Perhaps the biggest, greatest and most important Week One college football game ever is officially sold out! The Alabama Crimson Tide will face off against the Florida State Seminoles at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Saturday, September 2nd. Somebody’s “oh” must go! However, it took a lot of convincing and sweet-talk to get Seminoles Head Coach Jimbo Fisher to participate in this game.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan had to twist Jimbo’s arm to play such an important neutral site game in Week One.
“We had Nick Saban sold in 2008 when they came in and beat Clemson,” Stokan said during an appearance on “Sports Drive” on WNSP-FM 105.5 in Mobile. “That’s really the launch of their run, that started it. Then we had them again the next year against Virginia Tech. … On the Florida State said, Jimbo took the job in (2010). I asked him to play in the game, and he said ‘I’d love to, but not right now. Let me get my program in place and my recruits here and we’ll do it then.’ So fast-forward 3-4 years we were able to do it.”
Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU last decade. Yes, Alabama and Florida State could be ranked 1st and 2nd at before the game, only fanning the flames and powering the hype machine.
“You never know whether a coach wants to play a friend,” Stokan said. “And they were on the staff together at LSU, won a national championship. They’re both from West Virginia. I give those guys all the credit for wanting to have their teams compete at the highest level against the highest level competition. So we were able to put it all together (for) 2017, but we didn’t know they’d be No. 1 and No. 2. But here we are.”
Alabama returns most of their offensive firepower from last season, most notably, SEC Player of the Year, Jalen Hurts. The Seminoles bring back dynamic quarterback DeAndre Francois and a running back committee that seeks to replicate the departed Dalvin Cook’s production.
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In the interview, Stokan acknowledged non-conference neutral site games such as Alabama-Florida State, Florida-Michigan (in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 2) and Tennessee-Georgia Tech (Sept. 4 in Atlanta) come at the expense of true home-and-home contests that used to be far more common in college football. Yes, this season Notre Dame-USC wiill continue their home-and-home series. Also Oklahoma at Ohio State, Georgia at Notre Dame and Auburn at Clemson this year, many programs are moving away from home-and-home series in favor of neutral site games.
Stokan said there’s a simple reason for that — both teams get a huge payday in neutral site games, whereas only the home team does in a home-and-home. On top of that, there’s also a recruiting incentive.
“I believe that college football should keep its intersectional rivalries, should keep its home-and-home,” Stokan said. “But on the other side, if you’re looking at potentially getting into an area where you want to recruit, where your alumni are, where a financial windfall can take place. In the case of the ACC and the SEC it works because you have four conference games at home, with four non-conference games to schedule. They build their budget on seven home games, so as long as you can schedule seven home games, you’ve made your budget. Now you’ve got one game to schedule. And if you can schedule it in Atlanta and make $5 million, where you net $3 million for a home game, that $2 million is a win. For your recruiting base, coming to Atlanta is a win. Playing in front of 30,000 of your fans is a win. So there’s no real down side.
“It’s harder to do home-and-home, because when you play the away game part of that, you don’t make any money. So if you can do like Nick Saban has done and go neutral-neutral, $5 million one year and $4 million the next year, that’s $5-6 million more than you would have made playing a home-and-home. Do I believe in home-and-home? Most definitely. That’s how college football was built. But when you get an opportunity to play in one of these neutral site games and get a financial and recruiting windfall and where your alumni are, I think it makes sense.”
Alabama and Florida State will kickoff Saturday, September 2nd at 8pm Eastern on ABC.