While the NFL often has a two-week break between the conference championships and Super Bowl, college football is the only sport where teams have anywhere from a month to almost six weeks between their final regular season game and postseason bowl. After weeks of meetings, film sessions and practices, it's finally time for Notre Dame and Florida State to hit the field at Citrus Bowl Stadium for the 22nd Champs Sports Bowl.
The Irish are at an interesting crossroads, particularly at the quarterback position. Though Tommy Rees has led the team for much of the year, Andrew Hendrix saw significant action against Stanford and should see plenty of time in tonight's game. With Everett Golson sitting out this season to preserve his eligibility, there could be a three-man quarterback battle come spring practice and training camp. How Rees and Hendrix perform tonight could certainly factor into who has the upper hand heading into next season.
In a matchup reminiscent of the great teams of the 1980's, last year's Irish squad jumped out to a 27-3 halftime lead, on their way to a 33-17 Sun Bowl victory over the Miami Hurricanes.
Today, it's a bit of a flashback to the 90's, specifically the 1993 "Game of the Century" between the #1 Seminoles and second-ranked Fighting Irish. Though it doesn't have the hype or significance as those games of years past, it presents a similar opportunity to last year's bowl - a chance to send these seniors off with a victory and resounding final memory of their Notre Dame football careers.
That's not to say the coaches, staff and underclassmen aren't also deserving of a win. They've put in months of work and made their share of sacrifices as well.
However, people might forget that this senior class came to Notre Dame on the heels of a 3-9 season. They have gone through a coaching change and countless season-ending injuries. They have endured the tragic Declan Sullivan accident and the passing of former student manager and team intern Xavier Murphy. Yet they've stuck together and represented Notre Dame in a way that makes us proud to call ourselves students, alumni and fans of this university.
All cliches aside, they have show significant growth and maturation since 2008 (or in the case of the fifth-year players, 2007 season), have helped to shift the culture of Notre Dame football and have created the foundation for the next great Irish team of the future. They've been involved with service projects like St. Baldrick's Day and started new traditions, such as "Trick Shot Monday."
It's going to be an exciting afternoon here in OrlaNDo, and hopefully the exclamation point on a great week. As a recent graduate, I feel as though I've been along for the entire journey of the fifth-year players (my classmates) and senior class, sharing in the victories and heartbreaks over the past few seasons.
But it was this 2011 season, working with the team, in which I have seen a different side of Notre Dame football. I've gotten to know some of the players, coaches and staff, and my connection to the team runs deeper than it did while rooting from the student section. Tonight, I would love nothing more than to see this group hoisting the trophy and celebrating a Champs Sports Bowl victory at midfield of Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Go Irish. Beat FSU.
- Josh Flynt ('11)