Two storied programs with big-armed but error-prone quarterbacks meet in Orlando as the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame battle the Florida Seminoles in the Champ Sports Bowl.
Fancy meeting you here For the second year straight the Fighting Irish and the Seminoles have landed in a good but not great bowl game. Last year Florida State beat South Carolina in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to cap off a 10 win season in Jimbo Fisher’s debut season at the helm. Brian Kelly’s opening year in South Bend also ended on a high with victory over historic rivals Miami in the Sun Bowl. The sophomore seasons for both coaches haven’t gone as smoothly as hoped following those wins.
Nobody expected greatness from the Seminoles or Fighting Irish in 2010, just progress. With both teams ranked in pre-season, the Seminoles were expected to win the ACC while Brian Kelly’s Irish were supposed to return to the BCS. Instead College Football betting fans saw two programs treading water. Notre Dame earned one more regular season win but lost winnable marquee games against Michigan and USC, as well as dropping their home opener against South Florida. The Noles took a big step back. Hopes remained high even after a home loss to then #1 Oklahoma but subsequent losses to Clemson and Wake Forest killed off any early optimism in Tallahassee.
Quarterback concerns The Seminoles were relying on a breakout junior season from EJ Manuel but his 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions kept him short of the elite standard required. The Fighting Irish had a lower bar set for Tommy Rees but they still expected much more than the 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions he delivered. Rees had more high-profile meltdowns but at least his display in the loss at Michigan showed he could occasionally cope with high-pressure environments. The weak displays by Manuel against Wake Forest and Virginia were a stark regression for the player who shone when pressed into relief duty in 2010.
The verdict These programs have an awful lot in common right now and most of it really is awful. Stagnation is a scary term for College Football fans if teams aren’t getting better than it’s only a matter of time before another downward phase hits. The Seminoles and the Fighting Irish both need a post-season win badly to jump-start their 2012 campaigns. The winner in Orlando will go home confident of getting right back on track next season. The talent level on both teams is quite even so the result is going to come down to game management. Having a month to prepare should suit Kelly particularly well. The loss to South Florida was an aberration for a coach with a strong record when given longer to prepare for an opponent. Notre Dame will still have concerns over Rees but if he can avoid a turnover on the first drive, the junior should be capable of getting the job done. I like the Fighting Irish to win.