FSU-’Bama: Who can afford loss?
Each week during the season, the USA TODAY Sports college staff (Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken) will provide their answers to on an intriguing question from college football. This week:
The Florida State-Alabama showdown is one of the biggest openers in recent memory. One of them has to lose, of course. So which team will have a better shot at the Playoff after a loss?
You’d think Alabama at first blush and not be wrong in one key respect: The Crimson Tide almost certainly would get the benefit of the doubt if push came to shove in early December.
There are more than a few benefits from being college football’s gold standard; one is that Alabama’s name value is off the charts. Another plus for the Tide is the lack of secondary title contenders in the Southeastern Conference, which has essentially smoothed out the team’s path to yet another Playoff berth.
But I’m going with Florida State here, since the Seminoles would have greater opportunities from Week 2 forward to regain their place in the title conversation. Not to mention, isn’t the Atlantic Coast Conference a better league than the SEC? Agree to disagree, I guess. What we can all agree on is that the loser of this game still controls its road to a national semifinal — just win out.
Alabama’s path to the Playoff after a loss in the opener is easier than Florida State’s. The ACC is deeper than the SEC. With a loss, either team’s margin for error becomes narrow. It’s possible either could get into the Playoff as a two-loss conference champion, but so far we haven’t seen one. More likely, the loser needs to run the table. This is hard to fathom, but the SEC currently provides Alabama an easier road.
It’s also worth noting the equity Alabama has built up over the last few years as Nick Saban built a dynasty. Win four national championships in eight years, you’ve got street cred with every- one, including the selection committee. If necessary, the ’Bama Bump is real, y’all.
A loss by either team will not do too much damage, as long as neither gets blown out. Even then, it’s hard to imagine a one-loss ACC or SEC champion being left at home. Alabama is in better position to run the table should it stumble. The Crimson Tide have won their conference the last three seasons, and the schedule also sets up nicely this season.
Their four conference road games are Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Au-
burn. The path is much more difficult for Florida State with games against Louisville and Miami (Fla.) at home and trips to Clemson and Florida. The Seminoles could get there with two losses, but that would require some stumbles from other teams.
Here’s the problem with a potential Alabama recovery from an opening-day loss to Florida State: If the rest of the SEC proved to be as mediocre as, well, as it was last year and is projected to be in preseason polls, the Crimson Tide won’t have another opportunity for a signature win to put on their résumé for the committee. Their remaining non-conference games are pedestrian, with all due respect to Colorado State, so under those circumstances a second loss sustained in SEC play could prove fatal.
FSU, on the other hand, still would have a shot at a marquee win. It’s at Clemson, of course, so coming out of Death Valley with that W is always easier said than done. But if the Seminoles can pull it off and then go on to win the ACC, they should be Playoff bound even with a stumble in conference or possibly in the regular-season finale in Gainesville.
It’s Alabama. We’ve seen them lose early before and make the Playoff, so if the Crimson Tide happen to be 0-1 on Saturday night, it would be pretty easy to see the season falling into the same pattern as 2014 and 2015.
You could even envision a scenario in which Alabama ends up with two losses this season but makes the Playoff on the strength of winning the SEC title. Florida State probably doesn’t have that luxury. If the Seminoles lose Saturday, they almost certainly have to run the table.
Jimbo Fisher and Florida State will have plenty more chances to prove their worth.