Editor’s Note: This preview is part of our bowl mania series that ran earlier this month. As we approach the Champs Sports Bowl, here’s what to expect and some key players worth watching.
Bowl Breakdown: Both Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are in their second-year coaching at storied franchises that had fallen on hard times. They’re not all the way back yet, but both teams are showing signs of improvement and seem to be headed in the right direction. Both teams finished with 8-4 records, but both struggled at the end of the year. Florida St.’s struggles are all on the offensive side of the ball as their defense is one of the top scoring defenses in the country. They thrive on making big plays (read on for some of the big playmakers) and have had to cover for a sometimes inept offense. They only managed 95 total yards in their season finale against Florida but still managed to win thanks to their defense. The previous week they lost to upstart Virginia 14-13. Notre Dame followed a similar path of offensive struggles at the end of the year. They edged BC 16-14 the second to last weekend of the season and then finished by losing 28-14 to Stanford and having their starting QB benched in the middle of a completely rough performance. Tommy Rees is expected to be back under center, however, for the Irish as they head to Florida. Rees has built a rapport with Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert who serve as the playmakers on a solid ND offense. The Irish defense, although not as spectacular as FSU, is a solid unit as well ranking in the top 39 in points against despite playing some of the highest scoring teams in the nation. The Irish losses were mostly early (started 0-2) and mostly legit (USC, Stanford, Michigan). Because of their balance on offense and their well-rounded team on both sides of the ball (FSU’s offense is their weakness), I’ll take the Irish to go beat Florida State in Florida at the Champs Sports Bowl.
Pro Prospects: Zebrie Sanders-FSU-OL: Sanders is most famous for this C’mon Man moment last year, but does have the size and quickness that will get him drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round for more than just his comic relief… Brandon Jenkins-FSU-LB: Jenkins will most likely be the first Seminole off the board and will be drafted by a team looking to upgrade their pass rush in the mid-to-late 1st round. He projects as a 3-4 outside rush lineback like a Lamarr Woodley for Pittsburgh. He’ll be a great pick for whoever grabs him and if he falls to a good D could put up big numbers right away… Nigel Bradham-FSU-LB:While not the lock that Jenkins is Nigel Bradham could end up at the end of the first round since he should do well at the combine. He’s been identified by scouts as having huge potential and as exactly the combination of freakish size, speed, and length that teams get enamored with. He’ll probably end up in the 2nd round, but if he reaches his ceiling, he’ll be a steal at that point in the draft… Xavier Rhodes-FSU-CB: Rhodes is an elite cover corner with good length and makes good plays on the ball. He’s only a red-shirt Sophomore and if he returns could lock himself into a lottery pick. If he comes out this year he’ll probably go in the first 2 rounds, but it’s a little unclear since he’s probably going to wait. He’s still worth watching since he’s a name you’ll here a lot at some point when he does enter the draft…Greg Reid-FSU-CB: Reid is a nice prospect who is a little undersized but is a playmaker in the return game. He’ll probably wait until next year to come out, but he’s a prospect to be aware of…Michael Floyd-ND-WR: Floyd is right at the top of this year’s class of WR. Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jefferey will probably go ahead of him, but he’s right behind them and will join them in the first round. He’ll probably go near the middle of the round and some teams may be hesitant due to “character concerns” but his talent level is off the charts… Manti Te’o-ND-LB:Te’o has shot up draft board with his all-around game this season and looks to be in the mid-late 1st round as a great pick for a team looking to fill it’s MLB spot for years to come. Te’o is a big guy who hits big, and will make a big impact where he lands next year…Harrison Smith-ND-S-Although not an elite athlete, he’s a solid safety both in coverage and is tackling. He isn’t going to make the highlight reel play very often, but he isn’t going to make the dumb play either. He’s a good leader on the defensive side of the ball and will be an asset to whoever drafts him in the 3rd or 4th round.