Florida State Seminoles, Notre Dame Irish seek return to elite

Florida State, behind coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback EJ Manual, has won 18 games over the past two seasons, its most in consecutive seasons since 2003-04.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Florida State, behind coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback EJ Manual, has won 18 games over the past two seasons, its most in consecutive seasons since 2003-04.

ORLANDO — Few teams were as dominant as Florida State and Notre Dame when today's players were born.

And few teams have fallen harder since then.

When the Fighting Irish and No. 25 Seminoles meet in today's Champs Sports Bowl, the college football blue bloods will bring 13 national titles and nine Heisman Trophies with a decade of rebuilding and humility into the sold-out Citrus Bowl.

"It's a great matchup," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "But it's really about the present. And the present is you've got two football teams that are building, playing some younger players and starting to develop their programs."

From 1987-2000, no program won as many games as FSU (152). The Seminoles finished in the top five of the Associated Press poll every season and claimed two national championships and two Heismans.

Only FSU and six others won as many games as Notre Dame (125) in that span. The Fighting Irish took a national title and a Heisman and gave the Seminoles their only loss in a 31-24 thriller during FSU's 1993 national championship run.

"You've got to respect that," FSU receiver Christian Green said.

Even if that past glory has faded into present mediocrity.

Since 2000, FSU has averaged eight wins per season — 2½ fewer than the previous 14. Only Washington, Syracuse and Texas A&M fell harder. Notre Dame's drop from nine to seven wins in that span was the eighth largest among Division I-A programs.

Since FSU's loss to Oklahoma in the January 2001 BCS national title game, the Seminoles and Irish have appeared in five BCS games — and lost them all. Notre Dame has not been closer than two touchdowns in either of its appearances.

Despite their recent struggles, both programs respect the other's history. Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix knows all about FSU — even if the Jacksonville native was always a Miami fan.

FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner saw Notre Dame hats growing up in Germany, and quarterback EJ Manuel said he watched Rudy "10 or 15" times as a kid. The chance to knock off the Irish is why Manuel wanted an invite to Orlando instead of a return visit to face the SEC in the more prestigious Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

"We get a chance to play a big team like this, we look forward to it," Manuel said. "We feel like we're a big team as well. People always want to play us just like we always want to play Notre Dame."

Both programs might be getting closer to national prominence under second-year coaches. Three days after the matchup was announced, the bowl sold out for the first time.

The Irish have secured consecutive seasons with at least eight victories for the first time since 2005-06. FSU's 18 wins under coach Jimbo Fisher are its most in consecutive years since 2003-04. Both have incoming recruiting classes ranked among the top 12 by Scout.com.

And both programs hope a nationally televised win over a big-name opponent in front of a large crowd gets them closer to waking up the echoes of their glory days.

"We're definitely trying to get back to where we were in the '90s," Seminoles linebacker Nigel Bradham said.

"We want to be a dominant team and bring our organization back to the top and get in BCS bowls and all great things like that. I know they want to do the same thing as well."

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

>>Tonight

Champ Sports Bowl

No. 25 FSU vs. Notre Dame, 5:30, Citrus Bowl, Orlando TV/radio: ESPN; 1040-AM, 1010-AM. Line: FSU by 3 Weather: 62 degrees, clear. No chance of rain.

Florida State Seminoles, Notre Dame Irish seek return to elite 12/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 11:13pm]

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