Saturday, 2 September, 8.00pm ET – Week 1 proper of the 2017 college football season has started and the best is yet to come: Alabama vs Florida State, the Crimson Tide against the Seminoles. Number one vs Number three. This matchup seems more like a College Football Playoff game or National Championship Game than an opening week matchup. Yet here we are. Who will come out on top in one of the best opening week matchups of all time?
Alabama Crimson Tide: Coming off their second trip to the National Championship in a row, this time following a loss, the Crimson Tide are facing the same pressure they are used to at this point. The Crimson Tide haven’t lost a season opener under Nick Saban; they are 10-0. Of those ten games, five were against ranked opponents and three were against top ten opponents.
They have lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but as always they seem to have replaced it. At every position there doesn’t seem to be a very big gap between this year’s and last year’s starters. It will be interesting to see how the defense copes without Reuben Foster’s leadership and how the offense copes in year two of Jalen Hurts’ reign, with a new offensive coordinator, but that will be a fascinating aspect to this game.
Florida State Seminoles: Florida State’s season last year finished on a high note, with a Bowl victory over Michigan in one of the games of the year. However, the regular season featured three disappointing losses and that is certainly something Jimbo Fisher will want to avoid. Especially as they enter the season as the number three ranked team in the country.
They have lost Dalvin Cook and a number of receivers and defensive starters, but much like Alabama they have replaced them thanks to a great recruiting class. Derwin James is leading the defense and Deondre Francois returns at QB to give this team stability on both sides of the ball. They will both need to live up to their hype to come out on top in this game.
Keys to the Game
Alabama’s offense: Jalen Hurts, at times, seemed like a Heisman candidate last year. He threw the ball well, ran it very well and he handled himself and the game like a grizzled veteran. However, towards the end of the season he seemed to make more bad decisions and cracks appeared in his game. He became a burden for the ‘Bama offense. He must perform and become the driver rather than a passenger; can he handle the pressure against a very talented defense?
Florida State’s offensive line: A huge problem for the Seminoles last season was their pass protection. In certain games it seemed like Francois was slow to get up after every pass attempt. Alabama have a lot of seriously talented front-seven players who will hunt the QB. If the Seminoles’ offensive line cannot hold up in pass protection it’ll be a long – and painful – day for Deondre Francois.
Special teams: Make no mistake about it, this game is a clash of the titans. Both offenses are poised to be effective and both defenses are equally poised to be incredibly stingy. This figures to be a very hard fought game. In these situations it takes just one mistake on special teams to open the game right up, or even decide the result. A field goal or one big return may well decide this game.
Matchup to Watch
Florida State Safety Derwin James vs Alabama QB Jalen Hurts – These are the two most important players on the field. Derwin James is a tone setter on defense and is an asset in every facet of the defense; in run support or against the pass. He will be used to blitz, play deep, spy the QB and even play linebacker. He could well be looked to to neutralize Jalen Hurts. If Hurts can avoid James and/or beat him then he’ll be giving the Crimson Tide a huge advantage. But if he lets James take over the game and lock him up then Florida State could be partying for a while.
Prediction: Alabama Crimson Tide 30 – Florida State Seminoles 24
This was a really tough game to pick. Both teams are incredibly talented and both teams have great coaches and staffs. Plus, it is a neutral site game so there is no home field advantage to factor in. Nevertheless, someone has to win, and I have to side with Alabama. Under Saban they are flawless in season openers and I think their roster is that little bit better top-to-bottom. It’ll be a great game and the Crimson Tide will begin their roll to another College Football Playoff appearance.
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