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Will FSU-Bama provide a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup to open the season?

 

The season will be young. The hype will be grand. The anticipation will be great. The wait will seem long.

In what has the chance to be one of if not the most anticipated openers in college football history, Florida State kicks off the season in Atlanta against Alabama. Sports Illustrated has ranked the Seminoles and Crimson Tide No. 1 and No. 2, and that speculation likely won’t be far off.

Alabama could very well be the highest-ranked opponent that the Seminoles have ever faced in an opener. The Tide hasn’t started lower than third in any season since 2009, and not outside the top 5 since 2008. The highest AP-ranked opponent that Florida State has ever met to open a season was No. 5 Miami in 2004.

The contest will be the first between the schools since 2007 in Jacksonville. In a 21-14 FSU win, quarterback Xavier Lee took over for an ineffective Drew Weatherford in the second half to lead the Seminoles to victory.

That year, however, each team finished just 7-6. Nick Saban was in his first season as Alabama’s head coach after a two-year stint in the NFL; current FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher was in his first of three as the offensive coordinator of the Seminoles.

Since then, Saban has led the Crimson Tide to four national championships in five title appearances. FSU promoted Fisher to head coach in 2010 and has proceeded to lead the Seminoles to five major bowl games; they included three victories. Along the way, Florida State claimed the 2013 national title and scored more points than any team in FBS history during the season.

Since 2010, FSU and Alabama are the only two schools to finish ranked every year. However, their paths have narrowly missed crossing. Auburn’s famous “Kick Six” triumph over Alabama was arguably the biggest factor to prevent a Seminoles-Crimson Tide title matchup in 2013. Instead, Florida State played the Tigers and rallied from 21-3 down to win, 34-31.

The following season, FSU and Alabama each fell in the national semifinal — one game shy of meeting each other.

Finding storylines for the upcoming showdown is not difficult. Fisher served as an assistant under Saban at LSU for five years, and they won the 2003 national title together. That was Saban’s first championship as a head coach.

Over the last eight years, Alabama has been the premier team in college football. As a result, SEC fans have puffed their chests. No conference is louder and prouder than the SEC. Under Fisher, though, the Seminoles have largely put those chants to rest. Florida State is 9-1 against SEC foes under Fisher.

The Crimson Tide, however, isn’t your typical loud, proud SEC program. Alabama has backed it up on the field with a run of dominance unparalleled in the last half-century.

As hyped as the contest will be, it is far from an “end-all, be-all” for the season. That’s especially the case with a four-team playoff. Winning out following the loss would probably still result in an appearance in the College Football Playoff, although the margin for error would be greatly reduced — probably more so for FSU.

The contest, though, is still probably a bigger statement game for FSU. Neither team has lost under its current head coach, and Alabama has not played an opener closer than 10 points. Many of those were neutral-site openers against ranked opponents, including three who ranked in the top 10.

If Sports Illustrated’s rankings line up with the preseason polls, this will be just the third time that Florida State was involved in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup during the regular season. The No. 2 team won both previous times, but the No. 1 team still won the national championship.

In 1993, top-ranked Florida State lost at No. 2 Notre Dame in a contest dubbed the “Game of the Century”. FSU still won its first title that year, thanks to the Irish losing to Boston College the following week. In 1996, FSU upset No. 1 Florida in Tallahassee 24-21. However, the Seminoles fell to the Gators in a Sugar Bowl rematch, 52-20.

While the first two matchups of the top two teams lived up to expectations, there’s no guarantee this one will. It might not even meet the No. 1 vs. No. 2 criteria. Unlike the previous two for FSU, however, the anticipation for this one has been and will continue to build for months. If it even comes close to living up to the hype, everyone is in for a real treat.