Florida St.-Notre Dame Preview

While the intrigue of LSU-Alabama has deservedly captivated

college football throughout the fall and into the winter, there’s

more than one “Game of the Century” rematch on tap this bowl

season.

Long before national championships seemed to annually migrate to

the SEC – and just prior to teams being selected for postseason

play based on mysterious computer formulas – Florida State and

Notre Dame ruled much of the 1990s.

About 18 years after the Seminoles and Irish had their own No. 1

vs. No. 2 matchup, coaches Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly hope this

Thursday clash at the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando serves as a

springboard for turning these storied programs back into

superpowers.

“We were happy with whatever came to us, and we’re happier to

have such a game that has such a great reverence to it,” said

Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan.

Reverence indeed. Back on Nov. 13, 1993, the second-ranked

Fighting Irish defeated No. 1 Florida State 31-24 in South Bend,

Ind., to take over the nation’s top spot in its second-to-last

game. One week later, they were upset by Boston College, fell to

No. 3 in the polls and later watched as the Seminoles beat Nebraska

for the national championship.

There were high-profile meetings in successive years as well. In

1994, No. 8 Florida State got a measure of revenge with a 23-16

win. In the 1996 Orange Bowl, No. 6 Notre Dame fell 31-26 to the

eighth-ranked Seminoles, leaving both teams with 9-2 records.

“Florida State is one of those teams, when we were growing up,

we’d watch them play, so getting matched up against a team like

that… it’ll be fun for us all,” Irish captain Harrison Smith

said.

The two schools are still a “Hail Mary” from their golden age of

consistent domination in the polls, but the pair of second-year

coaches have their respective programs back to respectability –

with the promise of more to come.

“We’re really excited as a university to have the opportunity to

play a traditional power like Florida State with great brand

recognition,” Kelly said. “It does us good as a football program

and we hope we bring the same to this game.

“You got two emerging programs that are going to be back in the

national spotlight for a long time to come, and I think this will

be that precursor that we look towards.”

Fisher was similarly upbeat about the marquee matchup, as well

as his long-term outlook in revitalizing a program to the heights

reached by names like Charlie Ward, Warrick Dunn and Derrick

Brooks.

“I’m very excited about it. Our wins and losses this year

weren’t what we hoped they would be … but I’m not disappointed in

where we’re going,” Fisher said.

To get there, however, both teams are going to need some

work.

Neither capped the regular season in particularly impressive

fashion, although the Seminoles (8-4) at least inched back into the

rankings at No. 25 by finishing with a win, 21-7 over Florida.

Florida State amassed just 95 yards of offense, but its defense

was able to take advantage of a number of Gators turnovers,

including an interception return for a score. One week earlier, the

team’s five-game winning streak was snapped in a 14-13 upset loss

to Virginia.

Notre Dame (8-4) finished with the next-most votes behind the

Seminoles in the last AP poll after closing with a 28-14 defeat at

Stanford, seeing its four-game winning streak broken and its

starting quarterback benched. Despite a 6-for-13 outing with an

interception, incumbent Tommy Rees will be back with the first

team.

A big part of Kelly’s rationale for that decision had to do with

the chemistry Rees has with his leading receivers, wideout Michael

Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert.

“In making our decision we felt like Tommy has got a great

rapport with Mike and Tyler and our offensive line feels really

good with his communication and getting in protections,” Kelly

said. “There’s a lot of things that you can’t just undo after one

game.”

Floyd, named team MVP for the second straight year, set a

single-season school record with 95 receptions while leading the

Irish with 1,106 yards and eight TDs. He will leave South Bend as

the most prolific wideout in Notre Dame’s fabled history, holding

marks for catches (266), yards (3,645) and touchdowns (36).

“They have a great defense, and it’s going to be very

challenging for the offense,” Floyd said. “I gotta bring my ‘A’

game. This is my last game playing for the University of Notre

Dame, so I want to go out with a bang and I’m gonna try to do

whatever I can to make that happen.”

The matchup will mark the independent Irish’s fourth in five

games against an ACC opponent. They’re 3-0 so far, but none can

match the toughness of the Seminoles defense.

Florida State led the conference and was fourth in the country

in allowing 15.2 points per game, including 9.4 over the last five.

The Seminoles allowed an FBS-low 2.3 yards per carry and 81.8 per

game to rank second nationally, and they’ll look to shut down

Cierre Wood – Notre Dame’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Darius

Walker in 2006.

Linebacker Christian Jones is thrilled to have extended the

Seminoles’ nation-high streak to 30 consecutive bowl games against

an opponent which can match his own team’s drawing power.

“It’s just exciting knowing that you’re playing Notre Dame,” he

said. “It’s a known school, and with all the winning and tradition

they have, it’s kind of similar to what we have.”