Who: Florida State Seminoles (8-4) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)
What: 2011 Champs Sports Bowl
Where: Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL
When: Thursday, December 29th at 5:30 P.M. EST
Last Game: Florida State beat Florida 21-7; Notre Dame fell to Stanford 28-14.
Neither Florida State nor Notre Dame will have played a football game in more than a month when the teams meet in Orlando on Thursday. Both teams struggled early in the season, but were able to turn their years around and both come in 8-4. Florida State started the season 2-3 and since, have won six of seven games while Notre Dame has won eight of 10 after beginning 2011 with an 0-2 record. Head coaches Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly are each in their second season as head coach at their respective schools. Last New Year’s Eve, each also won his first bowl appearance; FSU defeated South Carolina 26-17 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl while Notre Dame pounded Miami 33-17 in the Sun Bowl. Florida State will be in search of its fourth straight bowl victory as it makes its 30th straight bowl appearance, the longest active streak in all of College Football.
Thursday’s Champs Sports Bowl will be the first meeting between Florida State and Notre Dame since 2003, when FSU shut out Notre Dame 37-0 in South Bend. The last bowl meeting between the teams came following the 1995 season when the teams met in the Orange Bowl in Miami with the Seminoles coming from behind to win 31-26. The teams actually met at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando for a regular season game in 1994 with Florida State getting the better of the Fighting Irish 23-16. Florida State will be without senior running back Jermaine Thomas, who was ruled academically ineligible for the game and reserve defensive back Avis Commack, who was suspended after being charged with theft. Thursday’s game will air on ESPN.
Keys to Seminole Success
During Florida State’s recent run of success, the Seminoles have been able to turn its opponents over. Florida State has forced a turnover in five of its last six games with the lone exception being the 14-13 loss to Virginia. Florida State was able to easily defeat Florida in its last game despite totaling less than 100 yards of offense. In that victory, Florida State forced four turnovers which led to all 21 FSU points. If the Seminoles can turn a Notre Dame offense that averages more than 400 yards-per-game, over, Florida State should find itself in a very favorable position.
Get Manuel Going Early
If the Seminoles are to beat Notre Dame on Thursday, they will need a good game from quarterback E.J. Manuel. Over the last two games, Manuel has had his struggles and will need to be solid on Thursday. In Notre Dame’s last three losses, the Fighting Irish defense was shown up by excellent quarterbacks in Michigan’s Denard Robinson, USC’s Matt Barkley and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. Manuel has the capability to be an elite college quarterback and can do it with his arm or his feet. Look for FSU to use Manuel in many different ways early on Thursday. A big game from E.J. Manuel would almost definitely mean a Florida State victory.
Pressure Tommy Rees
Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees has had a very solid year for the Fighting Irish and has only been sacked nine times. Florida State is one of the better teams in the country when it comes to rushing the passer and that will be key for the ‘Noles again on Thursday. With a talented trio of defensive ends in Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, the Seminoles can really get after the quarterback and if they are able to on Thursday, that should lead to mistakes for the Notre Dame offense. Rees has thrown 12 interceptions on the season, but half came in Notre Dame’s four losses.