For the second time ever and first time since their “Game of the Century” in 1993, Florida State and Notre Dame, two of college football’s most tradition-rich programs, will meet as top-five opponents.
It’s a matchup that the college football world circled after Notre Dame’s association with the Atlantic Coast Conference was announced in 2012.
Two seasons and a national title game appearance by each team later – ND in 2012 and FSU in 2013 – the game is here.
The No. 2 Seminoles will face the No. 5 Fighting Irish Saturday in a nationally televised, primetime game at Doak Campbell Stadium. ESPN’s College Gameday pregame show will originate from Langford Green.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston said. “This is one of those games where people ask you, ‘Are you ready for this game?’ But, you know, it’s finally here.
“You can’t say ‘We’re just waiting,’ or ‘we’re taking it day by day.’ It’s finally here.”
FSU and Notre Dame share a surprisingly deep history despite only sporadic meetings through the years.
There’s of course the famous 1993 contest, where the No. 2 Irish beat Charlie Ward and the No. 1 Seminoles in South Bend, handing FSU’s first title team its only blemish.
But Notre Dame’s place in FSU lore actually began in 1981, when coach Bobby Bowden took his Seminoles on the road to Notre Dame Stadium. That contest was part of Bowden’s fabled “Octoberfest” run of five straight road games – at Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and LSU.
FSU beat the Irish 19-13 in a win that, along with triumphs over Ohio State and LSU, helped put the program on the map.
Since then FSU has beaten Notre Dame at a neutral-site game in Orlando in 1994, at the 1996 Orange Bowl and, most recently, in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
The two teams split a home-and-home series in 2002-03, with each winning on the road.
“They’re a great program,” FSU senior left tackle Cameron Erving said. “They have great history, great tradition. A lot like us.”
And each will have an opportunity to build on that tradition Saturday at the other’s expense.
The Seminoles and Fighting Irish are both 6-0 at the season’s midway point, and both are angling for a spot in the inaugural college football playoff. A loss likely won’t eliminate either from playoff contention, but the winner will be considered a heavy favorite to make the four-team field.
A win over the Irish could also vault the Seminoles back to No. 1 in the national polls after slipping to No. 2 after last week’s 38-20 win at Syracuse.
“They’ve got a very good team, we’ve got a very good team,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. ‘We’re both undefeated and that’s what college football is all about.
“We have an excellent opportunity to showcase our ability this week against Notre Dame.”
So, too, do the Irish.
Like FSU, Notre Dame has successfully navigated some close calls this season, including a 50-43, come-from-behind victory over North Carolina last week.
And senior quarterback Everett Golson, despite a recent rash of nine turnovers in three games, has scored 20 touchdowns (16 passing, four rushing) for an offense that scores an average of 35 points per game.
Fisher said that each team’s ability to survive close games will serve them well come Saturday.
“That’s what it takes and that’s what great teams do,” Fisher said. “That’s what they do and we do.”
There are still a handful of Seminoles left from that Champs Sports Bowl roster, although none that are old enough to remember the FSU-ND meetings of the 1990s.
Still, the Irish’s overwhelming history, along with their recent resurgence under coach Brian Kelly, is enough to conjure Irish images in the Seminoles’ minds.
Asked the first thing he thought of when hearing the words “Notre Dame,” junior linebacker Terrance Smith smiled and said, “that gold helmet.”
Then Smith laughed and joked, “We’ve got the real gold helmets, but that’s just the first thing that comes to mind.”