Believe it or not, No. 5 Notre Dame could win at No. 2 Florida State
When Florida State and Notre Dame played "The Game of the Century" on Nov. 13, 1993, Jameis Winston (b. Jan. 6, 1994) had not been born and Everett Golson (b. Jan. 2, 1993) was not yet one-year old. The '93 epic showdown ended with No. 1 Florida State falling at No. 2 Notre Dame, 31–24, before bouncing back to claim the National Championship.
This year's version also features two undefeated top-5 teams, with No. 2 Florida State (6–0) hosting No. 5 Notre Dame (6–0) in one of the season's classic matchups. Although the defending-champion Seminoles are heavy favorites, the Fighting Irish have more than a puncher's chance to win on the road in Tallahassee. Here's why:
1. Quarterback Play
This is a heavyweight showdown between two quarterbacks with a combined 35–1 record as a starter. Winston is a perfect 19–0 with a national title win over Auburn, while Golson is 16–1 with a national title loss to Alabama. Golson will have to outplay Winston, protect the football and control the clock — coach Brian Kelly is 26–2 at ND when winning time-of-possession — in order for Notre Dame to pull off the win at Florida State.
If Winston were unable to play or finish the game for some reason (suspension, fake injury, real injury, etc.), the Seminoles are in trouble at quarterback. Backup Sean Maguire, who subbed for Winston in an overtime win over Clemson earlier this year, is out with a hand injury. Third-stringer John Franklin III is a redshirt freshman who has yet to take a snap at FSU.
2. Undefeated vs. History
The 90th anniversary of the "Four Horsemen" is on Saturday. The Oct. 18, 1924, Notre Dame 13–7 win over Army inspired New York Herald-Tribune scribe Grantland Rice — the godfather inspiration of Bill Simmons' Grantland website — to write the famous poetic recap:
"Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: (Harry) Stuhldreher, (Don) Miller, (Jim) Crowley and (Elmer) Layden."
Those aren't the only echoes waking. Notre Dame is 5–0–1 on Oct. 18 when ranked in the AP poll, 9–0–1 in games involving two teams with a record of 6–0 or better and 4–0–2 in games when the Irish are undefeated playing the defending national champions in the regular season.
3. No Homefield Advantage
Oh yeah, Notre Dame also carries a 1–0 record in Tallahassee, with Ty Willingham taking down Bobby Bowden's Noles in 2002. The other split stats show this to be a coin-toss contest. Jimbo Fisher is 3–3 at FSU in home games against top-10 teams, beating No. 7 Miami last year and No. 10 Clemson in 2012, while losing to No. 1 Oklahoma in 2011 and No. 6 Florida in 2012. On the other side, Kelly is 2–2 at ND in regular-season road games against top-10 teams, winning at No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 10 Michigan State in 2012, while losing to a top-10 Stanford twice (2011, '13).
This will be Notre Dame's first true road test, having played neutral site games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (vs. Purdue) and at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (vs. Syracuse). "I think playing in two NFL venues there is a kind of glamour and big-time atmosphere associated with those sites," said Kelly. "We were playing in an environment that kind of evokes that kind of feel that we'll get in a similar fashion at Florida State."
Thousands of authenticated autographs and a reopened Title IX rape investigation have put Winston's status in doubt on a day-to-day basis — so much so that Las Vegas has taken ND at FSU off the books until further notice.
With or without Winston, the Seminoles will need to play better than they did in closer-than-expected games against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State. In those three games, mental mistakes — the on-field equivalent of Jameis yelling "F--- her right in the ... !" on campus — resulted in a combined 25 penalties for 170 lost yards, negative-three turnover differential and minus-3:07 time-of-possession.
But hey, even the great Charlie Ward, a two-sport star (Heisman Trophy winner and NBA first-round pick) just like Winston (Heisman winner and FSU baseball closer), lost to the Irish. Ward had a 19–1 record heading into South Bend in '93 and finished the year with a 23–2 all-time mark and a national title.
The loser of this game still has a shot at making the College Football Playoff.