Two storied programs face off in front of a national TV audience a week before any other college football game.

The University of Montana opens the 2015 football season on ESPN as part of the second "FCS Kickoff,". Montana will play host to North Dakota State of the Missouri Valley Football Conference on Saturday, Aug. 29, in the first Division I college football game of the season, a game to be called by legendary sportscaster Brent Musberger.

Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton said the game is a continuing effort to attract a wider audience for the FCS on the national sports networks.

"I think a lot of the national outlets are beginning to understand the value of the FCS, particularly now that the FCS looks like the second group of schools in the FBS," Fullerton said. "We're trying to get into that space in the media markets, so we've been pushing ESPN for the kickoff to our season."

Fullerton said the draw of two powerful football programs, four-time defending champion North Dakota State and two-time champion Montana, on the weekend before any other games will be played, will help convince ESPN to focus more attention on the FCS programs, and particularly the Big Sky Conference.

He pointed to the 2009 semifinal game between Montana and Appalachian State, also aired on ESPN as an example.

"It was the highest-ranking FCS game of all time," he said. "It was a Friday night, I was there and I remember it. Two great ball clubs and it even had some snow which if the last ingredient that really draws the fans, ESPN tells us."

Fullerton also praised the rest of the Big Sky Conference teams and they work to solidify and strengthen their football programs.

"Look at a team like Idaho State," said Commissioner Fullerton "They have a chance to be a tremendous sleeper team. Mike Kramer's got them going in the right direction, and look at their schedule. They've managed to get Eastern Washington, Montana and Montana State, all at home. It's a scheduling quirk that could really work in their favor."

Fullerton said the programs are working toward parity.

"I have no way of knowing how this thing is going to go," he said. "From my perspective, when I love all my children the same, it's terrific for me to be able to sell the Big Sky Conference."

The NCAA granted a waiver to both institutions to play five days prior to the official start of the 2015 season on Sept. 3.

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