by Tommy Deas
Alabama brings a stable of running backs and the returning SEC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Jalen Hurts, but the difference-makers may be on the line and at wideout. FSU has a tough-guy quarterback in Deondre Francois but not quite as much proven talent around him.
Alabama has led the nation in rushing defense four times since 2011, and never rated outside the top 10 against the run since 2008. Da’Ron Payne leads a rebuilt front unit. Linebackers abound, but the secondary most prove itself. The Seminoles are deep and talented on defense, and will be physical.
Advantage: Florida State
Punter JK Scott has All-America credentials, but may be asked to also kick off and boot field goals. That’s not a good sign for UA’s special teams entering the season. FSU will have new returners but a proven kicker in Ricky Aguayo and a decent punter in Logan Tyler.
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher learned under Nick Saban, but has grown into his own as a head coach with the Seminoles. He won a national title in 2013 and has kept FSU among the nation’s elite programs. Saban, of course, has a trophy case full of championships and a handful of rings.
Advantage: Florida State
Alabama has won a string of high-profile season openers in neutral-site stadiums in recent years, but this is the toughest challenge yet. UA is used to being the hunted, but FSU has the weapons to make it interesting, and the motivation to parlay this game into a national title run.
Alabama 23, Florida State 17
If the kicking game plays a big role, Alabama may be at a disadvantage. That’s why UA’s offense and defense have to make sure it doesn’t come down to that. Expect the Crimson Tide to establish the run, play ball control and force FSU into mistakes. Don’t expect a blowout.
Alabama 38, Florida State 24
In the battle between No. 1 and No. 3, Alabama comes out on top. Florida State holds its own in the first half, but the Crimson Tide’s talented backfield is too much for the Seminoles to handle.
Alabama 34, Florida State 30
Florida State’s defense is in good hands with Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden in the secondary, but Alabama should still run the ball efficiently against the Seminoles. The performance of Matt Womack or Jedrick Wills at right tackle will be the key to the Crimson Tide’s success in a high-scoring game.
Alabama 40, Florida State 37 (OT)
That’s an abundance of offense but no one expected the 1967 game to be a 37-37 tie either. A tie can’t happen this time, so I threw in an overtime field goal — FSU gets the ball first but misses wide right — to give everyone some extra dyspepsia.
Alabama 29, Florida State 27
The Seminoles have the personnel to match up with the Crimson Tide at every position. I expect this game to live up to the hype, and I also expect Alabama’s kicking game to provide at least one uncomfortable moment in a close game.
Alabama 28, Florida State 24
From a talent standpoint, the Seminoles have the athleticism to not be overwhelmed by the Crimson Tide. However, if new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll returns Alabama to its ball-control roots then Florida State will wear down in the second half.
Alabama 35, Florida State 24
It’s being billed as the greatest college season opener ever. Will it live up to the hype? Probably not. With this being the first game, expect some sloppy play early on both sides. Alabama has a few more experienced playmakers, including some new ones, than FSU, and that’s what will be the difference tonight.
Alabama 31, Florida State 21
This game to me is all about which team can wear the other down. If Brian Daboll leans on FSU with the run for four quarters, I think Alabama pulls away late.
Alabama 31, Florida State 24
Expect lots of running. Alabama returned its top three rushers and only one leading receiver. Also, Florida State safety Derwin James will be someone to watch since he hasn’t played a game in almost a year but is still labeled one of the best players in college football.
Alabama 24, Florida State 20
Deondre Francois of Florida State and Jalen Hurts of Alabama will both return as starting quarterbacks for the second consecutive year. Both needed to improve accuracy and decision making in the offseason. The most improved player will prevail. Alabama also has skilled special teams players and a strong defensive line.