The stage for Florida State's 2016 season opener has been set and, to say the least, the setting is a decadent one.
FSU's opening game, a neutral-site showdown with the Ole Miss Rebels inside Orlando's Camping World Stadium, will cap off a stellar opening weekend of the 2016 season and the eyes of college football fans across the nation will be trained steadily upon the Seminoles and Rebs.
A high-profile season opener is a relatively new commodity for Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles. In Fisher's first six years as the head coach in Tallahassee, FSU has only played in one neutral-site opening game, 2014's Cowboy Classic matchup against Oklahoma State, while four openers have been against non-Power-Five teams and the sole remaining opener was a road game at Pitt to open 2013. As such, a large amount of buzz has surrounded Florida State's return to a prominent non-conference game outside of its usual rivalries.
What exactly does Fisher have to say about the benefits provided by a neutral-site season opener?
"It puts your team in an atmosphere that you're fortunate enough to get in a bowl game, a major bowl game, playoff games, things like that, you get that atmosphere and environment," Fisher stated at Monday's press conference. "It's great national exposure. You get to play an opponent you don't always get to play, a top-notch opponent in a big situation like that on national TV."
The caliber of opponent in this case can't be denied. A season ago, the Rebels finished the year as the tenth-ranked team in the Associated Press Poll after their dominating 48-20 win over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl. This year, Ole Miss is a team on the verge of a top-ten preseason ranking, coming in at No. 11 in the AP and No. 12 in the Coaches Poll.
Going on, Fisher spoke of another benefit, saying, "You get to find out where your team is at before you go into the conference schedule and on down the rest of the schedule."
In a year in which the hype surrounding this Florida State team is palpable, the ability to gauge where the team is at in the very first week cannot be overstated. There are many stiff challenges further down the line of FSU's 2016 schedule, and the lessons learned in that opening game, regardless of the outcome, could spell the difference between a win and a loss in a number of those contests.
However, there are also a few challenges presented with a challenging week-one matchup away from home. Per Fisher: "Disadvantage: you're playing a great opponent off the bat. You're not in your home bed, you're not in your home stadium. You don't get to grow into the season," he admitted when pressed on the challenges presented by the opening game.
Fisher is dead on in this regard. Strengthening your schedule by adding a neutral-site game against a high-profile opponent is a positive. That being said, regardless of the team's talent level, if it is not prepared for a challenging foe in its opening game, it will likely lose and then face the daunting task of going undefeated for the remainder of the regular season to play its way back into the College Football Playoff race.
Whatever Florida State's coaches' thoughts may be on neutral-site regular season games, the Seminoles must get used to these high-profile season openers. FSU follows up the 2016 opener in Orlando with an even more significant game in 2017, kicking off the season against Alabama inside Atlanta's brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Further down the line, the 'Noles are nearing deals to finalize neutral-site matchups with Boise State in 2019 and West Virginia in 2020.
Some may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of upcoming high-profile regular season matchups in Florida State's future. Sophomore safety Derwin James, however, welcomes the challenge, sharing, "I like playing the big dogs. That's when you find out who can really play football. I love the big games, the big moments."