- Dave George Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist
Florida State hasn’t been 0-1 since Bobby Bowden’s final season. It comes as a jolt, and with the reported season-ending injury to starting quarterback Deondre Francois there will be aftershocks for the rest of the year.
So how could Jimbo Fisher be so buoyant late Saturday night about what comes next, saying “I still think we’ve got a great football team” and even offering “a special thanks” to Alabama, when he probably meant to say congratulations to his old mentor Nick Saban?
It all comes with experience in the maelstrom of college football, where strange things happen every season and every week. FSU fans should know that as well as any.
Look at last year. The Seminoles’ first loss of the season wasn’t as excusable as a 24-7 slugfest with the No. 1 Crimson Tide. It was a 63-20 humiliation at Louisville on a day when Francois, a first-year starter, absorbed five sacks and Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winner in the making, could do no wrong.
FSU finished the season 10-3 anyway, a major bowl win over Michigan included, and had no reason to be embarrassed about taking all three of those losses within the increasingly muscular ACC.
Go back a little more to an opening loss far more crushing than Saturday’s.
In 1988, the Seminoles were the preseason No. 1, but Miami rolled them 31-0 on Labor Day weekend. That was tough to swallow, but Bobby’s gang, led by Deion Sanders, never lost again, wrapping up the season at 11-1 and No. 3 in the AP poll. That would have been good enough to qualify for the national semifinals if there had been a College Football Playoff format back then.
It was even crazier in 1989, when FSU dropped its first two games against Southern Mississippi (and a quarterback named Brett Favre) and Clemson and ran the table thereafter to finish 10-2 and No. 3 nationally.
Is this 2017 FSU team capable of such a rebound? Doesn’t feel like it with the tough news on Francois. Alabama took that game over in the second half, and if you want to chalk it all up to special-teams mistakes by the Seminoles, remember that the Crimson Tide missed a couple of field goals, too.
What Jimbo knows, however, and what we all should know, is that overreaction is the curse of every opening weekend. Miami fans, for instance, may be convinced that the Hurricanes finally have FSU’s number after seven consecutive losses. Maybe it will turn out that way because of Francois’ injury, but there are two weeks for Jimbo to use in building his offense a different way.
Remember that last year Miami supposedly had the better quarterback in Brad Kaaya, the Hurricanes’ all-time leading passer and as of Sunday a member of the Carolina Panthers’ 53-man roster. Still, FSU managed to upset the Hurricanes, who were ranked No. 10 at the time, escaping 20-19 on a blocked extra point with 1:38 to play.
There are going to be horrible letdowns like that in every game, and on both sides. FSU’s offense will be especially prone to struggle with the basics with freshman James Blackman from Glades Central or some other newcomer playing quarterback in Francois’ place.
The Seminoles’ defense isn’t going anywhere, though. Alabama had just one long touchdown drive at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday night. The Tide went 3-for-16 on third down and had no single rusher over 100 yards. Overall, it was the kind of offensive performance that had Alabama fans grumpy over Lane Kiffin’s final game as a playcaller there, a 24-7 win over Washington in the national semifinals last New Year’s Eve.
Francois is the big story, of course. FSU ran 60 offensive plays against Alabama and he either passed the ball or ran it or was sacked on all but 18 of them. Jimbo doesn’t want to lose sight of the big picture, though.
Saban’s deep and disciplined teams are tough on everybody, but most especially his former assistants. Against Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp, Mark Dantonio, Derek Dooley and now Jimbo, he is 11-0 and those wins have come by an average score of 39-10.
The Seminoles took a shot at stopping that trend, if not quite their best shot. Eleven regular-season games remain to show how some of this same grit works against teams that aren’t Alabama.