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.

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