Despite the painful loss to Alabama, the Florida State Seminoles did nothing to hurt their chances of playing for the national championship this season.
That’s not to say that the ‘Noles played like a College Football Playoff-bound team in this contest. They didn’t. Florida State had numerous opportunities to get points on the board in the first half, but couldn’t make a play when it needed to against a team you have little margin for error. In the second half, the Seminoles shot themselves in the foot with special teams gaffes and turnovers, never allowing themselves to get back into the football game.
Even though these mistakes cost FSU dearly on Saturday night, they’re not enough to effectively end the season. The errors that the Seminoles made are the ones that teams usually make during the first game of the year, and are very easy to correct before the next contest.
That’s why I think Florida State is still very much in the national championship race. Although they weren’t perfect against the Crimson Tide, we saw enough out of the Seminoles to be encouraged about the rest of the season. The offensive line – the biggest question mark coming into the season – played relatively well against the Alabama rush, allowing only two sacks (by contrast, they allowed 6 against Clemson last year). The receiving corps also found some answers, with Keith Gavin (7 catches for 50 yards) and tight end Ryan Izzo (3 catches for 46 yards) emerging as reliable targets.
Of course, the biggest reason to like FSU’s chances going forward is the ‘Nole D. Don’t let the 24 points on the scoreboard fool you: the Florida State defense played extremely well in this contest. The ‘Nole front seven played just like the unit that led the nation in sacks per game last year, sacking Jalen Hurts three times. The run defense was also outstanding, allowing Alabama to rush for just 4.1 yards per carry – its lowest total since the second game of last season.
Overall, Florida State held Alabama to 269 yards. After the Tide’s first series of the second half, the longest drive it could muster was 18 yards, which resulted in a missed field goal. If Alabama hadn’t had such great field position in the second half, it might not have scored at all.
The last three paragraphs speak volumes about exactly how tough the Seminole defense is. And, considering that defense wins championships, it’s hard to look at Florida State as anything other than a contender in both the ACC and College Football Playoff races. The ‘Noles still need to work on a few things in order to get there, but nothing that happened on Saturday night leads me to believe that they won’t.