Saturday, November 1, 2003

'Noles, Irish reverse roles

Last season, Notre Dame beat struggling FSU to go 8-0

The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame and Florida State appeared headed in opposite directions when they walked out of Doak Campbell Stadium a year ago.

The Fighting Irish left after the 34-24 victory to the cheers of a group of fans in green "Return to Glory" T-shirts, sporting an 8-0 record for the first time in nine years. A day later they jumped to No. 4 in the weekly poll - their highest ranking since 1994.

The Seminoles, who needed two touchdowns in the final 72 seconds to make the score respectable, left with a home loss for just the fourth time since 1990 and back-to-back losses for the first time since 1991.

Times have changed. Fast.

The No. 5 Seminoles (7-1) head into today's game third in the Bowl Championship Series standings - the same spot the Irish held after last year's game.

The Irish (2-5) are 4-8 since then and are double-digit underdogs in a game they need to win to avoid a three-game home losing streak for just the fifth time in school history.

So what happened?

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden concedes dissension was a problem with nine losses over two seasons.

"It seems like we went years and years and years without having that problem, then all of a sudden we did have it," he said. "Usually it's the result of getting beaten. People start looking for reasons and excuses. Our kids did that."

Bowden said the coaching staff worked on regaining team unity.This time last season, the Seminoles were giving up 24.5 points a game. This season they are giving up just 12.1 points. With Chris Rix back at quarterback, the Seminoles also are averaging 286 yards a game passing - 65 yards more than last year.

Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said he doesn't know why the Irish can't make the big plays they were making last season.

"I thought, more than anything else, our focus changed a little bit," he said. "Sometimes as you're climbing that ladder, it's easy to reach up and grab that next rung. But sometimes when you appear to be at the top, you kind of get your focus misplaced."

At a glance

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. today.

TV: Ch. 5, 22.

Records: FSU 7-1, Notre Dame 2-5.

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Ross soldiering on as OSU's rushing threat
Kentucky, Arkansas desperate for a win
'Noles, Irish reverse roles
Michigan rivalry could have winner smelling roses
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