Monday, December 11, 2017
Colleges

Florida State's Alabama attitude: 'They have to play us, too'

TALLAHASSEE — It looks like the biggest game this side of the one for the College Football Championship. The goal is to reach Atlanta. Florida State and Alabama will begin there, with a bang.

The Seminoles against the Death Star.

Jimbo Fisher against his old boss, Nick Saban.

There has got to be an easier way to begin a season than against the Crimson Tide (8 p.m., Sept. 2, ABC), ranked No. 1 in the coaches preseason poll. But go talk to the No. 3 Seminoles.

"They gotta play us, too," FSU safety Derwin James said.

That is the pose Florida State struck at media day Sunday, and it seems real enough.

Never mind that Saban's program has opened the last five season by crushing nonconference opponents Michigan (pre-Harbaugh), Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin and USC by a combined score of 196-70. Last season, the Tide pulverized USC, 52-6.

That's what FSU is up against.

"They've got to play us, too," Fisher said.

He went on:

"We're the two winningest teams in America the last seven years. We're the two winningest programs in America, bar none. That's what you want to see. Everybody wants to see the best play the best. Whether we turn out that way will depend on the season. I think it's a great opportunity. It's also a great challenge. That's what life is. That's what ball is."

The Seminoles, after the complete embarrassment at Louisville, the shocker against North Carolina, and the late loss to Clemson, rallied for a 10-3 season, including a fabulous come-from-behind Orange Bowl win over Michigan. Something to build on. And, last season at least, Alabama couldn't beat Clemson, either.

Not that a loss to Alabama in the opener would completely destroy FSU's season. Nor would a win over Alabama guarantee anything down the road. But hype is hype, and there will be copious amounts of it before this opener.

"It's a blessing to play Alabama," FSU quarterback Deondre Francois said. "These are moments that guys like me pray for. I could really set my legacy off with a game against 'Bama."

Be careful what you pray for.

"I love hype," said the ebullient James, a preseason All-American, "We play the champs (Clemson) and the defending champs (Alabama) and the SEC runner-up (Florida). We play Miami and Louisville. We're playing everyone. I love it. We're all hungry."

Then again ...

"You can't make mistakes against Alabama," James said. "They'll make you pay. You got to come out from the start. If you don't, you'll be looking up at 21-0."

I think FSU will make this a real game. I don't think they'll go in scared or in over their heads.

But call me at halftime just the same.

"Listen, hype goes away. Fundamentals win," Fisher said. "Hype games are more for the fans than us. All games are important to us. We don't take any game lightly. At the same time, I understand all the hoopla that goes with it. At the end of the day, all those cheers before a game, all that hype goes away. It doesn't mean you can't be emotional, but are you prepared to play? That's got to be the key component."

"These games are why we came to Florida State," FSU receiver Auden Tate said.

Death Star, on its way.

"We're by far not where we want to be, but no one is at this time of year," Fisher said. "It's the daily process, being prepared to go into the things, like taking a test or a class. It's no different. You've got to read every chapter. You can't bypass Chapter One to get to Chapter Four."

It's one heck of a Chapter One.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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