Florida State–Alabama was supposed to be the greatest opener in college football history, a vision of the glorious season to come: Two of the top teams in the nation—maybe even the two best!—squaring off before going their separate ways, and potentially meeting up again in January with a national title on the line.
But the vision we got was grim, and familiar: Alabama’s boot stamping on college football’s face forever. A 24-7 Bama win culminated with the image of the Seminoles star quarterback, Deondre Francois, praying as he was carted off the field after the last of many hits he took injured his left knee.
Following a reasonably competitive first 30 minutes, no. 1 Alabama’s second-half dominance was complete. No. 3 FSU was limited to just 65 yards after the break, with two interceptions, a lost fumble, a blocked punt, and zero points. The Noles’ final four drives before Francois went down lasted nine combined plays and gained a total of five yards.
But numbers alone don’t explain the brutality of what Alabama did. Toward the beginning of the game, Francois took massive hits and still delivered:
The hits kept coming. Francois kept throwing, with less and less success:
In the fourth quarter, Francois tried to run to the sideline to escape a hit from all-world safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. He didn’t make it in time:
Francois’s body catapulted through some blocks of advertising positioned well off the field, yet he was inbounds and gaining yards as he was hit. That meant the hit was legal; it was just powerful enough to look like it wasn’t.
Alabama’s defense is so vicious that it makes me want to yell at the refs to stop the fight; unfortunately, that’s not a power football officials hold. Francois kept playing. Out of politeness, I won’t post the clip that shows Francois actually getting hurt. Just know that it was the unnatural and grotesque conclusion of all the other violent, legal things Alabama did to Francois.
The Crimson Tide showed flaws, with an offense that didn’t look that great (they went three-and-out four times, and quarterback Jalen Hurts went 10-of-18 passing for 96 yards) and a new kicker, Andy Pappanastos, who missed attempts of 42 and 41 yards. I often hear bad kicks compared to knuckleballs—I think Pappanastos kicks sliders. It didn’t matter. Bama dominated a strong opponent. Florida State was projected to have the no. 3 offense in college football, according to S&P+, but it looked hapless on Saturday. And it would be hopeless without Francois. This loss didn’t eliminate the Seminoles from College Football Playoff contention—although it made their margin of error rather slim. A serious injury to Francois likely would.
We are used to seeing dominance from Alabama. It’s won the national title four times in the last seven years, and spent most of last year throttling the very good teams in its path before falling a play short of capturing its second consecutive national championship.
But this game was designed to be different—a supersized season starter the likes of which the sport had never seen. Alabama has played its share of neutral-site openers in the past, but never against an opponent of this caliber. And so the effect of those wins were different. When the Tide opened a campaign with a win over Virginia Tech or West Virginia, it showed that Bama was good, but didn’t fill me with a sense of impending dread. I could dream of the happy possibilities that could unfold over the course of the season.
This felt like an evil villain showcasing the ungodly power of his weapon before demanding a ridiculous ransom, cackling, and turning off the intercom. If Alabama plays this well for the rest of 2017, it will create disasters week after week, leaving a trail of ruined seasons, despairing souls, and injured superstars in its wake. Last year a superhero emerged to stem the Tide; this year the most likely candidate to be that superhero may already be broken.