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2011 Champs Sports Bowl: Florida St. Seminoles vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

CFB Handicapping – Florida State Seminoles vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Two programs prone to re-live their 1980s-1990s glory days meet up in this year’s Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State Seminoles (8-4) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)
Thursday, Dec. 29, 5:30 pm EST
Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando FL
Betting Lines from Sportsbook.com
MoneyLine: Florida St. -150, Notre Dame +130
Spread: Florida St. -3, Notre Dame +3
Over/Under: 47

In 1993, these two teams met as #1 and #2 in the nation, with #2-ranked Notre Dame knocking off the Seminoles in South Bend. Especially for the intense fans of these two rather punch-drunk “elite” programs, 1993 must feel like a long time ago indeed.

Still, this should be an intriguing match-up. Interestingly, both teams feature second-year head coaches – Brian Kelly of the Irish and Jimbo Fisher of Florida State – that have at least tantalized the fanbase with the prospect of re-emerging on the national scene. This bowl game victory could serve as a valuable powder-keg for gathering momentum toward reaching that goal. Both teams finished the regular season hovering right at or near the AP Top 25 rankings; the ’Noles finished the year right at #25 and the Irish were just behind them, according to the votes.

It hasn’t been all clear sailing in 2011 for Irish QB Tommy Rees – he was benched at one point – but he will start in the bowl game and expect him to go downfield looking for his trusted targets, WR Michael Floyd and TE Tyler Eifert. With a Notre Dame team that has heavily relied on passing in recent seasons, RB Cierre Wood is a refreshing surprise. Wood is the Irish’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Darius Walker five seasons ago.

Wood may have a tough assignment this holiday season, however. Florida State features the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the country and allowed an FBS-low 2.3 yards per carry on the ground, and averaged just 81.8 yards per game. The Seminoles and their second-ranked rush defense is truly imposing. The ’Noles finished their regular season with a 21-7 victory over rival Florida, but they were only able to 95 yards of offense. The rabid defensive effort, which included an interception returned for a TD, is what led FSU to victory. The onus will definitely be on Florida State pivot E.J. Manuel to have a productive afternoon. [soliloquy id=”82219″]

It might be natural to think that Florida State possesses the slight edge in this game, with the strong “D”. Not to mention, to see Rees pulled in favor of sophomore Golden Domer Andrew Hendrix in the Stanford game was rather startling. Yet, the Irish have often rolled out a deadly offense in 2011; having a 1,000-yard back and a 1,000-yard wideout (Floyd) that were also buttressed with excellent second options (Eifert and, in the case of the RB position, 12-TD smashmouth senior Jonas Gray) meant the Irish scored points at will. This, of course, was the case until the last two weeks of the season, when the Irish scored 30 points combined versus Boston College and Stanford. Can Coach Kelly turn his offense around for the bowl game?

The Seminoles had a disappointing three-game losing streak early in the season, but other than that FSU took care of business, for the most part. Manuel is certainly capable of guiding the FSU attack with aplomb, and the speedy defense will always leave its mark.

There were high expectations for both of these programs going into the season and both squads hijacked themselves by stringing together losses early in the campaign. Still, these are two programs that feature talent and tradition, and a Champs Sports Bowl victory next Thursday might just be enough to get the measuring stick set reasonably, in a quest to get back to college football dominance.

Game Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Florida State 24
Over/Under Prediction: 51

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