Bowl Breakdown: Champs Sports
Florida State and Notre Dame are both respectable but not great
Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix will split time at QB for the Irish
FSU defense should keep game in reach even if offense struggles
Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: These two brand-name programs always draw the eye, even when they don't necessarily deserve to. In this case, Florida State and Notre Dame are respectable but not great; depending on how their offseasons shake out and how some young players develop, they'll be capable of much bigger things next year. This year, Florida State is painfully young on the offensive line and could start four true freshmen against Notre Dame. FSU ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.2 points) and sixth in total defense (274.6 yards), so the defense should keep the score under control even if the offense is shaky. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is adequate on offense and defense (No. 34 in the nation in each). This game should answer that age-old question: What happens when a completely resistable force aided by an immovable object meets a fairly difficult-to-resist force aided by a difficult-to-move object? Naturally, special teams will decide the outcome.
Keep an eye on: Notre Dame quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, who play different styles. Rees is a better dropback passer, while Hendrix looks more similar to the dual-threat quarterbacks coach Brian Kelly preferred at Cincinnati. Hendrix previously ran a limited package of plays. That won't be the case Thursday. Rees will start, but when Hendrix plays, he'll be running the entire offense.
"There's a different approach to it when you go into the meetings and he knows, you better get the protection right as well," Kelly said this week. "He's worked with the first unit. He didn't do much first-unit work when we were using him as a situational player, so building a relationship with the first group and the offensive line, I think obviously that's changed in his approach."
No matter how much each quarterback plays for the Irish, Rees and Hendrix will have to keep their heads on a swivel. Florida State ranks ninth in the nation in sacks, averaging three per game. The two top quarterback hunters are defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, who have combined for 13 sacks.
Did you know: Florida State offensive tackle Bobby Hart, one of the four potential true freshman starters, was only 16 when preseason camp began. Hart has since gained the ability to watch R-rated movies without a parent, but he won't be eligible to vote until August 2012. How did Hart manage to get so far ahead of his class? He was potty-trained sooner than his peers. Because of his precociousness on the potty, Hart was moved from a 2-year-old pre-Kindergarten class to a 3-year-old class. He was never held back again, so he started Kindergarten before his fourth birthday and graduated high school at 16.
Final analysis: Florida State closed the season with a win against Florida because the Gators' offense was even worse than the Seminoles' injury-riddled one. Florida State will have to get more out of its offense Thursday, because the Seminoles' defense won't be able to completely shut down Notre Dame's offense -- particularly if Hendrix adds a new dimension.
The pick: Florida State 19, Notre Dame 16
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