Notre Dame vs. Florida State: 7 Best Matchups of the Champs Sports Bowl

James ToljCorrespondent IIDecember 27, 2011

Notre Dame vs. Florida State: 7 Best Matchups of the Champs Sports Bowl

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    The Champs Sports Bowl pits two very good but underachieving teams against each other, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Florida State Seminoles. The game will also be a platform for a number of interesting matchups.

    Two second-year coaches, numerous NFL prospects and players who are expected to do big things in their college careers will be showcased on Thursday.

    Who has the advantage?

    Here are seven of the most captivating head-to-heads in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Michael Floyd vs. Florida State Secondary

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    As much as Michael Floyd might want to avoid it in his last game with the Fighting Irish, he could be more of a decoy than a threat in the Champs Sports Bowl.

    Brian Kelly is going to try to get the ball in Floyd's hands, but the Florida State defense is going to key in on the senior as well.

    In the two games where Floyd had a season-low four receptions (Pittsburgh and USC), the Irish scored a combined 32 points. The all-star wide receiver had just 27 receiving yards against Pittsburgh and 28 against USC. You can bet that Jimbo Kelly knows those statistics, but stopping Floyd is easier said than done.

    Floyd will see combination of coverage schemes. He will be double-covered. He will see constant safety help over the top. And although Xavier Rhodes is the corner most able to press Floyd off the line of scrimmage because of his 6'2", 215-pound frame, Floyd will see some of the talented, but much smaller, Greg Reid, too (Reid is 5'8",185 pounds).

    If Floyd becomes the focus of the Florida State offense and opens up the field for the Notre Dame offense, then he has done his job. And if Florida State doesn't put two guys on Floyd the whole game, then Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix will make sure to throw him the ball. 

    Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. E.J. Manuel

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    Sean Cynwar and Louis Nix will be tasked with plugging up the middle, while.Ethan Johnson, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt will be firing off the corners at E.J. Manuel all game.

    Manuel's offensive line is ranked 111th in sacks allowed, giving up an average of three per game, but the Irish defense hasn't been able to knock the quarterback down often this season (although the defensive line has had a fair share of quarterback hurries).

    The Irish are ranked 80th in sacks, so they will need to play one of their better games in order to help Florida State keep up its sack allowed average.

    Notre Dame's quick defensive ends could give Manuel trouble, though. The defensive ends have the speed to beat the Florida State blockers, and when Manuel takes off running (which he will), the ends can chase him down. 

    And Manuel is averaging just 1.7 yards per rushing attempt (he has a career-high 99 carries, but his average is deceiving because he often gets pulled down behind the line of scrimmage), but he is a capable runner.

    Edge: Notre Dame

Manti Te'o vs. Florida State Running Backs

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    Manti Te'o is tied for 27th in the FBS with 115 total tackles on the season, and that number should increase drastically after he faces Florida State's 99th-ranked running game.

    It's not that Florida State barely runs the ball. 

    While E.J. Manuel is second on the team in carries with 99, Florida State has seven players with over 22 carries on the season (including Manuel).

    Te'o will mostly see two quicker running backs in Devonta Freeman and Jermaine Thomas, but he could also see some carries from the talented freshman, James Wilder, Jr., who sits at 6'2, 230 pounds and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

    Edge: Notre Dame

Andrew Hendrix vs. Florida State Defense

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    Tommy Rees is going to get the start at quarterback against Florida State, but Andrew Hendrix is a much more intriguing matchup.

    Of course, there is the hoard of fans hoping that Hendrix outplays Rees and becomes the favorite to start next season.

    But Hendrix also makes the Irish offense more dynamic. He has the ability to keep the Seminoles defense on their toes.

    Hendrix already has a 78-yard scamper in which he fell just short of the end zone (since, he has scored a rushing touchdown), and he put up nearly 200 passing yards in the second half against the Stanford Cardinal. 

    Facing the second-ranked rushing defense and the 19th passing defense (sixth in total defense), Hendrix will have his hands full. However, if things go well for him and bad for Rees, Hendrix could win the confidence of Brian Kelly.

    Although, against such a stout defense, both quarterbacks are likely to struggle a bit.

    Edge: Florida State

Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood vs. Florida State Run Defense

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    The Irish's 51st-ranked rushing offense is up against the second best run defense in the nation. 

    Florida State is only giving up 81.83 rushing yards per game.

    There are two things that play in Notre Dame's favor, though. 

    The Irish have a solid offense line (although it didn't look great against Stanford), and Theo Riddick makes his second straight appearance backing up Cierre Wood at running back.

    It will be interesting to see how Brian Kelly uses Wood and Riddick. On passing downs, Kelly could keep both players on the field and have two receiving threats out of the backfield.

    Even with adding the experience of Riddick at running back, there is no way the Irish have an advatage in this matchup.

    Edge: Florida State

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs Florida State Defensive Line

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    The Florida State defensive line against the Notre Dame offensive line will be a clash of the titans.

    Florida State ranks fifth in tackles for loss and ninth in sacks. Notre Dame ranks a solid 18th in sacks allowed, but the Irish are ranked slightly lower in tackles for loss allowed as they are tied for 21st in the FBS. 

    Three players on the Florida State defensive line have over four sacks (Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine), and four players have six or more tackles for loss (Jenkins, Werner, Carradine and Timmy Jernigan).

    If the Notre Dame offensive line doesn't have its best game of the season, then Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix will see pressure unlike any they have faced this season.

    Edge: Florida State 

Brian Kelly vs. Jimbo Fisher

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    Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher have a lot to prove. Kelly became the head coach at one of the most storied programs in college football history and was considered a savior, and Fisher took over for the legendary Bobby Bowden last year.

    In the second year with their respective programs, both coaches have an 8-4 record.

    A victory at the Champs Sports Bowl won't be considered redemption for either team's disappointing seasons, though.

    The game simply pits two teams that are very close in talent level against each other, and a win would be nothing more than a solid victory, a win against a very good team to put on one of the two's resumes.

    The Florida State offense has struggled at times this season, and Fisher wants his 73rd-ranked offense to play well against Notre Dame's 34th-ranked defense.

    Likewise for Kelly, his offense has done well in some games but played poorly in others. If the 34th-ranked offense can best of one of the top defenses in the nation, then Kelly will be a step closer to proving his supposed offensive genius.

    While Fisher's team will come out and play hard against the Irish, expect Kelly to throw a few wrinkles in the game plan and surprise the Florida State coaching staff.

    Edge: Notre Dame