Florida State Seminoles (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS), Thursday December 29th, 2011. 5:30PM EST, Champ Sports Bowl
Florida Citrus Bowl Orlando, Fla
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Fla St. -3/N. Dame +3
Over/Under Total: 47
Two historic programs will meet in Orlando, Florida for the Champs Sports Bowl on December 29th when the Florida State Seminoles battle the Notre Dame Fighting Irish inside the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
The Seminoles were preseason favorites to not only win the ACC Championship but to also possibly challenge for the National Championship as well. However after an extremely hard fought loss to Oklahoma 23-13 in week 3, the Seminoles not only lost their confidence but also their next 2 games in a row. Florida State rebounded to close out the season by winning 6 of their last 7 games, but it was not the “return to glory” season that Seminoles fans had hoped. Still, Florida State looks to close the year with a bang and score a win over the Fighting Irish to set the tone for 2012 season where expectations will be high yet again.
Notre Dame had a rather similar start to their season. The Fighting Irish dropped their first two games in close losses to South Florida and Michigan. However much like the Seminoles, the Fighting Irish caught fire late in the season to win 8 of their last 10 games including a marquee win over Michigan State 31-13. Notre Dame’s only two losses late in the season were at the hands of two of the better teams from the Pac 12 in both Stanford and USC.
Now the Fighting Irish find their selves in their 2nd straight postseason bowl game after finishing 8-4 on the year. Looking back at the history books, the Fighting Irish have not historically performed well in the postseason losing 9 of their last 11 bowl games. The good news is both of those wins have come in the Fighting Irish’s last two bowl appearances and Notre Dame will look to make it a 3rd straight victory when they battle the Seminoles for the Champs Sports Bowl.
The match-up to watch will be the Florida State defense against the Fighting Irish offense. Both groups have played exceptionally well this season. The Seminoles defense ranks 6th nationally in total defense holding opponents to just 276 yards per game. That same Florida State defense is extremely talented up front where they have produced the 2nd best run stop unit in the country allowing just 81 yards per game on the ground. Additionally, the Seminoles defensive line knows how to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks which will be huge against Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees. Florida State’s defensive unit has averaged 3.00 sacks per game (9th in NCAA) and they will need that type of pressure to be placed on Rees if they are to be successful in taking down the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame’s success relies heavily on the arm of Rees considering the offense averages 258 yards per game through the air. Rees has been solid all year completing 66% passing for 2,708 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 picks on the year. Wide receiver Michael Floyd and TE Tyler Eifert are well known big targets for the air attack. Senior WR Michael Floyd has caught 95 passes for 1,106 yards and 8 scores this season and is Notre Dame’s all-time receiving leader. Eifert has put up very respectable numbers from the tight end position with 713 receiving yards as well. Therefore it be vitally important that Rees has time to get the ball to both Eifert and Floyd to keep the ball moving.
Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood has been a big part of the offense this year and has over 1,000 rushing yards this year. However as stated before, Florida State has been rock solid against the run and it’s my personal opinion that this game will rely on the Notre Dame passing offense. Wood should be able to pick up some yards, but I just do not think it will be enough to have a major impact. A key stat that is important if the passing theory holds true, is that Rees has only been sacked 9 times all year. Therefore, the battle will be in the trenches where Notre Dame’s offensive line will need to withstand the Florida State pass rush and continue to give Rees time to throw the football.
On the other side of the football, the Seminoles offense has a rushing reputation but in actuality they have not run the ball well at all this season. In fact, the Seminoles rank 99th in rushing offense averaging just 118 yards per game. Both tailbacks in freshman Devonta Freeman and senior Jermaine Thomas are extremely talented guys. However, Freeman leads the offense with just 531 yards on the ground. Rather than having the Fighting Irish prepare to stop the run, Notre Dame’s defense will need to worry more about QB E.J Manuel.
Manuel is a dual threat guy that is tough to bring down. While Manuel is a pass first type of quarterback, he can also scramble to pick up first downs with his feet. On the season, Manuel has completed 65% passing for 2,417 yards with 16 scores and 8 picks. Florida State’s offense has several talented receivers and they spread the ball around equally very well.
When Manuel has time to spread the ball around, Florida State offense is normally difficult to defense considering the way their receiving core matches up against opposing defenses. The key for Notre Dame will be getting Manuel to release the ball quickly and not sit in the pocket for long periods of time. Manuel has had some decision making issues that could come out again if they can force him into those pressure situations.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: - I think this will be a back and forth game on both sides of the football. Both offenses can move the ball well and should score points relatively often. I like the over 47.
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