On New Year’s Eve, the Florida State Seminoles will square off against the Houston Cougars in the Peach Bowl. A game that from afar pits one national power that shares supreme prestige, against another that’s trying to deliver a monumental feat in front of a profound, national audience. While this game also falls on the same day as the College Football Playoff games, this bowl might not hold equal importance or significance as the do-or-die playoff stage. But nonetheless is a major game that holds serious implications.
For Florida State, second place finishers in the ACC, they will be looking to capture its fourth consecutive 11-win season, whereas Houston is bidding at a shot to tie their highest win total in program history at 13.
Why Florida State Will Win
Unlike in the last two prior years that resulted in a National Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoffs. This season for Florida State wasn’t all that effortless. After all they didn’t waltz their way into a top 10 ranking. Through mind fields on the offensive end at the start, which forced a quarterback change mid-season from senior transfer Everett Golson to previous year’s backup to Jameis Winston–Sean Maguire.
Evidently once the benching of Golson took fold, the Seminoles offense began to roll. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has placed a simple label onto Maguire’s shoulders: manage the game and be efficient. For the most part, Fisher’s elementary message has gone the distance. The numbers that match Maguire are nowhere near spectacular, but it gets the job done. During the five games he’s started, his stat line shows 1,128 yards, 9 TDs, and a lone 2 interceptions. Besides the minimal amount of touchdowns, Florida State’s offense has thrived thus far by the game plan of allowing Maguire to cut the chance of turning the ball over.
Ultimately, this plays a huge part when you’re blessed with one of the best natural runners in college football. The breakout season for sophomore Dalvin Cook has made for a balanced offense for Florida State. With Cook’s 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground, complemented with the best yards/carry average in the nation (7.9) will shine a deep light in how the Seminoles will move the football against Houston’s defense. As much credit that goes to the Cougars exceptional offense. Their defense, specifically against the run, is ranked 12th best in the nation. On average, Houston has surrendered 3.3 yards per carry, as well as just a total of 115 rushing yards per game. Although those numbers are indeed impressive, Dalvin Cook has been faced with far better, or at the same level of run defenses than what Houston resides.
Boston College (5th best in the nation), Louisville (15th best), and Clemson (22nd best) were the defenses that Cook trampled past throughout ACC play. In total, Cook managed to rush for 7.1 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns against these three opponents. To re-iterate, the reason why Florida State will win won’t be the complementary throws by Maguire that will keep Houston’s 68th rated pass defense in the country off-balanced, but the speed and endurance of Cook, that should wear them down.
Why Houston Will Win
When you think of Houston, the first thing that comes to mind is a quarterback that can make plays with his legs and his feet. And after the past performances this season, it would indicate that you’d be correct. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is at the heart of it all, by having passed, rushed, and carried his Houston team into a New Year’s Six Bowl.
There’s no shortage of saying that Ward is the MVP of this Cougars team. Amid the 2015 season, Ward has accounted for 36 total touchdowns on 3,631 yards from scrimmage. Average-wise, his 303 yards per game slots him 1oth in the country under that category.
No doubt will it be an intricate task for Houston to score against Florida State’s defense, which upholds the 5th best scoring defense in the country (15.8 ppg). But don’t worry the Cougars have a few tricks up their sleeves. Like most great quarterbacks, they always seem to be assisted by versatile receivers to throw to. Junior wideout Demarcus Ayers is one of Houston’s most skilled receiver and has been a staple for the Cougars’ offensive arsenal from the outset. Ayers ranks 18th in the country per receiving yards (1,041) and is responsible for 43% of Ward’s pass completions. If Houston wants any chance to break past a Seminole secondary that’s limited opposing quarterbacks to just 185 yards through the air, Ward needs to connect with Ayers early and often, but also not in tight windows, because Florida State’s All-American safety Jalen Ramsey will be there waiting to make a big play on the ball.
One final case for Houston relies on their ability to run the ball. I repeat, they must be able to salvage some type of ground attack going. At times it’s been mostly found from the legs of Ward by escaping the pocket. Although, the Cougars might not want Ward scrambling for his life too much, as it puts a risk to his safety. That means Houston will have to have a major game from running back Kenneth Farrow. Remember, as much as it seemed Houston and the Cougars deliberately passed on every down, Farrow still rushed for 949 yards on 182 carries this season.
Florida State- Jalen Ramsey
Although it’s tempting to put Dalvin Cook as the key impact player for Florida State. In most cases, if the Seminoles are wanting to lock down on Greg Ward Jr., it will need the coverage of Jalen Ramsey to keep his receiving options cut to a premium. Regardless, Florida State would rather have Ward beat them with his feet rather than his arm. Ramsey is a cover corner/safety that Houston hasn’t encountered all-season, it’s worth noting that a scenario like that could end up being the deciding factor.
Houston- Greg Ward Jr.
If you’re a slight touchdown underdog like Houston is, you need your best impact players to show up in the biggest of ways. Greg Ward Jr. has an opportunity to takeover Atlanta with his crafty play. Ward’s dual-threat ability has the potential of stumping Florida State’s defense, that at times focuses too much on negating the run. Considering the troubles that the Seminoles faced with when defending Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Ward could come up big yet again in this contest.
A confounding theme that was depicted early in last year’s Peach Bowl was the under-prepared Ole Miss Rebels coming-in against a blazing hot TCU Horned Frogs squad, the end result was a lopsided win in favor of TCU. In some cases, this year’s Peach Bowl resonates the exact feeling. Florida State has played up to its potential in most games, but have received letdowns in key areas. Houston on the other hand, are one-loss winners from outside a Power 5 conference, that possesses an explosive offense.
We’ve seen these very same scenarios in years’ past, for instance the 2008 Sugar Bowl (when Georgia boat raced unbeaten Hawaii), 2011 Fiesta Bowl (Oklahoma’s athletes overpowered the likes of UConn), 2014 Fiesta Bowl (individual talent of UCF out-performed the complete Baylor Bears), and of course the undoings of Boise State against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. But it will be hard to find a distinctive advantage one team has over another. Florida State’s Sean Maguire and Dalvin Cook have seen more formidable defenses than what Houston offers in the ACC, but on the flip side Houston hasn’t witnessed more professional talent on a field with them all-season.
The bottom line will be how Houston handles Dalvin Cook, if he can’t be contained by the first half, he will never be stopped. So I’ll ride with the Noles.
Florida State 34