It’s that time again, folks. When we gaze prophetically into the future and tell you exactly how the weekend’s Florida State football game will play out. Or, we guess. Whatever.
We’ve been waiting quite some time for the Seminoles to square off against the Crimson Tide, and the time is nigh. Our predictions:
When I first started looking at this matchup a few months ago, I thought Alabama would have a big advantage. But after diving into it more, I’ve come to realize Florida State is better prepared than most think and may have the upper hand in a couple of battles.
I think this game is going to be low scoring. Two elite defenses are squaring off against opposing offenses that might take a while to find their footing. Jalen Hurts and Deondre Francois are talented sophomore quarterbacks, but both have their weaknesses, which I think the defenses will seek to exploit.
The key matchup I’m looking for is FSU’s receivers against Alabama’s secondary. As I highlighted previously, Florida State has the talent and coaching to exploit one or two new defensive backs. If Florida State wins, it’s because Keith Gavin or Nyqwan Murray made some plays on a couple of deep balls from Francois.
In the end, I think Alabama wins in a close, low-scoring game. Vegas has the O/U right now at 49-points, but I don’t think this game hits that mark. Don’t be surprised if FSU and Alabama go into halftime with a score of 10-7 or something in that range.
I’ll go Alabama 24, Florida State 17. ’Noles start 0-1, but with plenty of time to regain their footing and fight for a spot in the playoffs.
Let me start off by admitting that there seems to be reasonable arguments for a wide variety of outcomes in this game. With so much time for two elite coaches to prep, and with neither team having tackled an opposing player since January, I could see one or both teams hitting some big/trick plays. Turnovers could be an issue, as both QBs can be erratic at times and both defenses featuring oodles of NFL talent. The reality is, even with two great teams, sometimes the ball starts bouncing the wrong way and circumstances begin to snowball (see, FSU at Clemson in 2013 and FSU at Louisville in 2016). I honestly would not walk out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium shocked if FSU won by 10 or lost by 20.
Having said all that, I tend to agree with Dakota. Both defenses are stacked and neither team will move the ball all that consistently. There will be some shot plays here and there, and it seems like special teams always plays a factor in top-three matchups. But for much of the night, the defenses will do the dictating. Ultimately, I see Jimbo Fisher settling for too many early field goals and the Crimson Tide getting one more critical third-down stop when it needs it most.
Alabama 23, Florida State 19.
I don’t think Florida State will beat Alabama, but if it did, that would likely mean the defense played sound and the front seven were able to keep Alabama’s rushing yards to a minimum. This seems like a very likely scenario to me. Jalen Hurts does not really scare anybody as a passer. He might hit a long ball or two here or there but ultimately the Tide is going to have to depend on his legs along with the legs of his backfield mates. I think FSU will get lined up and hold the Alabama offense to a reasonable output. However, this is all null and void if the Alabama defense turns Florida State’s offense over.
Certainly the other side of the ball is the likely issue for the ’Noles, and I’m not sure that they have the ability to solve enough of the problems. The offensive line will not be great but can they be good enough? Can Francois put his line in good position both with audibles, correct decisions, and accurate passes? Can his WRs be in the right place at the right time? That’s just too many questions for my liking. I think the line will be able to open enough holes for the RBs, but I’m not sure they can keep Francois upright enough against the Alabama defense. I like Francois’ guts; I don’t really like his accuracy. I like the WRs’ abilities, but I don’t like their execution.
In the end, I think turnovers and fourth down math play a huge role in this game, as they usually do in games like this, and I think Alabama is better on both fronts.
Alabama 34, Florida State 27
I would be inclined to pick Florida State if it was playing Alabama later in the year. The complicating factor is that this game falls on opening weekend and there are just too many unknowns for the ’Noles to be confident in an FSU pick.
Florida State’s offensive line is a concern; without having seen them play in a game yet, how will we know if they’re cohesive? Will they be able to create leverage, open some running lanes, keep Francois protected, and win the battle in the trenches against one of the best defensive front 7s in the country? Frenchy’s accuracy and decision-making may or may not have improved from last season, but without having seen FSU play a game yet, how will we know if that’s the case? (To be fair, there are similar questions for Jalen Hurts). FSU is having to replace its all-time leading rusher and a slew of its top WRs from last season; the young guys seeking to replace them are extremely talented, but unproven. Alabama is replacing 11 total starters from last year; will that be as big a factor for a stacked team like Alabama that reloads rather than rebuilds? Derwin James is back healthy and, on paper, our defense looks to be stacked; but without having seen them play in a game yet, how will we know they’ve learned to fix their alignment, play-calling, tempo, and adjustment mistakes from the first half of last season when they were torched by mobile opposing quarterbacks? Meanwhile, the Tide have replaced Lane Kiffin with a more pro-style offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll. How different will Bama’s offensive scheme look?
Because both teams will look to establish their physical rushing attacks early, and because both teams feature elite defenses, I’m predicting this game to be a low-scoring ball game that is close late. I think special teams and field position will play a huge role. I hope FSU is able to get pressure on Hurts and force him to throw the ball down the field for a change. I also hope Jimbo brings out a few unexpected wrinkles on offense.
I’m not picking the ’Noles to beat Alabama on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean FSU can’t hang with, or beat, them. It is conceivable that FSU beats Alabama; I just don’t think that’s the smart bet. In the big scheme of things, even if the ’Noles drop this opener, their season goals remain attainable. Plus I have a feeling that FSU might just see this Alabama team again around New Years.
Alabama 24, Florida State 20
Every year since 2012, Alabama has taken on a “high-profile” opponent to start off the season. While they haven’t always been ranked (2013 vs. Virginia Tech, 2014 vs. West Virginia) or properly ranked (hello, No. 8 Michigan in 2012), the fact that they’ve opted for a big name rather than a gimme is notable.
It’s especially notable since, outside of the 33-23 matchup vs. the Mountaineers, the games haven’t been close. Wisconsin had the game 14-7 in 2015, but the final score ended up being 35-17.
But, with all credit now given, Alabama hasn’t played a team close to that of Florida State’s caliber in any of those games. The Seminoles are one of the few teams in the country built to standup to the blue-chip powerhouse that ol’ Nicky Saban has established.
In that 2014 game vs. West Virginia, Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards while the team combined to rush for 25. That’s not exactly the winning formula that Florida State is looking for, but its strategy lies within those numbers.
Trickett put up those stats because of an up-tempo, spread attack. If the Seminoles want to have a chance to put up the proper amount of points on Saturday, they’re going to have to include tempo and RPO into its strategy. Jimbo Fisher has repeatedly gone on record about his dislike of RPO’s infiltration of the sport, but as the 2016 season went on, he seemed to get over it. Let’s hope he’s done a complete 180 on it.
Defensively, I’m pretty confident in Florida State’s chances. Its defensive line will match up well in the trenches, and with Hurts’ issues as a consistent passer, the secondary should be able to keep things contained. Also, have you heard of this guy Derwin James?
If Florida State can limit its turnovers below 2, rack up at least 250 yards passing and 90 yards rushing and keep Alabama under 20 points, that’s a winning formula. If it can’t keep Deondre Francois upright, execute on special teams or stop the run, it’s gonna be a bad time.
I can see how Florida State wins, but I can’t fully buy into it.
Alabama 17, Florida State 14
Offensively, the team that controls the line of scrimmage, wins TOP, establishes their running game best, and makes the fewest turnovers, will win the battle of the offenses.
On the other hand, the defense that stops the big play, clogs up the running lanes best, contains the opposing QB in the pocket, and makes fundamentally sound tackles, should win this defense slug fest.
Lastly, the team that makes their field goals and whose punting keeps the other team pinned back, and the team that plays smash-mouth football, sticks to their game plan, plays with more heart, wants it more than their opponent, leaves it all out on the field, and has the most points when the final gun sounds, will win this game.
OK, now that I've used up all my clichés...
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES 31 - Alabama Tide Rollers 24
Florida State will successfully defend the passing game of Jalen Hurts and Alabama. The ’Noles pass rush is going to force Hurts to move in the pocket and he will not get much time to release the ball. However, I think Bo Scarborough will rush for over 150 yards and that will lead to the eventual victory for Alabama in a very low scoring affair.
The Alabama defense, in my opinion, is better than Florida State’s offense by a large margin. Much like what Florida State will do to Hurts, the Alabama defensive front will force Francois to throw on the run and will not allow him to gather any rhythm. Jacques Patrick will be the highlight for FSU on offense, but will not be able to find his way into the end zone. Florida State will have to settle for Ricky Aguayo field goals the entire game.
Florida State: 9
The Tide and the ’Noles both come out sloppy, but the offenses find their footing in the second quarter. Francois has an up and down game and Derwin James flying around the field is a welcomed sight to ’Nole Nation. Special teams will be very important, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a defensive touchdown by either side. Jerry Jeudy concerns me more than Calvin Ridley does, and I think he’ll get close to 100 yards receiving. I think Saban and company force a late turnover that ultimately seals the game in favor of the Crimson Tide. Take heart, Nole fans, because a rematch is in our future, and a narrow defeat sharpens the focus for FSU. This is just the battle, not the war.
Alabama 24 FSU 20
Alabama 27 FSU 23
I think Alabama wins the hidden yardage game with superior special teams and a timely turnover that leads to them scoring on much shorter fields than FSU. The offense struggles to get in a rhythm early leading to the defense being on the field much more than anticipated early. Deondre Francois will connect with Keith Gavin for a huge touchdown late but it won’t be enough as Alabama’s running game runs out the clock vs. an FSU defense that has spent too many plays on the field.
I think the key to this game comes to which offensive line plays better. And I am not confident in FSU’s line until I see it in action. I think Florida State’s defense will keep them in the game but their offense won’t. Too many turnovers or poor field position situations puts too much pressure on the defense, which leads to Alabama points.
Alabama - 34
Florida State - 17
As some above have said as well, my opinion of this game has swayed more toward Florida State as fall camp has progressed through a combination of a lot of things FSU has been doing as well as a more in-depth look at this year’s ’Bama squad.
On paper, a matchup with the Tide is never going to go well when it’s a season opener. Historically under Saban, Alabama gets up for its opening games, which are often against marquee opponents, though not quite on FSU’s level.
That being said, Fisher is 7-0 in season openers as a head coach and if there was a year where you would want to be facing Alabama in a season opener, this might be that year. The Crimson Tide is replacing major contributors at each level of the defense off of last year’s team, three of whom were first-round picks. I’m aware of the fact that the machine that is Alabama has former five-star recruits waiting in the wings who have been used in reserve roles before being called upon to start this season. But, I don’t think that talent of any caliber automatically gives you the experience to be ready for a game like this, especially against competition as stiff as FSU, just a notch below ’Bama in talent.
The keys to a FSU victory will be not falling behind early as the Seminoles have been prone to, avoiding turnovers at all costs given Alabama’s proclivity for defensive touchdowns, and preventing long drives which will wear FSU’s defense out by the fourth quarter.
I think the difference maker on Saturday is the kicking game. Ricky Aguayo was not stellar as a freshman in 2016, but he performed better away from home and will definitely have the advantage over a middling ’Bama kicking unit which is balancing between two inconsistent kickers in the lead up to the game.
Florida State 24
My new boss (at my full-time gig) is a former FBI agent, so I'm going to trust his intuition over even my own when he speaks confidently about something. And his biggest concern for Florida State coming into Saturday's game against Alabama? The Crimson Tide's chip on their shoulder after what happened against Clemson in the National Championship game.
And I don't disagree with this one bit.
Maybe I just like to imagine the following scenario ACTUALLY took place during Alabama's offseason (because it's humorous), but I truly envision Nick Saban wearing eye black 24/7 -- in his house, at home -- with a scraggly bandana around his head, doing pull-ups and grunting in the basement, ala Uncle Leo-style from Seinfeld. You know, the episode where Jerry betrayed him and Uncle Leo vowed to "Never forget! Never forgive!"? (LOL #ClassicUncleLeo)
That festering anger inside Saban and the entire Alabama team worries me for FSU's chances in this game only because this will be a contest -- on opening night and under a big college football microscope -- that will be based largely on emotion. And which team can control theirs the best.
I'm not saying throw stats, and matchups, and Xs and Os out the window by any means, but nobody really wants to face a really mad Alabama team. Nobody.
However, that being said, if there is ONE man who can stare into the eyes of Saban and frustrate and confound one of the greatest minds in college football, it's Jimbo Fisher.
He knows his former boss' tendencies, and he's a hell of a film-study genius. Don't discount one bit that Saturday night's game is nothing more than a game of high stakes poker -- each opponent trying to level the other -- and Fisher has spent the ENTIRE offseason learning all of Saban's tells.
New ones and old.
Of course, Fisher also has a secret weapon: Deondre Francois, a player whom I have not been shy about saying during the offseason that I think is going to have a Heisman-like season.
And I expect Frenchy to ball out Saturday and show Alabama fans what a REAL dual-threat quarterback looks like. #MicDrop
On that note, I'm gonna go do some pull ups.
Florida State 30, Alabama 25
Seminole supporters have correctly talked themselves into the reality that this game, while the biggest opener of all time, is not FSU’s most important game of the year. That said, the longer the ’Noles hang around, the less an 11-1 or 10-2 finish will appeal to the garnet and gold.
And I think this defense has enough talent and experience to keep Alabama at bay. On defense, A.J. Westbrook, and then Trey Marshall, following his first-half suspension, must play well on the back end. Offensively, Francois cannot again be getting up looking out of his earl time and again. If you get off schedule against these guys, they’ve made you one dimensional, predictable— and then they can really pin their ears back.
Francois will have to run the ball, hit on early-down passes, and the offense needs some explosive plays. They’ll get some, but not enough, which means Alabama winds up controlling field position.
And after coming so close, this is gonna sting, all rationalizations aside.
FSU 23, Alabama 24
As always, tune in to the Nolecast to hear Bud Elliott and Ingram Smith make their picks on the game.