TALLAHASSEE, Fla., and TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If you have to ask the question regarding Florida State-Alabama, then you probably don't deserve a straight answer from its season-opening participants.

You know, the offseason question circling the powerhouse programs in these two cities? It goes something like this depending which campus you're on.

(Just to make sure, I visited both teams recently to ask it.)

Have you thought yet about playing the Tide/Noles? 

"You can't help but think about it," said FSU defensive back Trey Marshall.

"They have to be No. 1 in my opinion," Nick Saban said of the Noles.

More than history will be made on Sept. 2 when the teams meet in Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Consider that teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the 81-year-old AP Top 25 have never met in a season opener.

If the rankings cooperate with such a matchup -- and they should -- it would be the earliest such 1-2 game in history.

In the AP Top 25, that history goes back to 1943 when No. 1 Notre Dame beat No. 2 Michigan, 35-12.

If Florida State-Alabama isn't one of the biggest season openers ever, it's in the red zone of the discussion.

"This is probably going to be -- if not the biggest -- one of the biggest games for us besides the playoffs and championships," said Alabama All-American defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

"Of course it's different, man," FSU safety Derwin James said. "When you say, 'Alabama,' you know what kind of team you're going to play. They come with it."

There's that history and the distinct possibility -- likelihood even -- the loser is not out of the College Football Playoff chase. The programs are so powerful at the moment -- ear muffs, Nick -- either one could "afford" to lose the epic matchup.

C'mon, it's easy to envision a 12-1 Florida State or Alabama in the CFP. The Crimson Tide, by the way, enter as an early 4.5-point favorite.

Isn't that sort of where we were last December when No. 1 Alabama had built such a cushion it supposedly could have lost the SEC Championship Game to Florida and still remained in the top four?

When that was suggested to Saban the week of the game, he famously ranted, "It's never OK to lose a game."

Smack dab in the lull of the offseason, Saban was more introspective, actually contemplating the implications of a loss while relaxed in a Tide meeting room.

"The consequence of the game is you really find out where your team is," he said. "Even if you lose, I think it really helps your prepare for the difficult games you have in the conference down the road."

Saban began playing such nationally-relevant nonconference games the moment he arrived at Alabama in 2007. That year, Florida State -- still coached by Bobby Bowden -- beat the Tide 21-14 in Jacksonville, Florida. Alabama hasn't lost its traditional marquee nonconference game since.

Seven of the nine contests have been against ranked teams -- three of them against top 10 opponents. All but a home-and-home with Penn State (2010-11) have been at neutral sites.

"I guess you have to look at it from a historical perspective," Saban continued. "I viewed it, when we first came here, it was much-needed exposure for the program to play in some high- profile games.

"Probably the thing that ignited this program more than anything else was that second year we were here. Clemson was ranked ninth [when we played]. Nobody even knows who we are."

Much-needed exposure? Nobody knows who we are? Poor-mouthing never sounded so, well, poor.

You can look it up. No. 24 Alabama did win that 2008 matchup over No. 9 Clemson, 34-10 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Sixteen months later, the Crimson Tide were national champions.

The Run had begun.

"I think the players in the offseason are more focused," Saban said of preparing for such games. "Whether it's winter conditioning, spring practice, in the summer, it's almost like the season is over and you're looking forward to playing a really good team in the Sugar Bowl."

The storylines are juicy. This is Saban's first meeting against his old LSU offensive coordinator in Jimbo Fisher. The friends won a national championship together in 2003. Fisher would be the first former Saban assistant to beat the Alabama coach.

Saban's accomplishments are well-documented. Fisher (78-17 at FSU) has taken the Bowden legacy and shined it up to make it even more gilded. Saban and Fisher have combined to win five of the last nine national championships.

The ACC race long ago boiled down to the annual Florida State-Clemson game. Fisher has won four of those seven head-to-head matchups. The Seminoles have won three ACC titles under Fisher, including the last BCS Championship Game after the 2013 season.

"I never had any doubt Jimbo would do very well," Saban said. "He's really smart, bright, good recruiter, related well with the kids, good teacher, tough."

Someone call the Hosanna Abuse Hotline.

Small-town West Virginia blood courses through both coaches. A couple of weeks ago, Fisher was hunting bears in Idaho with his son Ethan. Saban fondly recalls taking backgrounds from his native Fairmont, West Virginia, 3 ½ hours to watch Roberto Clemente play in Pittsburgh.

Both coaches have accomplished sophomore quarterbacks (Jalen Hurts at Bama, Deondre Francois at FSU). Both have monster secondaries. Both have loaded backfields. Both may debut freshman studs at tailback -- Najee Harris and Cam Akers, respectively.

The Tide are expected to start as the preseason No. 1. The Noles State might have their best team since those 2013 national champions led by Jameis Winston.

If they don't both start in the top four, there needs to be a Congressional investigation of a different kind.

"We're ready to show the world what they've been waiting for," James said. "What better way to do it than against the top-notch [team] in the country?"

Oh, and there is the small matter of conference pride. In the only league where it matters this much, the SEC is looking up at the ACC -- for the moment -- as the best conference in the country.

The game could literally set the tone for the entire season. Is there any doubt the teams could rematch in the CFP? Shoot, Alabama has played Clemson in back-to-back natties.

The Tide continues to carry the mental burden of blowing a two-touchdown lead against the Tigers in last season's CFP  National Championship losing with a second to go.

"Looking back to Clemson, it was the smallest things is why we lost," Fitzpatrick said. "They had a whole lot of talent at Clemson, but it wasn't more than us."

This is a program that beats itself up after the end of a 26-game winning streak and a 14-win season.

"I'm a quiet person. I always keep to myself. Lay low," Fitzpatrick added. "I had to get loud, cuss some people out in offseason conditioning."

So much for the lull of the offseason.

Florida State's sixth (at least) 10-win season under Fisher will be remembered as much for the losses -- three of them on the field, but also James tearing his left meniscus while on his way to an All-American season.

James was considered so valuable as a leader he was included on the travel squad the rest of the season. Being active for the season opener is a benediction of his health -- and the Alabama game.

In the offseason, James trained with Alabama tailback Bo Scarbrough and defensive back Ronnie Harrison. James says assorted Crimson Tide have even been to his Tallahassee home to play video games.

"Bo told me he's going to bring it every play. I told him I was going to bring it every play," James said. "At the end of the day, that's all we can hope for."

FSU redshirt senior defensive back Nate Andrews played only four games last season, getting a medical redshirt after tearing a pectoral muscle, dislocating a shoulder and injuring a calf.

For the native of Fairhope, Alabama, who was recruited by the Crimson Tide, this is definitely a big deal.

"This game actually popped up in conversation last summer," Andrews said. "I was messing with the guys on the team, 'Ya'll gotta play Alabama next year.' Then I ended up getting hurt. Then I got a redshirt.

"Oh snap, now I have to play Alabama now."

Marshall will miss the first half after being flagged for targeting against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. The senior's fearsome hitting style has become a YouTube compilation.

"I've got to have a TV or something [in the first half]," Marshall said.

The rest of the country has likely thought ahead. Alabama-Florida State is big-screen eye candy, a blockbuster before Labor Day, a barometer on the national climate.

Perhaps the question is not whether it matter … but how?