Sam Houston, Eastern Washington to open season Aug. 23

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Updated: 2/20 3:04 pm

(SportsNetwork.com) - Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington will open the 2014 college football season with a nationally televised contest on Aug. 23 in Cheney, Wash.

The new "FCS Kickoff," announced Thursday, will be the earliest college football opener in 11 years and have a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN.

Eastern Washington, the 2010 FCS national champion, was a national semifinalist each of the past two seasons, while Sam Houston was the national runner-up in both 2011 and '12.

Eastern Washington won its FCS national title in 2010 by defeating Delaware and coach K.C. Keeler. Last month, Keeler was named Sam Houston's head coach, and his first game will be against the Eagles.

"It's exciting to be the first game in the country on ESPN," Keeler said. "To face a perennial national power like Eastern Washington is going to be a challenge. Our football team will be looking forward to the opportunity to test themselves on a national level."

The FCS national powers have a history of explosive meetings, although Sam Houston has won all three times. The Bearkats won 35-34 in the 2004 national quarterfinals and 45-42 in the 2012 semifinals.

The two teams also met in the regular season last year, when Sam Houston defeated EWU, 49-34, in Huntsville, Texas.

Eastern Washington, the Big Sky Conference champion, finished 12-3 and ranked third in The Sports Network FCS Top 25. Sam Houston, from the Southland Conference, was ranked 14th after finishing 9-5.

"It's an amazing opportunity to play one of the top programs at our level to kick off the 2014 football season," Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. "We're very appreciative of ESPN and the commitment they have made to FCS football, both in the past and in the future. We truly believe it will be a great game for football fans not just at our level, but also for others who aren't as familiar with FCS football."

The Division I season's first full night of games will be Aug. 28. Eastern Washington received a waiver from the NCAA to host the early opener on the red turf of Roos Field, nicknamed "The Inferno."

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