The Insider: Showdown slowdown

Staging big-time opening games on neutral sites is one giant Labor Day pain

Originally Published: August 14, 2010
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine
Dale Zanine/US PresswireVirginia Tech and Alabama love early season tests; why won't more programs follow suit?

In 2008, Alabama used the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game to show the nation it was back. After Nick Saban's crew thumped No. 9 Clemson 34-10, it jumped 11 AP poll slots, to No. 13. The Tide returned to Atlanta for the second Kickoff Game the next season, and a win over Virginia Tech jump-started their national title run and Mark Ingram's Heisman campaign.

Saban, not surprisingly, has made the most of those early season trips to the Georgia Dome. In the two years since the first game, he has signed 10 recruits out of the Peach State, and two more have committed for 2011. Being able to tap into that very fertile talent pool -- according to a recent study, Georgia produced the fourth-most BCS recruits between 2004 and 2008 -- is a nice bonus for teams willing and able to travel to Atlanta to test themselves at the start of the season. The prime-time exposure is sweet, too. And if a season-opening showdown is good enough for Saban ...