dates for those games will be released later this month.

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