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Dec 26, 2011

Game Preview: Catholics v Criminoles

With the recent arrests of two FSU football players following unrelated charges of felony-theft, the Champs Sports Bowl has been officially renamed the Catholics vs. Criminoles Classic.

Irish Creed takes a look inside the intriguing matchup that will take place in Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium at 5:30pm ET on December 29:

In response to the news of his players' arrests, FSU head coach Jimbo (Really? He goes by Jimbo?!) Fisher explained away the situation in true Criminole fashion, saying, "Generally, with your team, as you get close to Christmas and the end of a semester and summers, (trouble happens). That's always time when guys get free time and they get antsy and they get going. That's when a lot of times your issues come up a lot of times." After that rambling mess of a soundbyte, he added "...but it should never come up. That's still no excuse for anyone..." Honestly though, I can see where he is coming from because there's nothin' a little ol' Holiday Spirit can't do to turn boredom into felonious intent... at least if you go to FSU...

Game Preview:

ND Offense vs. FSU Defense: Advantage - Criminoles  

We've all seen what the Fighting Irish offense can do, (putting up 31 on MSU, 59 on AF, 56 on Navy, and 49 on Maryland) or not do (scoring only 15 and 16 in wins over Pitt and BC) this season.  The talent is there and the scheme works when the players execute, but consistency was nowhere to be found in 2011.  So what are our chances against an opposing defense that hangs its hat on "speed" and "athleticism" in a way that's reminiscent of the heralded Miami squad that Kelly's offense shredded a year ago in the Sun Bowl? The Criminoles boast a points-against average of 15.2, good enough to rank them 4th in the nation (that stat may be inflated due to a few cupcakes on their schedule, however).  Although they haven't given up over 20 points in a game since October, they've shown signs of weakness against top-level speed and well-planned attacks. Luckily, they lean heavily on pure athleticism as they make no attempt to outwit (no surprise there) opponents with complicated defensive schemes.  I find it hard to believe that, given all the extra time for preparation, Kelly won't find a way to expose every chink in the mighty Criminole armor come December 29.  Look for Floyd to stamp an exclamation point on the end of his already prolific career with over 100 yards and a couple TDs.  If Kelly can use misdirection, screens (Theo out of the backfield?!  Check, please!), and really cool trick plays none of us can even imagine yet to neutralize FSU's speedy defensive ends, he just may be able to leave the Criminoles scratching their heads when all is said and done.  Even so, expect "speed" and "athleticism" to win out on more than just a few occasions throughout the game.

ND Defense vs. FSU Offense: Advantage - Irish

An FSU offense that was highly touted by "experts" prior to the season hasn't come up with much to write home about this year, mustering just enough success to land them at 73rd in the nation.  Look for this battle to be won or lost, as most are, in the trenches.  The finally-almost-healthy Irish defensive line should be able to exploit a banged-up FSU offensive line that may even have to rely on more than one freshman making the first start of his career. According to inside sources, freshman RT Bobby Hart is suffering from lack of sleep due to recurring nightmares of getting blown up play after play after play by fellow frosh and former FSU commit Aaron Lynch.  Oh yeah... and reinforcements?  When it comes to the defensive line, the boys in Blue & Gold are back.  Coach Mike Elston recently described Stephon Tuitt as "starting to get his mojo back, his swag back" and Ethan Johnson as "if not 100 percent, getting there."  Hopefully such welcome additions to a defensive line with plenty of swag already will allow the Irish to get into the backfield early and often, disrupt plays, and force 3rd and long situations. Finally, let's hope Harry Smith going ball-hawk in bowl games against Florida-based teams is a continuing trend...

Special Teams:  Advantage - Criminoles

I'm not sure if it's ever justifiable to describe a punter as a "weapon," but FSU's All-American Shawn Powell is as close as they come.  Despite his unorthodox rugby-style kicks, the senior with NFL dreams leads the nation in both punting average and net yards per punt.  This doesn't bode well for Notre Dame's yawn-inducing punt return unit that consistently takes the overly-safe route by neither attempting to block nor return opponents' punts.  Kelly's painfully conservative approach to this aspect of the game has baffled me all season long, and yet again I expect further frustration as field position swings heavily in FSU's favor.  


This game scares me, which I believe is justified if you look at it on paper.  I already drank the Kelly-Kool-Aid a while back though, and I'd follow the man into any battle if he asked.  Notre Dame Football needs this win in order to quiet the doubters (read: annoying NDNation message board users) during the offseason so Kelly can do his thing on the recruiting trail and Longo can get to work crafting next year's squad.  Call it what you will, brains vs. brawn, "scheming" vs. "athleticism," etc... but I expect this to be an entertaining contest between two extremely different schools with remarkably distinct football programs.  When the dust settles, I'm hoping the well-behaved Catholic schoolboys will have dominated the hardened Criminoles while showing the world that the forces of Good still hold sway over Evil.  

Plus, I will be attending the game and I plan on extending the victory celebration all the way until New Year's Eve. 

In all seriousness, though, the most telling comparison between these two teams goes back to the discussion about recent felonies committed by Criminole players.  When FSU players get "antsy" over the holidays they turn to crime.  When ND players get "antsy" they do things like this... or even this...  Need I say more?  

FSU to unveil this limited edition helmet
for use in the Catholics v Criminoles Classic

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule
DateOpponent / EventLocationTime / Result
09/01/12vs. Navy Dublin, IrelandW, 50-10
09/08/12vs. PurdontNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-17
09/15/12at SpartyEast Lansing, Mich.W, 20-3
09/22/12vs. SkunkbearsNotre Dame, Ind.W, 13-6
Shamrock Series
10/06/12vs. Da UChicago, Ill.W, 41-3
10/13/12vs. TreesNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-13 (OT)
10/20/12vs. BYU Notre Dame, Ind.W, 17-14
10/27/12at Oklahoma Norman, Okla.W, 30-13
11/03/12vs. Pittsburgh Notre Dame, Ind.W, 29-26 (3OT)
11/10/12at Backup College Chestnut Hill, Mass.W, 21-6
11/17/12vs. Fake Worest Notre Dame, Ind.W, 38-0
11/24/12at U$C Los Angeles, Calif.W, 22-13
1/7/13vs. AlabamaBCS CHAMPIONSHIP
(Miami, Florida)
L, :(