It's not hyperbole to say that Alabama-Florida State carries the most preseason hype of any season-opening game in the preseason poll era. They're among the consensus top three teams entering the season and the not-so-bold prediction is that it could be a preview of either a semifinal or the national championship.
But who will actually enter the season No. 1? According to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, it could be the Seminoles.
"Florida State has a great team and a great program and will probably be No. 1 in the country," Saban said Tuesday via the Tampa Bay Times before the start of the SEC's spring meetings.
Saban habitually gives respect to each of his opponents to the point where it borders on overhyping at times. This is not one of those times. Both teams have legitimate national title aspirations.
Of course, the actual ranking going into the game won't matter. Whichever team wins will certainly grab (or maintain) the top spot. Besides, as Saban and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher would surely point out, there's an entire season to be played. It's also not the most important game for either team since it's not a conference matchup.
Still, with less than 90 days until the season starts, the battle for No. 1 is a fun debate. Here's the case for each side.
The case for Alabama
You know the story by now. Alabama routinely locks in the No. 1 recruiting class, develops those blue-chip players and uses them to reload when a group of older players depart for the NFL draft. What the Crimson Tide lose in defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebackers Ryan Anderson and Rueben Foster and defensive back Marlon Humphrey, they bring back in Da'Ron Payne, Da'Shawn Hand, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Minkah Fitzpatrick. That's over 100 combined game appearances returning. The Crimson Tide are literally replacing experienced first-round picks with likely more experienced first-round picks.
That's just on defense. The two-headed backfield of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris is back, as are receiver Calvin Ridley and quarterback Jalen Hurts -- and Hurts, a holder of many individual conference accolades from 2016, isn't close to being as good as he can be. None of this even mentions the touted incoming freshmen who could break into the playing rotation.
No team is perfect or unbeatable. Hurts regressed at the end of last season and Scarbrough has been injury prone. Still, there's not much more that can be said that hasn't already about this machine. That's important because Alabama is college football's king. There's a small list of challengers -- Clemson, Ohio State and Florida State among them -- capable of dethroning the Tide. But Saban is an all-time great coach leading a dynasty that expects, with good reason, to win a national title every year. If that's not worthy of a preseason No. 1 ranking, what is?
The case for Florida State
Two years ago, Fisher pulled off his best coaching job by getting Florida State to 10 wins and a Peach Bowl appearance with a rotating door at quarterback, shaky pass protection and an average receiving corps. It feels like he's been building to a monster year ever since. Last year's team caught a bad break with the season-ending injury to safety Derwin James, ran into Lamar Jackson and Louisville at the wrong time, broke in a new quarterback (Deondre Francois) and still struggled with pass protection. However, that unit up front still played well in run blocking and Fisher has been building depth in the trenches, thus addressing one of his team's biggest needs.
The point being, Florida State has run into a buzz saw at some inopportune times while trying to rebuild, all while fighting Clemson for divisional supremacy. All things considered, that Florida State still has 20 wins over the past two seasons to show for it is impressive.
Like Alabama, Florida State has its share of top-end talent. James is a certified stud and his versatility in pass rush gives Florida State one more option on top of a deep and talented defensive line group. And if you have great D-line play, it opens up more possibilities behind it. Francois can sling it and has shown he's a tough leader by playing through some righteous hits. Early enrollee freshman running back Cam Akers should slip right into Dalvin Cook's spot.
There's some impressive talent at receiver that needs to break through. Nyqwan Murray and Keith Gavin are among the names to watch. The passing attack, in production and protection, looks like the biggest question mark. Check that off and this is as complete a team as you'll see this year.
What about Ohio State?
The Buckeyes are likely to be the only other team to garner serious preseason No. 1 consideration. Ohio State made the playoff a year ago and still didn't field the best team it could have. That's a terrifying thought for anyone playing Urban Meyers team in 2017. Like Florida State, there are questions in the passing game as the search for a true No. 1 wideout is ongoing; tight end Marcus Baugh might be the best option entering Week 1. But this is quarterback J.T. Barrett's final go around and he's one of the most experienced and productive players in college football. If 11-2 is a rebuilding effort of sorts, what does that mean for this year?