Seminoles looking to play spoiler in South Bend
Just three days short of the 25th anniversary of the Game of the Century, Florida State again comes to South Bend to face Notre Dame. On that day in 1993, the No. 2 Irish knocked off the top-ranked Seminoles and assumed the No. 1 ranking for the next seven days, spurring a debate as to who should have really won the national title that season.
This year, the 4-5 Seminoles have to win two of their last three games just to become bowl eligible. But first and foremost, this weekend is about knocking the undefeated Irish from their No. 3 ranking. Notre Dame once again wasn’t perfect last Saturday, but it went into Northwestern and beat a team that has sole possession of the Big Ten West lead. As a result, the Irish are three wins away from a playoff berth.
The Seminoles have won five of the six meetings since the 1993 contest with the most recent victory being a thrilling (and controversial) 31-27 win in Tallahassee in 2014.
Florida State at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Welcome back, Brandon Wimbush
The Notre Dame quarterback didn’t actually go anywhere, and that's a good thing for the Irish. Because now, with Ian Book out with a rib injury, Wimbush is thrust back into the starting lineup. The positive is that head coach Brian Kelly has a veteran to take the reins this Saturday, one that has a 13-3 record as a starting quarterback. The negative is that there is a reason that Book jumped over Wimbush, primarily due to the senior’s accuracy problems. Offensive coordinator Chip Long will certainly have to tweak his game plan this week, but that also means that FSU will have to prepare differently to defend the Irish.
2. Florida State's quarterback situation
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell will assume play-calling duties from head coach Willie Taggart this week, but it is unclear as to who will start at quarterback. James Blackman threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns last week against NC State, but Deondre Francois — who missed the game with a rib injury and a concussion — told the media on Tuesday that he is still at the No. 1 guy, though the current depth chart lists the two as co-starters. The two split first team reps this week in practice, and Taggart has said that the starter will be determined on Saturday. Francois and Blackman have similar styles, but Notre Dame will have to be ready for both on Saturday night.
3. Florida State offensive line vs. Notre Dame defensive line
It really won’t matter who starts at quarterback for FSU if the Noles can’t block the Irish defensive front. The Seminoles have allowed 28 sacks on the year and at times multiple missed assignments have led to disastrous outcomes. Beyond the quarterback pressures, FSU has had no running success at all despite having the incredibly skilled Cam Akers at running back. Notre Dame’s sack and tackles for lost yardage numbers are not earth shattering, but end Julian Okwara is developing into a disruptive presence on the outside, and tackle Jerry Tillery has been a consistent force all season long. Line play both ways will be very important, but whether FSU can keep Notre Dame out of their backfield is one of the key facets of the game.
With Notre Dame in prime playoff position, Ian Book’s injury was not welcome news to Irish fans. The offense was stagnant under Brandon Wimbush during the first three weeks, and now he is back running the offense. But really, it shouldn’t matter a whole lot against this Florida State team. The Seminoles are loaded with talent — Cam Akers, Deondre Francois, James Blackman, Brian Burns, the list goes on — but it is talent that is not only losing, it's losing games by wide margins. Taking out the Miami loss — when the Noles blew a 27-7 third quarter lead — all of their other defeats have come by 19 points or more. Their most impressive win this season was probably against Northern Illinois out of the MAC.
There’s not much positivity surrounding FSU, and now the Noles go to Notre Dame Stadium, home to the 9-0 Irish and 30 degree temperatures. Florida State will come out determined to knock Notre Dame out of the playoff race and may hang around for a while. But at some point, as it always does, things will go wrong for the Seminoles. Notre Dame will capitalize and take control. Without Book, the offense won’t be quite as clean and as a result the final spread won’t be as wide as anticipated. But it will be a Notre Dame victory and Irish fans will immediately start praying for Book’s return to good health in time for Syracuse.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Florida State 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.