By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Jalen Hurts is already accustomed to these kinds of games.
The marquee games. The biggest matchups on the largest stage.
This one pits top-ranked Alabama against No. 3 Florida State in the first-ever opening matchup of preseason Top-3 teams since the Associated Press started selecting them in 1950. The teams will square off in the fully loaded new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta under the bright lights of the national spotlight.
Hurts sounded downright unimpressed by all those trappings when the sophomore quarterback was asked Monday if he’s used to these kinds of games.
“I played in the national championship,” he said, “so I guess so.”
Historic opening matchup or not, these teams are well acquainted with big games, thank you very much.
They’ve each won a national title in the last five years, and Alabama has collected four in a decade under coach Nick Saban. The Tide has made a habit of playing teams from other Power Five conferences in the first or second game each season since 2008, winning all of them by double digits, including three top-10 matchups.
Last year’s 52-6 romp over then-No. 20 USC set the table for an undefeated run into the national title game against Clemson.
As much as anybody, the Seminoles have done their part to disprove the notion that the Southeastern Conference is college football’s top league. Florida State is 9-1 against SEC teams under coach Jimbo Fisher, who will be facing Alabama and former boss Saban for the first time.
They’re also the only programs to carry a streak of at least five straight BCS or New Year’s Six games into the season.
Fisher believes some of the surplus of hype comes from the fact that there’s been an entire offseason to think and talk about it.
“If you’re here at Florida State playing in these games, you’re going to be in hyped games,” Fisher said. “Every year we play Clemson, Miami, Florida, Louisville — whoever we play, what conference, what big bowl … that’s part of being at Florida State.”
He and Saban are among 11 active head coaches with a winning record against teams ranked in the Top 25.
Something has to give: Neither head coach has lost an opener in their current job.
This really is nothing new to Alabama, which will have played No. 4 Washington, No. 2 Clemson and now No. 3 Florida State in college football’s version of Murderer’s Row.
This will be the 51st game of the last 117 that ‘Bama was ranked No. 1. The Tide is favored by a touchdown.
Such a challenging opener, Saban said, helps the players focus during the offseason. It also gives a clearer gauge of where the team stands than a blowout win over an obviously overmatched team.”
But both teams, win or lose, will face several more marquee matchups as the season progresses. Saban — and apparently Hurts — just choose not to buy into the hype.
“If your goal is going to be the best that you can be individually, personally, or as a team, or as a unit, then why is the guy you’re playing against determine the level that you play?” Saban said.
Then again, in this case, that would mean ratcheting up their play. It’s only the fourth top-5 matchup in an opening game, after all.
Fisher could have just as well been describing his own team in praising Alabama.
“Outstanding players that play very hard, very physical, very well-coached,” he said. “Have big guys, dynamic guys and playmakers across the board. They can throw it, they can catch it, they can run with it, they can defend, they can cover.
“They do all the things that you have to do to be successful.”
NOTE: Alabama defensive end Raekwon Davis wasn’t at practice during the media viewing period Monday. He was shot in the right leg outside a Tuscaloosa bar early Sunday morning. A Sheriff’s department spokesman described the injury as minor. Saban described his status as “day to day” for the game.
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This story has been corrected to show Fisher and Saban among 11 active head coaches with a winning record against teams ranked in the Top 25.
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