ATLANTA – After two years of anticipation, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff between Florida State and Alabama is finally here. The Peach Bowl committee has billed the game as the “Greatest Opener of All Time,” and, at least in terms of national rankings, it is. The No. 3 Seminoles and No. 1 Crimson Tide are the highest-ranked teams to meet in a season opener since the Associated Press first established its preseason poll in 1950. Here are the names, numbers and notes you need to know before Saturday night’s kickoff.
No. 3 Florida State (10-3, 5-3 ACC in 2016) vs. Alabama (14-1, 8-0 SEC)
When/Where: Saturday, 8 p.m./Mercedes-Benz Stadium (71,000) in Atlanta
TV/Radio: ABC/Seminole IMG Radio Network
Florida State injury report:
Out for Game
DB Nate Andrews (Leg)
DB Carlos Becker (Ankle)
DB Decalon Brooks (Knee)
DB Cyrus Fagan (Knee)
TE Alexander Marshall (Hand)
LB Delvin Purifoy (Ankle)
OL David Robbins (Concussion)
OL Brady Scott (Foot)
Out for Season
OL Baveon Johnson (Knee)
OL Jauan Williams (Shoulder)
Alabama Crimson Tide
Coach: Nick Saban (114-19 in 10 seasons at Alabama, 205-65-1 overall)
Last game: Alabama was just moments away from a second straight national championship. But Clemson’s Deshaun Watson stunned the Crimson Tide by finding Hunter Renfrow for a go-ahead touchdown with one second left. The Tigers won the College Football Playoff championship game, 35-31, and sent the Tide into the offseason with a bitter taste in its mouth.
Last game vs. Florida State: Xavier Lee threw a pair of touchdown passes to De’Cody Fagg – including a 70-yarder in the fourth quarter – as the Seminoles topped Alabama, 21-14, in Jacksonville on Sept. 29, 2007. It was first and only meeting between Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden and the program he grew up idolizing. Jimbo Fisher (as offensive coordinator) and Nick Saban (as head coach) were both also in their first years at their new schools.
Alabama vs. Florida State all-time: The Crimson Tide leads the all-time series 2-1-1.
1965: No. 15 ALABAMA 21, Florida State 0
1967: Florida State 37, No. 2 Alabama 37*
1974: No. 3 ALABAMA 8, Florida State 7
2007: Florida State 21, No. 22 Alabama 14**
2017: No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 1 Alabama, Saturday, 8 p.m.***
*—in Birmingham, **—in Jacksonville, ***—in Atlanta
One offensive and defensive player from each team who could swing the game
Alabama: Quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the country’s best dual-threat quarterbacks, and the Seminoles would do themselves a big favor to keep Hurts in the pocket and force him to beat them through the air. The sophomore ran for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago (in addition to 2,780 passing yards and 23 passing TDs) on his way to SEC offensive player of the year honors.
On defense, nose guard Da’Ron Payne will keep FSU’s offensive line busy for most of the night. Although the Tide lost five members from last year’s front seven, Payne is still the top run-stuffer for an Alabama defense that was the best in the country at stopping opposing running backs last year.
Florida State: Nyqwan Murray rose to the occasion his last time out, grabbing the two most important catches of FSU’s win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. An encore performance would be most welcome. Alabama is stout on every level of its defense, but, relative to the rest of the squad, was a little more vulnerable to passing attacks in 2016. And the Crimson Tide will be without star DB Marlon Humphries, who was picked in the first round of the NFL draft in April.
No need to overthink the defense: Derwin James is back after nearly a year away, and one can only assume the star safety will be nothing short of electrified when he takes the field for the first time. James can do a little bit of everything, and, against Alabama, he’ll likely have to. He’ll be relied upon to keep Hurts in check on the ground, support the linebackers and D-line in their efforts to slow down running back Bo Scarbrough, and drop back into coverage in some passing situations.
Total offense: FSU: 466.2 YPG (25th nationally in 2016); UA: 455.3 YPG (34th)
Scoring offense: FSU: 35.1 PPG (31st); UA: 38.8 PPG (15th)
Passing offense: FSU: 264.1 YPG (33rd); UA: 210.3 YPG (87th)
Rushing offense: FSU: 202.5 YPG (40th); UA: 245.0 (12th)
Total defense: FSU: 349.1 YPG (22nd); UA: 261.8 YPG (1st)
Scoring defense: FSU: 25.0 PPG (44th); UA: 13.0 PPG (1st)
Passing defense: FSU: 221.1 YPG (57th); UA: 197.9 YPG (24th)
Rushing defense: FSU: 128.0 YPG (21st); UA: 63.9 YPG (1st)
“It almost feels like a national championship game Week 1. I think what’s funny to me is if the game is competitive, and no matter who wins, the loser is going to drop one or two spots in the poll. They’re still right in position to do whatever they need to do. In fact, I have both of these teams in the playoff. Pre-season, ESPN asked me to pick who I kind of forecast to make it into the playoffs, and I think Alabama and Florida State both will end up making it despite playing in Week 1.” – ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit on the game
“Could shoot 3s and was very competitive. And he wanted to have success.” – Nick Saban on Jimbo Fisher’s basketball prowess
“We won every game. Nick was a good basketball player, too. He was a good all-around athlete. I mean, he was a good baseball player in college.” – Jimbo Fisher on Saban’s basketball abilities
“Listen, I’m great, I’m nice, just like he is. When it’s time to keep score, we’ll go keep score. Until then I’ll be nice.” – Fisher on his relationship with Saban
“When people say you’re the top dog, teams want to see if you’re the top dog. We’re going to see.” – Tarvarus McFadden on being tested as FSU’s No. 1 cornerback
“I think a safety, and we’ve had some really good ones here, I think he’s every bit as good as anybody we’ve ever played against.” – Saban on FSU’s Derwin James
“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a while now. I take it back to my freshman year ― I kind of learned the ropes from Dalvin. My sophomore season, I was just preparing, preparing, preparing for the moment. Now that the moment is here, it’s nothing really new. I just go out there and work and do what I have to do to help this team.” – Jacques Patrick on his new responsibilities as FSU’s starting running back
FSU all-time vs. AP No. 1:
1986: No. 1 MIAMI 41, Florida State 23
1996: No. 2 FLORIDA STATE 24, No. 1 Florida 21
1999: No. 1 Tennessee 23, No. 2 Florida State 16
2001: No. 1 Oklahoma 13, No. 2 Florida State 2
2002: No. 1 MIAMI 28, No. 9 Florida State 27
2009: No. 1 FLORIDA 37, Florida State 10
2011: No. 1 Oklahoma 23, No. 5 FLORIDA STATE 13
Florida State’s biggest “win” against Alabama might not have been a win at all. In 1967, coach Bill Peterson took an unranked Florida State team to Birmingham, Ala., where it would face No. 2 Alabama in the second game of the season.
Behind an early touchdown pass from Ken Hammond to Ron Sellers, FSU took a two-touchdown lead before eventually tying the Tide, 37-37.
The Tallahassee Democrat’s Bill McGrotha summed it up like this: “Florida State wrote Bear Bryant a book on ‘Sucking Up Your Guts’ here Saturday night as the oh-so-prideful Seminoles, ahead 14-0 early, fought from behind four times to tie supposedly invincible Alabama by an incredible 37-37 score.
“It was, beyond any question at all, one of the greatest football games ever played anywhere.”
FSU jumped up to No. 18 in the next week’s poll and finished the season 7-2-2 after tying Penn State in the Gator Bowl.
Forecasting this game is no easy feat. Preseason polls are notoriously unreliable, with the past year’s performance blended in with returning rosters to come up with the most accurate projections possible. All we really know is that Florida State and Alabama are two of the best teams in the country on a regular basis and either – or both – is a fine early pick to make the College Football Playoff.
That said, there might not be any team over the last nine years that felt overly confident when playing Alabama. That Tide at times has been overwhelming in its dominance. Alabama rarely loses, and, when it does, it’s usually by a slim margin. No one has beaten the Crimson Tide by more than two touchdowns since 2006, the year prior to Saban’s arrival.
Take that consistency and mix it in with Saban’s sterling track record in season openers, and the task ahead of Florida State starts to feel pretty tall.
But, as Jimbo Fisher said a few weeks ago: “They have to play us, too.”
Alabama may be perfect in openers, but Florida State should be the most difficult opponent the Tide has faced to start a season under Saban. And FSU is one of the few teams in the country that recruits well enough to match Alabama’s athletes across the field.
So maybe this one really is a coin flip, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes under the spotlight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will win. If the Seminoles can keep Francois clean and protect the ball, they’ll probably feel good about their chances in the fourth quarter.