Loser in Florida State-Alabama showdown can still win in the end with spot in Playoff


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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken reveals the preseason poll, which includes four Big Ten teams in the top 10.
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Perhaps the coolest thing about the mammoth season opener, Alabama vs. Florida State in prime time on the first full Saturday of the college football season, is the knowledge that the loser isn’t out of anything.

Just for grins, let’s say Florida State wins (yes, Bama fans, we know, but play along with the hypothetical and see; you’ll be OK). No one should be surprised 13 weeks later to see the Crimson Tide included in the four-team field for the College Football Playoff.

At, say, 11-2.

That’s right, with two losses.

“They’d get strong consideration,” says Mike Tranghese — and as a former member of the Playoff’s selection committee, the former Big East commissioner’s opinion carries some weight.

Already during the short Playoff tenure, we’ve seen the old conventional wisdom about success begin to crumble. Last year, Ohio State made it into the bracket ahead of Big Ten champion Penn State, becoming the first participant that didn’t win its conference.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS

POWER FIVE: ACC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SECIndependents

GROUP OF FIVE: AAC | Conference USA | MAC | Mountain West | Sun Belt

There are several precedents yet to be set. So far, we have not seen two teams from one conference. Also, every participant to this point has been undefeated or had but one loss. But a two-loss team doesn’t feel like much of a stretch — especially if it’s a conference champion that played a difficult schedule and lost to good teams.

“It will happen, in my opinion,” Tranghese says. “They’re all gonna happen at some point. It’s the nature of the system.”

If you’re looking for a good setup, start Saturday in Atlanta. There are plenty of variables. But either Alabama or Florida State could, with the right set of circumstances, get into the Playoff after losing the opener and somewhere else along the way, too.

Start with a competitive game on Saturday. Although the loser isn’t out of the race by a long shot, conventional wisdom says that team would have very little remaining margin for error. But what if Alabama were to lose Saturday and then again in a close game against a highly ranked Auburn or LSU, and then the Tide went on to win the SEC championship?

It’s not hard to see Alabama in the Playoff, anyway.

And it doesn’t simply have to be a “Bama Bump.” Florida State could conceivably do something similar.

Much depends on how dominant those teams look throughout the season, of course. And how “good” that hypothetical second loss is. And of course, the résumé of the other Playoff contenders.

It’s still far more likely the loser of Saturday’s game has to run the table to get into the Playoff (and that, if it did, it would make the field). But if we’ve learned anything in the Playoff’s first three years, it’s that the old definition of success is gone.

“In my two years (as a selection committee member), it was obvious to me the collective will of the group was to reward people who played challenging schedules,” Tranghese says. “That’s the way they set up this Playoff. They reward people who challenge themselves with tough schedules.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

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“In the old BCS, playing (a game like Alabama-Florida State) was almost suicide. But they’ve got as good a chance as anybody because they challenged themselves.”

So the matchup isn’t only potentially, as the organizers are calling it, the “Greatest Opener of All Time.” For the winner it’s an obvious propellant to the top of the Playoff race (with a very long way to go). But it also could be the stage-setter for another new precedent as college football continues to find its way in a new era.

Tranghese says when the commissioners set up the Bowl Championship Series, then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer told him: “Whatever you think can’t happen will eventually happen because that’s college football.”

“I think that will hold true in the CFP, also,” Tranghese says.

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HELLO, CARDINAL

Except for how fast it happened on its opening possession, Stanford looked very much like, well, Stanford. Bryce Love bolted 62 yards on the first play. After an incomplete pass, Keller Chryst found tight end Colby Parkinson for a 13-yard touchdown pass.

The final score in Sydney, Australia, was 62-7, against outmanned Rice. A punishing run game? Tight ends vitally involved in the passing game? Yeah, it was what you’d expect from Stanford.

First impressions can be deceiving. Rice was not a formidable obstacle. But No. 14 Stanford just might be one in the Pac-12 North.

DAVIS SHOT

According to The Tuscaloosa News and the Associated Press, Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis was shot in the leg early Sunday morning and hospitalized with “a minor injury.”

Davis was standing in the parking lot outside a bar when gunfire erupted; investigators said he wasn’t the intended target.

Davis had been in the mix to start for the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide. By Sunday afternoon, the school had not issued a statement on the situation.

HURRICANE WATCH

Hurricane Harvey has already slammed into Texas. But with several more days of heavy rains in the forecast to compound the current severe flooding in Houston, officials are monitoring the status of the BYU-LSU game scheduled for Saturday at NRG Stadium.

They expect to make a decision by midweek. Potential sites would include New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome and LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

If the game is moved, it’ll be the third time in three years LSU games have been moved because of severe weather. In 2015, an October game with South Carolina was moved to Baton Rouge because of flooding in Columbia, S.C. Last year, a game at Florida was first postponed because of concern over Hurricane Matthew, then moved to Baton Rouge.

HURRICANE WATCH, II

Meanwhile, the University of Houston’s football team held its weekend practices on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Athletic director Hunter Yurachek told the Houston Chronicle that Baylor, SMU and TCU offered their campuses.

Houston coach Major Applewhite played and coached at Texas, where former Houston coach Tom Herman is now the head coach. The Cougars open the season Saturday at Texas-San Antonio.

Also, after playing in Australia, the Rice football team’s return to Houston is uncertain. Owls coach David Bailiff told KRIV-TV’s Mark Berman the team might go to Dallas, and said SMU and Baylor had offered help.

TEACHABLE MOMENT

For all those who wondered if the offseason rule change to enforce the 20-minute length of halftime would actually, you know, restrict the length of halftime to 20 minutes?

On Saturday, Florida A&M was penalized for delay of game when the FAMU band, known as the Marching 100, didn’t get off the field in time. The penalty was enforced on the third-quarter kickoff.

Here’s guessing coaches everywhere immediately made a mental note: Make sure the band director gets the memo this week.

TEACHABLE MOMENT, II

That penalty didn’t hurt the Rattlers. A Texas Southern returner fielded the kickoff inside the 5, then took a knee in the end zone for a safety.

EARLY STATEMENT

Colorado State pulled away in the second half Saturday for a convincing 58-27 victory against Oregon State, thus taking the way too early lead in the category of: ‘Which Group of Five team will make the biggest statement.’

Never mind that Oregon State has struggled in recent years to find its footing. The Rams’ victory — which came as they opened a splendid new stadium on campus — showcased the arm of quarterback Nick Stevens and other playmakers.

Next up, another opportunity: Colorado in Denver. Oh and later, a trip to Alabama.

THREE TO WATCH

Alabama vs. Florida State (Atlanta; 8 p.m. Saturday, ABC): No. 1 vs. No. 3, the kind of matchup we all hope for in the season’s final game, which will also be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Winner gets a huge leg up in the Playoff race. Loser isn’t out of anything.

Florida vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas; 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC): It’s possible we’ll learn Michigan’s roster and maybe even its depth chart by the time this one kicks off. Meanwhile, regardless of who starts, is Florida’s quarterback competition finished?

Texas A&M at UCLA (7:30 p.m. Sunday, FOX): There are games involving better teams, but none might be as critical in determining the potential future of both programs. A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and UCLA’s Jim Mora are both on the proverbial hot seat. A loss and the season’s narrative starts out negative.

NUMBERS GAME

33,181 — Attendance Saturday at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia. That’s a little more than half the 61,247 to watch California and Hawaii open the season a year ago in Sydney. But considering neither Stanford or Rice has a large fan base, it’s an indication American football can draw a nice crowd Down Under.

QUOTABLE

“I shouldn’t talk too much trash, but I think we’re gonna beat Alabama pretty bad next week. I really do.” — Florida State president John Thrasher, talking too much trash

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