Florida State's game plan prep for Week 1 vs. Alabama begins now

Spring football is long gone. Assistants have wrapped up recruiting visits. League meetings? Also done, at least in the ACC.

So what are coaches to do between now and the start of the summer camps they host in June?

These next few weeks are when staffs begin sitting down to formulate game plans for Week 1. For Florida State, that means truly zeroing in on the season opener against Alabama, a game that has drawn national interest since it was first announced two years ago.

“People say, ‘What do you do this time of year?'" Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher said at the recently concluded ACC spring meetings. “You’re trying to get ready for your summer program.”

Getting ready for the summer program includes making preparations for the opener, in addition to running camps, monitoring players and staying up to date with recruiting. So during this week in particular, Fisher said, “We’ll have to really hammer down before we get to our camp times, because we’ve got to make sure our kids understand what we want them to work on during the summer.”

Throughout spring practice, Fisher maintained that nobody was focused on the Crimson Tide just yet. That might have been true, at least in terms of scheme and installation. But it would be naïve to think Fisher did not have his eyes on the biggest season opener he has faced to date.

Fisher already has looked at tape for teams the Seminoles play in the first half of the season. That is not unusual, as teams generally break down tape of their opening opponents after the schedule is formally released. Now is when the detail is crystallized. Or as Fisher says, “We’ll go back and at least get a general idea of how everything will go.”

He also was able to catch a glimpse of the Alabama spring game last month.

“I happened to be home that day, and I flipped it on,” Fisher said. “I watched maybe half of it. You can get ideas of what they’re doing, personnel guys, just watching them compete. They’ll be very limited and basic just like ours are. Just another chance to watch them.”

Nobody will begrudge Fisher that, considering the stakes. Fisher is no stranger to marquee season openers, especially recently. This will be the third time in four seasons the Seminoles open against a Power 5 opponent in a neutral-site game. Florida State won its previous games against Oklahoma State (2014) and Ole Miss (2016), but neither opponent presented the challenge Alabama does.

Still, the preparation blueprint is not going to be altered just because the Seminoles are facing the team widely believed will be preseason No. 1. And Fisher knows all too well there is more to a season than just one game, especially for teams like Florida State with College Football Playoff aspirations.

In fact, it is easy to make the argument that the Seminoles can survive a loss to the Crimson Tide and keep their playoff hopes intact. The remaining schedule is difficult enough that if Florida State finishes with just that one loss, it would be hard to keep the Seminoles out of the top four.

Of course, nobody inside the Florida State facility is working through those scenarios right now. They are working through game plans and matchups in which they can exploit the Crimson Tide and where they need to find answers in a hurry.

Without a doubt, Florida State will try to use returning safety Derwin James in as many different roles as possible to try to keep Alabama guessing. When a player is as widely praised for his versatility as James is, the Seminoles must use that advantage -- especially when faced with slowing down a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts.

For some perspective, rewind to last season. The game after losing James for the season with a knee injury, Florida State played Louisville. Lamar Jackson had one of his best performances in his Heisman Trophy-winning season. Among the issues in that game: Florida State did not have an effective "spy" on the quarterback.

In a quiet moment this spring, James was asked whether he would have made a difference in slowing down Jackson last season. “That’s every game, not just the Louisville game,” James said. “I’m a competitor. I love to win, so of course there were plays out there I felt I could have made.”

So a potential James-versus-Hurts matchup should be one the Seminoles coaches explore. Another is the Florida State offensive line against the Alabama defensive front. The Tide have the advantage in this matchup, so how do the Seminoles scheme to ensure there are running lanes open and quarterback Deondre Francois does not get hit as many times as he did a year ago?

Those are among the biggest matchups in this blockbuster showdown. And it’s safe to say the Florida State coaches are looking at them right about now.