Dave George: Jimbo Fisher leads Noles into epic opener vs. Alabama

Sept 01, 2017
Win or lose Saturday’s opener against Alabama, Jimbo Fisher’s legacy at Florida State already set. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Jimbo Fisher doesn’t have anything to prove tonight.

He has a national championship at Florida State already and a healthier career winning percentage there than Bobby Bowden, a figure so adored that his image is portrayed in stained glass at Doak Campbell Stadium.

For that reason and many more, this potentially epic season opener with Alabama does not serve as some sort of legacy game. Jimbo is still working on his legacy and will be for many years to come, long after Nick Saban, who turns 66 on Halloween, has retired.

There is something different, however, about this showdown, being sold by ESPN as the greatest opener ever. Makes it feel like the whole schedule has been turned upside-down, like NASCAR opening its season with the biggest race of the year at Daytona.

Will these teams meet again in the College Football Playoff? With a ranking of No. 1 for the Crimson Tide and No. 3 for the Seminoles, it is not outrageous to think so. Until then, this passes as the most obvious spot where Alabama might lose between now and confetti time in January.

If Jimbo doesn’t stop Saban, will LSU or Tennessee or Auburn? Florida has been easily brushed aside in the last few SEC title games, so it doesn’t make much sense to count on the Gators either in this singular mission to reverse the Tide.

Clemson pinned the only loss on Alabama last year, but it literally took until the final second of the national championship game to do it. Even more daunting is Saban’s record in these marquee season openers.

Over the last five seasons, a wide variety of ranked teams have come to the first game with designs on making a big splash. In order over that time, Saban has beaten Michigan by 27 points, Virginia Tech by 25, West Virginia by 10, Wisconsin by 18 and Southern Cal by 46.

Jimbo is actually in a very good spot with a very good FSU team. If he loses to Alabama, it won’t be like anyone is shocked, and if he loses to Alabama, it won’t be enough to sour what could turn out to be a national title run either way.

Maybe that’s why Jimbo voted Alabama No. 1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, because it helps FSU more than it hurts. What happens on the field is what ultimately will matter, and on this particular field, brand new and bounded on all sides by the futuristic superstructure of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, what happens here may feel like the opening of a whole new era in college football.

The College Football Playoff title will be played right back here in Atlanta on Jan. 8, remember, and the Super Bowl one year after that. Those are about the only two sports events fantastic enough to follow tonight’s opening event.

The poor old Georgia Dome next door is scheduled for implosion in November. It has been dwarfed in stature and importance, just like the Georgia Tech-Tennessee game that’s being played here on Labor Day Night has been dwarfed by FSU and Alabama. Nobody outside of the Atlanta metro area seems even to be aware of that one.

My flight to Atlanta from West Palm Beach on Friday might as well have been an FSU fan charter, so painted and packed it was with garnet and gold. Alabama fan were swarming the terminal, too, and thousands more from both fan bases are driving into town right now, a convention of true believers ticketed for one wild weekend.

If FSU fans go home happy, it will be because Deondre Francois gets better protection from pass rushers than he got last year (108th nationally in sacks allowed), and because freshman running back Cam Akers somehow manages to approximate the skills and production of departed star Dalvin Cook, the Seminoles’ all-time leading rusher.

You can count on Alabama to score plenty of points so a shootout is the only thing that probably works for FSU, something on the order of Clemson’s 35-31 win over the Tide in the last national title game. That proved, if nothing else, that the ACC’s best is a match for the SEC’s these days.

If FSU is the ACC’s best in 2017, the Seminoles can beat Alabama, too, and in celebration of college football’s return, I’m feeling just giddy enough to say it happens, by a score of 29-27.

That wouldn’t make Jimbo a jumbo, because he already is, but it sure would open the gates on the kind of chaotic season that college fans crave most of all.