Florida State could've all but locked up ACC's conference supremacy argument. Instead, angry Alabama happened
It was all set up for Florida State to deliver a haymaker to the jugular.
Clemson did all the real work by jabbing away at the SEC’s reign atop the college football world. The Tigers took down mighty Alabama in the national championship. That game asserted the ACC’s place as the nation’s best conference in 2016.
So not surprisingly, Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney and basically every other ACC coach spent the offseason arguing why it was part of college football’s best conference. It had the best bowl season, and heading into 2017, the ACC could still argue it was the nation’s best until further notice.
If Florida State had beated Alabama in the season opener, there really wouldn’t be much of a question. The ACC would’ve absolutely owned the title of the “nation’s best conference.” Not even the biggest SEC or B1G apologist could’ve argued otherwise. All that needed to happen was for the Seminoles to beat the Tide in the biggest season opener in college football history.
Easy enough, right?
The ACC’s dream scenario didn’t play out. The world got a reminder just what Alabama was capable of when it had several months to prepare. Defensive dominance, a stellar ground game and some timely special teams play (it wasn’t all perfect) proved to be the difference in a 24-7 Alabama win.
There were no chants of “A-C-C! A-C-C!” in the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Well, at least there shouldn’t have been. There shouldn’t have been any “S-E-C! S-E-C!” chants, either, though there probably were a few.
But Saturday night wasn’t about the SEC showing it was the nation’s best conference. For at least one night, Alabama prevented the ACC from running away with that title.
Alabama vs. FSU was not a battle that would decide which conference was best. Nobody has ever doubted Alabama’s credentials. The Tide was the only SEC team that finished in the Associated Press top 10, and they were the only SEC team that started the season in the AP top 10. The SEC made the college football world doubt its place as the nation’s best conference because of its lack of depth.
The ACC, on the other hand, was in position to have not one, but two teams take down Alabama in consecutive neutral site matchups. That doesn’t happen often.
As we were reminded, though, those opportunities are fleeting.
Alabama had an entire offseason to stew about coming one defensive stand short of winning another national title. In case you forgot, Nick Saban is pretty good when his teams are coming off bowl losses. Three of the four times Saban lost a bowl game (dating to his LSU days), he won a national title the following year.
On top of that, Saban won all of his season openers at Alabama by double figures. The Tide averaged 29-point victories in 10 openers under Saban, five of which were against Top-25 teams.
So yeah, you knew FSU was going to run into a buzzsaw Saturday night.
It didn’t seem to matter that Alabama lost five members of its front seven to the NFL draft. Deondre Francois still spent a significant portion of the night running from the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Raekwon Davis and Shaun Dion Hamilton.
Alabama’s defense looked like its championship self. It wasn’t that Alabama had “SEC speed” that overpowered FSU. The Seminoles just made costly turnovers, and they couldn’t recover.
For what it’s worth, FSU’s defense looked every bit as talented as Alabama’s. With the exception of Calvin Ridley burning true freshman Stanford Samuels for a long touchdown, there was nothing overpowering about Alabama’s offense. That play accounted for more than half of Jalen Hurts’ 96 passing yards. And Alabama’s dominant rushing attack was held to just 4.1 yards per carry.
For most of the night, it felt like we were watching the SEC’s best vs. the ACC’s best. Alabama won that battle. Should that decide the battle between the two conferences? No, but it could’ve been the final nail in the SEC’s coffin.
That wasn’t just a bragging rights issue, either. Non-conference play is when College Football Playoff arguments are formed by the selection committee. Neutral site games like Alabama-Florida State aren’t considered do-or-die showdowns, but they can give the committee a look at what a conference’s best team really looks like.
The last thing any SEC team wanted was to enter the second week of the season knowing the college football world already declared the ACC as the premiere conference in college football. But that won’t happen.
Alabama ducked out of the way of the haymaker.