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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – In Florida State’s 72-year football history, the Seminoles played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish just eight times. That’s hardly enough to qualify among the Irish’s more time-tested rivalries, and, anyway, FSU and Notre Dame didn’t first meet until 1981 – well after the halcyon days of Rockne, Parseghian and the Gipper.
Still, over the last 37 years, games against Notre Dame have produced some of Florida State’s most iconic and defining moments.
The most common thread of FSU’s series with Notre Dame? Florida State victories. The Seminoles are 6-2 all-time against the Fighting Irish, good for a .714 winning percentage that’s the best among any school to play Notre Dame at least five times.
FSU will look to improve on that mark Saturday, when it visits Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in 15 years (7:30 p.m., NBC).
A quick look at each team’s record is enough to suggest that this will be an uphill climb for the Seminoles.
Notre Dame is 9-0, ranked No. 3 in the country and closing in on its first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, are 4-5, have lost three of their last four games and are still smarting from back-to-back losses to Clemson and North Carolina State.
Still, for a team that could use a signature victory, it’s hard to top the opportunity the Seminoles will have on Saturday – on the road and on national T.V., playing in an iconic venue against perhaps the most famous program in the sport.
And maybe in the snow, too.
Weather forecasts call for snow in South Bend on Saturday morning, with temperatures falling to the mid-20s by kickoff. That would make it among the coldest games in FSU football history.
“Any time you go to Notre Dame and play, it’s a great opportunity,” coach Willie Taggart said. “I think a lot of guys would love to play in that stadium. It’s such an historic program, rich tradition. …
“Kind of what all these young people grew up wanting to do, is play in big-time games like this in special places. This is what we grew up to do.”
The statistics and box scores might suggest one thing. But in a season where the Seminoles have been desperately bereft of lucky breaks, they might have gotten one this week.
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, who took over as the team’s starter in late September and leads the country in completion percentage, is expected to miss the game with an injury.
His replacement, Brandon Wimbush, has starting experience but this season has completed just 55 percent of his passes and thrown one touchdown against four interceptions.
None of that is to say the Seminoles are glad to see someone injured. But, given their own rash of injuries – their starting right tackle has played in just two games, their starting quarterback missed last week’s contest and two more starters are expected to be sidelined at ND – maybe it’s time things evened out a little.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wouldn’t confirm Book’s injury, but did say he believed his team would rally around Wimbush if needed.
“He doesn’t have to come in – if he has to play – and go win the football game,” Kelly said. “We’ve got some other pretty good pieces.”
In 1981, Bowden’s Seminoles were in transition. They’d gone a combined 21-3 over the previous two seasons, but the departure of some key players, as well as that daunting schedule, led to a difficult campaign.
Even after beating Ohio State and Notre Dame, the Seminoles finished 6-5 and failed to make a bowl game.
It took time, but through perseverance on the field and on the recruiting trail, Bowden rebuilt and, a few years later, launched what would become one of the great dynasties in modern college football.
Maybe that all would have happened anyway, even if Bowden’s Seminoles hadn’t gone to Notre Dame and won.
But there’s little doubt that Bowden believed in its significance – at the time, he called it “the biggest win I’ll ever have.”
And there’s little doubt of what a win on Saturday would mean for Taggart and his Seminoles.
Odds and ends …
Week 3 interviews …
Head coach Willie Taggart
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell
Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett
DT Marvin Wilson
DB Stanford Samuels III