TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – In 28 days, Alabama plays Florida State in what is understatedly being called “The Mother of All First Games,” or something very like that.
A Historic Hello.
A first chapter the way they used to write them in the Old Testament.
No. 1 ‘Bama vs. the No. 3 Seminoles playing in September, helping to break in Atlanta’s new stadium and its troublesome lid.
It is just the greatest opening statement since: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent. . .”
The grandest opening scene since that Imperial star destroyer filled the screen in “Star Wars.” (With Alabama’s Nick Saban at the helm, many in other parts of the SEC believe).
Or, if you are of Alabama persuasion, it’s known as just another necessary start to a season.
Give the Crimson Tide credit, grudging if you must, for knowing how to clear its throat and get everyone’s attention. Philosophies vary on how best to approach Game One. Do you ease in with some willing FCS fodder, staging a glorified exhibition game, just getting your team’s beak wet and testing your fans’ capacity to care? Or do you give everyone a good show, while challenging yourself and your players by facing somebody real?
None of Alabama’s openers in the five preceding years smack of red velvet cupcake: Michigan, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Southern Cal. And Louisville is in line for 2018.
Easing into a season – like a tourist in Florida determined to go swimming in February – is increasingly out of vogue. Along the way, the Crimson Tide has shown ‘em how to open. Saban is 10-0 in season-openers at Alabama, so it’s not as if any part of that tactic has backfired. And certainly as for kickoff games like the one in Atlanta, it’s pays well, too.
“That’s usually how we do things around here, we open with a really good team,” Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts said during Saturday’s media day in Tuscaloosa. “As a player here, you expect that. If you want to be the best you got to play against the best. That’s the situation we put ourselves in.”
It’s a canny move, really, to play such a game up front, earning credit for schedule strength and giving yourself ample time to improve your position should you happen to open with an “L.”
Saban certainly wouldn’t play these kind of openers so consistently if the benefit wasn’t so clear. A quality opening opponent keeps the players focused on a fixed point on the horizon during the drudgery of spring and summer workouts. It can tend to snap them to attention after, say, a tough national championship loss to Clemson.
And there’s this: “It goes a long way to tell us as coaches and our team where we are in our progression, where we are capable of getting to because you played a really good opponent,” Saban said.
“Sometimes if you play a not-so-good opponent in the first game, maybe some of the issues and problems don’t surface, therefore you don’t address them. I’ve always liked playing a good opponent because of the effect that it has on the off-season. I think the players have really good focus in fall camp getting ready for that game. And from a coaching standpoint it tells you where your team is.”
But most importantly for all the rest of the world not on scholarship, it gives us something to really gnaw on rather than the vanilla pudding kind of opening game that can be so common. For that, thanks to all those willing to step up right from the first whistle. This month can’t pass quickly enough.