After nearly 33 years, two of college football’s most storied programs are squaring off again.
No. 22 Alabama (3-1) and Florida State (2-1) meet for just the fourth time Saturday in a neutral-site game in Jacksonville, Fla.
The teams will face each other for first time since Oct. 12, 1974, when the then-No. 3 Crimson Tide beat the Seminoles 8-7 in Tuscaloosa. Saturday’s game is expected to draw a crowd of 78,000 - the largest in the history of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, which hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford said. “Their fans travel great and so do ours. It’s going to be a historical night, I think. I’m really looking forward to it like everyone else is.”
Alabama moved into the Top 25 following a 41-38 comeback win over then-No. 16 Arkansas on Sept. 15, but followed that up with a 26-23 overtime loss to then-No. 22 Georgia last week.
The Crimson Tide managed to score 10 points in the final 6:30 to force the extra period against the Bulldogs - which likely helped their standing in the poll this week.
“I’m very, very proud of the way the team responded and played in the second half,” said coach Nick Saban, in his first season at Alabama. “We came back in the game on several occasions, we had an opportunity to have a chance to win the game in overtime, so the competitive spirit, the resiliency, the overcoming adversity, the getting it turned around, getting adjustments made were all positives.”
There were a number of negatives for the Tide before the late rally, though.
Terry Grant, second in the SEC with 120.8 rushing yards per game, ran for a season-low 80 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback John Parker Wilson, who rushed for a pair of touchdowns, completed 17 of 35 passes for just 185 yards.
Saban felt his team might have still been thinking about its upset of Arkansas.
“Sometimes you get a little satisfied with what you’ve done, and you’re not as hungry the next time,” he said. “We did not have the intensity in the first half that we need. I’m responsible for that.”
Grant shouldn’t have much trouble finding motivation against the Seminoles. Florida State was one of his final three choices when he was deciding where to play in college.
“I was on the edge of telling them I was going to be there,” Grant said. “It was a matter of overnight I just had a bad feeling and changed my mind.”
Florida State, coming off a bye week, is probably lamenting Grant’s decision.
The Seminoles managed a 16-6 win at Colorado in their last game Sept. 15, but the offense gained only 221 yards in a performance that coordinator Jimbo Fisher called “the most ridiculous demonstration of football I’ve been around in my life.”
Weatherford was just 8-for-18 for 126 yards and no touchdowns, and was sacked three times. Anton Smith had 19 carries for 66 yards and scored Florida State’s lone touchdown, but Bowden said he was worse than his numbers would suggest.
Florida State did pile up 520 yards a week earlier in a win over UAB, but managed only 256 in a season-opening loss to Clemson. Fisher said that he wouldn’t hesitate to make changes if the Seminoles, who rank 10th in the ACC with 22.7 points per game, don’t improve.
“We’ve got two weeks to get better,” Bowden said. “If we don’t, we’ll get killed.”
The bright spot against the Buffaloes was the defense, which had allowed 24 points in each of the first two games. Colorado had minus-27 yards rushing on 25 carries and didn’t score until 3:40 remained in the fourth quarter.
“We gave up 48 points our first two games, so we wanted to get the shutout,” linebacker Derek Nicholson said. “It’s disappointing, but six points is not that bad.”
Florida State has also been dealing with some off-field distractions during its layoff. The Seminoles suspended junior linebacker Geno Hayes and senior fullback Joe Surratt after they were arrested at a bar near campus Sept. 21.
Hayes is the team’s second-leading tackler with 19. Surratt led Florida State with six rushing touchdowns last year but is sidelined with a broken leg.