The first college football game in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium will feature two of the nation’s top three teams, according to the Associated Press preseason poll released Monday.
The poll ranked Alabama No. 1 and Florida State No. 3, providing a compelling backdrop for the teams’ Sept. 2 showdown in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff game.
“There is no doubt about it: This will be the greatest opening game of all time in college football,” Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl Inc., which operates the Chick-fil-A Kickoff event, said after the poll’s release.
To support that position, Stokan’s staff researched season-opening games since the start of the Associated Press preseason poll in 1950. They found two matchups of No. 1 vs. No. 4 teams -- No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 4 Penn State in 1983 and No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 UCLA in 1986 – but none pitting a No. 1 team vs. No. 2 or, until now, No. 3.
The Associated Press confirmed this is the first opener matching teams ranked in the preseason top three and just the fourth pitting teams in the top five.
“On top of No. 1 vs. No. 3, we’ll have the game in a new state-of-the-art stadium, with (ESPN’s) College GameDay show here and a standing-room-only crowd,” Stokan said. “It’s going to be a very special day for Atlanta and for college football.”
Alabama and Florida State are college football’s two winningest programs since 2010, having won 86 and 78 games, respectively, during that time. The programs have combined to win five of the past eight national championships, four by Alabama and one by FSU.
The only team separating Alabama and Florida State in the preseason AP poll is Ohio State, ranked No. 2.
Rounding out the top 10: USC at No. 4, defending national champion Clemson No. 5, Penn State No. 6, Oklahoma No. 7, Washington No. 8, Wisconsin No. 9 and Oklahoma State No. 10.
Georgia was ranked No. 15, one of six SEC teams in the Top 25. Auburn was No. 12, LSU No. 13, Florida No. 17 and Tennessee No. 25.
Five ACC teams were ranked. In addition to FSU and Clemson in the top five, Louisville was No. 16, Miami No. 18 and Virginia Tech No. 21.
Alabama, ranked preseason No. 1 for the second consecutive year, received 52 of 61 first-place votes and a total of 1,513 points from the media panel. Ohio State had three first-place votes and 1,414 points.
Florida State drew four first-place votes and USC two.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff event began in 2008 and has been held every year since then. The Alabama-Florida State matchup is the Crimson Tide’s fifth appearance in the event and FSU’s first.
“We knew when the game was set that we were going to get two top-10 teams,” Stokan said. “But you’ve got to be better lucky than good to wind up with No. 1 vs. No. 3.”
The matchup is the first of six college football games scheduled at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season. It’ll be followed by Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee in a second Chick-fil-A Kickoff game Sept. 4, the SEC Championship game on Dec. 2, the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 16, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Jan. 1 and the College Football Playoff national championship game Jan. 8.
The stadium officially opens Saturday with a Falcons-Arizona Cardinals exhibition game.
Tim Tucker, a long-time AJC sports reporter, often writes about the business side of the games. He also had stints as the AJC's Braves beat writer, UGA beat writer, sports notes columnist and executive sports editor. He was deputy managing editor of America's first all-sports newspaper, The National Sports Daily.