Schoffel column: With Media Days looming, FSU-'Bama hype to hit fever pitch

Ira Schoffel, Managing Editor
Warchant

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Gene Williams/Warchant

It's hard to believe it has been more than six months since Florida State walked off the field at South Florida's Hard Rock Stadium as 33-32 winners over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

It's perhaps even more difficult to believe that our seemingly endless football-deprived purgatory is finally about to end.

Welcome to July.

In just 10 days, hundreds of media members will descend upon Charlotte, N.C., for the annual ACC Kickoff media event.

The Southeastern Conference's annual Media Days -- which is just like ACC Kickoff, except with extra doses of Red Bull and Red Man and a LOT more people -- actually will begin three days earlier.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, away we go.

Football might not be back just yet, but it is oh. So. Very. Close.

If I didn't know how rapidly the season was approaching before, I definitely got a feel for it this past weekend while watching my daughter play in a youth basketball tournament. Nearly every conversation with other parents either started or ended with talk about Florida State's 2017 season.

What kind of a year do you think Deondre Francois will have?

Is Cam Akers going to get most of the carries?

What do you think about that Alabama game?

I don't mind those conversations at all. I enjoy them. I just wish I had more concrete information to provide.

Yes, I believe Francois is going to have a big year. But it's hard to say for sure until we know how the offensive line is going to come together.

Yes, I also believe that Cam Akers is going to end up getting most of the carries. But I also think Jacques Patrick will be a major factor, as I expect Jimbo Fisher to go with a lot of two-tailback sets this season.

And as for that Alabama game, I'm not exactly sure what to think. On the one hand, I know what recent history says -- the Crimson Tide have been absolutely lethal on opening days with Nick Saban as head coach. Not only have they won all 10 of their openers with Saban at the helm, but they have been absolutely throttling those Week 1 opponents in recent years.

Including last year's 52-6 rout of Southern Cal and a 35-17 romp against Wisconsin the year before -- both of those teams went on to finish their seasons at 10-3 -- Alabama has won its last five opening games by a combined score of 196-70. That's an average margin of 39.2 to 14, and all five openers came against Power 5 schools: Michigan (2012), Virginia Tech ('13), West Virginia ('14), Wisconsin ('15) and USC ('16).

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Florida State hasn't been quite as impressive, but the Seminoles have been very strong in season openers under Jimbo Fisher. They are 7-0 in those Week 1 games, including wins over Pittsburgh ('13), Oklahoma State ('14) and Ole Miss ('16).

While Alabama might have the edge in margins of victory, both squads have shown an impressive ability to put up points. Nick Saban's Alabama teams have never scored less than 33 points in a season opener, and Fisher's FSU squads have never scored less than 34. These guys clearly know how to get their teams ready to play.

If you were merely handicapping this game based on experience and returning starters, Florida State would almost certainly get the nod. The Seminoles have nine starters back on defense, along with a slew of key backups, and they also could have six or seven starters returning on offense (depending on how the offensive line shakes out). Alabama, meanwhile, lost several key starters on both sides of the ball.

On Phil Steele's national breakdown of returning starters, FSU ranks in a tie for ninth nationally, while Alabama ranks all the way down at No. 103. Of course, most of us are inclined to give the Tide a pass for their inexperience because we know how incredibly well Saban has recruited in recent years, and we also know how quickly Alabama has been able to plug in new players and seemingly not miss a beat.

However you see it playing out, we all can agree the hype for this game is going to be off the charts.

It started spiking in recent days with the unveiling of Sports Illustrated's list of its picks for the top 100 players in college football. Alabama ranked first on the list with nine players in the top 100; Florida State was second with six. And the Seminoles grabbed more bragging rights with star safety Derwin James earning the top spot as the No. 1 player overall -- ahead of Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield at No. 2, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville at No. 3.

FSU's other top 100 picks were cornerback Tarvarus McFadden at No. 19, defensive end Josh Sweat at No. 43, defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi at No. 69, quarterback Deondre Francois at No. 91, and running back Cam Akers (who hasn't yet played a down of college football) at No. 99. Alabama's top players were cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick at No. 6 and wide receiver Calvin Ridley at No. 20.

The Seminoles and Tide combined to have 15 of the top 100 players overall -- and they'll all be on the field Sept. 2 in Atlanta.

The excitement about the big game will really kick into overdrive next week with those conference media events. The SEC media almost certainly will pick the Tide to win that conference championship, and Florida State is expected to be the pick in the ACC.

That will just give us all more to chew on as we wait the final few days for the start of preseason practice.

The collision course has been set for months.

Believe it or not, it's almost here.

Contact Warchant managing editor Ira Schoffel at ira@warchant.com and follow @IraSchoffel on Twitter.

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