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#1 Alabama meets #3 FSU on Saturday
By: Staff Writer - StatFox
Published: 9/1/2017  at  11:07:00 AM
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Mercedez-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, GA
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Alabama -7, Total: 49.5

National title hopefuls #1 Alabama and #3 Florida State begin the season with a clash in Atlanta.

Entering 2016 with a top-five ranking, Florida State lost three conference games, taking them out of the CFP picture, though they finished the year with a convincing win over Florida and an Orange Bowl upset over Michigan. Head coach Jimbo Fisher loses RB Dalvin Cook and his 2,253 yards from scrimmage, but promising QB Deondre Francois showed great potential as a freshman and there’s plenty of athleticism around him. The ’Noles defense figures to be one of the nation’s best, with NFL-caliber talent on every level, especially in the secondary. FSU has the talent to win the ACC and make the playoffs, but opening against Alabama with later trips to Clemson and Florida may derail them. Alabama started 2016 with 14 straight wins by an average of 30 points. But the season ended with a crushing championship game defeat to Clemson, as the Crimson Tide lost the lead with one second remaining. There has yet to be a College Football Playoff that didn’t include head coach Nick Saban’s Alabama squad, and there’s no reason to think 2017 will be any different. Dual-threat QB Jalen Hurts is back under center after a stellar freshman year, and he has tremendous talent behind him in the backfield. The Crimson Tide secondary is elite, and despite major losses in the front seven, Saban has talent waiting in the wings that will pick up where last year’s top-scoring defense left off. These schools last played in 2007, when Florida State won 21-14 as 2.5-point home favorites. Florida State is 7-0 SU & 6-1 ATS in season-openers under Fisher, while Alabama is 10-0 & 9-1 ATS in season-openers under Saban.

It won’t be easy for Florida State to replace all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook, and they’ll turn to RB Jacques Patrick (664 rushing yards, 9 TD in 19 career games) to lead the backfield. Freshman RB Cam Akers has a chance to be special and earn a big role as well. QB Deondre Francois (3,350 passing yards, 20 passing TD, 5 rushing TD) impressed as a freshman and, if he can be more accurate and get the ball out more quickly, should be the next Jimbo Fisher quarterback to rise to stardom (Christian Ponder, E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston were all first-round NFL draft picks). The Seminoles lost four of their top five WRs, but Nyqwan Murray (27 receptions, 441 yards, 5 TD) has shown true star potential. The ’Noles defense was superb at times last year, but couldn’t hold up against elite quarterbacks (FSU’s three 2016 losses were to Lamar Jackson’s Louisville, Mitchell Trubisky’s UNC and DeShaun Watson’s Clemson). FSU’s secondary could be the best in the nation. Future first-rounder S Derwin James was a beast as a freshman in 2015, but tore his meniscus in Week 2 last season and never returned. CB Tavarus McFadden led the nation in interceptions (8) last season, and Trey Marshall can hit hard from strong safety or match up on receivers in nickel packages. A deep linebacking corps is led by returning starters Matthew Thomas (77 total tackles, 11 TFL), Ro’Derrick Hoskins (5.5 TFL) and Jacob Pugh (4.5 sacks, 6 TFL). Despite the loss of star edge-rusher DeMarcus Walker, the Seminoles will have a potent pass-rush led by DEs Josh Sweat (7 sacks, 11.5 TFL) and Brian Burns (9.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL).

New Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (formerly a Patriots assistant) inherits an offense that tallied 38.8 points per game (16th in the nation) last season. The Crimson Tide are all set at QB, where Jalen Hurts (2,780 passing yards, 23 passing TD, 954 rushing yards, 13 rushing TD) is coming off an impressive freshman campaign. He struggled as a passer late in the year, completing just 48% of his passes for 5.0 yards per attempt in three postseason games. Receiving threats WR ArDarius Stewart and TE O.J. Howard are in the NFL, but WR Calvin Ridley (161 receptions, 1,814 yards, 15 total in two seasons) is a capable No. 1. RBs Bo Scarbrough (812 rushing yards, 11 TD) and Damien Harris (1,136 yards from scrimmage, 4 TD, 7.1 yards per carry) should have no trouble keeping Bama’s offense rolling. Alabama had the top scoring defense (13.0 points per game), the second-ranked yardage defense (262 yards per game) and the most sacks (54) in the country last season. Five starters from last year’s front seven are in the NFL, but attrition has never hurt a Nick Saban defense. DLs Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand are next in line for stardom. LB Shaun Dion Hamilton (64 total tackles, 9 TFL, 2 INT) is back on the field after tearing his ACL in December, and LB Rashaan Evans (4 sacks, 4.5 TFL) provides experience in the second level. The secondary returns plenty of talent, including First Team All-SEC S Minkah Fitzpatrick (6 INT, 5 TFL), S Ronnie Harrison (86 total tackles, 7 pass breakupts) and CB Anthony Averett (3 TFL, 8 pass breakups).

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