Champs Sports Bowl Recap: Florida State over Notre Dame, 18-14

Florida State's EJ Manuel Led a Fourth-Quarter Seminoles Rally for an 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl VictoryFl

What happened: After a lackluster first three quarters, the Florida State Seminoles rallied in the fourth to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl, 18-14. In spite of two missed two-point conversions in the period, Florida State’s offense managed to put up the necessary points for an 11-point comeback and four-point win. The Seminoles’ defense was stellar all game, creating three turnovers, including two in the endzone. Their strong play on that side of the ball held the Irish offense at bay just long enough to let FSU quarterback EJ Manuel go to work, connecting on two big passing scores in the final quarter’s first few minutes. For much of the contest, Irish QB Tommy Rees struggled, forcing bad throws and ultimately dooming his team to the close loss with a late pick in the Seminoles’ endzone.

Who’s to blame: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, for his mostly uninspired gameplan, to start. But mostly, it comes down to an inefficiency for the aforementioned Rees to ever truly get the momentum going on offense — especially when his team was counting on him late in the game. Two endzone interceptions (especially the one with three minutes remaining in the contest) directly removed points off the board for the Irish, and were the exclamation points on a poor evening which saw him complete just 16 of 27 passes, for 163 yards. In spite of holding the lead for three quarters, Notre Dame only had 90 rushing yards, and receiver Michael Floyd was held mostly in check, catching just five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.

It Was Over When: Tommy Rees threw the aforementioned late interception. Though the final score was decided far earlier, when FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins connected on a 29-yard field goal with about eight minutes to go. Notre Dame was completely shut out in the fourth, and their inability to move the ball, and costly turnovers were what doomed them in the end.

Game Ball Goes To: Manuel, for completing 65 percent of his passes for 249 yards and two late touchdowns. With the running game a non-factor (just 41 total yards on the ground), it was up to Manuel and the passing game to deliver when it mattered most, and they did. Consideration also goes to FSU receiver Rashad Greene, who caught five passes for 99 yards and a touchdown — which ended up being the go-ahead score with 13 minutes to play.

Prediction Update: As predicted, it was a close game between these two storied programs, with the contest ultimately coming down to a fourth-quarter rally. With the Florida State win, that now moves me up to 2-1 on the ACC bowl season, with six contests still to go. Same goes for the ACC, which is trying to notch a .500 bowl record for the first time since 2006.

Champs Sports Bowl Preview: Florida State vs. Notre Dame

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

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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).

Verdict

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

ACC Previews & Predictions (Week 11)

A Win Thursday Would Aid Virginia Tech in Their Quest for an ACC Title

The postseason picture could start to sort out a whole bunch after this weekend. As we mentioned in our tiebreakers article, several ACC teams have a shot to clinch, solidify or enhance their chances to play for the league title, starting with Clemson. One win away from wrapping up the Atlantic Division, they just need to get by Wake Forest Saturday. Virginia Tech can clinch the Coastal by winning out — a process that starts Thursday night against Georgia Tech. Virginia and Miami are also in the mix for the Coastal crown, though it’ll take a few more cards to fall just right (especially for the ‘Canes).

*Game of the Week*

Virginia Tech Hokies (8-1) (4-1) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-2) (4-2): Based on the previous game’s results, these two teams would appear to be headed in opposite directions. Georgia Tech demolished previously-unbeaten Clemson, and the Hokies struggled to put away Duke. So which anomaly do we stand by? While the offense didn’t impress against the Blue Devils, the Hokies did show up on D again, maintaining their top-10 national ranking in that department. As for Georgia Tech, Clemson had struggled to stop the run prior to the ‘Wreck optioning them to death. Given how much better VPI is at stopping the run than Clemson, and the one-dimensional nature of the Yellow Jackets’ offense, this pick’s more cut-and-dry than originally thought. Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Georgia Tech 14

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

USF Bulls (4-4) at Syracuse Orange (5-4): Two squads in a freefall, and only one can stop their season from careening out of control Friday night. Last time the Orange played on Friday night, it scored a pretty impressive win versus West Virginia. That’s ancient history now, though. In USF, the Orange face a formidable defense and a quarterback that can beat them both in the air and on the ground. It’s a must-win for both teams, but if Syracuse can put pressure on B.J. Daniels like they did to Geno Smith and maybe force a few turnovers, I see them clinching bowl eligibility (please don’t prove me wrong!). Prediction: Syracuse 23, USF 20

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-4) (4-2) at Clemson Tigers (8-1) (5-1): Wake Forest understands what’s at stake here. After three straight lackluster efforts (one win and two losses), the Demon Deacons will try to salvage a season that at one point was filled with promise. Clemson, as mentioned above, would love to wrap up the Atlantic Division this week, so the goal of most seasons: beating South Carolina. Given Wake’s suspect passing defense, and Tajh Boyd‘s considerable skills in that category, expect the Tigers offense to have a great bounce-back performance. Prediction: Clemson 38, Wake Forest 21

Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5) at Louisville Cardinals (5-4): Pitt’s final three games are no picnic — not the news any team looking to clinch a bowl berth wants to hear. And Louisville isn’t looking to make things any easier. After a rough 2-4 start, the Cardinals are now in second place in the Big East and riding a three-game winning streak on the strength of solid defensive and special teams play. The big question will be whether the Louisville D can put pressure on Pitt QB Tino Sunseri early. If they succeed, they’ll make short work of the Panthers’ limited passing attack, and with sparse options in the running game, Pitt could be in trouble. Prediction: Louisville 27, Pittsburgh 21

North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-4) (2-3) at Boston College Eagles (2-7) (1-5): Was last week’s shutout over UNC a sign of things to come for the Wolfpack, or should we expect results closer to the previous week, when they were crushed by Florida State? I’d trend toward the middle — with the team more relying on QB Mike Glennon to out duel the opposing offense than leaning on the defense to hold down the fort. Lucky for them this week, they’ve got BC, who doesn’t score all that many points (18.4 points per game — 113th in the country). Prediction: NC State 28, Boston College 17

Duke Blue Devils (3-6) (1-4) at Virginia Cavaliers (6-3) (3-2): One disappointing loss to NC State aside, Virginia has continued to impress week-in and week-out. Given that the Blue Devils rarely impress, this shouldn’t be too tough of a test for Virginia. Like in-state rivals Virginia Tech, UVa controls its own fate in the race for the Coastal Division — win out, and they’re in the title game. It would be a magical ride for them, but it all starts with getting it done against an inferior opponent this weekend. While they’ve faltered in this situation before, I believe they’ve learned from it and the defense, specifically, will be in rare form. Prediction: Virginia 26, Duke 14

Miami (FL) Hurricanes (5-4) (3-3) at Florida State Seminoles (6-3) (4-2): When Miami first joined the ACC, this was supposed to be the matchup that decided ACC titles and national championships. And though neither has really come to fruition, the intensity of this year’s end-of-season races, along with the usual bad blood in this rivalry does crank things up a bit. Facing their first quality opponent in over a month, can FSU respond with a dominant defensive performance? Can Miami display consistency in league play and notch another impressive win to pair with their drubbing of Georgia Tech a few weeks back? I know we’ve said this before, but the ‘Noles have been revitalized, and thus, will be victorious. It won’t be easy, though. Prediction: Florida St. 41, Miami 35

Maryland Terrapins (2-7) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-3): Notre Dame continues their open auditions for the ACC by taking on sacrificial lamb, Maryland. The Terps, once respectable, even in the face of mediocrity, have been a laughing stock for about a month now. The Irish, on the other hand, have taken an 0-2 start and turned it into a slightly compelling/entertaining campaign. While not worldbeaters by any stretch of the imagination, ND’s junior receiver Michael Floyd could probably defeat Maryland on his own, and will attempt to do so Saturday (half-joking). In all seriousness though, I’d be shocked if the Terrapins managed to stop Notre Dame’s balanced, efficient attack. Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Maryland 20

Last Week’s Record: 5-2; 2011 Record: 17-9