Champs Sports Bowl Preview: Florida State vs. Notre Dame
The Champs Sports Bowl features two teams that failed to meet expectations, as the Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish both finished the regular season with disappointing 8-4 records.
The game will be played on Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET in Orlando, Florida at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Note: Rankings used are from my Top 25 national rankings.
Florida State Seminoles
Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Biggest win: at Florida, 21-7, Nov. 26
Worst loss: at Wake Forest, 30-35, Oct. 8
The Florida State Seminoles came into the season as heavy favorites to be ACC champions and were expected to make a big run at the BCS. However, their season fell apart early, when they lost three consecutive games against Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest to fall to 2-3.
The Seminoles were able to somewhat salvage their season, winning five of their last six games. That said, the Seminoles have a losing record of 3-4 against bowl-eligible teams this season.
The Seminoles offense struggled this season, especially running the football; they rank 99th nationally in rushing yards per game. The defense, however, especially its rush defense, was tremendous.
The Seminoles rank sixth nationally in total defense. They also rank second, just behind Alabama and one spot ahead of LSU, in rushing yards allowed per game, an extremely impressive statistic for the Seminole defense.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Ranking in my National Top 25: No. 25
Biggest win: vs No. 17 Michigan State, 31-13, Sept. 17
Worst loss: vs South Florida, 20-23, Sept. 3
Notre Dame’s football season got off to a horrendous start, with consecutive losses in its first two games of the season against South Florida and in an exciting shootout against Michigan.
After that, however, the Irish righted the ship. They came up with a big victory over Michigan State and won eight of their final 10 games, with their only two losses coming against Stanford and USC, two teams ranking in the top seven nationally.
The Irish rank 35th nationally in total offense, although they have two major concerns offensively heading into this game. First of all, the Irish have no set starting quarterback, with Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix set to share time in the bowl game. Secondly, running back Jonas Gray, who emerged as a key playmaker as a complement to Cierre Wood in the backfield this season, is out with a torn ACL.
Defensively, the Irish rank 34th nationally in yards allowed per game.
Players to Watch
Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 2
As one of the premier pass rushers in the nation, defensive end Brandon Jenkins is the star of Florida State’s sixth-ranked defense.
Jenkins’s numbers went down significantly this season from his sophomore season, but he still led the Seminoles with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Jenkins is an explosive, athletic defensive end who can really wreak havoc in the trenches.
A junior who should be a second-round selection if he declares for the 2012 NFL Draft, this could very well be his final game in a Seminoles uniform. Look for him to make a big impact in this bowl game.
Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 2
While it is unclear whether Tommy Rees or Andrew Hendrix will be doing the majority of passing the football in this game, it is certain that both quarterbacks will look to throw the ball to Michael Floyd.
Floyd is both the big playmaker and the most consistent player of the Notre Dame offense. Floyd ranks ninth nationally with 95 receptions this season.
Floyd is long, athletic and a very skilled receiver. He is one of the best wide receivers in the nation, but his NFL draft stock is damaged by a bevy of off-field troubles in Floyd’s past, including a DUI arrest this past March.
He has not had any off-field trouble this season and has had his best year with the Irish. He will be looking to make a big statement with a big performance in the Champs Sports Bowl. Even if he does though, Floyd is a first-round talent who should slide down the draft board due to the many red flags he has picked up over the past few years.
Notre Dame MLB Manti Te’o, Junior
2013 NFL Draft Grade: Round 1-2
Defensively, Manti Te’o is the standout of Notre Dame’s defense. Te’o would be a potential first-round selection in the 2012 draft, but has already announced his intentions to return to Notre Dame for the 2013 season, which surely pleases fans of the Irish.
Te’o is a terrific middle linebacker and playmaker for the Irish defense. He leads the team with 111 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this season. Te’o is a great athlete, a consistent tackler and very instinctive.
The ability of Notre Dame’s defense to stop Florida State’s offense hinges heavily upon the play of Te’o, and he should be expected to make a big impact.
Comparing the Two Teams
Common opponents: Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College
Loss at Wake Forest, 30-35, Oct. 8
Win vs Maryland, 41-16, Oct. 22
Win at Boston College, 38-7, Nov. 7
Win at Wake Forest, 24-17, Nov. 5
Win vs Maryland, 45-21, Nov. 12 (neutral location)
Win vs Boston College, 16-14, Nov. 19
Wins vs bowl-eligible teams: Florida State 3, Notre Dame 5
Losses vs non-bowl-eligible teams: Florida State 0, Notre Dame 1
Notre Dame’s rushing offense: 51st in nation, 166.0 yards per game
Florida State’s rushing defense: Second in nation, 81.8 yards allowed per game
Notre Dame’s scoring offense: 42nd in nation, 30.5 points per game
Florida State’s scoring defense: Fourth in nation, 15.2 points allowed per game
Florida State’s passing offense: 34th in nation, 257.7 yards per game
Notre Dame’s passing defense: 33rd in nation, 201.7 yards per game
Both of these teams had disappointing seasons, so both should be motivated to finish the season with a ninth victory of their season in the Champs Sports Bowl.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have won more big games this season than Florida State, but have some major offensive concerns heading into this game. The loss of running back Jonas Gray to a torn ACL is significant, while it is unclear whether Tommy Rees or Andrew Hendrix will handle the work load at quarterback in this game.
Not only do the Irish have internal concerns, they have a major external concern as they go up against Florida State’s defense, one of the most dominant in the nation.
That said, the Seminoles have offensive problems of their own, lacking any big playmakers in both the passing and rushing games. However, I think this game will come down to which defense can force turnovers and come up with big plays.
While Manti Te’o and safety Harrison Smith are big playmakers for the Notre Dame defense, Florida State has a plethora of playmakers like Brandon Jenkins, outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, and cornerback Greg Reid who can make big plays. I think the Seminoles will make the plays necessary to win this game.
Final Score Prediction: Florida State 24, Notre Dame 20
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