On Week Zero of 2022, the FCS Kickoff hit its lowest point, as its experiment of having the FCS Kickoff be an intersectional game by having Stephen F. Austin play Jacksonville State backfired.
The Kickoff had its lowest non-pandemic attendance ever, with only 5,235 fans attending. This total was only 3,235 more than the pandemic crowd of 2,000 that watched Austin Peay play Central Arkansas at the Cramton Bowl.
The attendance problem seemed to have many roots, one being Jacksonville State's frequent appearances as the 2022 game was their fourth appearance at the Cramton Bowl since 2017. I also suggested the use of new Alabama teams in another piece, with the state being home to two SWAC schools as well as Samford and North Alabama.
With the release of the Southern Conference's schedule for 2023, there is a chance for the FCS Kickoff to regain that loving feeling with fans. One of the previously unannounced games that came with the announcement was a Week Zero clash between Mercer and North Alabama on August 26.
For obvious reasons, having both schools come to Montgomery is a good financial move. Both schools are about a three hours drive away from Montgomery with Mercer in Macon and North Alabama in Florence. Needless to say, travel from Macon or Florence is way less expeditious than from Nacogdoches.
Both fanbases have loyal fans with Mercer averaging 8908 fans per game in 2021, good for 28th in the subdivision, while North Alabama averaged 7,175 fans to rank 46th in the attendance rankings. Mercer tends to travel well to Alabama, as their visit to Samford was the Bulldog's most-attended home game in 2018 and second-most in 2022.
Mercer also looks to be a playoff contender in 2023 after being left out in the past three seasons. The Bears have a 14-7 record the past two seasons and went 5-3 in the SoCon in 2020.
In last season's FCS Kickoff, Jacksonville State came in fresh off a 2021 playoff appearance but was ineligible for the playoffs due to its transition to Conference USA, diminishing the excitement.
Finally, both schools will not be weary of the Cramton Bowl since neither school has ever played at that stadium. The charm of the Cramton Bowl will be alive as both fanbases will get to see their teams play in one of college football's most historic venues for the first time.
History buffs of both fanbases will enjoy seeing their teams play in a stadium where legends like Jerry Rice and Len Dawson capped their college careers in the Blue-Gray Classic.
The FCS Kickoff needs to take advantage of this regional matchup of fresh fanbases to reenergize itself. Hopefully, they move quickly.