Irish, Seminoles a repeat coalition

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 14, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Long live the Bowl Coalition, the ingenious playoff format responsible for college football's newest rallying cry, "We're No. 2!"

That's what the Florida State players were saying yesterday after their 31-24 loss to Notre Dame. Actually, they were pleading, because dropping to No. 2 is their only hope of returning to No. 1.

Confused? Don't sweat it. The national championship now figures to be decided in a Fiesta Bowl rematch of these teams Jan. 1. Two games of the century within seven weeks, what a country.

"I think people should vote us No. 2," Florida State split end Matt Frier said, his voice rising like a Sunday-morning preacher, not a Saturday-afternoon loser.

"You're telling me all these guys that voted for us, said we could be the best college football team ever, all of a sudden, they're going to say, no way?

"They know what kind of football team we have. We played in the hardest atmosphere ever. If we had played in Doak Campbell Stadium, we might have killed them, as good as they are."

Indeed, Florida State earned its second chance, rallying from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit, then staging a furious comeback after trailing 31-17 with 4:05 left.

The Seminoles had two shots from the 14 in the final seconds, and the upset wasn't secure until cornerback Shawn Wooden knocked down a pass toward the end zone on the game's final play.

All this, of course, transpired in the electric atmosphere of Notre Dame Stadium, where everything was working against Florida State -- history, hysteria and mostly, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz.

So, the Seminoles acquitted themselves well, when, in the words of coach Bobby Bowden, "they could have killed us." That's why a rematch will happen, assuming each team wins the rest of its games.

For Notre Dame, that means beating Boston College at home. For Florida State, the task is more difficult -- beat North Carolina State at home, then archrival Florida in Gainesville.

It all sets up perfectly for the Fiesta Bowl, the game in which Notre Dame and the ACC/Big East champion must play if they are ranked 1-2.

"When we set up the coalition, our goal was to make sure the two best teams in the country played on New Year's Day," Fiesta Bowl president Chuck Johnson said.

"It sure is hard to believe there are any better teams in the country than the two teams we saw today."

Johnson is right -- Notre Dame (10-0) was a seven-point underdog at home, and nearly blew out the nation's No. 1 team. But Florida State (9-1) can't be dismissed, especially since it beat No. 3 Miami, 28-10.

Miami doesn't deserve to jump over the Seminoles, and please, not a word about how No. 4 Nebraska (10-0) is getting cheated. The Cornhuskers have lost six straight bowl games. They've been cheating us.

So, a rematch is indeed in order, and even Notre Dame wants it. "We'd love it," safety Jeff Burris said. "If I had a vote, I wouldn't drop 'em. They're a great team. They're the type of team you want to play."

Said Wooden: "We want to play them again just so they have no excuses. Maybe they had excuses today. Maybe the field was slippery. But if we face them again, they can't say there were any excuses."

Actually, the Seminoles didn't offer any. They had the edge in nearly every offensive category, but couldn't stop Notre Dame's vaunted running attack and committed the game's only two turnovers, both in the first half.

Florida State allowed twice as many rushing touchdowns (four) as it did in its first nine games. Opponents were averaging only 97 yards rushing against the Seminoles. Notre Dame exceeded that total in the first quarter.

The Notre Dame offensive linemen outweighed the Florida State defensive linemen by an average of 35 pounds, and that wouldn't change in a rematch.

On the other hand, Florida State lost its best defensive player, linebacker Derrick Brooks, with a sprained left ankle in the first quarter. Brooks returned, but not at full strength.

Can't you see the subplots developing? The best would be Bowden in his familiar role of trying to win the big one. He could have put that image to rest yesterday, but ordered a double lateral deep in his own territory when trailing only 14-7.

The panic-button special lost 14 yards, quarterback Charlie Ward followed with his first interception in 159 attempts, and Florida State never recovered.

Ward led the second-half comeback, but afterward he sounded as desperate as a politician on election eve.

"All I can say is please vote for us behind Notre Dame," Ward said.

Love that Bowl Coalition.

We're No. 2! We're No. 2!

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