KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
GAME DATE: 9/2/2017
SITE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
SERIES: Alabama leads Florida State 2-1-1. Florida State won the last meeting 21-14 in 2007.
RANKINGS: Alabama No. 1, Florida State No. 3
KEYS TO THE GAME
After finishing last season against No. 2 Clemson in the national championship game, No. 1 Alabama kicks off 2017 by facing the nation's third-ranked team, Florida State, in the Chick-fil-A Classic Saturday in Atlanta. Kickoff in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is 8 p.m.
If Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is correct, ABC's national television audience will be in for a treat.
"I think both of these teams are going to be well-prepared to play this game," Saban said. "I know our guys have done a really good job in preparing for this game. We're pleased with the progress we've been able to make with a lot of players."
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher feels the same.
"Nick does as good a job as anybody, and does a great job preparing his team, and we know they'll be ready," he said. "But we're ready to play, too."
Saban has urged his players to move on and put last year's last-second loss to Clemson last year behind them as they prepare for 2017.
"This is a completely different team," Saban said.
"The identity of this team is going to be created by what this team does, not what happened last year, not what happened on the last play of the game. None of that is going to matter to how this team develops their identity and their ability to conquer adversity.
"With a lot of new faces, especially on defense, it will be interesting to see who those players respond to their new roles."
The Tide had seven players drafted off last season's defense, and those players combined for 162 career starts and 161.5 career tackles for loss, including 79 sacks.
There are holdover defensive stars, including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne, and plenty of other NFL timber. But it all has to fit together immediately against a Florida State team that has a dynamic quarterback in Deondre Francois and a super running back tandem (even with Dalvin Cook off to the NFL) in Jacques Patrick and freshman Cam Akers.
Francois was the only freshman quarterback in the country to throw for over 3,000 yards last year, finishing his first year with 3,350 yards and 20 passing touchdowns. He also rushed for five touchdowns, most by an FSU quarterback in 13 years.
On the Florida State defense, safety Derwin James returns from missing almost all of last season because of injury. If Bama's Fitzpatrick isn't the best defensive back in the country, FSU's James is.
"We knew who we're going against," said Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who struggled at times with his down-the-field passing game. "They're going to bring it, and we have to bring it as well."
As usual, mistakes -- or lack of them -- will be a key.
"This game is going to come down to who can play with the most discipline and execute for 60 minutes. That's how a lot of first games are," Saban said. "Who is going to make the most mental errors? Who is going to take care of the ball the best? This is always the challenge in an opening game."
In addition to the current rankings -- no preseason No. 1 team has ever opened a season against an opponent ranked higher than No. 4 -- the game also brings together two of the most successful programs in recent years.
Over the last seven years, Alabama has won four national titles and Florida State one. They are the only two teams to finish ranked in the Top 25 in each of the last seven seasons, and they are 1-2 in wins -- Alabama with 86, Florida State with 78 -- over that span.
The two coaches also have interesting ties. Fisher worked for seven seasons under Saban at LSU and was serving as Bobby Bowden's offensive coordinator at Florida State when the teams last met in 2007 (LSU won 21-14 in Saban's first season at Bama).
Both also are from small towns in West Virginia. Born in Fairmont, Saban grew up in Monongah, Fisher in Clarksburg.
"I knew of him," Fisher said. "We had to drive through the town to get to my grandfather's house."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Jalen Hurts struggled late last season in the downfield passing game, and now he has to take on arguably the best defensive back duo in the country -- safety Derwin James and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden. Hurts rushed for nearly 1,000 yards, finishing with 954, but passed for just 185 a game as a freshman last year.
--WR Calvin Ridley is a big-play guy in Alabama's passing game. He had 72 receptions for 769 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore last year.
--DT Da'Ron Payne is the new leader of the defensive line after some departures to the NFL. He's 300-plus pounds, which helps make him a powerful run-plugger, which will be needed against Florida State. He made 36 tackles last season.
--LB Shaun Dion Hamilton is a bit of a wildcard as he comes back from a torn ACL in the SEC title game victory over Florida. He looked fine in fall camp and should be a leader after posting 64 tackles, including nine for loss last season.
--QB Deondre Francois returns with loads of hype around his sophomore season. He's already on the Davey O'Brien and Manning Award watch lists, and his name will be tossed around as an early Heisman frontrunner if he shines in a win against No. 1 Alabama.
--RB Jacques Patrick has only 50 carries for 269 yards under his belt in three seasons as he assumes a leadership role in 2017. Patrick is the team's returning leading running back with 350 yards and four touchdowns a season ago.
--LB Matthew Thomas was the biggest question mark during fall camp after his on-again, off-again attendance at practice. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said Thomas was sick, then hinted there were "other issues" keeping Thomas off the field. He was last year's leading tackler with 77 stops.
--CB Tarvarus McFadden tied for the nation's lead in interceptions with eight in his first season as a starter last year. He and FS Derwin James, who had one interception in 2016 before his season was ended by injury after two appearances, lead an experienced Seminoles defense.