Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game CEO discusses Bama vs. Miami

Robert Cortez | @robertcortez27, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 1 Alabama begins its season on Saturday, Sept. 4 against one of the ACC’s best, No. 14 Miami. The Crimson Tide and the Hurricanes will play their season opener in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Gary Stokan is the CEO and president of Peach Bowl, Inc., the company that owns and operates the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Stokan said he believes playing in Atlanta opening weekend is a great opportunity, because playing a quality opponent from the jump boosts a team’s resume for the College Football Playoff selection committee.

“This game is important if you win because it gives you a notch up,” Stokan said. 

Losing to a quality opponent, Stokan said, is better than winning against teams that aren’t ranked. 

Along with his anticipation to watch two top-15 teams squaring off in a neutral site, Stokan shared his excitement for the quarterback matchup. Miami obtained a veteran quarterback in sixth-year D’Eriq King, who threw for 2,686 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. 

Meanwhile, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will transition from 2020 Heisman finalist Mac Jones to sophomore Bryce Young. Young has not started in a collegiate game, but he was the top-ranked dual threat quarterback coming out of high school in 2020. 

“Both are highly thought of, obviously, being in the top five for the preseason Heisman ratings,” Stokan said. 

This will be the 14th annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and the seventh time Alabama will compete in the game. Alabama has more appearances than any other team and holds a 6-0 record. Stokan said the Crimson Tide has helped the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game become one of the premier opening weekend games and initiated the growth of college football. 

Stokan said Saban’s willingness to play in these games has changed the face of college football from a scheduling standpoint. 

“Teams are now willing to play big-time opponents, whereas in the past it used to be they played a couple of nondirectional schools and got a couple of wins and then moved into their season,” Stokan said. 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium announced in May that it would welcome fans at full capacity for the pair of Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games. In response to expected fan attendance, Stokan and his company made some additions to enhance the fan experience. 

“People can call to set up a tailgate with Rebel XP, either through our office, through our website, or through their website, and the tailgate will provide everything that you need for a tailgate setup in the parking lot,” Stokan said. “We’ve created a QR code that people can scan whether they’re at the game, or sitting at home, and play games against each other and other schools and possibly win prizes.”

Saban and Stokan first met in 2000. Saban was Louisiana State University’s head coach at the time, and he told Stokan that playing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was pivotal for the program’s growth. Their professional encounters through the years turned into a friendship.

“We have the same kind of backgrounds where our fathers were hard workers and instilled hard work and being ethical and doing things with integrity and dignity,” Stokan said. “I just appreciate what he’s done for college football and the things he’s meant to us and our business and what we do here in Atlanta.”

Kickoff between Alabama and Miami is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC.