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Irish looking to upset No. 5 FSU

Andrew Soukup | Thursday, October 30, 2003

Oh, how times have changed for the Irish.

A year ago – or 10 years ago, if you will – Notre Dame played (and beat) Florida State in two games with national title implications. This year, Notre Dame can only play the role of a spoiler.

A week ago, Notre Dame lost to Boston College in a game coaches defined as “must-win” if the Irish wanted to go to a bowl. This week, it’s “a heck of an opportunity to upset one of the best teams in the country,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said.

That’s what the Irish season has been reduced to as the door was slammed virtually shut on a Notre Dame bowl game after last week’s loss in Boston.

But as bleak as Notre Dame’s season is, Florida State’s is shining bright. Ranked No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings released Monday, 7-1 Florida State could jump into the national title game if Oklahoma or Miami lose and the Seminoles don’t lose the rest of the way.

They’ll be lead by Bobby Bowden who, with a 48-24 victory against Wake Forest Saturday, became the all-time winningest coach in Division I-A college football history.

Saturday’s game will be the second time in three weeks that the Irish will face a Top 10 opponent. USC blew out Notre Dame 45-14 Oct. 18.

“We’re lucky that our schedule at this time of the year gives us this opportunity that we have against one of the top four, three, five teams in the country, depending on what particular poll you are looking at,” Willingham said. “We have got a great football team coming in here that gives us an opportunity to be the spoiler.”

Notre Dame thrived in that role a year ago, when players claimed they weren’t getting enough national respect a year after a losing season. The 2002 campaign culminated in Tallahassee, when the Irish humiliated Florida State 34-24 to reach 8-0 on the season. Notre Dame seemed on its way up and Florida State, fighting to find a quarterback and its identity, was heading out of control.

Now, the situation is completely different.

Behind quarterback Chris Rix, who reconciled with his teammates over the offseason and now directs a potent offense, the Seminoles are a Miami loss away from controlling their own destiny. The Irish, 2-5, are trying to bandage a wound that seems to be re-opened week after week.

Still, Willingham is encouraged by Notre Dame’s 18-point rally last week. Trailing 24-6, the Irish took a one-point lead with less than five minutes remaining, only to watch the Eagles win with a last-second field goal.

And because the Irish haven’t given up this season, according to Willingham, the Irish head coach believes his team has a chance at winning this weekend.

“We can knock off Florida State,” he said. “We have got to play consistent. We have got to execute.

“We can’t have lulls because Florida State, from what I have seen this year, doesn’t have lulls. They go pretty hard the entire football game.”