Match-up: Houston (AAC) vs. Florida State (ACC)
Spread: FSU (-7)
Location: Georgia Dome. Atlanta, GA
When: Thursday, December 31st, 12:00 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN
What a magical season it’s been for the Houston Cougars. Coming off an 8-5 season in 2014, Houston made a home-run hire in the offseason by hiring former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman as its head coach. Coming off a national championship season at Ohio State where its offense was virtually unstoppable, especially in the playoffs, the Herman hire was a no brainer for Houston. Boy has it paid off. Herman resurrected the Cougars to an 12-1 season and an AAC Conference Championship. Before that, Herman turned then defensive back, Greg Ward Jr., into a quarterback with whom he wanted to run his spread offense. Needless to say, it was one heck of a decision. Greg Ward Jr. not only led the Cougars to a conference title, but became one of the most electrifying offensive players in the entire country. Ward threw for 16 touchdowns and over 2,500 yards through the air, but more impressively, ran for over 1,000 yards on the ground. Other than Trevon Boykin from TCU, there isn’t a better duel-threat quarterback in college football than Greg Ward Jr. Oh and by the way, the Houston defense is pretty good too, leading the AAC in turnovers forced with 30, which ended up being 5th in the country. What a complete team that doesn’t get enough credit it deserves. Bravo, Cougars.
Players to Watch
Greg Ward Jr. (QB): After already stating the importance of Greg Ward Jr. to this football team above, do I really need to explain further? He may not be the biggest guy (listed as 5’11” and 180 pounds on espn.com), but this dude is elusive outside the pocket and has terrorized pretty much every defense he’s faced all year. Now, I understand that from an athletic standpoint the Seminoles will be his stiffest challenge yet. Then again, he’ll be the biggest challenge the Noles have faced outside of Deshaun Watson. Beware, Noles fans. This guy is an absolute baller.
Demarcus Ayers (WR): Much like the entire Cougars roster, no one really knew too much about Ayers prior to Tom Herman’s arrival. Man has that paid off. Ayers was an absolute monster this season, leading the team by a landslide in catches (89), yards (1,140), and touchdowns (6). This guy can fly, as he reportedly ran a high 4.3 40-yard dash prior to the season. It shows on film, too. The matchup between Ayers and All-American cornerback Jaylen Ramsey for the Seminoles will be the matchup to watch throughout this game. Can’t wait.
How Houston Can Win
Do what they do. Be explosive on offense and score as many times as they can. This Florida State defense is as talented as they come, and they did finish 15th in the nation in total defense by allowing just 327 yards per game. However, Houston is averaging 487 yards per game, and while they haven’t faced anyone as athletic and skilled as the Noles, their no huttle and spread offense will be difficult for the Noles to handle. (Just look at what happened to them against Oregon in last year’s Rose Ball). If Houston takes care of the ball, they will pull off the upset. Calling it now.
Florida State Overview
After winning a national championship and reaching the inaugural college football playoff in back-to-back years with Heisman Trophy winner James Winston under center, the Noles had to adjust to life without Winston in 2015, and it was a struggle to say the least. Everett Golson transferred in from Notre Dame after losing his firm grip on the starting position for the Irish, and because of his pedigree (reached the 2012 National Championship Game as a freshman), many assumed he would step right in and lead the Noles to great things with a good supporting cast around him. Not the case. While it wasn’t a terrible season for Golson (11 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, compared to the 14 he had last season, not to mention the boatload of fumbles), he never found a comfort zone in Jimbo Fisher’s offense. After suffering a concussion in the win over Syracuse halfway through the year, Sean Maguire stepped in and played good football, and the offense looked much more in sync. Fisher then made the change to Maguire, and it remained that way the remainder of the season without looking back. The Noles’ only losses were to an upset at Georgia Tech and at #1 Clemson.
Players to Watch
Dalvin Cook (RB): Arguably the best running back in the country, Cook was the offense for the Seminoles this season. Despite missing a contest and being hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the year, Cook still rushed for north of 1,600 yards and a mind-boggling 8 yards per carry clip. This guy is quick, elusive, and explosive and is one of the toughest offensive players in the country to stop, period. Needless to say, Houston will have its hands full trying to contain Cook.
Jalen Ramsey (CB): On the defensive side, there aren’t many more valuable defensive players in the nation more than what Ramsey is to Florida State. While the junior didn’t have any interceptions this season, he led the team with 9 passes deflected. Many teams did not throw Ramsey’s way much this season, and for all the right reasons. There’s not much Ramey can’t do, which is why he’ll be a top 10 pick in this years NFL Draft. It will be fun to watch him duel it out with Demarcus Ayers.
How Florida State Can Win
Defense. Defense. Defense. This is not to say the Noles can’t score on Houston’s defense, but there’s no doubt that their defense needs to play extremely well for them to win this game. It’s difficult for anyone to win in a shootout with the Cougars, and Jimbo Fisher certainly doesn’t want that to occur. If their fast and athletic front seven can pressure Greg Ward Jr. and stop the run, Houston will play right into Florida State’s hands. The Noles defense could be the only defense that really shuts this Houston offense down if this is the case.
Houston Wins 31-27.
Christian Reilly- @CReillyTV