Two of the most talented teams in college football will line up against each other in Atlanta this weekend. And the operative word there may just be “line.”
Florida State and Alabama have recruited at an elite level, which is a key part to any successful collegiate team, as players graduate or jump early to the NFL every year. Both teams have been adept at recruiting talent in the trenches, the offensive and defensive lines, where games are often won or lost. If you cannot control the line of scrimmage, you will have a difficult time moving the ball.
Several of the key matchups this weekend will be in the trenches, an area that Alabama often exploits because of its supreme advantage in talent.
But does the Crimson Tide still possess that advantage in this matchup?
While talent is one factor, experience is also another variable we must consider. Because linemen do not often collect stats, especially offensive linemen, returning starts is a factor that is used to measure the quality of a particular unit, especially as it pertains to the chemistry said unit may or may not have developed.
Due to the mass exodus of talent along Alabama’s defensive line (the Crimson Tide must replace five draft picks in its front seven), the ’Noles might actually hold the upper hand when cleats hit the turf.
Let’s take a closer look at the individual matchups, focusing first on Florida State’s defensive line versus Alabama’s offensive line.
FSU Front Seven Returning Starts: 105
Alabama Offensive Line Returning Starts: 67
DeMarcus Walker’s absence will certainly be felt, but the Seminoles return seven players who have started a game in their career along the front seven. Leading the charge are Derrick Nnadi and Josh Sweat along the defensive line, both focal points of the Seminoles’ attack up front.
If Matthew Thomas is on the field, he and fellow senior Ro’Derrick Hoskins form one of the best linebacker duos in the nation. Don’t forget about Jacob Pugh either, who has quietly been a consistent playmaker on defense.
Alabama also returns many players with starting experience along its offensive line. Left tackle Jonah Williams might be the most talented guy out there, but left guard Ross Pierschbacher has been a staple along the Crimson Tide’s offensive line for two seasons now. Senior center Bradley Bozeman has also seen his fair share of action as well.
The right side of Alabama’s offensive line is the weak spot, where right guard Lester Cotton only returns five starts. With Williams shifting to the left side, a new right tackle will face his first test against Florida State’s experienced defensive front.
Now let’s look at Alabama’s front seven as compared to Florida State’s offensive line.
Alabama Front Seven Returning Starts: 38
|ILB||Shaun Dion Hamilton||18|
FSU Offensive Line Returning Starts: 57
While Alabama’s front seven has all the talent in the world, it will be fielding a bunch of players with limited or zero starting experience this weekend.
However, the players with starting experience are very good. Defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne is a rhinoceros in the interior, while inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton was a staple of Alabama’s defensive attack before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
The loss of five draft picks means that former five star recruits like Da’Shawn Hand and Rashaan Evans will finally get their time to shine. Players like Raekwon Davis and Christian Miller are similarly talented, but have yet to play starting snaps for Alabama.
On the other side, Florida State’s offensive line surprisingly returns many players who have starting experience.
Junior center Alec Eberle leads the way with 19 consecutive starts. Tackles Rick Leonard, Brock Ruble, and Derrick Kelly also have a good number of starts under their belts as well.
The biggest factor to take away from this matchup is that the Seminoles will be playing five linemen who have starting experience. They might not be able to match up to the raw talent that Alabama possesses, but at some point experience plays a big role.