Alabama perfect in openers so far under coach Nick Saban

Alabama perfect in openers so far under coach Nick Saban

August 29th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama coach Nick Saban watches his offensive players during Alabama's fall camp football practice, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The individual drills preceded the Tide's second scrimmage. (Vasha Hunt/Alabama Media Group via AP)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Saturday's showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State has been billed for weeks as the biggest opening matchup in college football history.

Just don't try hyping it to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

"Every game is a big game, and it's always been that way for me," Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "I don't work in the media. I work with our team to try and get them better and to play to the best standard they can play to in every game they play, regardless of who the opponent is.

"It's a long season. We're going to have 12, 13 or 14 games, maybe 15. The next game that we play is going to be the biggest game for me, and it will always be that way. When it isn't that way, you will see a very inconsistent team."

Alabama has been anything but inconsistent under Saban, having compiled a sparkling 112-13 record since the start of his second season in 2008. The Crimson Tide have won four national titles in this stretch and five Southeastern Conference championships, including the last three in a row by runaway margins.

TIDE, TAKE THREE

1. Alabama and Florida State will be meeting for just the fifth time, with the Crimson Tide holding a 2-1-1 series edge.

2. Tide coach Nick Saban is 13-1 in Atlanta, with the only loss coming in the 2008 SEC title game to Florida.

3. Junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has 274 career yards on interception returns, which ranks second in program history behind Eddie Jackson, who compiled 303 during the 2013-16 seasons.

The Tide have been perfect in season openers under Saban, having won all 10 by the average score of 41-12. Only three of the 10 have been on-campus feastings against Western Carolina, San Jose State and Kent State, with the other seven coming in neutral-site venues in either Atlanta or Arlington, Texas.

Alabama's run under Saban was ignited by a 34-10 trouncing of Clemson in the 2008 Chick-fil-A Classic, which followed his 7-6 debut season that ended in the Independence Bowl. Saturday's game against Florida State will be Alabama's sixth consecutive neutral-site opener, and the Tide already are booked to open next year against Louisville in Orlando and the 2019 season against Duke in Atlanta.

"The early-season challenges certainly help your offseason preparation and offseason programs — spring practice, summer conditioning, fall camp," Saban said. "Players are really looking forward to playing against a really good opponent and challenging themselves. All those things are benefits, and the second thing is that it shows you where your team is.

"You could play a lesser opponent, not really play well and not really know exactly where you are, who you are and what you need to fix."

Exposure for recruiting purposes is a plus as well.

Alabama opened last season with a 52-6 demolition of Southern California in Arlington, but a similar outcome Saturday night certainly would be a surprise. The Seminoles are coming off a 10-win season that concluded with an Orange Bowl triumph over Michigan, and Jimbo Fisher is alone with Saban, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and now Clemson's Urban Meyer as active coaches with at least one national championship.

Fisher, who is 78-17 with the Seminoles, was LSU's offensive coordinator under Saban from 2000 to 2004.

"Of all the assistants who have gone on, Jimbo and I are probably as close as any in terms of philosophy and how we do things," Saban said.

Saban also called FSU redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James "every bit as good as anybody we've ever played against," and he admitted that Saturday does provide a "great opportunity for our team."

His players certainly seem eager for kickoff to arrive.

"I'm ready to play," junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "Everybody keeps asking me this and that, but it doesn't matter what I say. It just matters who's going to go out there and compete the best."

Said senior inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton: "It's important not to let this stage be too big for us, but everybody is embracing the challenge of establishing our identity."

Davis update

Alabama sophomore defensive lineman Raekwon Davis has been released from the hospital after being shot in the leg early Sunday morning outside a Tuscaloosa bar. His status for Saturday's game will be a medical decision, according to Saban.

"We're still gathering information," he said. "It doesn't seem like our players were guilty of anything other than being out late, which doesn't make me happy."

Tide tidbits

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts on whether his family, who lives in the Houston suburb of Channelview, will be able to attend Saturday's game: "We'll see. I'd rather them be safe." Sophomore tailback Josh Jacobs remains limited with a hamstring injury, and Saban said the decision on his availability for the opener would be made later in the week.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.