Message sent: Alabama still the king of college football

ATLANTA — The chants were subdued, mostly out of respect for the opponent and the gutsy performance by its quarterback, but they were still heard late Saturday night.

“S-E-C, S-E-C.”

It was as if the Alabama fans were openly asking: “When will they learn?”

After an offseason of hearing ACC coaches crow on how they’re in the best conference, and other coaches claim that their league is just as good, the University of Alabama football team responded in the only way it knows how, with a resolving win.

Coming in, No. 3 Florida State was one of the best teams in the nation. The Seminoles had all the ingredients to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff, yet left more than limping.

It’s not just because quarterback Deondre Francois had to be carried and then carted off after an apparent injury to his left knee that looked so bad it would be shocking if he wasn’t lost for the season — and ironically on a hit by the Tallahassee-based player Florida State didn’t offer a scholarship, safety Ronnie Harrison.

Equally damaging was how the Seminoles lost. Even if the controversial non-pass interference call on an underthrown ball had gone FSU’s way late in the first half, no one left new Mercedes-Benz Stadium thinking that Florida State was the better team or deserved to win the game.

They left thinking Alabama is still Alabama and the SEC is still the SEC.

“I love playing against SEC schools,” Florida State junior center Alec Eberle said. “They tend to have the bigger dudes and better defenses. It is really fun to go out and compete against the best players in the country.”

Some of his league coaches and even his own school president should take note. As representatives of institutions for higher learning they should have known better.

Even through a lot of the game statistics were pretty even, the Crimson Tide did a lot of things that top-notch teams do.

It made the biggest plays. It didn’t turn the ball over. It answered. For example, when FSU made an impressive 90-yard touchdown drive, Alabama quickly came back with a 53-yard strike to junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

It found ways to win, which was the one ingredient lacking in January.

“You could always pick out a few things that were a little ugly, but I’m really proud of the way they competed,” coach Nick Saban said. “They played really hard in the game. I really like our will to win.”

Shaun Dion Hamilton-Alabama football-Crimson Tide football
Shaun Dion Hamilton had a successful return to Atlanta after suffering a torn ACL in last year’s SEC Championship Game (Chris Kirschner/SEC Country).

For eight months Alabama has sat and stewed about losing the national championship with one second remaining. Considering the pride involved, the talent on the roster and both the program’s and Saban’s history no one should have expected anything less in the game that was hailed the Greatest Opener of All Time.

Yet Alabama didn’t play that well. Special teams won the game, but it also had issues. There were some uncharacteristic early defensive breakdowns. The offensive line had a rough night going up against a very good, fast FSU defense, especially in pass protection.

“I give a lot of respect to them,” junior quarterback Jalen Hurts said.

Moreover, it wasn’t just the opener for the teams, but the stadium as well and of course not everything went smoothly. Headset issues, microphone problems and a slick turf were some of the things that were obvious on television, only there was more behind the scenes.

They will get ironed out, just like with a football team moving forward through its schedule. Plus, these are the kind of wins that Saban especially likes because he knows he’ll have his team’s full attention for a while due to all the miscues.

“Sloppy,” Ridley said. “We can play a lot better.”

Alabama didn’t find its offensive identity, which will result in taking another long look at the right tackle spot. Cornerback is still a question mark as converted wide receiver Trevon Diggs appears to be the long-term solution but former walk-on Levi Wallace could be a better short-term answer. At linebacker, Alabama has four injured players including the two best pass-rushers.

That this team overcame all that probably scares the rest of college football just like massive defensive lineman Raekown Davis’ monster sack that would have caused nearly anyone to scream like Chris Tucker in the movie “The Fifth Element.”

It came a week after he was struck by a bullet in the leg. Maybe if it had been a bazooka he would have missed a couple of weeks.

The point is, no one is questioning his or this team’s resolve.

Alabama had to use numerous players who really had no business being on the field yet and still pushed around the Seminoles. Florida State couldn’t run the ball, really pieced together just one sustained drive after the first quarter and was physically punished beginning with the bone-crushing hit by freshman Daniel Wright (also recruited out of the Sunshine State) on special teams.

“The young guys came through,” said linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who had a team-high eight tackles including 3.5 for a loss in his first game back following a torn ACL.

No. 1 Alabama is only going to get better and now everyone knows while Clemson’s the reigning national champion, the path to the crown still goes through both the Crimson Tide and the SEC.

That’s what led to the chanting, which was sort of like people in the Deep South politely saying “Bless their heart” when someone says something stupid.

As for the team, it simply did its talking on the field and the message was simple: Alabama’s still the king of college football.

The post Message sent: Alabama still the king of college football appeared first on SEC Country.

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