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PLAY MAKERS

FLORIDA STATE: CHRIS RIX

Rix is one of the most gifted all-around athletes on the team and can look like a Heisman Trophy candidate when, in the words of coach Bobby Bowden, he's like a "hot" pitcher.

Against Colorado, for instance, he was Pedro Martinez-like, hitting 30 of 39 passes for 394 yards and two touchdowns.

"When he's got that fastball working, you've all got problems," Bowden said.

With 6,469 career passing yards, Rix is second in FSU history to Chris Weinke (9,839). He also has 50 touchdowns, fourth on the all-time list at FSU. If he protects the ball, FSU usually wins.

"You've got to try everything in your power to minimize those things from happening and I didn't do that last year," Rix said of the three costly turnovers against Notre Dame. "I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen this year."

_ BRIAN LANDMAN

NOTRE DAME: COURTNEY WATSON

Watson was a third-team All-American and a Butkus Award finalist as a junior and could repeat both honors this season.

"I go out every day and try to improve," said Watson, who was a star at Sarasota Riverview and grew up an FSU fan.

The inside linebacker averages 11.5 tackles and just made the Butkus semifinalist cut, along with 10 others, including Florida State's Michael Boulware.

Last season, Watson had a big interception against FSU. With the score tied at 10 late in the third quarter, Watson dropped back into coverage on a first down and picked off a Chris Rix pass for Anquan Boldin. He returned it 21 yards to the FSU 21 and set up a field goal.

It's the kind of play he and the rest of the Irish defense routinely made a year ago but haven't this season. They need to today to have a chance.

_ BRIAN LANDMAN

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