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Football: Stop the chop

Allan Joseph | Sunday, December 4, 2011

After two early-season losses dashed Notre Dame’s early-season BCS bowl hopes, the Irish found the next best thing at the end of their season, accepting an invitation Sunday to play Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 29.

While it might not be a New Year’s Day game, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he was excited to see a matchup of two of college football’s most storied programs.

“I think having two teams like Notre Dame and Florida State, who have overcome some adversity earlier in the year but have come back to be playing really good football, makes for a marquee matchup,” Kelly said.

While Notre Dame (8-4) did not attain its BCS aspirations, Kelly said he is nevertheless proud of his squad.

“Anytime you open up the season you always have high expectations, and our football team had high expectations coming in. When some of the things don’t go your way, you look towards your senior leaders and how they’re going to respond,” Kelly said. “We’re really proud of this football team and the way they responded after an 0-2 start.”

The Seminoles (8-4, 5-3 ACC) won their first two games of the season before dropping three straight games against Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest. Florida State rebounded to finish out the season 6-1, with the lone blemish coming in a 14-13 loss to Virginia on Nov. 19. Second-year coach Jimbo Fisher leads the Seminoles, who boast an athletic defense that gave opposing offenses fits all year long.

“[They’re] obviously very talented defensively,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us, but one that I know we’ll be prepared for. Last year going into the Sun Bowl against Miami we had a great defense to prepare for, and we think we’ve seen some really good teams this year.

“When you play a bowl game, these are the kind of challenges that you want.”

Senior receiver Michael Floyd said preparation will be the key to Notre Dame’s success against the Seminoles.

“They’re a very good defense. We’ve just got to come prepared,” Floyd said. “Florida State … is probably the best defense we’ll play this year. They’re very athletic and fast and big, too.”

Despite watching sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix lead the Irish offense in the second half of its loss to Stanford on Nov. 26, Kelly named sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees the starting quarterback against the Seminoles.

“Tommy Rees is our starter,” Kelly said. “He’ll start the bowl game, and Andrew will get an opportunity to play as well, but Tommy’s our starter.”

Notre Dame’s season-opening starting quarterback, senior Dayne Crist, may or may not be with the team in Orlando. Crist sought and received a release to explore transfer to other schools under the NCAA’s one-time exception for graduate students. Players who have graduated with eligibility remaining may transfer to other schools without losing eligibility.

“I was not surprised,” Kelly said. “Dayne’s been professional all year. He’s worked hard, but he knew he wanted to continue to play, and he was going to get that opportunity probably somewhere else.

“We want to do everything to help Dayne make sure he gets that opportunity.”

Senior captain Harrison Smith said he wishes Crist well wherever he goes.

“You’re never going to meet a better guy than Dayne,” Smith said. “I hope he’s successful wherever he ends up going.”

While a four-loss season does not meet Notre Dame expectations, Kelly said the team was excited for its bowl game.

“[It’s] a nice way to finish the season, to be part of the Champs Sports Bowl.”

The Irish will face the Seminoles on Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.


Contact Allan Joseph at [email protected]