Photo courtesy of Alabama athletics
During the middle part of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure as Florida State head coach, the Seminoles had become a national power once again. From 2012 to 2016, FSU played in a New Year’s Six bowl every year, won three ACC championships and a national title.
The premier program in the country, however, was still Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama had lost to Clemson in the national championship game in 2016, but had still claimed titles in three of the previous seven years as 2017 got underway.
In the season opener between top-3 teams in Atlanta, FSU learned it wasn’t yet on Alabama’s level. Late miscues allowed the Crimson Tide to pull away, 24-7.
Setting the Stage
The head coaching matchup was one of teacher vs. student as the teams arrived at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 2, 2017. Fisher had previously worked under Saban at LSU. It was the first meeting between the two as head coaches.
Alabama was ranked No. 1 and coming off a 14-1 season. The third-ranked Seminoles had finished on a 5-game winning streak in 2016, which included an Orange Bowl upset of Michigan, to finish 10-3 and ranked in the top 10.
Bama Pulls Away
Alabama would win convincingly, but FSU did enjoy a brief lead. Deondre Francois’ touchdown pass to Auden Tate early in the second quarter capped a 90-yard drive and put the Seminoles up 7-3.
That would last for less than two minutes as Jalen Hurts found Calvin Ridley for a 53-yard score to put Alabama ahead for good. From there, the defenses would dominate as neither team managed 300 yards of offense. Miscues would be the difference.
On the final snap of the first half, Alabama blocked FSU kicker Ricky Aguayo’s field goal attempt. Following a blocked FSU punt in the third quarter, Alabama added a field goal. After FSU’s Keith Gavin fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and the Crimson Tide recovered, Damian Harris found the end zone from 11 yards out to put the Crimson Tide up by two scores.
Box score and recap:
The next two passes from Francois would be intercepted as Alabama added a field goal to put the game away. Later in the contest, Francois was forced to leave the game with what would be a season-ending injury.
The contest would be a sign of things to come for the 2017 season. Alabama would go on to win the SEC before beating Georgia for the national title in an SEC Championship rematch.
For FSU, the contest may have signaled the end of its run as a college football power under Fisher. With Francois out for the season, FSU started just 3-6. The Seminoles did win their final four games, including a 42-13 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl, to finish 7-6.
Fisher left FSU to become the head coach at Texas A&M late in the 2017 season. In 2021, he became the first one of Saban’s former assistants to beat the Alabama legend as Texas A&M upset the Crimson Tide in College Station.
His first meeting against Saban, however, had a drastically different ending. It came in Atlanta in a top-3 matchup and on this day five years ago.