College Blitz: Wiedmer - College season could end exactly as it starts with Bama vs. FSU

College Blitz: Wiedmer - College season could end exactly as it starts with Bama vs. FSU

August 27th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, right, celebrates after scoring a touchdown against UTC last November in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide start preseason practices today and open the season Sept. 2 vs. Florida State in Atlanta.

Photo by Brynn Anderson

The video runs for 2 minutes and 42 seconds, which is roughly two seconds more than the recent eclipse. And for college football fans, the upcoming Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Alabama and Florida State inside Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 2 might actually be a bigger deal than the moon momentarily blocking out the sun.

Or as the Chick-fil-A hype video not so demurely labels this showdown: The GOAT (Greatest Opener of All Time).

Funny thing is, it just might be. With apologies to similar past events — including the long-ago Auburn-Miami 1984 opener in which the 14th-ranked Hurricanes shocked the No. 1 Tigers 20-18 in New Jersey — this one has the makings of an instant classic.

Certainly the preseason polls back up the GOAT label. The Sporting News, ESPN and Amway Coaches Poll (the Associated Press list) was released after our print deadline) all have Alabama on top and FSU either third or fourth.

Even the video is sure to send chills up the spine of every Crimson Tide and Seminoles fan who watches it. Like most everything else that Chick-fil-A attaches itself to, its Kickoff Game's video is first-rate. Unlike too many such marketing tools, it doesn't rely just on video clips of current Bama and FSU stars and audio snippets from Tide coach Nick Saban and Seminoles CEO Jimbo Fisher (a former Saban assistant at LSU). It also features the unmistakable voices of the schools' all-time coaching legends: Bama's Paul "Bear" Bryant and FSU's Bobby Bowden, who won 680 major college games between the two of them (Bowden won 357).

Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois (12) celebrates after scoring a touchdown, during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Michigan, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Fla. To the left is Florida State wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (80). (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

And if you can't get excited about Bama-FSU and the rest of the 2017 season after hearing Bear's gravelly voice proclaim, "If we do this as a team, 11 at the same time, why, we'll be walking out of here four years from now as national champs," or Bowden declare in his slightly higher octave Southern drawl, "No one's going to hand you something because you're a nice person," well, your palate obviously lacks a natural affinity for grits and sweet tea.

But as important as the outcome of Bama-FSU figures to be for the rest of the college football season, it may only be a forerunner of what could become the greatest regular season of all time. In fact, it's not a stretch to believe the same four schools mentioned at the top of every poll so far — Alabama, Ohio State, Southern Cal and Florida State — also could wind up making the College Football Playoff at the close of December.

Yes, the pressure would certainly be on that Tide-'Noles loser from the opening weekend to run the table in its respective conference. And given the burgeoning strength of FSU's Atlantic Coast Conference and the historical power of Bama's Southeastern Conference, that road would be more than a little bumpier for either school.

But their early high rankings and undeniable talent pools also make them supremely capable of absorbing at least one early loss and still reaching the playoffs.

A quick glance at the rest of the college season draws attention to three dates other than Sept. 2 (when Michigan also faces Florida in Dallas) as worthy of early circlings of the calendar.

First up, the very next weekend, Sept. 9, which finds Stanford at USC, Georgia at Notre Dame, Oklahoma at Ohio State and Auburn at defending national champ Clemson. The winner of each of those games will likely find itself in the Top 10 and the loser will have some serious catching up to do to finish in the top four.

Next up, Nov. 4 has LSU at Alabama and Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. The loser in each of those might still make a Top Six bowl but will find a playoff spot next to impossible to reach.

Finally, Nov. 25, witih Ohio State at Michigan and Alabama at Auburn. Enough said.

That doesn't mean that much closer to home other important games won't be played. After all, two days after Alabama-FSU, the Tennessee Volunteers venture into the same Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face Georgia Tech, which returns 16 starters from a team that throttled Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl. That game won't have any direct outcome on the Vols' goal to reach their first SEC title game since 2007, but a loss would unleash much negativity in the general direction of head coach Butch Jones, which is never a good thing.

Then there are our University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs, learning a new way of doing things under first-year coach Tom Arth. Their season actually begins one week before Bama-FSU against Jacksonville State but also takes place at a neutral site at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. And just like the Bama-FSU loser, either Jax State or UTC could lose that one and still make the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

But it would be tougher for the Mocs, thanks to their typically tougher Southern Conference as opposed to Jax State's Ohio Valley Conference.

So how does this possibly amazing regular season conclude? Let's pencil in Tennessee and Alabama for the SEC title game with Bama rolling on to the playoffs. Let's also predict a FCS playoff berth for the Mocs, who'll reach the semifinals for the first time in school history.

Let's tab Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold to win the Heisman Tropy and lead his Trojans to an FBS national semifinal, but a loss, against Alabama (which loses at Auburn but still wins the SEC West). Let's finally go with the Tide to knock off FSU (which upset Ohio State in the other semi) for a second time inside the Mercedes-Benz Dome, this time in the national championship game.

Because if Alabama-Florida State really lives up to the hype as the greatest opener of all time, what better way to end the season than with an encore performance.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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