35 Bowls in 24 Days: Champs Sports Bowl

We might as well call this one the Disappointment Bowl, as yet again, Florida State and Notre Dame failed to live up to expectations this season. It’s been about a decade since either of these teams were good, yet neither were really all that bad in 2011 — just mediocre. Tickets for this game sold out in about an hour, so obviously there is some excitement about this year’s edition of the Champs Sports Bowl.

More: See the other bowl games

Florida State Seminoles (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4), Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, 5:30 p.m. [ESPN]

Two teams that defined college football in the 1990s fell from glory in the 2000s, and it doesn’t look like either is going to be “back” any time soon. Making steps in the right direction? Yes.

But the word “back” means so much more than that.

FSU started the year ranked in the top-10, expected to be on a fast track to the national championship if they could just get past Oklahoma. They didn’t get past Oklahoma, or Clemson, or Wake Forest, or even Virginia, falling like a rock out of the rankings in the process. It was an ugly nightmare for fans of the Seminoles; they didn’t all expect a national championship, but an ACC Championship, which didn’t seem so far out of reach, became quite distant as well.

Notre Dame’s goals weren’t quite as lofty, but their season was just as mediocre. Eight wins for each of these programs is better than things have been in past years, but it’s been a long time since the Irish were playing for a national title (just like FSU).

So there’s a chance that one (or both) of these teams may not show up for this game due to the disappointment of playing in a lesser-than-expected bowl, but all indications are that the two teams are very amped for the chance to re-ignite a rivalry that was huge 20 years ago.

Despite their shortcomings in the regular season, FSU has been very good in bowl games in the past few years. The Seminoles have won three consecutive bowls (and four of their last five, with the only loss in that stretch coming in the 2007 Music City Bowl when the academic cheating scandal cut the roster nearly in half).

And despite an ugly stretch of games that started with the loss to Oklahoma, FSU rallied to win six of the final seven games of the regular season, including wins over both Miami and Florida in a 14-day stretch. They have something going with the highly-touted freshmen and sophomores that head coach Jimbo Fisher brought in, and as soon as he threw them onto the field, the ‘Noles started winning.

Notre Dame seems to be a step behind Florida State in the recovery of their program, but that doesn’t mean they have no chance of winning this game. So far this year, the Irish are 3-0 against ACC schools (Wake, Maryland and Boston College — the last three games on their regular-season schedule). Tommy Rees is going to be a good quarterback; the sophomore has 2,708 passing yards and 19 touchdowns this season.

But Rees has thrown 12 interceptions in 2011, and if he makes multiple mistakes, FSU will take advantage and win this game. The one thing that has given the Seminoles the upper hand this year is when a team turns the ball over in bunches.

Also, keep an eye on FSU’s Greg Reid when he is on the punt-return team. Notre Dame hasn’t really faced a good specialist (they were quick to admit that fact), so if Reid breaks a few big runs, it could be the difference in the ballgame.

My prediction: Florida State 30, Notre Dame 24

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