TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After stepping to the podium at Florida State’s annual football kickoff luncheon last week, Jimbo Fisher began his remarks by saying, “I guess we’ve got a football game coming up, huh?”
Fisher’s understatement belies a bigger reality: His third-ranked Florida State football team plays No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in Atlanta. It’s the first ever season-opener between top-three teams, and promoters for the game are billing at as the “G.O.A.T.” – the Greatest Opener of All-Time.
The nation will be watching as college football’s two winningest programs of the last seven years will meet for only the fifth time ever, and inside Atlanta’s state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz stadium at that. The winner will have national bragging rights, a likely No. 1 ranking and the undisputed inside track to the College Football Playoff.
So yes, there’s a lot on the line. But forgive Fisher if he couldn’t help but poke a little hole in the hype balloon.
“We’re playing one game and the season’s over, right?” he said with a small smirk.
It might feel that way at times, but Fisher’s point touches on one of Florida State’s biggest themes over the last month: The Alabama game is a big game. But it’s not the only game.
In fact, the Crimson Tide are just one of five teams ranked in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 to appear on FSU’s schedule.
For that matter, they’re one of two in the top 5.
By the time the season is over, the Seminoles will also have met No. 5 Clemson, No. 16 Louisville, No. 17 Florida and No. 18 Miami. And a sixth opponent, North Carolina State, could be ranked by the time it visits Tallahassee on Sept. 23.
It might be the toughest schedule in the country, and it’s certainly the toughest start. But, to Fisher, it’s just that: a start.
Don’t forget that FSU began last year with a win over a Southeastern Conference opponent, only to be humbled twice by the time the calendar hit October.
“Last year taught us that we opened with a very good Ole Miss team, and then had another game and then we went to Louisville and got banged up,” Fisher said at ACC Kickoff last month. “Louisville was ready for us, jumped on us.
“We’ve got that same scenario this year with Miami, then we play NC State.”
So while beating Alabama would be great, it might not amount to much if the Seminoles don’t maintain their drive and focus throughout the entire year.
“It’s just the first game of the season,” junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden said. “We all know it’s going to be a big game, two powerhouse teams going against each other, but … we’ve still got however many more games we’ve got after that.”
Still, the hype might be hard to ignore once the Seminoles arrive on Thursday night.
The game has been sold out for months, and with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl committee handling the promotion, it will likely have the feel of a New Year’s Six bowl.
ESPN’s College Gameday will be in town, and the College Football Hall of Fame, which sits near Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is planning extra FSU- and Alabama-themed exhibits to celebrate the two schools.
Finally, there’s the stadium itself. While the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons have a preseason game there on Thursday, FSU and Alabama will play the first competitive football game in the new facility, which cost $1.6 billion, seats 83,000 people and boasts the largest in-stadium videoboard in the country.
“This isn’t the only game,” defensive end Josh Sweat echoed, “but it definitely is a very big game, and everybody knows it is.”
Not that Fisher has any problem with that.
This will be FSU’s third neutral-site opener in the last four seasons, and while Dallas’ AT&T Stadium – which hosted the Seminoles and Oklahoma State in 2014 – might not be as new as the digs in Atlanta, it’s hardly a slouch.
The Seminoles have also played plenty of high-profile games in both the regular and postseason during Fisher’s tenure.
Hype is a natural byproduct of those contests, and Fisher is fine to embrace it – to an extent.
“If you’re at Florida State, playing in these games, you’re going to be in hyped games. You’re going to play in big games,” he said. “Every year, we play Clemson, Miami, Florida, Louisville – whoever we play. … That’s part of being at Florida State.”