The college football season draws inexorably closer, and the hype is mounting for what some are calling the season opener of the century: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Florida State Seminoles.
Most predict that the Crimson Tide will be ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll when it comes out, and most estimates put the Seminoles at either third or fourth. Regardless of their actual rankings starting out the season, nobody can deny that this will be one of the biggest games of the year.
FSU is considered the underdog coming into the contest, but you can’t rule out Jimbo Fisher’s squad and their prowess.Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.
Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.
Here’s some ways that either team can win.
Why Alabama will win
Alabama is a clear favorite to win this one in many people’s minds. The Alabama team is as powerful as ever, and Saban’s incoming recruiting class is one of his best.
The Tide bring in running back Najee Harris, a 6-foot-2, 224 pound powerhouse. They also bring in 5-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a native Hawaiian who some say might be able to challenge Jalen Hurts for quarterback dominance. Along with these two guys, the Alabama team brings in a whole slew of other talent.
As far as opening games go, Nick Saban has a pretty hard record to beat at Alabama. In fact, he hasn’t lost a single one and is 10-0. Additionally, the Crimson Tide don’t just have history on their side: their defense is the best in the nation every year.
If this is the case, FSU is going to have a hard time getting anything through the Alabama line. Unless the incoming FSU offensive talent is as good as it can be, the Tide defense is going to keep the Seminoles to quite a low score during the game. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a case for being one of the best in the league at his position, and this game gives him the perfect opportunity to show what he’s got.
In addition, there are still some questions surrounding the FSU offense. The team still isn’t 100 percent clear who they’re fielding at running back, and much of their receiving corps is untrained.
This year there is much to be said about the 2017 Tide offense. Although a lot of it is hype, Jalen Hurts has matured since we saw him last. He has another offseason under his belt and has a great offensive unit to back him up once again. The offense has a lot going for it, but will it be enough in the face of FSU’s surprisingly strong defense?
Why Florida State will win
Last year’s FSU team would have lost to last year’s Alabama team. This year, however, it’s a lot more difficult to make the same argument. Although many do not want to get their hopes up, FSU’s team this year has the chance to bring down Alabama.
The hopes and dreams of the Nole nation ride not on the offense, but on the defense: specifically, on safety Derwin James. He’s being hyped up by virtually every college football commentator, and it’s easy to see why. In his true freshman season back in 2015, James racked up 91 tackles with 4.5 sacks. Last season, he was injured for all but two games.
If he lives up to the hype, he might very well stop Jalen Hurts and his offense in their tracks. Along with the rest of the Seminole defense, James will own the night when they go up against Alabama.
A victory from the Seminoles also comes down to how well quarterback Deondre Francois can deliver. He’s top ten in almost all “Heisman prediction” lists, and is predicted as being one of next year’s best quarterbacks.
Against Alabama, who has put up an iron grid against run plays, effective passing is a must.
The FSU defense is up to the challenge, but is the offense?
The winner is…
Alabama. It’s hard to predict against them, and this time FSU just doesn’t have the steam. It’ll be a close game, but Francois won’t be able to locate his targets often enough. It’s the season opener, his first chance of the season to test his chops, and it’s against the best team in the nation.
In the end, the Crimson Tide can perform just a bit better offensively in spite of FSU’s defense.
Alabama 14 FSU 10
For a more in-depth analysis of the game, check back on the JR Report a couple days before the big game.
Nicholai Babis is a lead contributor for The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @nibabis.
The 2017 season of college football is already promising to be a good one. With several teams poised to contend for the title and last year’s championship winner Clemson not yet in a position to defend its title, the top 25 looks like it could change at any moment.
With all this in mind, here is the JR Report’s way-too-early college football top 25.
1. Ohio State
Picking Ohio State over Alabama is a bold move, considering the Buckeyes’ last game where they lost 31-0 against Clemson.
With new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and both returners and new starters to bolster the offense, OSU is looking better than it has looked in a long time.
The Buckeyes also return seven of their defensive starters, who looked great in spring games. Ohio State has a chance to keep Alabama from winning a title, but will the Buckeyes be the ones to win it?
Even after losing several of their key starters, the Crimson Tide look great. Jalen Hurts looked amazing in the spring games, and so did his potential backup Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s an almost sure thing that the Tide are No.1 in the AP Poll, but it won’t last if they can’t hold up in the season opener against FSU. Their offense needs significant improvement with a better receiving corps and a more consistent pass attack.
Jalen Hurts is more than up to the task, but Ohio State will likely overtake the Tide in the polls.
3. Florida State
The Seminoles are looking great for the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising if they’re ranked worse, but No. 3 is a good place for them. They will have a lot to prove in their first game against a first or second-ranked Alabama, but they’re ready for a dog fight.
Five-star running back recruit Cam Akers is prepared to take up the job that Dalvin Cook left for him, and safety Derwin James is finally healthy enough to tear up the field.
Quarterback Deondre Francois seems to have improved on the field, and as he gets more and more comfortable in his role, opposing teams have more to worry about.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Trojans live up to all the off-season hype. True, Sam Darnold is a Heisman-caliber quarterback and it’s unlikely that he’ll have a bad season, but the strength of schedule is a recurring question for USC.
USC played the spring game with plenty of injuries, so we didn’t get a good picture of how the offense is shaping up for 2017. The Trojans are a favorite for the college football playoff, but it remains to be seen where they can ascend to despite their poor schedule.
If the Trojans can get over all the injuries and come into the season at 100 percent, No. 4 is the perfect ranking for them.
5. Penn State
There’s no doubt that Penn State and its fans are still unhappy about being edged out of the playoff despite winning the Big Ten title.
With the trio of quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley, and redshirt sophomore receiver Juwan Johnson, the Nittany Lions will once again be a contender for the Big Ten championship.
The Nittany Lions have a lot to prove if they want to show that they deserve a place in the college football playoff, but this year’s team makes it look possible.
Although the Tigers lost star quarterback Deshaun Watson, they have some good players fighting for the position. In addition, the Clemson defense is one of the best defenses in the team’s history and will contend with Alabama for the best defense in the nation.
Clemson’s early schedule will be the perfect testing ground for the young team with games at Auburn and Louisville—there, we will see if the Tigers’ offense is reloaded enough to be a serious threat to FSU in the ACC.
Washington had a couple hiccups in the offseason like quarterback Jake Browning’s shoulder surgery and losing wide receiver John Ross to the NFL, but they are back and ready to compete.
Although the Huskies face tough opponents like Colorado, Stanford, and Washington State, they won’t face serious challenges beyond these teams until they play in the Pac-12 title game. Until then, they’ll stay on top of their side of the Pac-12 and likely in the top 10 nationally.
8. Oklahoma State
The offseason was the perfect storm for Cowboys fans: their biggest rival Oklahoma lost both legendary coach Bob Stoops and outstanding running back Joe Mixon.
In addition, quarterback Mason Rudolph and his receiving corps are one of the best offenses in the nation. With returning receiver James Washington and LSU transfer wide receiver Tyron Johnson, the Cowboys are prepared to take on the Sooners’ offense better than they have in a good number of years.
If the Cowboys can bolster their mediocre defense and stay dominant offensively, this could be the year that they beat Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown.
Despite Oklahoma’s recent misfortune, they’re still Oklahoma. Legendary coach Bob Stoops announced his surprise retirement last week, and many are wondering what this means for the Sooners.
Although star quarterback Baker Mayfield returns with his entire offensive line, the Sooners lost a lot of other offensive depth, such as wide receiver Dede Westbrook, running back Joe Mixon, and running back Samaje Perine.
The offense should still be explosive headed by Mayfield and Oklahoma will still have a good chance of winning the Big 12—now, they just have to try a little harder.
Auburn fans are excited this season, and rightly so—some are saying this is the Auburn team that can beat Bama for the first time since 2013.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been performing well in practice and in the spring game. With running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson behind him, the Tigers offense is ready to go.
With a stellar recruiting class and a reloaded defense, the Tigers will be a big contender in the top 10, even if they lose the Iron Bowl.
With the arrival of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Tigers fans are cautiously optimistic about the 2017 season. A lot of this optimism stems from hopes about running back Derrius Guice. Guice is set up to be one of the best running backs in the nation next year.
The Tigers don’t have a running problem, and they definitely won’t have a defense problem after completely turning around the defense under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
The main problem for LSU going into next season is quarterback Danny Etling. If he can show improvement next season, the Tigers will be another thorn in Alabama’s side in the SEC.
Jim Harbaugh’s team will likely be good once again, but the important question is whether they have the talent to be a top-10 team. With the way things are looking now, the answer is not quite.
Michigan lost 18 starters, but Harbaugh excels in turning a team of rookies into a high-caliber team. The Wolverines boast one of the top recruiting classes in the nation which has convinced many that while Michigan will be a different team next year, they will still be great as long as Harbaugh is in charge.
Wisconsin is a solid pick to play well every year. The Badgers, under new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, look to dominate the Big Ten West via defense.
The Badgers also have the duo of solid quarterback Alex Hornibrook and wide receiver Jazz Peavy, so there is still the potential to make a major impact offensively.
Wisconsin won’t have a particularly difficult schedule, either. They only face Michigan as far as powerful Big Ten teams go, which should go as a big advantage for them staying on top of their division and staying ranked all season.
The well-known running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel return for the Bulldogs along with the passing attack from sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason.
The Dawgs’ defense is also nothing to joke around about. With 10 returning starters, the Georgia defense will be one of the best in the league. Along with Auburn and LSU, the Bulldogs are among the SEC teams with the capability of finally beating Alabama.
The only thing different between this year’s Miami team and last year’s will be the quarterback. With Brad Kaaya’s departure, the Canes are choosing between three potential replacements.
The Hurricanes have an impressive receiving and running game, as well as a stellar defense. If the quarterback choice meshes well with the rest of the offense, Miami will clinch the ACC Coastal division.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson returns to Louisville this season, and every season that he’s on the team is a season where the Cardinals will be good.
The biggest concern for the Cardinals is protecting Jackson. If they can improve their offensive line, Jackson won’t need to be worried about being sacked 46 times again this season.
Louisville may have a similarly disappointing season to last year’s 9-4 finish, but they will certainly start off strong.
With quarterback Keller Chryst injured and hoping to return before next season, the Cardinal have put some confidence in backup quarterback Ryan Burns. The Cardinal will have an uphill battle to remain relevant in 2017 with an early game against USC.
Stanford isn’t worried about things on the other side of the ball, and will tout one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.
USF is the AAC team receiving the most hype coming into the 2017 season led by dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and star quarterback Quinton Flowers.
Charlie Strong has made great strides as the incoming coach for the Bulls making the offense is stronger than it has ever been. More importantly, the defense is also looking strong.
With the way things are going and the rise of the AAC, it wouldn’t be surprising to see USF as a top-10 team by the end of the season.
19. West Virginia
Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier already seems to be finding more success at West Virginia than he ever did for the Gators. He performed well during spring games and the hype is building in Morgantown.
Grier will benefit from a solid running back and wide receiver corps, so the offense isn’t the main worry for the Mountaineers.
The main concern is the defense, and if WVU can find its defensive stride they will be a contender for the Big 12 championship.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks has made some waves in Gainesville after he won the quarterback battle.
The Gators hope to clinch the SEC East, but they will face stiff competition from Georgia and a surprisingly strong Tennessee team.
21. Kansas State
The Wildcats are shaping up well, and all three avenues of offensive playmaking are wide open. Dual-threat Jesse Ertz should be cleared after his shoulder surgery, and he’s got a deep corps of receivers and running back Alex Barnes as options.
Kansas State also returns a significant amount of defenders, and they will prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12. They’re an outlier like West Virginia and TCU, but they have upset potential for opponents such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
2016 was a year of disappointment for the Ducks after they dipped below five wins for the first time since 1991 and had their first losing season since 2004. It was a wakeup call for Oregon, and with incoming coach Willie Taggart the Ducks are looking to climb their way back to the top again.
Oregon is an iffy choice for the top 25 at this point, but they have the tools they need to stage a comeback in 2017. With a surprisingly strong recruiting class, the Ducks will rack up at least seven wins and will remain hovering around the rankings all season.
23. Washington State
The Cougars look great coming into the 2017 season headed by quarterback Luke Falk. Falk has a great spread of receivers to pass to, as well as a strong running corps.
Washington State should field a good defensive line as well, and the Cougars are set up to be good competition for their in-state rivals, Washington.
Vols quarterback Quinten Dormady shined during the spring game, and Tennessee is looking good on both sides of the ball for 2017.
Tennessee faces stiff competition in the SEC East against Georgia and Florida. They have upset potential, however, and will be looking to try for the SEC East crown.
After a disappointing decline for the Longhorns’ football program, head coach Tom Herman is looking to turn it around with a complete program overhaul. Herman’s recruiting and redesigning has brought new life to Austin.
The Longhorns are looking to retake their place as one of the strongest college football programs, and although a change like that doesn’t happen overnight, they will be contenders to edge into the top 25 next season.
“26”. TCU, Virginia Tech, Boise State
These three teams are right on the edge of the top 25, and could very well see their names on the list when the first polls are published.
FSU ended last season ranked eighth in the AP poll, but they’re one of the top contenders for the college football title next season. Under the right circumstances, this year’s FSU team is a recipe for success.
Last Time Out
Overall, the Seminoles had a successful 2016 campaign, but there were some bumps in the road, with surprise losses to UNC and Louisville. The ‘Noles bounced back and only suffered one more loss against powerhouse Clemson, and then edged Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
Throughout the season FSU had powerful players on both sides of the ball, but the big story is whether they’ll be able to replace RB Dalvin Cook, who just got drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.
To supplement Akers, FSU is also bringing in the No. 4 ranked running back Khalan Laborn and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White. Laborn is a five-star recruit out of Virginia, and is ranked No. 1 among all-purpose backs.
With this stacked RB recruiting class, it seems the Seminoles have solved the problem of Cook’s departure for the long term. If Akers, Laborn, and White perform as well as they’re ranked, FSU won’t lose any sleep over running concerns.
Any doubt that people had about Deondre Francois’s passing game is all but gone.
In his first season as FSU’s quarterback, he threw 235 completions for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Francois has been working consistently to become a better team leader, and he thinks he’s doing well. “I feel like I’ve gotten better this spring,” he told ESPN in an interview. “I will never be pleased with myself internally, but as a team and as an offense, I am very pleased with how we’ve been doing.”
One thing that Francois did struggle with was protection – he was sacked 37 times last season, and if changes aren’t made to the O-line the ‘Noles have a problem.
The main culprit for all these sacks is the rest of the offense. Francois was also tackled for a loss 86 times and was hurried 28 times, terrible numbers for a top-10 team.
The bottom line is, if Francois doesn’t receive better protection, he’s going to continue to get sacked, which will impair FSU’s ability to reach the title game.
All-American offensive tackle, Roderick Johnson, recently left for the draft, leaving yet another hole in the Seminole O-Line. For a line already plagued by injury, losing a player like Johnson is a recipe for mediocrity. If FSU is going to have a strong offensive line, their young players are going to have to step up.
Josh Ball, a 6’8″ 287 pound offensive tackle out of Virginia, might help the Noles answer some questions. He redshirted last season and comes into this season as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Jauan Williams, a four-star offensive tackle, and Baveon Johnson, a four-star center, also hope to supplement the struggling line.
Sense a trend here? It looks like FSU had a lot of talent in reserve last season. If this group of promising players pans out, FSU looks good for the post-season.
Top-Notch Recruiting, as Usual
Ranked as the sixth-best recruiting class in the nation, the Noles have an impressive group of young talent coming in on both sides of the ball. Besides the obvious with Akers at running back, the Seminoles have some quality offensive players for the upcoming season.
FSU’s receiving corps added eighth-ranked wide receiver D.J. Matthews. He’s joined by wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, and tight ends Tre’ McKitty and Alexander Marshall.
It seems like FSU put more focus on the defense this year, though. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, a five-star recruit out of Florida, is the third-ranked WDE in the country and ranked ninth in the nation overall. He’s joined by four-star cornerback Stanford Samuels and four-star safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen.
The Seminoles also recruited five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who is the No. 1 ranked defensive tackle in the nation.
Add four-star defensive tackle Ja’len Parks, and FSU looks strong on defense for the upcoming season.
Why Florida State will win the college football title game
FSU has played well consistently since 2012, and last season was no exception. This year they come back with a more mature quarterback and a stellar ground game, as well as a defense that’ll be tough to beat.
The most important thing for the Seminoles to focus on right now is their opening game against Alabama. It could prove to be their toughest game of the year, and the Crimson Tide won’t hold back.
It will be interesting to see the Hurts-Francois matchup, since so many people have compared them this offseason. FSU will also be going up against one of the best offenses and defenses in the nation.
Even with an opening day loss, the ‘Noles won’t completely lose their spot. It would be an important win for Francois’s confidence and their ranking, though.
The new receivers will have to learn how to work with Francois as he develops, and his offensive line will need to make sure he has time to get rid of the ball.
If those two things happen, the Seminoles will be a hard team to beat, and will most likely make the title game.
Florida State has a knack for recruiting quality players. Deondre Francois came into the program after Jameis Winston made, what I consider to be, his great escape. The investigations were iffy, the departments in charge were in disarray, and Winston probably took his lawyer’s advice and declared for the NFL draft (of course, he probably would have anyways).
FSU didn’t have the best season in 2015. Sean Maguire didn’t have what it took to keep them in playoff contention, and they suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Houston Cougars in the Peach Bowl. Fast forward to 2016, and Francois has helped them rebound to a top 10 program once again.
Francois had an impressive season statistically, but he had less success than several ACC Quarterbacks. He passed for 3,350 yards with a 58.8% completion percentage and threw for 20 touchdowns. In the game that mattered most, when FSU pulled out a win against Michigan 33-32, he didn’t perform well completing only 9/27 passes for 22 yards. Luckily for FSU, Dalvin Cook was there to save the game.
Francois will have an immediate test in 2017, against Alabama in the season opener, to prove that he is a Heisman contender. Vegas has already flagged him as a possible 2017 Heisman candidate among 18 other players. During Winston’s Heisman trophy campaign as a freshman, he threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns while completing 66.9% of his passes. The difference is pretty staggering. Even in 2014 when Jameis was 6th in the running for the trophy, he did better than Francois’s redshirt freshman year.
There are several things that need to happen for him to be considered a serious contender for the Heisman. First, FSU needs to step up the caliber of their offensive line. After losing Cook, they might need to pivot and become a pass-heavy team—the only way they can possibly do this is to protect Francois more than they did last year.
Next, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield need to have average seasons. I could see Mayfield doing this, but the other two might prove to be a problem. FSU has the opportunity to beat Louisville, and improve Francois’ Heisman chances, but may need USC to lose to several games throughout the year.
Jimbo Fisher never recruits uncoachable players. He’s fostered many amazing players in the last couple years, and not only do I see Francois staying through his junior year, but he will improve each season as well.
Francois has a lot of talent that he hasn’t cultivated yet. He has as much talent as anyone in the nation. If he can stay focused and play like everyone knows he can, then he will make an impressive case for the Heisman next season.
It wouldn’t hurt if FSU makes it to the College Football Playoffs next year, either.