It is no secret that the September 2nd matchup between Alabama and Florida State is one of the most anticipated opening weekend games in college football history. The excitement surrounding this matchup of the nation’s top and third ranked teams is at a fever pitch. Chick-Fil-A, the game’s title sponsor, dubbed the game as the “Greatest Opener of All-Time”. This game includes two of college football’s most successful coaches and most frenzied fanbases. However, with all the hoopla surrounding this matchup, the question over whether this game can live up to its hype presents itself.
Why It Will Not Meet Expectations
Saban’s Record Against Former Assistants
Alabama has been absolutely dominant against teams that are coached by former Nick Saban assistants. The Crimson Tide boasts a perfect 10-0 record in such games. Even more impressive is Alabama’s 29.9 point margin of victory. Alabama won all these games by double digits. Jim McElwain came the closest to beating his former boss in the 2015 SEC Championship Game, but even that was a 14-point loss for the Gators.
Jimbo Fisher ran Nick Saban’s offense from 2000-2004 at LSU. Although Fisher has achieved more than Saban’s other assistants, the familiarity that Saban has of Fisher’s offense is a definite advantage for Alabama. As a result, “The Greatest Opener of All Time” could just be blowout number 11 for Saban against his proteges.
Alabama’s Record in Openers
Alabama has been just as dominant in neutral site openers as it has been against Saban’s former assistants. The Crimson Tide is unbeaten in its seven previous neutral site openers. It holds an average margin of victory of just under 23 points in these games. These opponents have also been unable to come within 10 points of Alabama. Giving Nick Saban an entire offseason to prepare is a recipe for disaster for most teams. Adding January’s heartbreaking loss to Clemson in the National Championship Game only makes a well-prepared team even hungrier. That combination could prove deadly enough to make the Seminoles Alabama’s eighth-straight neutral site opening win under Saban.
Offensive Question Marks
Both Alabama and Florida State both come into this opener with some big questions to answer on the offensive side of the ball. For the Seminoles, the questions lie in the running game. Florida State has the burden of trying to replace one of the most dynamic players in school history. Dalvin Cook was the lightning rod for the Seminoles’ offense the last three seasons. His combination of explosive runs and sure-handed catching kept Florida State’s offense afloat in spite of mediocre quarterback play, especially in the last two seasons. Replicating that production will be a tough task for the Seminoles.
Alabama, on the other hand, is adjusting to its third offensive coordinator in the span of a year. The Lane Kiffin experiment fizzled out in December, and Steve Sarkisian’s tenure ended before it ever really began in January. Enter Brian Daboll of the New England Patriots. He is tasked with bringing a more traditional, pro-style attack to Tuscaloosa. However, in order to achieve the balance needed for Daboll’s offense to flourish, the downfield passing game has to improve. Last year, Jalen Hurts burst on to the scene and excelled early on. His ability to make plays with his legs kept defenses honest and helped extend drives. But the Tide’s offense sputtered late in the year, and the lack of accuracy in the vertical passing game was one of its biggest problems.
Given the changes that both offenses are experiencing and the elite level of defense that both teams possess, it is not unlikely that this game could be filled with the turnover numbers and low scoring that would be disappointing to most fans.
Why it Will Meet Expectations
Both Teams are Carbon Copies of One Another
On paper, this game is one of the most evenly matched contests college football can offer. Both teams are basically lining up against duplicates of themselves. Nick Saban built his dynasty at Alabama by playing great defense, dominating the trenches, and putting more speed on the field than his opponents can handle.
Jimbo Fisher took this blueprint and replicated it tit for tat in Tallahassee. Both teams have quarterbacks that can make plays with their legs as well as their arms, they use a committee approach to running the ball, and they both have potential top 10 NFL Draft picks at safety. The similarities between these two teams are striking and will bring the best out of the elite athletes on the field and the elite coaches on the sidelines.
Both Alabama and Florida State have two defenses that should shine in this game. Alabama’s front seven has been a staple of Nick Saban’s defenses. Even though this year’s squad is lacking the experience of years past, the talent this year is just as good if not better. The pure strength and power of players like Da’shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne will clog up running lanes and pound the Florida State offensive line into submission.
Florida State, on the other hand, uses its speed on the edges to collapse pockets and blow by its opponents. The duo of Josh Sweat and Brian Burns should give Alabama’s inexperienced offensive line fits. The depth at the end position should keep the Seminoles’ pass rush relentless and fresh throughout the game.
However, all eyes will be on the secondary and two of the best players in college football: Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Both players are physical freaks and can play any position on the field. These defenses start and end with the performance of these players. Watching these special talents wreck havoc on the opposing offenses will be extremely fun.
The atmosphere surrounding this matchup will be electric. College Gameday chose this game as its host, for obvious reasons. This game opens up Atlanta’s new, billion-dollar Mercedes-Benz stadium. Both teams have dark horse heisman contenders at quarterback and defenses that will make them prove their talent. Finally, this game has two of college football’s most eccentric fan bases that have been wanting to see this matchup for four years. Atlanta will be rocking all week, and the proximity of both fan bases to the area will provide fuel for both teams.
Will the “Greatest Opener of All Time” Live Up to the Hype?
These teams are too good and too evenly matched at every position to see a blowout on the horizon. Both team might struggle early, but this game is shaping up to be an epic battle of two juggernauts. While Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide might get off to a faster start, Jimbo Fisher’s ability to make halftime adjustments should keep the game interesting and provide a set up for an epic finish. The cherry on top of this great matchup is, given how highly these two teams are ranked, it is not outside the realm of possibility that we see a rematch in January.