So, Florida State lost a first game that had a certain last-game patina to it. It lost not so much to an opponent as to an institution. Figuratively, it fought the law, and the law won. No great shock or shame to that.
Alabama always wins these opening extravaganzas. Alabama always wins in Atlanta. In fact, Nick Saban just took over the lead in the mayor’s race, no matter that he has yet to declare.
Your Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game played out with the familiarity of the last scene in “Jaws”: Just as sure as the shark will explode every time, so was it that Alabama beat FSU, 24-7.
But – and this was the far more concerning development – Florida State also lost a starting quarterback. Kind of a theme running wild between Atlanta and Athens.
Yes, losing Deondre Francois is serious, because of his potential to play up to the elegance of his name. “Oh, I’m definitely concerned because that’s your starting quarterback and because of the kind of player he is and what he has,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher afterward, not even trying to disguise the obvious.
So, wither goest the Seminoles now?
Simply losing Saturday night would not have been enough to bump FSU off the championship radar. In the defeat itself, there were revealed few reasons that the ‘Noles couldn’t re-boot, do some major remolding of their special teams play and then wage a campaign to return to Atlanta four months from now when the game that’s really a last game is played.
That’s the best part about daring to sign up for these monster games up front. There is time for the loser to heal. Time to let the normal chaos of college football play out in full. Time to rehab the record and let the nightmares of rabid crimson defenders fade away.
The current vigor of the ACC in theory gives FSU a chance to prove itself worthy of another serious look. There are games still to be played against the likes of Miami and Louisville and Clemson that can rewrite a reputation. The quality around them commands attention.
But throw in a little uncertainty behind center, and that picture blurs significantly.
If Francois is out for a significant time after being dragged down from behind in the fourth quarter, clutching his left knee and exploring the bowels of The Benz from the bed of a cart, then freshman James Blackman would appear the next in line. Everything beyond that is blind speculation.
Not that the ‘Noles weren’t making a valiant stab at optimism in the face of the injury report blues.
“I’ve said it since the kid (Blackman) stepped on campus – he’s a special kid,” Seminole center Alec Eberle said. “There’s something about him that you just know he has the ‘it’ factor. Whatever that is, he has it. He can throw the heck out of the football and makes good calls. I trust him 100 percent.”
Nothing like having a team’s resiliency tested before its first post-game meal.
With FSU unable to run against Alabama – gaining 40 yards on the ground Saturday – Francois and a defense as stout as advertised kept the ‘Noles viable for a half. They trailed by but three at that point.
But, as Fisher noted, “When you play good people like that, you've got to be perfect.” When one FSU facet broke down, leaving perfect behind in the team bus, all else crumbled.
The ‘Noles showed a kicking/return game that would make a high school special teams coach quit his job and join a monastery. A blocked field goal, one punt of 12 yards, a blocked punt and a fumbled kickoff return were the assembled transgressions of just this single game.
“Our defense did a really nice job. And we knew if our defense was stalwart, we had a chance to be really good team,” Fisher said. “They kept us in the ballgame.” But even the most stalwart of units could not stand up to such regular servings of calamity.
Then came the final blow, with 6:25 left in an unwinnable game, Francois in a semi-fetal pose upon the new turf.
Former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who is booked to play The Benz Nov. 26 with his mates from Tampa Bay, was on site Saturday to get a sneak peek. Not the best move if he takes a notion that this place is working on a reputation of being very hard on quarterbacks from Florida.
Overall, the Seminoles played a fine and fitting foil to what was billed as the greatest opening game ever in college football. Their fans contributed great waves of noise to this stadium’s first game of any import. The scene hinted at a great many more wild times at The Benz.
And if the Seminoles were somehow able to take anything good from all this and return here in January, that just might be even more amazing than a roof that may be regularly retracting by then.