It’s talking season.
That’s not the official name of the various media days taking place all over the country the last two weeks, but it might as well be.
Talking season is just that: talking. Soon it will be playing season though, and all the talk goes out the window.
But talking season did reveal a narrative that is likely to get under the skin of any hardened SEC fan. The two premier ACC coaches, who interestingly enough took the stage on the last day of SEC Media Days, publicly proclaimed that the ACC is currently college football’s best conference.
Jimbo Fisher: “I think we’ve established ourselves as I think the premier conference in college football.”
Dabo Swinney: “The ACC is the best league in college football, and you can get beat each and every day, so you’ve really got to be on it because you never know..”
Swinney’s and Fisher’s pride is understandable given the past decade of SEC dominance. It’s also an issue with which Alabama fans might take interest. It just so happens that Alabama finished last season with a last-second loss to Swinney’s Clemson Tigers and opens the upcoming season with Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles.
Given that fact, some might view the Sept. 2 Alabama-Florida State game as a referendum on which conference is better. While that’s certainly a narrow prism from which to view the issue, there is no doubting that Alabama and Florida State are viewed as the top teams in their respective conference, as proven by both being projected to win their leagues during the SEC and ACC media days.
“I think to some extent it will be,” espn.com ACC writer David Hale said. “If Alabama wins, I think it becomes a little bit of, ‘Well, our best is better than your best.’ If Florida State wins, it’s the same thing.
“I think the necessity of a win still feels like it’s more on the ACC’s need list. I feel like Alabama doesn’t really have a lot to prove except for the fact that it will have lost two straight ACC games, and that certainly doesn’t look good. If Alabama loses this game I don’t think anybody walks away and says, ‘Well, the SEC’s terrible, Alabama’s terrible.’ The ACC has been able to thump its chest this offseason, but if Florida State goes out and loses this game…that luster wears off quickly.
“It comes down to the SEC has a decade of dominance to back up whereas the ACC has one really good season and is still sort of the outlier among a long history of sort of being an also ran.”
The high-profile nature of the Alabama-Florida State game will garner the most attention, but there are other early SEC-ACC games that will write the story too. South Carolina plays N.C. State on opening weekend, Tennessee squares off against the option attack of Georgia Tech and Auburn goes to Clemson on Sept. 9.
All eyes, though, will be pointed toward Atlanta for the Crimson Tide-Seminoles contest.
“(It’s getting) a lot of attention. A lot of questions about that,” Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois said.
His coach isn’t exactly shying away from it either.
“Well, I scheduled it, so I’d better be ready for it,” Fisher joked last week. “I think it’s a great opportunity. I think it’s what college football is about. You get to walk in that atmosphere and environment, the two-winningest teams in college football in the last seven years. I think it’s great for our league, I think it’s great for college football. As you know Nick is one of the great football coaches in this country and one of the greatest of all time. I believe that. They have a tremendous program, tremendous players, well-prepared, how they’re built from big physical guys to fast dynamic guys.”
Fisher then went on to gush about his opponent. The depth of Alabama’s roster, the size, the speed and the skill.
“They’ve got everything, so we’re going to have to really have our ‘A’ game and be ready to play…,” Fisher said. “…we have our work cut out for us, but if you’re a competitor and you like those things, those are great opportunities.”
Mutual admiration society
Likewise, Nick Saban talked up the Seminoles during his turn at SEC Media Days last week.
“I think that Florida State has been one of their biggest challenges in their league and probably have as many good players returning as anybody in college football,” Saban said. “So we have a tremendous amount of respect for the league. And we played the two top teams in that league, or will play, have played, and will play, and that’s very challenging.
“Florida State, especially, is built like an SEC team, you know, like our teams. You think of Florida State, you think of fast, explosive players which they have a lot of, but they are also a big, physical, play great defense, tough, you know, team. And I think it’s probably Jimbo’s experience in this league that sort of why he built his team that way. And that’s certainly the kind of team that they have this year.”
Fisher and Saban haven’t been shy of late about discussing the matchup, particularly because it’s the first game on the schedule.
Playing their way into the CFP
The game is a win for college football fans, who get to watch perhaps the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the country play it out on opening weekend. There’s been some talk that a loss, with exception of a blowout loss, won’t necessarily hurt the losing team’s long-term goals.
While it’s true a competitive loss won’t derail a team’s season, it does leave zero room for hiccups the rest of the way.
“I think people are putting a little too much stock in that,” Hale said. “We’re not going to see a lot of two-loss teams in the playoff. It’s not that this game eliminates anyone, but it means you’ve got 11 games after that where you’ve got zero margin for error. That’s not an easy path.”
That said, Hale does think it might mean more for Florida State than Alabama.
“It’s probably the biggest week one game in the history of college football,” he said. “It’s certainly the most hyped regular season game involving an ACC team as I can remember.
“Alabama’s sort of the benchmark for everybody. Alabama’s the benchmark and if Florida State wants to be recognized as a potential national champion this year they need to be able to show they can play with the benchmark.”