As much as I’d love for Aaron Taylor and Derrick Brooks to don the gear one final time to re-live the early to mid-1990s glory days for these two traditional powers, we all must move on. That all said, these two teams probably have as much talent as they’ve had in quite some time. However, said talent hasn’t come close to living up to the billing and it’s why these two are meeting in the Champs Sports Bowl as opposed to meeting in the Orange Bowl or some other BCS bowl in January.
Regardless, Florida State finally has its QB healthy. QB EJ Manuel, when healthy this season, has been the type of quarterback that Jimbo Fisher loves in this offense – productive and error-free with a hint of hitting on the deep ball with his massive arm. Consequently, he hasn’t thrown an interception since the month of October. But, the matchup that will drive this game is the Notre Dame offense against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Florida State’s defensive 11 is fourth in the nation in scoring defense and is the most athletic group Notre Dame has seen all season long. However, when Notre Dame is “right” offensively, which means healthy and no turnovers, it can move the football on anyone, anywhere. The key will be protecting QB Tommy Rees from DE Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, one of the best pass rush pairings in college football. The Irish OL will protect Rees, although there will be some sketchy moments; in other words, Rees won’t have a clean jersey, but he’ll be effective tossing the rock around the yard to Michael Floydand the rest of the Irish receiving corps. Manuel will move the Seminoles, but not enough to put the ‘Noles over the top.
Florida State LB Nigel Bradham – the three-year starter has been a mainstay on the defense and is one of only two seniors on the team’s two deep depth chart. He’s fun to watch but has a challenge against a diverse Notre Dame offense that is balanced with RB Cierre Wood in the run game and a strong passing game. Keep an eye on #13 throughout this game.
Notre Dame – 27 vs. Florida State – 23
For the first time since Tim Tebow played in the Capital One Bowl in 2007, the Heisman Trophy recipient is NOT playing in the National championship game, making this one of the most intriguing games on the bowl season docket. Who doesn’t want to see the man now known simply as RGIII work his magic against one of the worst overall defenses in the Pac-12? Washington gives up 426 yards per game and Robert Griffin III can pile up that many in three quarters of play.
Now, with the focus squarely on Griffin and what his Bears offense can do, keep in mind that the Huskies aren’t bringing a knife to an Alamo Bowl offensive gun fight. QB Keith Price is 12th in the nation in passing efficiency, while RB Chris Polk is one of the nastiest, downhill runners in the nation. And, oh by the way, it’s not as if the Baylor defense reminds any of us of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
In fact, the Washington defense is 50 yards per game better, on average, defensively than Baylor. Now, the Bears defend (or attempt to) their turf in the vaunted Big 12, while Washington faces a less than potent Pac-12 (outside of Stanford, Oregon and USC). So, what’s the point? The point is that these teams are putting up a ton of points and a ton of yards on Thursday night. A LOT of freaking yards and points. Washington’s perimeter defenders have no shot of slowing WR Kendall Wright on anything outside the hashes. Polk may be able to keep the Baylor offense on the sideline if the Huskies pound the stone at the 102nd ranked run defense in the nation.
You’d think that Baylor can’t sell out to stop Polk, because in doing so, it becomes that much more vulnerable in getting roasted downfield by WR Jermaine Kearse in the passing game. Either it slows down Polk or it gives up a quick score to get off the field. As such, Washington will make this one very interesting, but the Trophy, 2011 version, isn’t about to let the Bears show up and lay an egg in a bowl game after the huge stinker it left on the Reliant Stadium turf last season.
Baylor S Sam Holl– When Holl was a junior at Katy High School, I was watching his Katy squad in the state championship game and #25 kept popping up on the screen, making a ton of plays. He didn’t miss a tackle, which is rare in any game these days. I made a mental note of his name on that day and have followed him since. He does much of the same at Baylor that he did at Katy. In 2011, he led the Bears in tackles with 102 stops and had three interceptions, including a pair against Texas in the season finale. With Polk’s innate ability to get to the second and third level relatively easily, Holl will be on the spot to fill in the alley and assist the defensive front in run support throughout the game.
Baylor – 42 vs. Washington – 32