We continue our series previewing the Seminoles’ 2017 opponents with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Not much can be said about Alabama that hasn’t already been said.
The Crimson Tide is in the middle of one of the greatest dynasties this sport has ever seen. Since Nick Saban took over as head coach in 2007, the Tide has gone 114-19* with four national titles. It has signed the No. 1 recruiting class every year since 2011 and is stocked with blue-chip talent at all levels.
The last time Florida State and Alabama clashed was in 2007, the first year that Saban and Jimbo Fisher were at their respective schools. The ’Noles won that matchup, 21-14.
Alabama travels to Atlanta fresh off of a national title loss to Clemson, and you can bet it doesn’t want back-to-back losses to ACC teams. It will be out for blood.
*Alabama went 7-6 in 2007, but several of its wins were forfeited due to sanctions
If Hurts improves as a thrower, watch out
Lane Kiffin departed as Alabama’s offensive coordinator after three intense, scrutinized years in Tuscaloosa. Also gone is Steve Sarkisian, who left after the national title game for the Atlanta Falcons’ OC job.
The next man up is Brian Daboll, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant for the Patriots. Don’t expect too much of Alabama’s offense to change, as reigning SEC Player of the Year Jalen Hurts is still under center for the Tide.
Hurts lit college football on fire last year, nearly becoming the first true freshman since 1985 to win a title. However, he struggled as a passer, which was evident in the national title game when he only completed 41% of his passes.
If Hurts can improve as a passer, even marginally, then this offense could be deadly. Even though the Tide has to replace two draft picks at receiver, it returns Calvin Ridley and a plethora of blue-chip players. Its offensive line, which lost second-round draft pick Cam Robinson, should be reloaded with Freshman All-American Jonah Williams taking over at left tackle.
The real strength of this offense is at running back, where Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs form a three-headed monster. As Bill Connelly notes in his preview, each brings a different element to the running game.
The 235-pound Scarbrough caught fire late in the season (last four games: 63 carries, 454 yards, six touchdowns), but Harris was the steadier, more explosive threat over the course of 15 games, and Jacobs (who is currently rehabbing a hamstring injury) is an incredible scatback prototype who averaged 6.7 yards per carry over 85 carries and ranked fifth on the team in receiving targets.
On defense, Alabama replaces five-stars with... more five-stars
The Crimson Tide needs to replace three first-round picks on defense, but with five-star recruits coming out of the woodwork, this should be a simple task.
Jonathan Allen is gone? Five-star Da’Shawn Hand steps in.
Reuben Foster is gone? Five-star Rashaan Evan is up to bat.
Marlon Humphrey is gone? Five-star Tony Brown, your time is now.
On the defensive line, Da’Ron Payne returns to wreak havoc along with the aforementioned Hand. Players like Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs figure to have major roles as well.
The linebacker corps in Tuscaloosa might rival the running back unit for the most talent per square inch. As Connelly notes in his preview, five-star freshmen might not even find a spot this year.
In the linebacking corps, it’s easy to see 2016 backups like juniors Keith Holcombe and Christian Miller or sophomores Anfernee Jennings and Mack Wilson joining the starting lineup next to stalwarts Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans and thriving. At least, they could if they can hold off the youngsters. Five-star redshirt freshman Ben Davis and five-star true freshman Dylan Moses (along any of three mere four-star freshmen) could butt their way into the lineup sooner than later.
If there is one weakness, it might be at cornerback. Receiver-turned-cornerback Trevon Diggs is in line for a starting job, and he struggled mightily in the spring game. But with All-American Minkah Fitzpatrick behind you at safety, it does mask a lot of issues you’d otherwise see.
What will happen
The most difficult game on Florida State’s schedule will occur in week one.
The ’Noles will roll into Atlanta and line up against a team that has more talent than anyone in the country. Currently a touchdown underdog per most betting sites, Fisher and the Seminoles will need to bring something beyond their “A game” if they want to emerge from Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a victory.