NC Central to kick off season on College GameDay

The Eagles will face fellow HBCU Alcorn State at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta on Aug. 28

After going more than 600 days without playing a game, the NC Central football team was already hyped about playing its season opener against Alcorn State on Aug. 28.

Now the Eagles have even more reason to be excited about their return to action.

ESPN announced Tuesday that it plans to highlight the game as part of its first College GameDay broadcast of the new season. The show will take place live outside Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta — formerly Turner Field — site of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge later that evening.

According to a network release, the three-hour broadcast will “highlight key storylines and offer news, analysis and predictions for the upcoming season, while also celebrating the tradition, legacy and values of” Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

For NCCU coach Trei Oliver and his players, who had their entire 2020 season wiped out because of the coronavirus pandemic, the exposure provided by the show and the nationally televised game presents a rare opportunity to showcase not only their program but their entire school to a national audience.

“For us to put our brand on national television, especially that platform, is really exciting,” Oliver said. “It’s a lot about recruiting for our football program, but it’s also for the university as a whole. A lot of people from across the country are going to be able to watch this game and see North Carolina Central.

“With the name, image and likeness (opportunities now available to college athletes), that goes along with it as well.”

While the football teams representing the Eagles and Braves will be the focus of the College GameDay crew of Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso and others, the broadcast is also expected to highlight the two marching bands that will battle it out during halftime.

“When you’re talking about HBCUs, the bands are right there side by side with football,” Oliver said. “You don’t have one without the other, especially during Classics and big events like this. We’re excited that our band (The Marching Sound Machine) will get the exposure as well.”

As fired up as Oliver is over the College GameDay news and the much-anticipated return to the field, he and his players will still have to wait at least another week or so before actually beginning their official preparations.

The first day of preseason camp isn’t until Saturday, July 31.

Despite being out of action so long, Oliver isn’t worried about either his team’s conditioning or its ability to execute.

“They’ve worked out over the summer, and we’ll have about 25 practices to get them ready for the game,” Oliver said. “I have a lot of confidence in my coaches and our staff. Obviously, some things might be a little sloppy, like tackling since it’s been a long time since we’ve tackled anybody. But other than that, I’m not overly concerned.”

The NCCU-Alcorn State game is part of what the NCAA considers “Week 0” and is one of only six games scheduled nationally.

ESPN’s GameDay will also have a North Carolina flavor when the rest of college football begins its season the following week. Its “Week 1” show will originate from Bearden Park in uptown Charlotte, a few blocks away from Bank of America Stadium where Clemson and Georgia will meet in a top-five matchup as part of the Duke’s Mayo Classic.

“We all missed the traditions of college football and the festive atmosphere of Saturdays last season, so we are particularly excited to welcome fans back for College GameDay’s 35th season, starting with the first two road shows in Atlanta and Charlotte,” ESPN coordinating producer Drew Gallagher said in a statement.

In addition to College GameDay, ESPN also plans to do a live broadcast of its daily morning show “First Take” from Center Parc Stadium on Friday, Aug. 27.

While fans in Atlanta to attend the NCCU-Alcorn State game will undoubtedly be interested in coming out to get a glimpse of controversial talking head Stephen A. Smith and the rest of the “First Take” cast, Eagles coach Oliver said his attention will be locked on a different ESPN personality.

The one that ends each broadcast with a unique way of predicting the outcome of the featured game.

“Just tell Lee Corso,” he said, “to make sure he puts on the right mascot’s mask.”