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Playing for what could've been

Nostalgic pairing would rather meet elsewhere

By Brian Hamilton, Tribune reporter

11:43 PM EST, December 4, 2011

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The Notre Dame-Florida State matchup in the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl is a toast to epic college football history and, for a second-tier bowl, fairly cool. It also loses some of its impact if any current player has a spotty Internet connection.

Asked about the 1993 showdown between the No. 1 Seminoles and No. 2 Irish, receiver Michael Floyd described his familiarity this way Sunday:

"I've seen it on YouTube," Floyd deadpanned.

In the present tense, two teams that began the year in the Top 25 with BCS hopes, then flopped early only to recover for 8-4 seasons, will reconvene in Orlando, Fla., to determine who puts a happy punctuation mark on their season.

"Having two teams like Notre Dame and Florida State that overcame adversity to play really good football makes for a marquee matchup," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "It's a nice way to finish the season."

How nice depends on how well the Irish navigate the Seminoles' voracious defense. Florida State ranks No. 6 in the country in total defense (274.6 ypg), No. 4 in scoring defense (15.2 ppg) and No. 2 in rushing defense (81.8 ypg).

Kelly said unequivocally that sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees will start the bowl game. Sophomore Andrew Hendrix, who played the entire second half of the season finale at Stanford, "will get an opportunity to play as well," Kelly said, as the Irish seek to solve the Seminoles.

"A lot of athletic guys there, speed, that's what you have to look forward to," Floyd said. "Florida State is probably by far the best defense we'll play this year."

As for quarterback Dayne Crist — who is seeking a transfer, as the Tribune first reported Sunday — it's unclear if he'll participate in bowl preparations.

"Right now it's pretty much up in the air, and I've got to focus on the guys that are going to be here," Kelly said.

This game won't be as titanic as that '93 meeting, with both sides whiffing on BCS aspirations in 2011. But it is another chance to demonstrate what could have been.

"Both of us have that potential and that talent and the tools to be that type of team," Irish safety Harrison Smith said. "There's going to be a lot of talent and good football on the field."

bchamilton@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribHamilton