Stephen's Report

Top five Tide standouts to watch for in season opener versus Florida State

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from winning, one thing has remained the same for the University of Alabama football program since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007: all eyes are on it. The feeling won’t be anything different on Saturday, Sept. 2, as Crimson Tide fans expect a win in Atlanta versus Florida State.

With tickets sold out and the expectation of this matchup possibly setting up a sequel in the College Football Playoff, a firm study of details in order for Saban and the Tide. After looking at five important Seminoles, we now dissect five marquee Alabama players for the season opener.

Top 5 Tide players (no special order)

Jalen Hurts, QB

Despite suffering a lost fumble and tossing an interception, Jalen Hurts showed how special he was as a true freshman last season against the University of Southern California. Possessing a veteran’s confidence, he would record four touchdowns and guided Alabama to a dominant 52-6 win over the Trojans to start 2016.

Through the highs and lows, he ended the season as the Southeastern Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Hurts, a native of Channelview, Texas, turned in 2,780 passing yards, 954 rushing yards and 36 scores. Having four offensive minds on staff, including offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Michael Locksley, should help Hurts process information a lot better.

Florida State returns two ball-hawking defensive backs in Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James, but if Hurts cleanly reads his progressions and gets the ball to receivers on time, the Seminoles will be in for a long day.

Bo Scarbrough, RB

All the air in Alabama’s sail for the College Football Playoff National Championship meeting with Clemson went out, upon Bo Scarbrough sustaining a broken leg in the third quarter.

Prior to that moment, the Tuscaloosa native was surging – as he was credited with strong performances versus Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Florida and Washington. He set a Crimson Tide bowl record versus the Huskies in the CFP semifinal, collecting 180 yards rushing with two touchdowns on 19 carries. Scarbrough’s 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was not only reminiscent of former Tide standout and 2015 Heisman winner Derrick Henry, but it also helped Alabama secure a 24-7 win over Washington at the Peach Bowl.

Even with Florida State returning Matthew Thomas, Jacob Pugh, Josh Sweat and Brian Burns to its defensive front, slowing down a freight train isn’t a small task by any means.

JK Scott, P

JK Scott started his freshman and junior years with a bang, as he limited the return opportunities for both West Virginia (2014) and USC (2016). Hailing from Denver, Colo., the golden leg continued to be consistent in flipping the field a season ago. He averaged 47.2 yards per punt on 64 attempts, while 27 of his boots – 42.2 percent – were not returned. Scott dropped 25 balls inside the 20-yard line and had 29 of his punts travel in excess of 50 yards. He’s been robbed of the Ray Guy Award (nation’s top punter) twice; nevertheless, the Seminoles must be aware.

Behind the capabilities of Deondre Francois at quarterback, Florida State tends to excel when it has a short field on offense. Scott’s prowess of booming 50 to 60-yard punts will force the ACC powerhouse to drive the ball more on Alabama’s defense, which is easier said than done.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB

Whether he is at cornerback or safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick is dangerous.

A two-time All-American and all-conference defender, Fitzpatrick has totaled 111 tackles, three sacks, 18 pass breakups and eight interceptions in the last two seasons. He currently has a school-record of four pix-sixes, including one versus Florida in the 2016 SEC Championship Game. Fitzpatrick, a native of Old Bridge, N.J., possesses a keen ability to break on passes in order to create turnovers while having the physicality to make tackles on receivers and running backs.

He’s victimized some of best quarterbacks in college football, which includes Kyle Allen (Texas A&M/Houston Cougars), Austin Allen (Arkansas), Austin Appleby (Florida), Jake Browning (Washington) and Danny Etling (LSU). Fitzpatrick is projected by most NFL analyst to be a first-round pick in next year’s draft, but for now, he’s focused on disrupting Francois’ timing.

Rashaan Evans, LB

His ability to pressure and spy an athletic quarterback is crucial.

Rashaan Evans has size (6-3/234), lateral quickness and sheer explosion off the ball, regardless of whether he’s playing inside or outside linebacker. There were moments during the 2016 season where the Auburn (Ala.) native showed he can stop the run, as well as affect the passing game.

He finished among the team leaders in tackles (53), and posted 4.5 stops for loss, four sacks and six quarterback pressures. The former five-star has 10.5 career tackles for loss and nine sacks through three seasons, and as a senior, he’s now a leader on the front line.

Stephen M. Smith is a managing editor and senior writer foTouchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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