When it comes to Alabama-Miami, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan has the same flashback as most diehard college football fans.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 14 Miami on Saturday is the schools’ first meeting since the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, which the Crimson Tide won 34-13. For two schools that have combined for a dozen national championships in the last 40 years, that game still resonates.
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“That’s the game everyone remembers,” Stokan told Sporting News. “Having said that, quite frankly, that’s great for the media and game notes. These kids weren’t even born then. What they’re trying to do is create their own legacy.”
For Miami, it’s a unique opportunity to use the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game as a springboard like Alabama has in the past.
“Miami wants to create a legacy, and this is the start of it,” Stokan said. “If they can come in and upset Alabama, and gain the confidence to go win their division, play Clemson probably in the ACC championship game, they will have achieved one of their goals.
“That’s what Miami wants to do,” he said. “They want to get on the big stage like they were in the 80s and 90s.”
The Crimson Tide played in the first Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2008; a 34-10 victory against No. 9 Clemson that vaulted the program back into the national spotlight in Nick Saban’s second season. “Nick will tell you that’s the start of the Alabama dynasty,” Stokan said.
“Nick is 15-1 playing in the Georgia Dome and Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” Stokan said. “He loves Atlanta. He’s won a national championship here, SEC championships, Chick-fil-A Kickoff games and CFP semifinal games. He’s run the gamut of possible big-time games that you can play in and let alone win in the same stadium.”
Alabama has its non-conference schedule set for the foreseeable future, meaning it won’t play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game until at least 2032. Does that create a unique opportunity for the Hurricanes to use this stage in the same way?
It’s a tough assignment playing Alabama, which is 10-0 in neutral-site openers under Saban , including a 6-0 record against ACC schools. This is the Hurricanes’ first Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, and the last visit to the Peach Bowl was a 40-3 loss to LSU in 2005. Why would Miami want this stage?
“I give a lot of credit to (Miami athletic director) Blake James, who in talking to him really wanted to get the opportunity to play in this game,” Stokan said. “They have sold through all those tickets and they have a quarterback who is one of the top front-runners for the Heisman in the preseason. With the transfers they have coming in, I think they are loaded on defense, too.”
Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, who has recovered from a torn ACL, has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of NIL . Alabama has a new supporting cast around redshirt quarterback Bryce Young, who also has raked in the NIL endorsement money. If the Hurricanes were to pull the upset, then this would be the biggest Week 1 storyline in decades.
Reality check: Alabama is an 18.5-point favorite and has a history of blowing out teams in these neutral-site openers. Miami faces a challenge in making it a four-quarter game.
“If a team has a great season, and the other team has a great season, there is such a thing now in the CFP selection committee nomenclature as a good loss,” Stokan said. “If Miami were to lose this game, go on and have a great season in the ACC, play Clemson in the ACC championship, even if they lose there, they have a case to be in the top four if Clemson and Alabama are playoff teams.”
If the 1993 Sugar Bowl taught us anything, then it’s to expect the unexpected. Miami was No. 1 and an 8-point favorite in that classic, but Alabama dominated the game. “The Strip,” where Crimson Tide safety George Teague ripped the ball away from Miami receiver Lamar Thomas on what would have been an 89-yard TD, will be replayed a few times on Saturday.
Can the next generation of Miami players flip that script on the big stage? Stokan is one who is excited to find out.
“They’re a great brand in college football, but to have the matchup with Alabama, No. 1 in the country, hearkens back to the days of the 80s and 90s when Alabama and Miami were the teams controlling college football,” Stokan said. “It’s a great way to start the come-back season of college football.”