HOOVER, ALA. | In 52 days, Florida State will play Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the first meeting between Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher and his old boss at LSU, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
Judging from remarks by Saban and the players he brought with him to SEC Media Days, it’s not going to be a contentious run-up to the Sept. 2 game (ABC, 8 p.m.) that might well match the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation after preseason polls are released in August.
Respect for the ‘Noles was the order of the day, starting at the top.
“Our opening game will be a very challenging game,” Saban said on Wednesday during his news conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. “[The Seminoles] probably have as many good players returning as anyone in the country.”
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who is from Fort Lauderdale, is obviously familiar with many of the south Florida players on the FSU roster.
“I’m really looking forward to that game,” he said. “I liked Florida State when I as coming out of high school and I know a lot of the guys over there. I’m just real excited to get a chance to get back out there and compete against one of the best teams in the nation.”
“Florida State has one of the best legacies in college football,” defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick added. “We don’t get to see them a lot so when we play each other, it’s going to be a great game. I think it will be a lot of fun to play.”
Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU, has made no secret of the fact that he built his team along the same lines as Saban’s formula in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa: big, physical linemen on both sides of the ball, a defense that emphasizes pressure on the quarterback, and multiple looks from a balanced offense.
Saban said Fisher, who has won a national championship and three ACC titles at FSU since 2010, has accomplished that.
“Florida State is built like an SEC team,” Saban said. “You think of fast, explosive players but they also have a big, physical [team] … play great defense, tough. And I think it’s probably Jimbo’s experience in this league that’s sort of why he built his team that way. And that’s certainly the kind of team that they have this year.”
Tide players get rare lesson
Alabama doesn’t give itself the chance to get life lessons from failure, but they’re determined not to waste what they call a learning opportunity from last year’s national championship loss to Clemson.
The Tide lost to Clemson 35-31 on a last-second TD pass. Alabama was one more stop away from a second national championship victory in a row over the Tigers when Deshaun Watson threw the 2-yard game-winner to Hunter Renfrow.
It was only the eighth loss in six seasons for ‘Bama.
“You always learn from a loss and if you don’t, then that’s on you,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’re definitely using the motivation and not letting little things slide towards the end of the season.”
Saban had a telling phrase for what he wants his players to remember about that bitter loss in Tampa.
“We don’t want to waste a failure,” he said. “What could we have done better? Everybody’s hurt by the fact that we lost, especially the way we lost that particular game on the last play of the game. But it wasn’t the last play. It’s what led to the last play. And I think our players realize that.”
Mark Stoops ‘shocked’ that brother left OU
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said “it’s one of those moments you won’t forget.”
He was referring to the phone call last month from his brother Bob Stoops, who tell him he was retiring as the Oklahoma coach after 18 years, 10 Big 12 titles and one national championship.
“It came out of the blue,” Stoops said. “I really had no idea it was coming. It was a bit of a shock, to be honest with you. I had to walk out of my office and walk around the practice field [to continue the phone conversation].”
Stoops said he understood his brother’s reasons but finds it hard to accept he won’t be coaching.
“Mixed emotions, I guess you would say from myself,” he said. “Very proud of him and what he’s done and very happy for him and [Bob Stoops’ wife] Carol and their family, to be able to step away when he wants, how he wants. And that’s Bob.”
UF kickers cited
The Florida Gators’ strength on the kicking game was recognized as placekicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend were named to the watch lists for the two national awards for their positions.
Pineiro, a redshirt junior, was selected to the Lou Groza Award Watch List and Townsend, a graduate student, made the Ray Guy Award watch list.
Pineiro, a criminology major made 21 of 25 field-goal attempts (.840) and had 11 field goals of 40 yards or longer, including two in the Outback Bowl victory over Iowa. He had two 54-yard field goals, both tying for the sixth-longest in school history. He led Florida in scoring with 95 points.
Townsend had 29 punts of 50 or more yards and put 27 punts inside the 20-yard line. He has averaged 45.1 yards per punt in his college career, with 63 or 50 yards or more.
Also named to the Lou Groza watch list was Florida State sophomore Ricky Aguayo, whose brother Robert won the award in 2013. Aguayo made 19 of 26 field goals (.731) and his 51 conversions without a miss extended the team’s streak to an NCAA-record 302.