Top 4 Non-BCS Bowls, No. 4: Champ Sports Bowl


First up on our list of the Top Five Non-BCS bowls is one between two teams that have a deep-rooted history between them, teams that dominated the national landscape for much of the ‘90s. Since then, the teams playing in this bowl have had a variety of ups and downs, but both hope to secure a win to regain the relevance that these programs once had.

That’s right folks: we’re talking about the Champ Sports Bowl, featuring the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Florida State Seminoles.

For those of us too young to remember any powerhouses besides USC, Texas, Bama, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, and Ohio State, let me break it down for you right quick:

In the 90s, Florida State and Notre Dames were THE squads. They often commanded to top spots in the rankings, and when they clashed in bowl games, they did not disappoint. In 1993 the top-ranked Seminoles fell to the No. 2 Fighting Irish, 31-24 in South Bend.  Then in 1994, No. 8 Florida State tasted revenge with a 23-16 win over Notre Dame. Two years later, in the 1996 Orange Bowl, No. 6 Notre Dame lost 31-26 to the eighth-ranked Seminoles, leaving both teams with 9-2 records.

Much like that last match-up, the ‘Noles and the Irish will meet in the Champs Bowl with the same record (8-4) and will aim to return some prestige to this once well-respected rivalry.

Both teams are sporting fairly new coaches—Brian Kelly for Notre Dame and Jimbo Fischer for FSU—who are both finishing up their second year with their respective teams. In the past two years, they have definitely gotten people excited about these schools again, with the notion that more can be expected in the future. In spite of that, neither team finished with a particularly impressive record, though the Seminoles did climb their way back into the rankings with a No. 25 record after beating Florida 21-7. Notre Dame ended its season with a 28-14 loss at Stanford, after having a four-game winning streak. Also, the Fighting Irish saw its starting quarterback Tommy Reese get benched after he went 6-13 and threw a pick. Still, it looks like Reese will be starting in this bowl.

Notre Dame seems to have the upper hand offensively in this game, as they are toting two weapons that will wreak havoc for the Seminoles: wide receiver Michael Floyd and running back Cierre Wood. Floyd is coming into this game with 95 receptions, 1106 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, averaging almost 12 yards per receptions. Wood has 1042 yards and nine touchdowns from 199 carries, averaging just over five yards per touch. Florida State does not have weapons nearly as effective, but they do have a quarterback who knows what to do with what he has: E.J. Manuel. Manuel has thrown for 2417 yards, 16 touchdowns and has only thrown eight picks all season. If The Irish defense cannot find a way to apply constant pressure to Manuel, he will have a field day against the Irish.

Defensively, both teams do a pretty good job keeping points off the board: Florida State has been holding opponents to under 16 points per contest, and Notre Dame has been holding theirs under 21 points. Based on that, this could be a game similar to that of LSU/Bama the first time around—lots of defense and no offense whatsoever.  However, with the amount of yards these teams rack up per game—424 for the Irish and about 376 for the Seminoles—it really could go either way. One thing we do know is that the hits will come early and the will undoubtedly come often, as these teams tote two of the best middle linebackers in the country. For Notre Dame, their defense will be led by Manti Teo, a tackling machine with speed to make plays in both the running game and in coverage. Florida State, on the other hand, is led by Jeff Luc—a human highlight of sorts—who lays the lumber every time he gets a shot on the ball carrier. He’s known for over-pursuing plays because of his aggressiveness, but when he connects he does so in a big way.

The Champs Sports Bowl will be the fourth time in five bowl games that the Irish have faced an ACC opponent. The Irish are 3-0 against the ACC going into this game, but they haven’t faced a defense as tough as the Seminoles. FSU’s defense led the ACC and was 4th in the nation, allowing an FBS-low 2.3 yards per carry and 81.8 per game, over their last four games.

As a Trojan, I would LOVE for Notre Dame to drop this game, especially after the way USC dogged them back in October. The Irish really thought they were going to beat USC again after winning on a fluke the season before, and nothing would please me more than to have them lose again to a team that they have history with.

But hey, that’s just me.

All loyalties aside though, Florida State should have this one in the bag. This is a team that hasn’t really been out of its 4 losses, and their lack of success is more a testament to their immaturity and not to a lack of talent.

And believe me when I say, this is a team of ATHLETES.

This is the most potent collection of talent in the very fertile state of Florida, and if they’re able to exploit the tremendous gap in athleticism they own over Notre Dame (as well as a fragile psyched Tommy Reese), the Fighting Irish are going to be the springboard into a very special 2012 for Jimbo Fisher and company. Everything clicks for Florida State in a game that has South Bend faithful calling for Brian Kelly’s job. Final score: 35-28.

The Champs Sports Bowl kicks off at 2:30 Pacific Time on Dec. 29th. Be sure to check it out to see which program will bring some glory back to its name.