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Declaration of a Peaceful Revolution

Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Florida State Seminoles

Last year was anything but normal, but head coach Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame football program made the most of a COVID-impacted 2020 campaign by notching its second College Football Playoff appearance in three years.

After a year with little to no fans in stands at games, 2021 brings a welcome return to normalcy. For the Fighting Irish, though, that means dealing with a packed house at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sunday night.

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However, this is not your father’s Florida State program. The Seminoles have suffered three consecutive losing seasons, a first for the program since 1974-76 in the pre-Bobby Bowden days. Last year, FSU went 3-6 while head coach Mike Norvell dealt with some player unrest during his first year in charge.

Still, this figures to be a challenge for a Notre Dame team that returns just nine starters from last year’s CFP team. The Irish are also breaking in a new starting quarterback — albeit a veteran in graduate transfer Jack Coan — and will have four new starters on its offensive line.

Florida State leads the all-time series with Notre Dame 6-4, but the Irish have won the last two games — both in South Bend. They won 42-13 in 2018 and 42-26 in 2020, when Irish running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree combined to rush for 288 yards and three touchdowns.

The Irish are 9-2 in season openers under Kelly, including a 1-1 mark in true road games. Notre Dame defeated Louisville 35-17 in 2019, but lost 50-47 in two overtimes at Texas in 2016. The Irish also defeated Navy 50-10 in a neutral site game at Ireland in 2012.

Notre Dame is 25-5-2 (.813 winning percentage) all time when opening the season on the road. All told, Notre Dame is 108-17-5 (.850) in season openers, with victories in 28 of the last 34 lid-lifters.

Todd Burlage, contributing writer

Notre Dame 27, Florida State 17

Two programs moving in different directions, Notre Dame has been a playoff team two of the last three seasons while Florida State is only 14-20 during that same time span.

Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell, who came to FSU before last season after a successful run at Memphis, is still trying to restore the roster and culture at Florida State since the glory years under the late Bobby Bowden in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, Irish head coach Brian Kelly has won 32 straight games against unranked opponents — the second-longest streak in the nation behind Alabama’s unthinkable 98 consecutive — and has beaten the Seminoles two straight times (2018 and 2020) by an average of 22.5 points.

The Irish begin this season with many new faces in new places, but superior talent wins out in this one, even on the road.

Steve Downey, managing editor

Notre Dame 30, Florida State 26

When I was discussing this matchup with my late friend and colleague Lou Somogyi in March, he noted that it felt eerily similar to Notre Dame’s 2016 season opener at Texas, and I agreed. That year, the Longhorns were coming off their second straight losing season (5-7 in 2015 and 6-7 in 2014) and head coach Charlie Strong was firmly on the hot seat. In addition, the Irish had obliterated the Longhorns 38-3 in South Bend the year prior.

The Irish lost that game 50-47 in two overtimes, a harbinger of the season to come. Notre Dame went on to have a disastrous 4-8 campaign. Texas was not much better, posting another 5-7 mark that led to Strong being fired that November.

Second-year Florida State head coach Mike Norvell’s situation is not quite as dire as Strong’s was. However, the Seminoles went just 3-6 in his first year, a third straight losing campaign during a stretch in which they have posted a 14-20 record. Perhaps more concerning, though, were the two separate incidents in which players publicly called called him out.

Like the Longhorns in 2016, the Seminoles are a once-proud program looking for redemption against a marquee opponent in Notre Dame in a prime-time nationally televised game.

Additionally, this will be the first game in Tallahassee since the passing of FSU legend Bobby Bowden. I expect a spirited effort from the Seminoles, but believe this edition of the Fighting Irish are better than the snakebitten 2016 group and will find a way to escape with a win.

Patrick Engel, editor

Notre Dame 27, Florida State 16

It’s hard to call an opener a trap game, but Florida State’s dismal 3-6 record last year sells short the upset potential in this one. The Seminoles raided the transfer portal in the offseason and snagged former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, one of the nation’s best passers in 2017-18 until suffering a horrific knee injury. He’s among their nine transfer additions for this season. (It’s not clear if he or incumbent Jordan Travis will start, though).

Milton and the other transfers could be the band-aids Florida State needs and plausibly help it jump to bowl eligibility. Transfers are never a sure thing, though. The Seminoles’ influx of them and their potential for quick fixes creates enough uncertainty despite the gap in overall talent between the teams.

Florida State should have enough horsepower to keep this close for a half or so, but Notre Dame will find itself in control for the fourth quarter.

Tyler Horka, staff writer

Notre Dame 31, Florida State 17

This game is going to be close for longer than will make Notre Dame fans feel comfortable. Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, meanwhile, will be buzzing with belief for much of Sunday night.

The Irish offense is going to struggle for a bit to start. That’s understandable. Notre Dame has a new quarterback in Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan. It has an offensive line that has not started together for a single game. It has a wide receiving corps still desperate to prove itself.

The Irish defense, though, will make all the difference. Florida State might sustain a drive or two because head coach Mike Norvell is savvy enough of an offensive mind to orchestrate them and sophomore quarterback Jordan Travis gave the Irish fits a year ago, but ultimately someone on the Notre Dame defense will force or turnover or make a play that completely shifts momentum in his team’s favor.

Two touchdowns might seem like a cozy margin for Notre Dame, but it’ll be anything but that inside the confines of Doak Campbell for most of the game.

Mike Singer, recruiting insider

Notre Dame 27, Florida State 20

This is my third season covering Notre Dame football, and when I think about season openers for the Irish, Brian Kelly’s squad hasn’t played its best football at the start of the year. Notre Dame was expected to blow out Louisville, and while it did win by 18 points, the Cardinals stayed around with the Irish for most of the contest.

In last year’s season opener at home against Duke, it was a 17-13 contest heading into the fourth quarter. The Irish would go on to win 27-13 against a team they were much more talented than.

I would make the argument that this Florida State team that Notre Dame will face Sunday is more talented than 2019 Louisville and 2020 Duke. And don’t forget, the Seminoles put up a good fight against the Irish last year in their 42-26 loss on the road.

With all of that being said, I like the Fighting Irish to win this football game but not by much. This is a new-look Notre Dame offense with a new-look offensive line, and Jack Coan takes over for Ian Book at quarterback. The Irish also have a new defensive coordinator.

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