The Champs Sports Bowl Matches Florida State Up Against Notre Dame
Today’s bowl preview may end up being an ACC conference game soon if the cards fall right. For the moment however, it’s just a showdown between two underachieving teams that have not been considered national powers for at least the better part of the last decade. Still, tons of compelling stories going on for this year’s Champs Sports Bowl between the Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Bowl Game: Champs Sports Bowl
Location: Orlando, Fla.
First Year: 1990 (as Blockbuster Bowl)
2011 Participants: Florida State Seminoles (8-4) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)
Last Meeting: 2003, a 37-0 road win by Florida State
Florida State (previous bowl game: 26-17 win over South Carolina in 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl)
The Seminoles entered 2011 as a top-five team looking to return to their rightful place of national prominence. After two huge wins against cupcakes to start the season, expectations went through the roof in anticipation for their matchup with then-top-ranked Oklahoma, and following a close loss to the Sooners, it seemed like the team was still on track. Two weeks later, however, they were unranked and sitting at a stunning 2-3. Yet, the team would regroup, winning six of its final seven. And while scoring was sometimes at a premium, Florida State’s defense would finish the season as top five in something else — defense. Allowing just 14.2 points per game, the effort on that side of the ball more than made up for their paltry 118 yards per game on the ground and mostly inconsistent quarterback play from EJ Manuel. As we saw in the Seminoles’ games versus quality opponents, however, that formula doesn’t always turn out the way they plan.
Notre Dame (previous bowl game: 33-17 win over Miami (FL) in 2010 Sun Bowl)
Notre Dame also began their year ranked, with high expectations. Enter an 0-2 start, and suddenly the irish had to regroup in a hurry. And just as they did with their backs to the wall in 2010, they collected themselves this past season too. The Golden Domers would lose just two more times (to top-five programs USC and Stanford), and end the year with five wins versus bowl-bound teams. Frighteningly, if not for some poor luck in their first two games, this Irish squad could very well be 10-2, and surely playing in a BCS game (something I actually wouldn’t protest for once). Alas, it was not meant to be, so instead they bring a very balanced and entertaining team (once again, can’t believe I’m saying any of this about ND) to Orlando. Though their defense is not nearly as stingy as the Seminoles’, they run and throw the ball better, and don’t possess offensive numbers inflated by games versus Nowhere State University. The big concern won’t be team numbers, however, but the Irish’s big playmakers; QB Tommy Rees, RBs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, and WR Michael Floyd. Just as a sidenote, Floyd caught 95 passes this year (cue concern).
In spite of what admittedly looks like gushing above, I truly hate Notre Dame. That said, I think they have a real shot to win this one. Balanced offense usually beats one-dimensional, especially when good defenses are involved. The question is, is Notre Dame’s good enough to keep this score down? Following Virginia‘s gameplan from late in the regular season, if the Irish can hold Florida State to under 20 points, they stand a pretty good chance. On the flipside, the ‘Noles haven’t allowed a team to score 20 points themselves since October 8 (!) and have outscored opponents by 132 points total since that game. Given all that, the pick is Florida State, though not by that overwhelming a margin. Prediction: Florida St. 27, Notre Dame 26