The Long Summer
On the 9 January this year, just four weeks prior to perhaps the greatest Superbowl comeback of all time, the College Football world witnessed its first national championship rematch at Raymond James Stadium, home of Jameis Winston’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In a performance befitting of the Heisman Winner and ex-FSU signal caller, and reminiscent of his very best qualities, Deshaun Watson led Clemson to a famous victory over Alabama, throwing for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns, earning the offensive MVP award. Despite the much touted qualities of Watson and WR Mike Williams, both subsequently selected in the first round in April’s NFL draft, it was an upset victory, and one which the returning players and coaches of the number 1 ranked Crimson Tide will not have forgotten quickly. Eight months on and their first chance at redemption comes Saturday, in a much anticipated opener against number 3 ranked Florida State.
The Seminoles finished 10-3 last season, and lost running back Dalvin Cook (junior) and linebacker DeMarcus Walker (senior) to the NFL, both taken in the second round. However, their present major concern coming into this season’s opener should be the ability of their offensive line to keep Deondre Francois un-phased; or at least upright. Last season Francois was sacked a whopping 34 debilitating times. But the quarterback himself is quick to point out his tendency to hold the ball too long in an effort to make things happen, something he has promised to remedy.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Alabama is hoping its trusted system has continued to produce a front 7 as talented and capable as ever. Having lost 5 of last season’s group to the draft, there is an element of the unknown about just how good this season’s pass-rush can be, though, like death and taxes, an air of unnerving inevitability surrounds the probable quality of this defense. Redshirt linebacker Christian Miller impressed mightily during a late August scrimmage, and troubled defensive end Da’Shawn Hand is an intriguing ‘replacement’ for Jon Allen, who went to the Redskins 17th overall in April.
The argument that this game ‘has everything’ is underlined by the story of the men behind the clipboards. For four seasons in Baton Rouge, Nick Saban (head coach) and Jimbo Fisher (offensive co-ordinator) worked together as key constituent parts of an LSU coaching staff which led the Tigers to a 2003 national title, their first since 1958. Now Saban, having established himself as an Alabama legend and consistent curator of the best defenses in the country, faces off against Fisher as a head coach for the first time. History is on Saban’s side. He is 10-0 against former assistants with a 299+ point differential.
Predictions are oft considered futile prior to opening week, but Vegas has Bama as 7 point favourites and that seems sensible, despite Florida State’s 7-1 streak to end last season (the only mark in the loss column, incidentally, was to Clemson).
“Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes-Benz (stadium)”
An intriguing footnote is that the game will take place at the home of Superbowl LIII, the stunningly lavish and architecturally ludicrous Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. A 1100ft circular big screen (neck ache anyone?), 1,800 wireless access points and 1,264 beer taps serving pints priced at a remarkably cheap $5. Yes it’s Bud Light, but take note Wembley/Twickenham. Oh, and in addition to the Superbowl in 2018, the stadium is hosting this season’s college football national championship. Whether either of these two colleges will make it back here in January remains to be seen, but this weekend will at least hint at an indication of their respective chances.
The Boring Stuff
When: Sunday 3rd September, 1am GMT
Where: The aforementioned Mercedes-Benz stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
How to watch: Live on BT Sport ESPN
Though the game is quite rightly hyped as the premier match-up on Labor Day weekend, notable mentions go to Michigan vs. Florida and Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech. Excited much?
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