WARR writer Kevin Luchansky normally writes about baseball for WARR.com., this college football season he expands his reach by writing on another passion of his — college football, in particular the Big Ten.
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Week 8 of the college football season, and we’re stacking up the number of games with national title implications this season.
Arguments can be made for a few other games with such implications, but tonight’s match-up between Notre Dame and Florida State in Tallahassee is a big one, one that stands to eclipse the early showdowns we’ve seen between teams like Michigan State and Oregon, Alabama and Mississippi and Auburn at Mississippi State.
The latter two games, despite the high parings of ranked teams, may have had more influence on the SEC Championship influence than it did for the College Football Playoff, there have also been insansely exciting games such as Baylor and TCU’s shootout last week, but they don’t match the combination of traditional and present power that the Irish and Noles will offer this evening (7 pm, ABC).
Thanks to a “shaky” performance last week when FSU didn’t exactly punish Syracuse despite there being the opportunity to, the Seminoles lost their top spot in the rankings. Still, Jimbo Fisher’s squad hasn’t lost a game since a late November home loss to the Gators back in 2012. FSU has been pushed to the edge a few times this season, especially during its Clemson matchup sans Jameis Winston, but never toppled, entering this week with a 6-0 record overall and 3-0 at home at Doak Campbell Stadium.
As for Notre Dame, they were able to escape quite a home scare last week, defeating North Carolina 50-43 in a back-and-forth contest that wasn’t really in the books until Tarean Foster’s six yard scamper put the Irish up by 14 with 2 minutes, 26 seconds to play. While the Irish defense hasnt been stout, it felt like it was the turnovers that kept the Tar Heels in this one, as they recovered two costly fumbled and intercepted a Golson pass.
Golson was really impressive earlier in the season, especially when you consider the rust he had to shake off from missing an entire season of live game action. In his first three games, Golson threw for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. Sure, the competition wasn’t outstanding — Rice, Michigan, Purdue — but they weren’t cupcakes, either. Since then, we’ve seen a different Golson — he’s been rattled easily, fumble prone and doesn’t look as comfortable in the pocket as he did in September.
The three more recent opponents, save for Stanford, weren’t exactly defenses to be reckoned with. Florida State will be a tougher defensive opponent than most, if not all, of ND’s opponents this season, but one area in which FSU has struggled is in getting to the quarterback, which could really save Golson on Saturday night.
Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but I think this game comes down to quarterback play, for a few reasons.
First of all, I don’t think there is any question that for their respective teams, Winston and Golson are not only the most valuable offensive players, but the most talented and big-game tested. Both quarterbacks have been in the spotlight and played on the NCAA’s biggest stage, the BCS National Title Game. They’ve both delivered under pressure, too, and understand the importance of this matchup.
Though they faired on that stage quite differently — Winston being a victor, Golson being dominated — Golson is a much improved quarterback since that loss to Alabama, having had time to mature and better understand Brian Kelly’s playbook.
On the flip side, Winston hasn’t been as impressive this season as he was in his Heisman-winning 2013 campaign, and you have to wonder if the off-field issues are really becoming a true distraction. Still, he is one of the most gifted athletes in the NCAA landscape, and when we see a level-headed Winston play, we see one of the best in the last decade in terms of making big plays.
Another huge matchup will be Notre Dame’s front seven against the Seminole offense. Can they flush Jameis out of the pocket and force him to throw on the run and make bad decisions? Can they stop the Seminole ground game before it gets a head of steam? Mario Pender is out this week, which definitely helps out the Irish front a bit, easing their responsibilities.
As for the Irish secondary, they’ve done a solid job containing opponent’s receivers this year, save for the Tar Heel contingent. ND’s secondary will certainly get a real test on Saturday, having to keep one eye on the elusive Seminole receivers, and another on Mr. Winston, who can scamper for a good chunk of yards when he needs to.
If the ND front seven pressures Winston enough to hurry him or chase him from the pocket, FSU wideouts versus the ND secondary will play out as a true one-on-one battle, where anything could happen.
We can only hope that we are all set for a game that is reminiscent of their famous 1993 matchup. I think the offense gets the better of the defense here on both sides, so I expect to see a high-scoring game, but I could easily see both horses coming out of the gate slow and picking up speed late.
Prediction: Florida State 42 – Notre Dame 34.