Just the Facts: Florida State football vs. No. 7 Notre Dame
The speculation, the preseason hype and the interminable waiting game are almost over.
Florida State finally kicks off its 2021 football season Sunday at 7:30 p.m. against No. 7 Notre Dame at Doak Campbell Stadium.
It's an incredibly important season for FSU head coach Mike Norvell after the Seminoles finished 3-6 in his first year atop the program during the COVID-affected 2020 season.
Norvell along with the majority of his staff and a decent portion of the FSU roster will get the full gameday experience in Tallahassee for the first time against the Fighting Irish after attendance was greatly reduced last season due to the pandemic.
It won't be easy for the Seminoles. The betting line has moved in their favor since it opened with Notre Dame favored by 10.5 points, but FSU is still currently a seven-point home underdog in its season opener.
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This will be the Seminoles' first home game against Notre Dame since No. 2 FSU beat No. 5 Notre Dame 31-27 in a battle of 6-0 teams back in October of 2014.
FSU leads the all-time series, 6-4, but has dropped the last two games against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame won 42-13 in 2018 and 42-26 last year with both games played in South Bend.
This will be just the third time Notre Dame has played in Tallahassee. It split the first two games, winning 34-24 back in 2002.
Why Florida State will win
While FSU is rightfully favored to lose, there are a few things working in the Seminoles' favor.
The Fighting Irish are coming off their second College Football Playoff appearance in three years, but lose a lot off that team which went to the ACC Championship Game in the program's lone season as a full-fledged conference member.
For one, Ian Book, a three-year starter at quarterback, is gone. So are four of the five starting offensive linemen from last year's team and almost all of the production at wide receiver.
Notre Dame's recruiting efforts, especially through the transfer portal, have replaced the lost pieces admirably. Former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan handily won the starting job and Marshall offensive line transfer Cain Madden was one of the most sought-after transfers this offseason, picking Notre Dame over FSU.
But how does this new-look unit handle a hostile road atmosphere in its first game working together?
Also, ND is installing a new defensive scheme under new coordinator Marcus Freeman. He's one of the fastest risers in the coaching community, but it's possible there are growing pains that come with bringing in a new coordinator.
Additionally, what will be an intense crowd inside Doak Campbell Stadium could be an x-factor in the matchup. So long as FSU doesn't come out flat and fall behind early, that crowd should remain invested and could severely affect a Notre Dame offense installing a lot of new pieces.
Why Notre Dame will win
Notre Dame must replace a lot of last year's offense, but it does return a few major pieces, most notably running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree.
This pair ran for 288 yards and three touchdowns last year against the Seminoles. Both averaged over nine yards per carry, dicing the FSU defense with ease on the way to the Fighting Irish's biggest rushing game of the 2020 season.
FSU's defense should be improved this season, but there are still questions, especially at linebacker, and these ND running backs will look to again exploit this potential weakness.
On the other side of the ball, FSU is without the one receiver who played a big role in somewhat keeping the team in the Notre Dame game last season. It was a injury-riddled season to forget for Tamorrion Terry, but he had over half of his 289 receiving yards last season in the loss to ND.
Terry is now gone and FSU is without a surefire option at wide receiver. There are a few options at the position and the unit's growth was evident over the preseason. However, when without Terry last season, the FSU wideouts struggled to create the necessary production.
In Freeman's man-coverage-heavy defense, one-on-one opportunities will be there for the taking. They won't be easy to take advantage of, though, against a Notre Dame secondary led by All-American safety Kyle Hamilton.
After a crowded slate of games Thursday, Friday and especially Saturday, FSU's game against Notre Dame will have the sole attention of college football fans as the only Sunday game.
The game will be broadcast on ABC starting at 7:30 p.m. The radio broadcast will be om 94.9 FM locally and on FSU radio affiliates across the state.
As mentioned above, this isn't a bad time to be playing this Notre Dame team.
On the other side of that, there are some reasons why the Fighting Irish are a tough season-opening opponent. For one, it's always tough opening with an opponent that wants to be extremely physical and FSU is facing a team that is among the most physical in the country.
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I think FSU holds up strong early and is in the game until the end, showing its improvement early in the 2021 season. But as the game gets into the second half, ND asserts its will on the ground, wears the Seminoles down and gets a back-door cover behind a late touchdown.
While a discouraging end result, it's a promising sign that Norvell and his staff seem to be on the right path at FSU.
Notre Dame 34, FSU 24
If the Seminoles are going to shock any of the top 15-ranked opponents on their schedule, this game might be their best chance.
It’s week 1 and Notre Dame likely won’t be the fine-tuned playoff contender they hope to be later in the season. The Fighting Irish have a new quarterback, a re-tooled offensive line and a new defensive coordinator.
But they still have a potent running game and the addition of Madden to the offensive line makes up plenty for their NFL departures. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa up front on defense and Hamilton will be a problem for FSU’s quarterbacks regardless of who starts as the Seminoles still have a lot of unproven players in the passing game.
FSU’s best chance is to avoid falling behind quickly and let the Irish dictate the tempo. Expect the Seminoles to feed off the crowd’s energy in the first half and make things tough at first. But in the first week usually a couple of missed tackles or lapses lead to big plays and those could come once legs start getting tired in the second half.
FSU will show improvement overall this year, but this is a tough foe to face right out of the chute even with the home field advantage.
Notre Dame 30, FSU 17
Reach Curt Weiler at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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